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MYRICK, DANIEL: Blair Witch Project

Dan and Ed - they look like buddies out on a scouting trip for a good deal on a six pack - are young and wild filmmakers with perhaps the most profitable movie of all time to their credit cards - The Blair Witch Project. Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez wrote, directed and edited the film, which looks like a home video and scares the hell out of its audiences. Now comes the sequel and then the prequel, Myrick tells ANDREW L. URBAN - as well as a comedy. But they're already laughing all the way to the bank.

Q: What if anything do you think you have learnt as a filmmaker, in the process of making the Blair Witch Project?
A: Oh, wow! A lot of things; I think the highlight for me was how important the collaborative process is. Filmmaking is unique because it requires so many people and a mass coordination for a singular vision. And Blair Witch was, if anything, a collabortion between a large group of people including Haxan Films. I realise as a filmmaker that I am not the next Kubrick or Spielberg - very few people can do it by themselves - and even Spielberg surrounds himself with good people. So what I have learnt is making sure that I listen to people around me.

Q: Well, its quite instructive to see the long list of people involved with this film in the credits, especially as it is a low budget film with very basis productions values?
A: Yep. A lot of things went into making it look like not a lot of things went into it. We held casting for over a year and sought 2000 actors; just that process alone was pretty monumental for five guys with no money. So we needed support personnel for that, and when we were shooting it we had to logistically set it up in this method filmmaking arrangement for these actors to operate within and we had a lot of collaboration on the editing process. So there were a lot of people contributing logistically and creatively to make it happen.

Q: To what extent did you go into this with confidence in its commercial potential?
A: I think at one level we did. When Ed and I came up with the idea, it was a horror film - and scary films, horror films, are typically what a lot of filmmakers make to break into the business, because they don't usually require big stars or massive effects and things like that. We felt that this was an opportunity and it had potential. Whenever we pitched the idea to somebody they seemed to be really engaged by it. So we thought we might have something saleable - but nothing to the degree it has reached.

Q: Do you think that it is in any way a type of filmmaking that you could apply to other genres?
A: I think maybe to some degree. I don't know if it is applicable to an entire movie. This whole 'method' approach is something that we thought of later on. We came up with the idea first, of three filmmakers getting lost in the woods and it had to look like a home movie gone awry. So this technique we utilised was to make it look realistic. But not all movies need that. But I am certainly looking forward to see if other people can apply this technique as a model for other films.

Q: What iF any reaction have you had to the film from Hollywood?
A: Well, we have had some reaction from people whom we respect - e.g. we had dinner with (filmmaker) Terry Gilliam in London when we were there doing the promotion for the film which was extraordinary; he really liked the movie. We heard that Spielberg really liked the movie; we haven't heard from him directly - we'd love to! [laughs] We have had approaches from some of the mini-major studios such as Miramax and New LineÖ they've been interested in what we are doing next. This was especially after Sundance when we had such a buzz that some people dusted off their old horror scripts and sent them our way. And, you know, a lot of them were pretty bad - that's the reality. So we said Thanks but No Thanks, we have other things that we would like to do.

Q: Which is what? What are the things you would like to do next.
A: Right now we are doing a comedy. Itís a comedy called Heart of Love which we have been working on with a friend of ours, Dave Brown, since film school, way back in 1992. That's really where our passion is right now. We also have an arrangement with Artisan Films, for the sequel and prequel of Blair Witch - so our plate is pretty full for the next couple of years.

Q: Will the sequel and prequel of Blair Witch be made in the same style?
A: No. And actually, our role with the sequel is as executive producers and as mentors rather than writer/directors, because we are concentrating on Heart of Love. They have got three scripts going right now and they are going to make a hybrid of those. We'll be sure that it stays in the spirit of Blair Witch, the franchise thatís been kind of created, but doesn't undermine it. And we definitely do not want to do a remake of the first one.

Q: With the prequel, are we talking about the back story or about the characters in the film?
A: On the back story. The mythology that we have created lends itself to a lot of exploration: and thatís what Ed and I want to write and direct as our next venture into the Blair series. The third film will go into the origins of Elly Kedward and the Blair Witch. It would be a period piece set in the 1780's - that would be cool.

Q: For what it's worth, I think its probably the most important creation of the Blair Witch Project movie.
A: Oh yeah! It really was a starting off point and a base to operate from. We created this mythology as a well which we could go back to explore and flesh out as the film evolved and that timeline and mythology is still growing, to this day. It's exciting to see it take on a life of its own, and have other writers doing their own thing with it.

Q: I would like to ask you about your own background and your first contact with film - as a consumer, a kid perhaps?
A: Well, I am a product of the media; growing up in America, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV set watching old movies and old reruns and Sunday afternoon Godzilla films - I was a big fan. I was captivated with films pretty early but I didn't know what went into making films until later on; maybe when I was about 13 I got a book called Movie Magic - my Aunt got it for me for Christmas. It was all about behind the scenes and how movies were made. I was just captivated. I read it and just said Wow. I would like to do this now. I had now idea you could make a living at it, but I thought this would be very cool to do. Not long after that, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out, and at the time I had this UFO Club that I had formed in the neighbourhood (we would go out and look for UFO's and interview neighbours). I always had this fantasy that if an alien came down it would be cool to be friends with them because up to that point aliens were always portrayed as evil. So when Close Encounters came out I thought yessss! Spielberg has nailed it, that's what aliens should be like! And I think at that point I decided that that was definitely what I wanted to do - make movies.

Q: Now that you have made perhaps the most profitable movie ever, has that given you power?
A: Well, certainly more power than we had before, which was nothing [laughs]. Yeah, it has put us in a position of power - I think the most power you can have is independence.

Q: So some of the money has ended up in your pocketsÖ?
A: Yeah, we had a good backend deal with Artisan and it has put is in a position where we don't have to do anything we don't want to do. You know, if I want to take the next five years off and wait for the right project to come by, we can do that. That's enviable. It's so new to us right now that we are still enamoured of the fact that we can even say that - aside from having some level of respectability, just to have financial security is something special.

Q: Can you identify the moment that it dawned on you that this was going to be a hit?
A: I think we had our first indication at Sundance; it went so crazy and although itís a captive crowd there, and maybe not necessarily indicative of the general populace it was still a kind of mini phenomenon. We had so much buzz coming into Sundance generated by the website and it was doing something that a normal little independent film wouldn't do. My first indication was looking a queues outside the cinema in the snow for a midnight screening. We thought maybe it would have a decent arthouse release and a cable sale - something modest. We were talking of box office figures of maybe US$8 or 10 million dollars at the outside. That would have been a huge success. I've lost count now . . . its crazy.

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Directors Ed Sanchez (left) and Daniel Myrick

See Andrew L. Urban's exploration of the Blair Witch BACKSTORY


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