It’s been 16 years since Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 bombed at the box office. Coming off the booming success of Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale‘s micro indie The Blair Witch Project, it was an obvious misstep by Artisan. Lionsgate, a genre maven, soon after acquired the company and all of its assets. Even after The Blair Witch Project, it took almost a decade for the found footage subgenre to gain footing. Paranormal Activity set the tone for the next several years, which is why it was always so strange that Lionsgate never revived Blair Witch. If Blair Witch was the catalyst for the subgenre, why was it the only franchise ignoring its own potential. A head-scratcher indeed.
But, as we now know, Lionsgate was in fact developing a sequel as early as in 2013. Better late than never, I guess? Yes, it was most definitely worth the wait.
It was announced back in 2015 that Adam Wingard would be directing a new found footage horror movie, The Woods, from a screenplay by Simon Barrett. While we here at Bloody Disgusting figured out the connection in April of 2015, the studio and filmmakers did a miraculous job of keeping a lid on the news. With no confirmation and ice-cold silence, the story went away. Things remained mum until this past July’s Comic-Con, when Lionsgate pulled back the curtain and revealed The Woods was actually Blair Witch, the long-requested sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Oh, and it was awesome.
Now, Blair Witch is finally stalking her way into theaters on September 16th. We caught up with Barrett, responsible for scripting V/H/S, The Guest, You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die and the fan fav Dead Birds, to talk about the genesis of the project.
“Lionsgate asked us if we wanted to make the film, essentially. It’s funny because we’d just been hanging out with Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale at Sundance with ‘V/H/S/2’, and I remember Adam asking them about ‘The Blair Witch Project’, and why there weren’t any more films in the series,” Barrett reveals to Bloody Disgusting. “I’m pretty sure he conjured it somehow, because less than a month later, we got invited to a top secret meeting at Lionsgate, and we got offered that exact project.
“Jason Constantine and Eda Kowan were the executives at Lionsgate who bought ‘You’re Next’,” he continues, “and we’d developed a good relationship with them over the course of that process. This was back in February 2013, so ‘You’re Next’ hadn’t come out yet, and we were getting ready to go shoot ‘The Guest’. Jason and Eda had been talking to producers Steve Schneider and Roy Lee about doing a new ‘Blair Witch’ movie, and Roy and Steve also knew our work. Jason and Eda liked how Adam and I collaborated on ‘You’re Next’, so they came to us before they talked to anyone else. And we were like, ‘Absolutely.’ “
The first thought that came to my mind was whether or not Eduardo, Myrick and Hale, creators of the franchise, were involved.
“They knew pretty much everything from the start. I think there were like a couple of weeks after the first meeting where we couldn’t tell them, while our deals got worked out, and that was the hardest phase of keeping the project a secret, because we obviously didn’t want to do it if they weren’t happy for any reason. But they were ultimately very pleased when they found out, I think. Like I said, we’d worked with Eduardo and Gregg on ‘V/H/S/2’ and had become friends with them, so I think they were very happy the project was being handled by us rather than someone they didn’t know, who maybe wouldn’t be as respectful to the original as they knew we would. Dan, Ed and Gregg gave me script notes in pre-production, and I did make some changes based on those notes, but it wasn’t extensive. They liked the direction we were going in and because of that, I think they were comfortable letting me do my own thing creatively.”
Many, many websites are falsely reporting that Blair Witch is a remake. At no point in time was that ever the plan, although Barrett does reveal that Lionsgate wanted similar tropes and themes in the sequel.
“It was conceived from the start as a ‘Blair Witch’ sequel,” Barrett explains, “and it was always planned to be a secret. Even our first meeting on it was a secret, Jason and Eda wouldn’t tell us what it was about in writing or over the phone, we had to meet in person.
“I actually never really pitched anything. Jason and Eda knew they wanted to do a very direct sequel to the original film, which would involve the Heather character’s younger brother and his search to find out what happened to her, and Adam and I agreed that was a good creative approach. So they already had that specific entry point for the story in mind, as well as a couple of other ideas, but they were otherwise very flexible. We discussed the story concept in very broad terms, then they hired us and I went home to write the script. The only thing I really pitched was the other characters; they’d originally conceived the film as more similar to the first film, following its narrative fairly closely, with only three or four characters, I think, but I wanted more characters to give us more scare sequences. I also wanted a unique dynamic within the group from the start, so I pitched the idea of introducing some Burkittsville locals to the group.
“I think Jason wasn’t totally convinced that was a good idea at first, but he was just like, ‘Okay, I trust you, try it,’ and then when I delivered my first draft of the script, it had six main characters, and Adam and everyone else agreed those characters were the right ones. I did a lot of rewrites, of course, but that first draft was pretty close to what we ended up filming, there weren’t any major structural changes or anything. So I was fortunately able to kind of pitch my script ideas just by writing them and showing everyone how they would work. Kind of like how we later announced the film at Comic-Con by showing it to people.
“With characters, pitching can be especially difficult, because how the audience reacts to them is all in the details. So I’m lucky that Lionsgate approached this creatively the way that they did. If I’d had to pitch all the things I ended up putting into the script, many of which they definitely weren’t expecting, Adam and I maybe wouldn’t have been hired. But we had a great team, and they knew Adam and I kind of have our own unique creative process, so as long as what I was writing didn’t suck, they weren’t concerned.”
While studios like Marvel struggle to keep everything under wraps, everyone involved in Blair Witch nearly kept a lid on things from start to finish. Maybe it was because it was under the radar and nobody was looking, or maybe it was a collaborative effort to remain silent. Here’s what Barrett – who was once a private detective(!) – thinks the trick to secrecy is.
“The trick to keeping a secret is to keep it from everybody. If you tell one person, well then, it’s not a secret anymore. I did tell some people; my lawyers knew, for example, because they had to do my contracts. But I really told very few people in my life. I just kind of compartmentalized it in my brain. I worked as a private investigator for almost a decade, and although I worked with great people and met some of my closest friends at that job, that was work I was contractually obligated to never specifically talk about with anyone except the client, so it truthfully wasn’t bad practice for that sort of thing. I don’t know exactly how you found out, but I do know it wasn’t through me!”
Watch for more from Barrett in the coming week leading up to Blair Witch‘s September 16th release.