Eduardo talked about his 20 year old classic, ‘The Blair Witch Project’, one of the most successful independent movies ever made and ethos of indie film making at large (more in USA context).
What drove him to study filmmaking?
George Lucas’s science fiction multi-film Star Wars saga has had a significant impact during childhood for its references are deeply embedded in popular culture. The film fundamentally changed the aesthetics and narratives of Hollywood films switching the focus of Hollywood to sprawling special-effects-laden blockbusters with rich production design and immersive music. A chance encounter with a television production faculty in high school opened up the world to immense possibilities and myriad fulfilling careers in entertainment business in addition to the usual ones like editing, writing, directing and etc. Continual self-learning (about VHS editing, lighting and writing) and eventual decision of joining a Film School made him network with many of his teammates and collaborators for ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in 1999.
How has film school education helped him?
Much before enrolling for Film School, read a lot about indie filming making space by reading books and works of Spike Lee and Robert Rodriguez. In addition to the support system in the film school, the collaboration and camaraderie with fellow students provided additional energy, in addition to the opportunity of working on multiple projects simultaneously. The inherent opportunity to learn from/by making many mistakes is also immensely helpful not to speak of the invaluable peer learning possibilities.
Learning from initial failures in early part of the career
The first movie made during the film school was a major learning experience for it was not bought by any distributor in major film markets. It is pretty painful and disheartening for a film maker to get his dear project not accepted by any. This early failure provided lots of learning and eventually paved way for the woods movie, that later became ‘The Blair Witch Project’
Coming up with idea for ‘The Blair Witch Project’
In early part of 90s, the horror movies were not really scary enough and that made him and Dan Myrick reflect about the different sub-genres of horror. Watching and recounting some of the classic horror movies from 1970s made them conceptualize the bare concept for their movie, over a six to seven year period (after passing out from their film school): three student filmmakers hike in Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend and all three disappears, but their equipment and footage is discovered and “recovered footage” is the film the viewer sees. TV series ‘In Search of…’, and horror documentary films like ‘Chariots of the Gods’ and ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’ heavily influenced the ideation of the movie.
On innovative film marketing and showcasing it in film festivals
To begin with, it was hoped that the film would be made for/as ‘video deal’, and the team did not at all anticipate a wide release. The film’s official website (launched in June 1998), featured faux police reports as well as “newsreel-style” interviews, and fielded many questions about the “missing” students, in turn augmenting film’s found footage device/trope to spark debates across the web over if the film was a real-life documentary or a work of fiction. Riding upon the internet vitality, the film travelled to many film festivals like Florida Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.
How Production and Post-Production actually happened?
There was clear separation of creative responsibilities and the team members complemented each other. Production process is divided into two parts, Phase-1, filming the stuff in the woods and Phase-2 featuring the supplementary documentary material. The approach was more of documentary style and footage based and the crew collaborated in true sense, wherein Phase-1 helmed by Eduarado and Phase-2 led by Dan. The editing process took a long time and incorporated audience feedback, to make changes that would ensure that it appealed to as large an audience as possible and later submitted to Sundance Film Festival.
44-minute movie ad that never says it’s an ad
Artisan Entertainment, considered one of the largest mini-major film studios distributed the film and solicited innovative film marketing strategies from the director-producer. This is when; the fictional legend got broadcasted on SciFi Channel as a mockumentary titled ‘Curse of the Blair Witch’ . Using the copious amount of footage shot for the actual film, the backstory as a legend got fabricated (incorporating fake newscasts, archival film clips, staged interviews and etc.) and indeed is a 44-minute movie ad that never says it’s an ad
On the Reinvention of the Horror Genre
As each and unique filmmaker, one needs to construct his/her own definition of what constitutes horror beyond the limitations of the pre-established label/genre, outside that of the dominant industry models, bet it Hollywood or Bollywood. Typically Low-budget horror films in indie filmmaking space capitalize on surface-level superficial fears by means of predictable jump scares or other equivalent horror tropes. The challenge is to go beyond this and setting one apart from other horror filmmakers and projects. An option is to take a normal story and many layers to it.
Advice to young filmmakers
Don’t try to copy the filmmakers that one admires. One can borrow from admired artists but one also has to create unique stories with unique treatments. Filmmakers have to think themselves as works in progress and be open for failure.
Bio: Mr. Eduarado Sanchez is a Cuban born American Director, known for his phenomenal work in the physiological horror ‘THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT for which he won ‘Award of the Youth’ at ‘Cannes Film Festival’, ‘Best Horror Movie & Best Movie’ at ‘Csapnivalo Awards’ , ‘Best First Feature – Under $500K’ at ‘Independent Spirit Awards’ , ‘Golden Orange Award’ at ‘Florida Film Critics Circle Awards’ , ‘ Special Mention’ at ‘Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival’.He also designed and built the original BLAIR-WITCH.COM website and co-directed the TV special CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH for the Sci-FI Channel.