HYPE SURVIVOR: DANIEL MYRICK AND “THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT”

As I hit redial, I glance at the clock and see that it’s 10:32 a.m. Two minutes past the time for our scheduled telephone interview and the number I’ve been given to reach “The Blair Witch Project” co-director Daniel Myrick is busy, which is not a good sign, but hardly a surprise either. Having recently interviewed more than 50 filmmakers for an upcoming book, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to being put-off, blown-off, and rescheduled by countless publicists, assistants, and assistants’ assistants. This is the way Hollywood works.
So when the telephone rings at 10:35, I just know it’s Myrick’s assistant calling to tell me he has to “take an important conference call” or “have brunch with Marty Scorsese.” (In these circles, everyone casually throws out abbreviated names such as “Marty” Scorsese or “Stan” Kubrick.) Name-dropping is practiced-to-precision art in the film industry which seems designed to increase the already tremendous gap between this infamously famous “in-crowd” and the rest of us nobodies, i.e. journalists, would-be filmmakers, and other nuisances. With this in mind, I’m already thinking I might be able to catch the last 10 minutes of Springer before I’ve even picked up the telephone.
“Andrew?” Predictably, the voice on the other end of the telephone belongs to Daniel Myrick’s assistant Julia. She tells me that the battery in “Dan’s” truck is dead and he’s trying to get to the office. Unpredictably, she’s really nice and Myrick calls me two minutes later from his car phone. Finding Myrick relaxed and enthusiastic about our discussion, my fears of having to make countess calls to reschedule the interview with numerous assistants, publicists, janitors, and no-title flunkies dissipates immediately. I am at once taken back by how genuinely nice Myrick seems and how completely untouched by the Hollywood mentality he appears. This is especially impressive when you take into account that Myrick and his partner are, as he himself phrases it, the current “flavor of the month.”
My second thought is how much his voice reminds me of Vince Vaughn’s. (The cool and confident “Swingers” Vaughn, not the nervous Tony Perkins-wannabe from “Psycho”.) I like Vince Vaughn though, so everything is cool…
[ The name of your production company is Haxan, which I’m guessing came from the classic Benjamin Christensen film of the same name? ] ^ Witchcraft of the Ages, which was originally titled “Haxan”. Yeah. It’s a great film. It was originally shot in 1922 and was later, around ’53 or so, remixed with William Burroughs’ voice-over with this great jazz-fusion mix soundtrack.
[ I love that. That’s the version I’ve seen. What’s wild about the soundtrack is that a lot of that stuff doesn’t match up well at all. Some of it seems really out of place. ] ^ It doesn’t match up well at all. No. But it’s so trippy when you watch it. And it’s such an amazing film for its day.
[ The movie still holds up, which is wild considering it’s almost 68 years-old. It’s unbelievable. ] ^ It really is. It was great film and it was definitely where we got the name.
[ It seemed to have kind of inspired “The Blair Witch Project” in that there’s a scene in “Haxan” where there is a bundle of sticks– ] ^ Not really. The stick man thing, I’m not sure where that came from. It’s something that we’ve seen probably throughout history. But really it was just an idea that I came up with early on. It was one of the earliest scene ideas that we had. I just thought it would be creepy as hell to kind of have the actors walking though the woods and they emerge and see these kind of humanoid icons hanging from the trees. I just thought it would be creepy as hell. It really had no subtext or meaning beyond that.
[ What I was referring to in “Haxan” was a scene in which there is a bundle of sticks with a severed human hand inside, which is pretty similar to the scene in “The Blair Witch Project” where they find the human teeth wrapped in twigs. ] ^ I kind of remember that. But actually our production designer came up with that and I don’t think he’d seen the film before that. It was just kind of coincidental. (laughs)
[ I’ve got to admit that I didn’t see The Blair Witch Project until after all the hype. I didn’t see it until it came out on video. Because of all the hype, I went into the film expecting it to not live up to its reputation. But I personally think it’s brilliant. But once it got so big, it began to kind of receive some backlash. Did that ever surprise you? ] ^ Not really. It’s just a part of doing business. It’s a good problem to have, you know? Backlash exists because you’re doing something right. It’s just something you deal with but it can be frustrating at times. If you let it really bother you, it’ll drive you nuts. There’s always gonna be somebody trying to knock it down.
