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Eduardo Sánchez

Eduardo Sánchez

Years before, the filmmakers, friends and collaborators since film school at the University of Central Florida, had discovered that they both got a kick out of the intersection of horror and documentary. "Our common vision for this film," Sanchez told THE BOSTON GLOBE (July 11, 1999), "sprang from having felt the same fear as kids watching that stupid show 'In Search Of' with Leonard Nimoy. It still creeps us out." They came up with the inspired concept of casting three actors with improvisational skills to play student filmmakers who had come to investigate the Blair Witch and disappeared without a trace, except for their "found" footage. Having selected their actors, they embarked on an inventive shoot that thrust them and their production team into the role of the witch, hectoring the filmmakers during their eight-day ordeal in Maryland's Seneca Creek State Park, chosen for its varied terrain that could convince viewers the characters were lost in the middle of the woods. The cast and crew's exploits, which Sanchez and Myrick call method filmmaking, produced 20 hours of footage and some surprisingly naturalistic performances.In fact, the film taken by the actors proved so good that Sanchez and Myrick abandoned their original plan to use it only for the last half-hour of the film after vainly trying to incorporate their own 1940s-style newsreel and a reality-based TV show called "Mystical Occurrences." Recognizing that a coherent narrative existed in the "found" footage alone, they took the daring leap of making the movie a completely shaky-cam affair, and as Sanchez recalled in EMPIRE (November 1999): "We were definitely scared. We were scared we were making a piece of shit." Though "Blair Witch" was not for everyone's tastes, it definitely touched a nerve without showing any acts of violence, proving that the unseen is often more frightening than the seen. The universal terror of being out in the water and unable to touch bottom that "Jaws" (1975) exploited so well was certainly analogous to the archetypal fear of things that go bump in the night, and Sanchez and Myrick put horror back into the imagination of the viewer by revealing some very raw emotion on the faces of their worn-down actors.Sanchez was also responsible for creating the Blair Witch web site (www.blairwitch.com), a repository for the mythology which helped drive the hype and spur interest in the movie. The site's deadpan look at the disappearance of the students, as if it were a continuing news story, gave no clue that the story was fiction, though the filmmakers certainly never tried to pawn it off as truth on the interview trail. They had originally hoped to sell it to cable and make a modest return on a film that Sanchez has joked "cost about as much as a new Ford Taurus with all the options," but when its debut at Sundance led to a deal in excess of $1 million from Artisan Entertainment, they still had no idea of what was to come. Material originally intended for the film appeared as the pseudo-documentary "The Curse of the Blair Witch" on the Sci-fi Channel just prior to the film's July release and helped fuel a runaway box office. By November it had grossed over $140 million domestically, a testament not just to clever marketing but to two men who had set out to scare people and created a video verite masterpiece in the process.
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