Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez defined found footage horror with their original The Blair Witch Project
Nearly two decades after defining the “found footage” horror genre, director Eduardo Sanchez looks back on a franchise that has transcended cinema itself. Co-written and co-directed with Daniel Myrick, The Blair Witch Project exists in a place between fiction and reality. Last year, CS took an in-universe look back at the full Blair Witch legend and now, as director Adam Wingard’s new Blair Witch sequel hits Blu-ray and DVD, we’re chatting with Sanchez about the extraordinary fauxlore behind the franchise and how the Blair Witch legend has taken on a life of its own.
CS: What was the biggest change for you after the success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999?
Eduardo Sanchez: I’m a filmmaker now. I’m a grown up. I mostly got married and started a family. I bought a house and a couple of cars and just lived. That was kind of a rarity because, before “Blair Witch,” there was very little money to go around. I almost semi-retired after “Blair Witch.” It was just this explosion. I had to kind of learn how to manage it and figure out where I belonged in the world of filmmaking and agents and managers and lawyers. I just wanted to be real careful. But we made a ton of money off “Blair Witch” so there wasn’t any financial reason to jump into the next film or a TV show that I didn’t want to do. I kind of semi-retired. We tried to make a comedy movie, “Heart of Love,” that failed spectacularly in development. Since then I’ve been trying to direct horror films and TV episodes where I can and try to make a living in this quote unquote “profession.”
CS: One of my favorite aspects of the “Blair Witch” franchise is the fact that it exists outside the film to a surprising degree. There are so many tie-in books, documentaries and other related material that all help build the mythology.
Eduardo Sanchez: It’s pretty cool. We wanted it to live outside. We wanted it to be more than a movie, always. We wanted it to have this kind of history. We always kept it ambiguous, even amongst ourselves. Right now, if you took Dan [Myrick], Gregg [Hale] and the other guys who were creatively involved in building this world, there’s no way we could agree on what the Blair Witch is. That’s what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to put in too many details. We wanted it to stay mysterious. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster are still mysterious because we haven’t found proof. Once you find proof and realize that the UFO was a weather balloon and that Bigfoot was a monkey, you realize what it all is and it loses its charm. There was an effort to explain just enough to know that something bad was happening in this area. But we didn’t want to give out the answers right away. Luckily, Artisan, the company that bought the film, let us play. We did comic books and documentaries that we thought we could always do. It was perfect for us. It just worked really well creatively. That’s where the marketing worked really well.
CS: On the commentary for the new film, Adam Wingard suggests that certain efforts were made to further blur the fictional history of the Blair Witch right down to the pronunciation of Elly Kedward. Was was your thought on muddying the Blair Witch history?
Eduardo Sanchez: Yeah, that’s kind of what it’s all about. It’s an old wives tale. It’s a fable. It’s this mythology that can constantly change as new people discover it. There are some things — certain dates and certain events — that can be pinpointed on a calendar. Those are kind of the guide posts and everything else is kind of fluid. I think that Simon [Barrett], when he was writing the script, was a little apprehensive about blurring the lines and changing the mythology. I think that was one of the things they were a little worried about when they let us read the script for the first time. But we really had no problem with that. There were a few things that we tweaked or gave suggestions on, but most of the stuff was perfect. There shouldn’t be a consensus on anything. Everyone should have their own thing. That’s kind of the beauty of it. We knew that these guys were the right guys to make another Blair movie. They were going on the same crypto-journey that we went on.
CS: I know that, at one point, there was the thought of making a sequel set in 18th century Blair. What’s the weirdest iteration of the franchise that was considered over the years?
Eduardo Sanchez: Oh, there are so many ideas that have gone through. Early on, Artisan hired a bunch of different writers to try and figure out “Blair Witch 2.” I think I still have some of the drafts. There were some funky ideas, though. Our idea — and I think it’s still a great idea — was to do a story that was set even before the Europeans got here. It would follow the Native Americans of the area, who are really the first people to have ever come into contact with this thing. Did they create it? What did they have to do with it? We definitely loved the idea that they might have been dealing with this problem for hundreds of years. It could be a thousand years. I wouldn’t say that that was the weirdest iteration, but it was definitely our pie in the sky dream. We knew there was no way they were going to let us do a movie with a full Native American cast. Then I saw “Apocalypto” and was reminded just how great and cool a setting that would be. Done right, that would be very cool. Then time travel has always been involved with the Blair Witch and the Blair Witch idea. Once you get into this bubble, all the time vortexes and timeline sort of intersect.