[ I think a lot of it is the media. It seems like they kind of build up a film just to knock it down later. ] ^ Yeah. That’s kind of sad in a way. People don’t really form their own opinions. They’re just contingent on the current fashion or anti-fashions. You just kind of wish that people would learn to think for themselves.
[ I think the movie is great. [Talks excitedly.] Especially the last scene where we see him standing in the corner! Wow! That scene actually haunted me for a few days! That is so brilliant! ] ^ (laughs)
[ “The Blair Witch Project” has been compared to classic films like “The Shining” and “The Exorcist”. What is that like? That’s got to be flattering. ] ^ Oh, it is! What can you say? To ever be mentioned in the same sentence is beyond anything we ever expected.
[ Now there are tons of “Blair Witch” parodies and rip-offs. Have you seen any of these? ] ^ Yeah, we’ve seen a few of them. We try to watch as many of them as we can.
[ What have your thoughts on them been so far? ] ^ It’s hard to say. We’ve seen some pretty bad ones! Those will remain nameless. “The Scooby Doo Project” is one of my favorites. The ESPN parody was good. I think one of my favorites was the parody in Mad Magazine. For me, I knew I had made it when our movie was in Mad Magazine. You know that was a staple of mine growing up. When you see a movie parodied in there, you know it’s become a part of the pop culture consciousness. That was pretty cool.
[ I read about a new rip-off the other day that I thought was humorous. It was called “The Erotic Witch Project”, which is about a crew of filmmakers who end up having hot lesbian sex in the woods. And, of course, all that’s found is the tape of their sexual escapades. Now you’re even influencing soft-core porno flicks! What in the world are your thoughts on that? ] ^ Well, it’s great! However you want to make the movies, come on and ride the bandwagon!
[ That is wild. ] ^ It is. It’s just so funny to think about those guys out there in the woods shooting their porno movie and referencing our film! We never had that much fun when we made ours, you know, but as long as somebody’s having fun.
[ Now that you’ve given a lot of people nightmares with “The Blair Witch Project,” I wondered what was the scariest film you’ve ever seen? ] ^ It’s a tough call, but “The Exorcist” is definitely up there somewhere. “It’s Alive!” is probably in the running somewhere, as well. But I was so young. When you’re young, things like that have such an impact on you. Those are probably a couple of films that had the biggest impact on me as far as the fear factor is concerned. There’s also a little-known film called “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” which was a theatrical release for a very short period of time, which was kind of inspirational to “Blair Witch”. It was about Big Foot. That was probably one of the scariest movies of all time for me.
[ I was pretty young when I saw that and it creeped me out! ] ^ It totally creeped me out. When I look back on it now, it looks pretty cheesy. But when you’re a 10 year-old or whatever and you saw that film… It just had a residual effect on me up until just recently when it finally subsided.
[ That always happens with movies that frightened you as a child. When you go back and rewatch them, most of them lose a lot of that. There was a movie called “Hisss,” which was about a guy who turned into a snake that used to scare the crap out of me when I was young. Now I watch it and I just kind of giggle. ] ^ It’s funny how your sensibilities change over time, but your memory doesn’t. It’s almost kind of sad because I watched “Boggy Creek” again a few years ago and it was kind of a let-down. You just remember some of those key moments being so horrific in your mind and then you look at it with a more educated mind and you’re like, “Uggh! That’s how they did that… That’s not so bad.” That just kind of takes some of that mystique away from the movie that your remember.
[ It is unfortunate because you watch these films hoping to somehow revisit that time in your life and it just never works. You know, you pull out those old Devo albums or whatever… ] ^ It’s like going back to your old neighborhood or something like that and going, “Everything looks so much smaller now!”
[ What has the phenomenal success of “The Blair Witch Project” taught you about the film industry? ] ^ Well, it’s definitely reaffirmed a lot of our fears. I don’t think I’m as cynical about the film industry as a lot of people want to be because we came into this business with a commercial background. We had kind of a business sense already, so a lot of the things we’re seeing now aren’t really surprising us. They were half-expected. Nothing’s really thrown us a curveball yet. We already expect people to kind of screw us over! We’re kind of prepared for that when we see those signs. On the upside, we’ve met a lot of good people. We’ve met some fascinating, passion-filled, really driven people in all walks of the industry, whether they be executives or fellow filmmakers or whatever. So there are glimmers of hope wherever you look and those are the people we try to associate ourselves with. Hopefully we can keep our feet on the ground with Blair Witch and continue to maintain just good solid relationships with ourselves and whomever we get involved with in the future. You just have to sit through all of the bullshit and there is a lot of bullshit out there. We’re the flavor of the month right now and everybody wants to do business with us and we just have to kind of take that into consideration when anyone talks to us.
