Tag Archives: Film Studies

The Promotion of the Blair Witch Project Part Four

The aim of the creators is that the viewer sees the film not as film, but as artefact, in addition to the materials presented on the Web site, which can be viewed to understand a kind of hidden reality. The Blair Witch site portrays that this film is equally representing everyday life just as the Internet is, that ‘it extends the sort of unfettered knowledge access that the Internet seems to offer, and that its pleasures, in fact, closely resemble those of the electronic medium with which its core audience is so familiar’. The importance of the film’s Website Blair Witch co-creator Eduardo Sanchez posits is that “It gave us a lot of hype for a little movie,” while he also points to the fact that the site was effective primarily because it was so very different from other publicity pages with which web users were familiar. This echoes Janet Murray’s study of electronic narrative forms, wherein she describes how such texts, are generally much more sophisticated than a typical advertising site and usually rely upon three “aesthetic principles” or characteristic “pleasures” for their lure—what she terms “immersion, agency, and transformation.” The term “immersion” refers to the “experience of being submerged” in the world of the text, and thus to a certain delight in “the movement out of our familiar world” and into another sphere.

The Blair Witch site functions as part of a larger narrative context and draws to varying degrees on each of these pleasures, which, it forecasts to those who have grown up with the computer and the Internet, extend into the world of the film as well. While employing the same sort of dark and suggestive colour scheme as other websites, the Blair Witch page is especially distinctive by its power of immersion. After establishing a real world context, the site moves from that anchorage into a completely ‘other’ world, one of witchcraft, one affiliated to the repressed history of the mysteriously abandoned town of Blair, attested to by a collection of woodcuts depicting witchcraft in the province and selections from the illusive book The Blair Witch Cult, which the viewer is told “is on display at the Maryland Historical Society Museum.” As site visitors discover that realm, they increasingly exercise an element of agency, exploring, like the missing filmmakers themselves, different dimensions of the mystery: gathering background on the region, investigating the public debate about the missing students through interviews, reading pages of Heather’s diary and looking over the evidence accumulated. Despite the densely structured nature of this world and its invitation to navigate its cyberspace, the site never quite gives us a full range of that other “characteristic pleasure of digital environments,” of transformation. Here we cannot become one of the characters, the best we can do is assume the role of an investigator. To do otherwise, to allow us to temporarily become one of the lost students, would go against the very texture of the film toward which this site does ultimately and so successfully point. The site mainly hints at the power of transformation as that closely allied pleasure is the reward at the core of the film itself.


The Website’s ultimate aim is to encourage viewing the film, to help build its audience, which it does so effectively not only by allowing us these electronic pleasures, but by suggesting we might also find them, and perhaps something more, a content for this frightening context, in the film itself. Indeed, what The Blair Witch Project offers is some variation on the thrills of its Web site, along with a surprising level of transformation. In fact, after a number of studios tried to emulate this Internet approach of The Blair Witch Project, usually without reaping the same benefits, many in the industry recognised that its success derived from the way the Web site and film function together and share certain key attractions. As Marc Graser and Dade Hayes explain, an initial industry temptation to mimic the Blair Witch Internet campaign has been replaced by a recognition “that the ‘Blair Witch’ site was not an added on marketing tool but was designed as part of the film experience—one that tapped into fans of the horror genre in a special way”.

The Film portrays no monsters or maniacs as it is trying to immerse us in a world that shares the same scope as our own. The young filmmaker Heather worries about making her film look too much like a traditional horror movie. “I don’t want to go too cheesy,” she says, in a manner that echoes the project’s constant insistence on the real; “I want to present this in as straightforward a way as possible . . . the legend is unsettling enough.” In keeping with this attitude, the film begins with domestic scenes at Heather’s house with Josh (“This is my home, which I am leaving the comforts of,” she says as the film opens) and is one of the many strange meta-cinematic parallels to the “real” world this film portrays. The location of the woods is pointedly different, the cemetery against which Heather films her introductory remarks in 16mm black and white quickly establishes that. The narrative quickly shifts into a realm in which neither the students nor the viewers can ever quite get their bearings. The constant shift between black and white film and colour video images reinforces this disorientation. The climactic scene, in which Mike and Heather enter the ruined old house in the woods, contradicts those initial domestic images of Heather’s home with the implications of safety and security. The viewers are simply left immersed in a world that has been completely transformed. If the Web page is driven in large part by agency, the film connects that thrust precisely to the powers of transformation.