CS: There were a lot of “Blair Witch” parodies that hit after the film was such a success. Do you have a personal favorite nod to the film?
Eduardo Sanchez: There were so many good ones and there were so many bad ones. It was such a cool moment for us, having all these people sending us VHS tapes. There was one — and it definitely wasn’t one of the better ones — called “The Erotic Witch Project.” Dan bought it for us as kind of a joke and I still have the DVD. It’s just really weird when you, as a filmmaker, are looking at a porn movie based on your movie. It’s like, “I’ve arrived!” or “What have I gotten myself into?!” So that’s a favorite not because of the quality of the production, but because it was so surreal and it meant that we had finally made it.
CS: There’s also quite a bit to the expanded Blair Witch mythology. Do you have a favorite tie-in?
Eduardo Sanchez: The original comic from Oni Press was the three short stories from the mythology. I actually have here in my office some of the original drawings from that. We bought it from them afterwards. That was really the coolest for me since it was just the perfect medium to examine those stories and kind of push the stories a little bit further. We were involved, but we weren’t super involved. We kind of put all our thoughts into a document that we sent them and then they did their thing. But I just loved it. I loved the tone and I loved the different artists they used. It was something that only existed in our heads for so long and to see someone else’s versions of the characters we created was pretty cool. That has to be my favorite. Then there’s the Blair Witch flask – a stickman flask. I don’t know how I ended up with a Blair Witch flash, but I have it. I’m sure they were huge sellers!
CS: There was also an action figure of the witch itself, which is truly bizarre.
Eduardo Sanchez: There were two different action figures of the Blair Witch! Todd McFarlane did two different versions. Then there was a Kubrick set of the three filmmakers, which was really cool. We never imagined that we were going to have a movie that led to action figures or flasks. There’s a Blair Witch Project group that I got involved with on Facebook. Those people love Blair Witch. They’re experts on it. The things they find are incredible. “Look what I just found in Japan!” they’ll post. It’s just cool to see. It’s a very weird thing for me.
CS: You had an interesting shout-out on HBO‘s “Eastbound and Down” where another Eduardo Sanchez is temporarily mistaken for you. How did that come about?
Eduardo Sanchez: That was fun! That was the highlight of my year. I was trying to find the clip on YouTube. It was just so funny. They asked my manager if they could get my signature and a photograph of me. I had no idea what they were going to do with it, but I had seen the show and I was all in. Then they sent me the script and explained how they wanted to use me and I immediately signed off on it. It was just so cool. My kids were super impressed by that. It was a cool little thing for me.
CS: I remember talk of a significantly longer cut of the original film. Is there any chance that that might get a Blu-ray release?
Eduardo Sanchez: I was actually talking on a podcast a few months ago for foundfootagefiles.org. They take a look at found footage of all genres. I mentioned that there used to be a two-and-a-half hour version of “Blair Witch” that we cut down. I said, “If Lionsgate would give me access to the footage, Dan and me could put together a longer version of the edit.” They kind of went crazy and started a petition that got like 2,000 signatures all over the world. They wanted me to present something to the Lionsgate guys and say, “Hey, there’s interest!” But we’d love to do it and put out all the stuff that hasn’t been seen. There’s a lot of other stuff for both “Blair Witch” and “Curse of the Blair Witch,” the documentary we did. It would be cool to go back and do an extended version or at least put some deleted scenes on a disc. As an editor and a filmmaker, I’d love to go back into that world and pull some more footage out of it. But we’ll see. It’s completely up to Lionsgate, but hopefully it’s something that we’ll be talking about.
CS: What about the franchise’s future? Is there any thought yet on where and how the Blair Witch might return?
Eduardo Sanchez: I don’t know. I haven’t talked to anybody about the future. Everybody is busy on their own thing and I know Adam and Simon are super slammed. I haven’t gotten back to talk to the Lionsgate people. Probably early [this] year, we’ll get together and talk about it. It would be very cool to do something different in this world. If it’s not a movie, maybe it’s a TV show or a limited series or something. There’s still a lot of hunger out there for it. I think that all of us involved in the original would love to go back and explore that world. But we don’t know yet. It’s still to be determined.
Where would you like to see the Blair Witch franchise go next? Share your thoughts in the comments below!