1999 saw a whole new approach to cinema. Filmed on a shoestring budget with unknown, unestablished production crews and actors, The Blair Witch Project has now grossed over $250million. The film was mainly marketed through internet websites and books. Before Facebook, before Youtube, Blair Witch is probably the most successful viral marketing campaign in history. The film was marketed on the premise that it was real footage, from real people investigating a small town myth. It included all the trademarks and genre indications of ‘fake-documentary’, talking heads, newspaper articles, interviews etc. The initial trailers showed snippets of the film a long with the claims that the film was discovered a year after three students went missing making a documentary. The trailers weren’t shown in cinemas, they were shown on carefully selected specialist TV channels and at student campuses, sowing the seed for word of mouth marketing.
The website, which still exists now, even if it has been updated to reflect the 10th anniversary of the film’s release (can be found here) was used primarily to reinforce the claims made in the trailers, it set up the mythology, biographies and personal family photographs of the students. There was actually real beliefs among audiences that this could potentially be real. The internet wasn’t necessarily full of conspiracy theorists and Wikipedia style knowledge. There was nothing to suggest the film wasn’t genuine. And this is why The Blair Witch Project was so revolutionary. No more were horror films scripted and choreographed. Audiences could be frightened by suggestion and carefully fabricated ‘reality’ films.
After The Blair Witch Project, we saw Paranormal Activity, District 9, REC, Cloverfield and The Last Exorcism. The Blair Witch Project, unfortunately, single-handedly created and killed this new genre. Since it’s been revealed to be completely fabricated, it’s been difficult to recreate this hype in any other production following Blair Witch. The reality aspect of any horror film since then is doubted, almost untrustworthy in its claims of authenticity. And such viral marketing campaigns are no longer a viable option. The internet is filled with ‘experts’ who can debunk and cast aside any ‘true stories’.
The Blair Witch however, did open up the virtual world as an invaluable tool to the film industry. it demonstrated that you don’t need huge budgets to satisfy investors, in theory you could release your film on the internet, wait for word of mouth to endorse or condemn (a condemnation isn’t necessarily a bad thing – see Sharknado) your film, you can effectively leave your film to grow. It also utilised other forms of media, books and documentaries to enhance the viewing experience. The Blair Witch Project wasn’t just successful in terms of cost and profit, it demonstrated that cinema isn’t just about the big production companies and big names, it turned cinema into a modern art form for a modern generation.
- The Blair Witch Project: A Lesson in Clever Advertising. (wolfenhowl22.wordpress.com)
- Retro Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999) (angryscholar.wordpress.com)
- The Blair Witch Project (1999) (filmcritic93.wordpress.com)
- 31 Days of Horror: The Blair Witch Project (pop-break.com)
- Independent film – The Blair Witch Project (Lauren Jackson) (rachelstovold.wordpress.com)
- Film Review: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) (thevideoclerk.wordpress.com)