As Janet Murray reminds us, ‘the more realized the immersive environment, the more active we want to be within it’. However here, after ‘a fashion long familiar from other horror films and their limited use of subjective camera, agency is evoked only to be frustrated, creating a sense of helplessness that is fertile psychic ground for horror’. Horror Films repeatedly note and parody, we cannot stop ‘these teenagers from running out into the dangerous dark where their fates are cinematically sealed’. The success of films like Scream may have signalled a new interest in Horror cinema. Hollywood and viewers were enamoured by the film’s charming and acute cleverness and rushed to embrace this new aesthetic. While The Blair Witch Project consciously targeted a youth market, the film’s creators in contrast considered the film’s truth conceit an instant apparatus “to catch young and airy minds.”” Sanchez’s description of the directors’ revelation “we have something different here” also indicates the creators’ desire to interrogate genre conventions. The Sundance film catalogue description of the film highlights this interrogation by accrediting the work as one that “redefines the horror genre”. In interviews, the directors deliberately positioned their film in opposition to contemporary examples of cinematic horror. When describing their aspirations and hopes for The Blair Witch Project, the film’s directors pointedly affirm their grievance that “too many recent horror films have used satire and humor to reinvigorate a genre that had become predictable and repetitive”. Accordingly Artisan fashioned a promotional campaign designed to intensify and nurture viewers’ impression of a film that stylistically “seems real,” “looks real,” and “feels real.” What the filmmakers “were going after was identifiability,” as Myrick lamented, deliberately avoiding stylistic clichés which they saw as having the function of distancing an audience from empathising with the characters’ plight.

This film dismissed the concepts of the unbelievable and impossible with which horror films generally abound in an effort to realise an aesthetic purpose and evoke a more ‘real’ response from their audiences. By presenting and promoting their works as factually-based, the creators invested their cultural products with a characteristic much valued by their respective cultures. The recognition of the importance of the ‘real’ or the ‘true’ was motivated simultaneously both by commercial interests and aesthetic objectives. The makers of The Blair Witch Project viewed the contemporary horror film’s disconnection with actual human experience ‘as having evolved into a commercial liability’. Since realism often will increase the likelihood of “identifiability,” cultural products exhibiting a realistic style will often carry greater cultural capital by increasing the potential demographic of its audience.

In conclusion, the creators of The Blair Witch Project were successful in their concentrated efforts to promote and exhibit their cultural objects as containing some element of truth. Eduardo Sanchez’s comments epitomise this aim of illusion of The Blair Witch Project’s factuality: “It seems real, it looks real, it feels real. We’re not saying it’s the truth, and we’re not saying it’s not. We were smart enough, as we were making the film, to realize we have something different here”. This petition to realism did aid in the attraction of large audiences, but more essential to The Blair Witch Project’s unprecedented commercial success was ‘the fundamentally conservative moral stance informing the work’s attempt to reform its respective genre of popular entertainment’.













The Promotion of the Blair Witch Project Part Three

The official Web site of the Blair Witch Project can effectively tell the ‘story’ of the film, in a manner in which the film’s makers and distributors perceive it and wish it to be understood. It can frame the film narrative within a context designed to condition our viewing of it and has the ability to determine the sort of pleasures we might derive from it. In an online journal, Dan Myrick describes the directors’ collaboration with Artisan on the Blair Witch website. According to Myrick, Artisan added additional material primarily designed to “compliment [sic] the film and reinforce the backstory of the Blair folklore”. This campaign, which was further complimented by a television project, presents this fictional movie as a documentary about three student filmmakers who vanished while working on a documentary about a legendary witch near the town of Burkittsville, Maryland. The story unfolds through their own footage, accidentally discovered by student anthropologists a year after their disappearance and then pieced together by Artisan. This material included fictional items such as police reports, interviews with the ‘missing’ filmmakers’ parents and a timeline extending back to the eighteenth century. Speaking of the web site in the lead up to The Blair Witch Project’s nationwide premiere, Myrick noted “It’s all fiction . . . but people are getting confused. We kind of count on that”.

This website that became the heart of the campaign offered much additional material in relation to the information on the “Mythology” surrounding the Blair Witch legend, background on “The Film-makers” who disappeared, a summary of “The Aftermath” of the disappearance, and a tour of “The Legacy” of these mysterious events, in particular the various materials recovered in the search for the student filmmakers. This reinforced the film’s non-fictional ‘backstory’ and a generation of documentary-styled ‘found footage’ horror films that celebrate the documentary claim to reality and truth as powerfully horrific.

In The Blair Witch Project, the documentary style of the film locates the source of repressed fear in reality itself and inverts the psychology of horror. The monster is not merely some fantastical creature inherent to a fictitious narrative; the monster is reality itself within the boundaries of a documentary record, and the monster is as elusive as the referent. The Blair Witch Project is a film in which the monster is the documentary film format and its ability to delude and misrepresent. It is the use of documentary conventions that renders the absent witch’s existence so convincing and that demonstrates a repressed fear of the representation of reality to which documentary films lay claim. All of these elements elaborately propagate the notion of authenticity, attesting to the film as a ‘found-footage’ type of documentary rather than a fictional work, and offered a reality far stranger than that found in any classic horror film.