[ Recently I’ve read about a possible sequel, a prequel, and even a television series based on The Blair Witch Project. What’s fact and what’s fiction? ] ^ Well there’s definitely going to be a sequel. Right now we’re still negotiating with Artisan on what our roles are gonna be. Ed Sanchez and I are not gonna write it, but we’re negotiating possibly executive producing it. We’re like overseers of who they’re gonna get to write it and direct it and what have you. That’s about where that is right now.
There are no plans to do a Blair Witch-themed TV show or a TV series, but we are involved with Fox on another TV pilot that we’re shooting for them which will hopefully go into a series. That’s called “Fearsum” and Greg Hale, our producer, is heading up. Ed and I with our ex-roommate Dave Brown are writing a comedy called “Heart of Love,” which is really what we’re passionate about and what we want to be our next project.
Hopefully if all goes well with Artisan, we can do it with them. But we’re still negotiating at this stage, so things are kind of up in the air right now.
[ Obviously you don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but do you know at all what direction “The Blair Witch Project” sequel is going to go ] ^ We’re not sure yet. They’ve got three separate scripts that Artisan is having written right now and drafted-out and we haven’t seen the revisions of these things yet. Of course our biggest concern with them is that they remain true to the spirit of the original film and that they don’t undermine what we’ve created. But Artisan is a big company and they see the value of starting up this franchise. I can’t fault them for that, but we just want them to maintain the integrity of what we’ve created. It seems so far that they’ve been pretty collaborative with us and are at least telling us that they want to do that. But we haven’t read any solid drafts of scripts so far or been given any solid direction that they want to go.
The only thing that we’ve really tried to maintain with them is that they not do a remake. That would just fall flat on its face. I think we’ve at least drilled it into their heads not to do a 35mm version of what we’ve just done with Blair Witch!
[ Does the thought of this project being out there and your not really being able to control it scare you at all? ] ^ Oh, yeah. The reality of it is that Artisan owns the movie and they can do with it what they want. We just have to hope that they do it the right way. That’s the reality of first-time filmmakers. You go to Sundance and sell your movie, you’re just happy to be there. When you sell your movie, there’s no such thing as carving out your sequel rights or your prequel or merchandising rights, you know? When you’re a nobody, you sell the farm and hope that the people you sell it to are going to treat it with loving care. So far Artisan has been very good. They’re not stupid. They know if they undermine “Blair Witch” they run the risk of alienating themselves of a potentially long-term franchise. Let’s hope they’re not too impatient with it.
[ I hate to ask this because so much has already been made of it, but what is your take on the whole controversy surround “The Blair Witch Project” and “Last Broadcast”? ] ^ We’re kind of baffled in a way as to why there’s even a controversy. “The Last Broadcast” guys maintain that they came up with this idea first and we’re kind of baffled by that because if anyone was going to maintain who came up with this premise first it was “Cannibal Holocaust,” which was an Italian movie out in the ’70s and was banned from The United States. We didn’t find out about that until Sundance, but this film was out long before our movies were. And with regards to us and “The
Last Broadcast,” it’s strictly a coincidence that there’s even a similarity at all. Our idea was came up with in ’92. We had a broadcast on “Split Screen” in ’96. “The Last Broadcast” wasn’t even in the public awareness until late ’97. I can understand them being frustrated and I can understand their wanting to generate publicity for their movie in order to sell videos. I would probably be doing the same thing, but if you watch both movies, there’s really no comparison. That’s what we tellpeople…
[ Just watch for yourself and judge. ] ^ Right. Who came out first isn’t the issue. I don’t know when they came up with their idea. I know when we came up with ours. Quite frankly I don’t care. There’s a reason why we got into Sundance and they didn’t. Make your own choice and make your own decision, but watch both movies and decide for yourself. I’ve met (“The Last Broadcast” directors) Lance and Stefon and they were cool to me when I met them. If they have a problem out of frustration or whatever, that’s their deal. It doesn’t really affect us here. We’re gonna continue making movies and all you have to do is watch both films.
It would be like Spielberg being upset with Renny Harlin for the new shark movie, you know? (laughs) I mean, how many shark premises are out there? How many premises of kids getting lost in the woods can there be? Just move on with your lives.
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Posted on June 7, 1999 in Interviews by
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