Blair Witch immediately set small independent filmmakers off attempting to recreate/replicate the success of the movie. Indeed, a sequel, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows was also produced. Inevitably, no success was found in any of these endeavours. Blair Witch had come at the end of the nineties low budget independent film boom. Perhaps more surprisingly, Hollywood executives wisely resisted the temptation to commission a raft of imitations. Common sense dictated that to pull off the same kind of marketing campaign artificially would be an exercise in futility.
The seeds of change had been planted however. For the first time, it had been shown that handheld camera work had a place in film other than just a cost saving technique. It could be used to create atmosphere. The most successful applications of the ‘shaky cam’ style over the last ten years have remained in the supernatural/horror genre.
In 2003, Open Water used the same idea, but the other way around. The movie is based on true events, and the film is shot on handheld cameras. But the finished movie is a fictionalised account of the events, and not purported to have been shot by the protagonists.
In 2007, the Spanish Zombie film REC, it’s 2008 American remake Quarantine, and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead again in 2007, all made use of the handheld, documentary style technique. Whilst not purported to be ‘real footage’ like Blair Witch, within their respective movies it was shown as documentary footage shot by the movies’ characters.
Last year’s Cloverfield also used the same idea, with the whole movie as the ‘footage’ recorded on a camcorder during a Godzilla-style monster attack on New York. A group of friends are at a birthday party when the attack starts, and film their journey across town to find the lead character’s girlfriend. Again, this wasn’t marketed as real, but it did involve a huge viral marketing campaign bigger in size than Blair Witch, and there was a similar frenzy of interest when the film was finally released.
Then this year, almost ten years to the day after Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity echoed the style, budget and marketing campaign to great effect. Supposedly ‘real’ video of events in a haunted house, and filmed using cameras positioned around the residence, Paranormal Activity is an internet frenzy and as i write this, tops the US box office chart. And just last week, rumours began of a potential third film in the Blair Witch franchise.
Whilst Blair’s distinctive camerawork has had influence over many films, it’s the movies’ breakthrough marketing campaign that now affects nearly every movie released. Blair Witch was the advent of viral marketing for the Hollywood film industry. Since then, internet promotion and advertising of the latest movies has gone from being advantageous to necessary. Every blockbusting film now has at the very least it’s own website, with back stories and clips released in the run up to the films opening to create as much buzz as possible.
Now, even just an on set photo or promotional publicity still released to select websites can generate literally thousands of hits. In the last few months, pictures from forthcoming movies like Twilight, the A-Team and The Expendables have accounted for a bigger number of hits than full reviews and features.
District 9 was the surprise hit of the summer and internet buzz had been building on it for months. Everywhere you looked, you could see the Warning – No Aliens posters publicising the film. It had gotten to the point that by the time the movie was released, i didn’t need to see it, i already knew everything about it.
So, whilst people now may curl their lip at the very mention of the Blair Witch, there’s no denying the huge impact it had, changing the face of the movie industry, and altering the very foundations of Hollywood marketing. The Blair Witch Project deserves it’s chapter in Silver Screen history. Just don’t go back and re-watch it knowing the truth, you’ll destroy a golden cinematic memory.