The Promotion of The Blair Witch Project Part two

This film challenges our relationship to the cinema and the technological world in general. Its three protagonists eventually prove ill-equipped for dealing with a natural and transformative world as their map and compass prove useless and their cameras and sound equipment, designed to record real life events, offer no insulation against a mysterious and supernatural realm. By channelling our relationship to the natural world through technology, the narrative evokes our own personal sense of feeling lost in this mediated contemporary world.


In describing the success of The Blair Witch Project, Libby Gelman-Waxner has attributed this achievement to the film’s technological approach and its successful web based promotion. As she comments, its success must be “partially attributed to the heavy promotion of the movie on the Internet, and that makes sense: It’s a movie for men and women . . . who prefer to see the world entirely through technology—it’s nature downloaded.”[1]  The films presents us with a kind of primitive human experience framed by technology, a technology that allows us a safe, almost aesthetic distance on events. That distance has a carefully established context and does seem a key component of its success. While that sense of distance enhances the film’s packaging for Internet consumption, it also opens onto the film’s own critique of a mediated environment, particularly of the cinema, essential to its context of difference. Today’s moviegoers are situated within a pervasive multimedia environment and experience the cinematic text differently than previous generations of moviegoers as can be seen in the success of the Scream films. With The Blair Witch Project’s project, we see mechanisms that are changing both the movies and our experience of them. Paul Virilio has described the postmodern experience as one of ‘living in “the shadow of the Tower of Babel,” not simply as a result of the many and different voices with which the multimedia environment offers us but also because of a certain dislocation that accompanies those various voices’. [2] For this electronic experience which unite us within what he terms “globalization,” also leaves us essentially without belonging to a real place, in essence we are decentred and lost.[3] The Blair Witch Project, seems to have effectively captured, and capitalised on, this sensibility. It recalls the nature of the typical electronic document, the hypertext, which is ‘a text of many fragments but no whole, no master text’.[4]


This research investigates the relationship between film and Websites, the product and its marketing, and the contemporary film industry. In today’s wide-open media marketplace, the small, virtually unknown filmmaker often seems to function as successfully as the big studio in finding a venue for his or her work.  With the proliferation of independent film festivals, the small budget, independently produced, and non-celebrity movie does have a realistic chance of been seen, picked up by a national distributor and then offered to a broad audience base. Yet reaching that wide audience remains a troublesome project, one with which the power structure of the industry is growing familiar, and for which it is constantly developing new strategies. These strategies then must take into account the changing nature of the entertainment form itself, particularly the increasingly substantial role of the computer and the Internet which offers its own pleasures to a young audience whom have grown up with electronic narratives. As Janet Murray reminds us, “The computer is chameleonic. It can be seen as a theater, a town hall, an unravelling book, an animated wonderland, a sports arena, and even a potential life form. But it is first and foremost a representational medium, a means for modelling the world that added its own potent properties to the traditional media it has assimilated so quickly.”[5] It is a medium that, through the Internet and much as film has traditionally done, has begun to assert its own model for the world. It powerfully affirms its own authority, its own truth, and its own priority at affording access to the world.

[1] Gelman- Waxner, Libby, “‘Witch’ and Famous,” Premiere 13.3, 1999, pp. 80-81.  

[2] Virilio, Paul, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose, London, Verso, 1997, P.145.

[3] Ibid., p. 144.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Murray, Janet, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997, P. 284.

The Promotion of The Blair Witch Project part one

This analysis focuses on the reception of the film, The Blair Witch Project and offers an explanation to the extreme and wide ranging responses the work tended to elicit. This will allow an initial inquiry of the Blair Witch film, its marketing campaign, and its unprecedented commercial success that refrains from characterising this complete event as either the result of technical or promotional novelty. The story of The Blair Witch Project and its seemingly overnight success traces the developments in the U.S. film industry, particularly that of its marketing efforts. In an era that has become defined not only by the effects of ‘mass media’ but also by the interweaving of multiple media platforms, ‘films today seldom really stand alone’. In its first weekend of wide release, the film garnered almost $30 million, which according to estimates represented approximately one thousand times the amount spent in the production of the film. After only two months of theatrical release, The Blair Witch Project established itself as the highest grossing independent film of its time. Initial reaction to The Blair Witch Project’s success by reviewers and commentators alike attributed its popularity to ‘unique’ elements of its marketing and production strategy. Here we seek to analyse both The Blair Witch Project and its extraordinary popularity without reducing its achievement to stylistic and marketing ‘innovations’. The film’s critical and commercial successes can be discovered by analysing its creators’ masterful exploitation of ‘an archetypal paradigm’ for creating a mass media entertainment.