Those who revisit Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick and Gregg Hale‘s 1999 The Blair Witch Project will be surprised to learn that there’s little to no mythology presented in the film. There’s just enough information to deliver a scare here or there, with the most imprinted sequence being the shot of one of the campers staring into a corner. We never got to see “The Witch”, but the filmmakers pushes viewers’ imaginations to the point of freaking themselves out.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett don’t quite play the same game with Blair Witch, in theaters September 16th. In our exclusive chat with Barrett, screenwriter on the new film, he reveals that he expanded the original’s mythology by exploring its initial ideas.
“I did, though mostly I’m just augmenting or extrapolating upon a lot of the ideas that are suggested in the first film,” he explained. “And again, I had the blessing of the original creators to do kind of whatever I wanted, but there’s so much already there in ‘Blair Witch’ lore, it’s not like I didn’t have a sufficient amount of existing mythology to consider. So it’s more about just taking things a bit further than the first film did, or in a different direction.”
As the trailers reveal, Blair Witch returns to the Witch’s house. Barrett explains how they approached the new set and its geography.
“The house sequence was quite a bit easier to write than to actually produce,” Barrett tells us. “Writing stuff like that is easy: ‘There’s a house.’ Done! Perfect! Then you realize you actually have to figure out the geography and precise measurements of this thing to make the scenes work, and it’s like, oh. This was the first time we ever had the money to build a set for one of our films on an actual soundstage, previously we’d always worked around the limitations of existing locations, so creating that house was a new challenge.
“Fortunately, we have a production designer for that, Tom Hammock, who we work with on everything; he’d worked with our producers Keith Calder and Jess Wu since the beginning of his career and they brought him onto ‘You’re Next’. He was also involved with ‘V/H/S/2’, actually. In addition to being a great production designer, he’s a writer and director himself, so he understands how to make things function on a cinematic and story level, not just like, an artistic one. So, he found a lot of photos of the house from the original film, and committed to matching everything that you see in the original movie precisely, though in a more advanced state of decay, as suited our narrative.”
He continues: “Our production offices were in a vacant high school building, so Tom mapped out the exact dimensions of the house on the floor of this indoor gym space using tape, basically creating a life size blueprint of each level of the house on the basketball court. Then he walked Adam, our cinematographer Robby Baumgartner, and me through each scripted moment in the house, walking along the actual floor, and we’d note anything that seemed off in terms of how we’d each imagined it. That way, he basically knew how everything worked before he started building, and could design things accordingly.
“Once Tom built the house, it looked incredible. There kind of wasn’t a bad angle in it. So those scenes went relatively quickly, once we were actually shooting in there. But it took awhile to get there, that was late in our schedule because building that house was an incredible amount of work. I think it nearly killed Tom. But writing that house? No problem.”
Blair Witch is destined to launch a world of copycat filmmaking, but I can’t for the life of me picture how anyone is going to be able to replicate it. Barrett shares his thoughts on this:
“Beats me,” Barrett said when asked how anyone could replicate their approach. “That’s the thing about ‘The Blair Witch Project’, it was so influential that anything remotely similar feels like it’s ripping it off. That’s why we got lucky, we got to actually make another ‘Blair Witch’ movie.
“Adam and I both knew from the start that we wanted ‘Blair Witch’ to feel more like a POV horror movie than a found footage movie, but you need some kind of story logic to sell that filmmaking style. Many horror video games have an incredible visual style to them, but how do you make that perspective work in a feature film without it just being a distracting gimmick? It’s a difficult thing to do. I’d love it if the visual and narrative style of our ‘Blair Witch’ movie influenced other horror films, obviously, but I don’t know exactly what that would entail. I’m not at all sure that I’ll personally ever make another film like this again.”
Making a movie is hard, which is why we wanted to know what Barrett was most proud of.
“That people who watch it are saying it’s scary. That was all we wanted to do, create something that would scare modern audiences and expand upon the mythology of the original film. If people are saying we succeeded at that, even a little, then I’m happy.”
Blair Witch arrives in theaters on September 16th.