The Blair Witch Project
Author: Trịnh Minh Phương
In the filmmaking industry, advertisement approach plays an
The surprising blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project”
In 1999, Eduardo Sanchez (the producer) co-operated with Haxan Films (the studio) and Artisan Entertainment (the distributor) to bring up the lowest budget blockbuster The Blair Witch Project (IMDB, 1999). It’s actually a fictional story, however, by using various tricks the producers convince the audience to believe that it was a true story. It’s the curiosity that attracts a huge number of audiences to the theatre and its worldwide gross reached $248,300,000 (The Numbers – box office data, 1999).
The creative methods: To set people’s curiosity agog
1. On the Internet
Legend has it, in the 18th in Burkittsville, Maryland, there was a witch being accused of luring children to her home and draw blood from them to death. In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, while shooting a documentary on the legend… After a few days, they mysteriously disappear leaving the footage and other filming equipments. Neither they nor their bodies are ever found. The film is presented as a documentary piece filming the last days before their disappearance. This rumor was initially thrown into the Internet community via the website: www.blairwitch.com a year before the film was released.
The Web site originally created by the producer Sanchez and developed by Artisan. The site focuses on the mythology of the so-called “Blair witch,” including a timeline; detailed background information on the filmmakers; evidence from a contrived investigation in the aftermath. It is made so persuasive that millions of page viewers started to believe that it would be a true story. The rumour was spreading like wildfire. (Allen, 1999)
The filmmakers didn’t stop there…
2. On the TV
To further affirm the truthfulness of the story, the filmmakers co-operated with Sci-Fi Channel to mesmerize the audience by a documentary Curse of the Blair Witch. It applied the format of any real “mysterious event” show on TV including: the interview with the parents’ “missing” filmmakers, the police investigation process (Blair witch Homepage, 2007). The TV viewers seemed to enjoy the show, in spite of the fact that this was actually a “mockumentary” – a commercial piece for the up coming movie “The Blair Witch Project” which was scheduled to open in theatres on the following days (Jeff Berkwits – Sci-fi Channel Page, 1999).
3. On the Film Festival Screen
It’s not easy to be noticed in the nationwide market where hundreds of films are opening everyday; The Blair Witch Project chose to attack the foreign market by joining Sundance and Cannes Film Festival. After appearing at the Sundance as a mini-phenomenon, it was also a hot spot at Cannes where it gained the Award of Youth (IMDB,1999).
There were a trivia that at the Cannes Film Festival, the producers put up flyers stating that the cast was missing. All the flyers were removed the next day because of the real kidnapping of a television executive (he was recovered safely later). After that, the buzz around the movie was increased (IMDB,1999).
Much of the time, only potential blockbusters from major studios are welcomed to be released in greater quantities and in more theaters across the country on opening weekend to try and bring in the maximum gross possible (The Film producer – Filmmaker Page, 2007). Due to the low budget for both producing and advertising, independent films are often unknown to the audience even if it is a wonderful film; therefore, only a few theatres open to them as they are doubted to be successful at the box office.
It’s different in The Blair Witch Project’s situation. After a series of well-prepared marketing campaigns, millions of viewers were already curious and excited about the movie before its release. That’s the reason why it was widely shown in more than 2,500 theatres and gained the nationwide gross of $140.5 million (The Numbers – box office data,1999).
Role in marketing mix:
Compared with other successful independent films like Boys don’t cry and My big fat Greek wedding, The Blair Witch Project is supported by the lowest budget $35,000 for production only (The Numbers – box office date) and unknown actor and producer. Besides the creativeness in filmmaking, the success of the movie is attributed to its difference and creativeness in promoting. Using Internet to promote movies is not something new in the late of 90s, but taking advantages of Internet to spread out a horror rumour around the movie is new. The producer Sanchez successfully lured millions of Internet users to advertise his film without paying anything – that’s a clever trick.
While Boy don’t cry and My big fat Greek wedding are well-received by the critics due to its good screen play and production, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t highly acclaimed. It was nominated as the Worst Film and won the Worst Actress Award for Heather Donahue in Razzie Award (IMDB, 1999). It was seen as a creative marketing product rather than an art work.
Despite the commercial success, subsequent movies have not matched the success or innovation of the original movie as it is the one-time trick which cannot be used twice. However, The Blair Witch Project is a big lesson that any young filmmaker needs to look up to.
Allen, J. 1999, This ‘Witch’ boasting wicked marketing brew <http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9907/27/blair.witch/> (17th Sept, 2007)
Berkwits. J, 1999, Curse of the Blair Witch – Sci-fi Channel <http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue116/screen.html> (17th Sept, 2007)
Blair witch Homepage, 2007 <www.blairwitch.com> (17th Sept, 2007)
The Film producer – Filmmaker Page, 2007 <http://www.filmmakers.com/stories/Producer.htm> (17th Sept, 2007)
The Internet Movie Data Base – IMDB, 1999 < http://imdb.com/title/tt0185937/> (17th Sept, 2007)
The Numbers – box office data, movie stars, idle speculation, 1999
<http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1999/BLAIR.php> (17th Sept, 2007)