The Blair Witch is coming home to Southwest Florida. And so is its co-creator, Dan Myrick.
The former Fort Myers resident will visit Cape Coral on Sunday, Oct. 3, for an outdoor screening of his movie “The Blair Witch Project.” Then he’ll stick around for a Q&A with the audience.
It’s been 22 years since the horror classic terrified America with its found-footage style and its story about three filmmakers who disappear in the woods while making a documentary. But the movie still makes it onto many Halloween lists of the scariest movies of all time.
Q&A: ‘Blair Witch Project’ director Dan Myrick talks about his scary Halloween classic
More about ‘Blair Witch’:Fort Myers’ Dan Myrick on horror classic’s 20th anniversary, what’s next
Myrick, of course, loves that “The Blair Witch Project” has found a place in the pantheon of horror classics and continues to find new audiences every year.
He credits the film’s success to its simplicity and its exploitation of an ancient human fear.
“I think it’s got sort of a timeless quality to it,” said Myrick, who now lives in Seattle. “Who hasn’t felt that anxiety of being lost and out of your element? And the woods is sort of inherently that theme.
“I think it also speaks to sort of the renegade indie-filmmaker spirit that a lot of people have. It’s not a big polished Hollywood movie. It sort of represents that, look, if you’ve got a good concept and good execution and not a lot of money, you can make something happen.”
Myrick had more to say when he talked to us in 2019 for the 20th anniversary of “The Blair Witch Project.” Here’s what else we learned from that interview.
Myrick was just as surprised as everyone else when the movie became a phenomenon in 1999.
Myrick and his buddies shot “The Blair Witch Project” for a mere $60,000 — practically nothing. But the movie went on to earn a staggering $248 million at the box office.
That made it one of the most successful independent films of all time and a Halloween must-see.
“It was surreal,” said Myrick, who co-wrote and co-directed the project with his friend Eduardo Sánchez. “It was completely surreal. … We were a bunch of knuckleheads from film school who could barely pay our phone bill. And the next thing you know, we’re on the cover of TIME magazine.”
Myrick wasn’t complaining, of course.
“As an independent film maker, it was like a dream come true,” he said. “I was really, really fortunate to be a part of it.”
“Blair Witch’s” found-footage style was inspired by TV shows from the 70s and cable-news channels in the 80s.
Myrick said they got the idea while talking about old horror movies and documentary-style TV shows such as “In Search Of …,” “Chariots of the Gods” and “The Legend of Boggy Creek.”
“I think, when we took that approach, we were sort of a product of the age,” he said. “Reality TV was just kind of coming into its own. MTV was becoming popular with that style. And, of course, 24/7 news was out.
“You were sort of, as an audience, getting sensitized to that hand-held narrative look. It sort of infused itself into our brains. And we thought it would be an effective way — not to mention a cheap way (laughs)!”
Many people thought the film was a real documentary, thanks largely to a website filled with fake police reports and video interviews with alleged witnesses. And that was entirely intentional.
“Our approach was to make it feel real, and it worked on a lot of people,” Myrick said. “If you drilled down a little bit on the website, you could tell we were just making a movie. All the behind the scenes stuff and everything was there.
“But if you didn’t bother to do that, you could go into the movie theater thinking it was legit. And a lot of people did. … So yeah, it worked!”
Myrick doesn’t mind that other movies took the found-footage idea and turned it into a whole new genre.
“You know what they say about flattery,” he said. “People kind of mimicking your stuff is definitely its finest form.”
A lot of those movies are junk, he says. But some are actually pretty good.
“There’s a lot of bad interpretations out there,” he said, “but every now and then someone takes that kind of general conceit and really does something cool with it. That’s what I like about Oren Peli’s movie (“Paranormal Activity”), and there’s a couple of different incarnations of that approach that I think really are effective.
“And I think that that’s, you know, very rewarding as an artist to see people kind of taking an idea that you had way back when and make it their own. That’s really cool to see.”
A lot of prep work had to happen before filming even started on “The Blair Witch Project.”
“We had a lot of planning,” Myrick said. “And a lot of credit goes to Gregg Hale, our producer. He set up the structure, and we went to Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland.
“For about a month prior, Ed (co-director and co-writer Eduardo Sánchez) and I tracked through the woods and set up all the different camp stops where these actors were gonna be. We decided on the gags that we were gonna pull.
“We stuck to the script, primarily. And we used a GPS, these handheld GPS devices that Gregg turned us on to to help the actors navigate through the woods … so that allowed them to stay in character (instead of interacting with the film crew).
“There were a lot of innovative things that we were doing. We weren’t sure if it was gonna work or not. But the intention was to maintain the sense of realism, and that the actors could be in character as much as possible.”
They worked on a shoestring budget, but that turned out to be an advantage.
“We were forced, in some ways, to take a less-is-more approach,” he said, “because we just didn’t have the budget to do big fancy effects or have some alien-suited guy come out of the woodwork or whatever.
“We really kind of got down to basics and thought of moments and ideas and scenes that really scared us, that we thought would be super-creepy to us. And fortunately, that translated to the audience, and that’s was really rewarding to me.”
Myrick co-wrote the “Blair Witch Project’s” sequel, “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” but the studio dumped him for the film’s other sequels. Still, he has some ideas for future movies in the series.
Those ideas include a series of MCU-like, interconnected movies exploring the mythology of “The Blair Witch.”
“Ed and I worked very hard, and Gregg and some of our friends worked very hard creating this kind of expansive mythology that we’ve been advocating for years that should be explored as separate, stand-alone movies,” he said. “They’re all tied into the Blair Witch universe, but they don’t all have to look like a found-footage film.
“You could do a whole movie on just Rustin Parr or an origin story on Elly Kedward when she was banished from her village.
“There’s just a lot of things that you could explore that could tie it into Blair Witch mythology, that could capitalize on Blair Witch’s popularity, but make it it’s own movie I think that would be a cool approach if Lionsgate, who now owns the rights, would embrace that.
“But so far, unfortunately, they haven’t. But, you know, we’re always hopeful!”
The movie keeps finding new, young fans — much to Myrick’s surprise and delight.
“I do a lot of festivals and stuff like that, and I’m constantly having young people come up and tell me how much they like the movie,” Myrick said. “Some of them say their parents took them to the film, and I’m staring at a 20-year-old kid and going, ‘OK …’
“And young filmmakers, they come up to me and say ‘Blair Witch’ inspired them. So that’s always great to see. It’s just nice to be in that group of films that people still admire.”
Connect with this reporter: Email [email protected] or connect on social media at Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter) and @crunnells1 (Instagram).
If you go
What: “The Blair Witch Project” Outdoor Movie Night
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: Nice Guys Pizza, 1334 Cape Coral Parkway E., downtown Cape Coral
Tickets: $10. VIP tickets are $25 and include an indoor pre-show meet-and-greet with Myrick.
More details: The outdoor event includes a post-show Q&A with co-director Dan Myrick, exclusive fan art posters, “Blair Witch” trivia, beer and more. People are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs.