The Blair Witch Project
Directed- Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
The Blair Witch Project exploded onto the horror scene in 1999, it caused quite the stir and rightly so. Not only did Blair Witch Project shape a whole new subgenre of films but also the marketing process.
What is The Blair Witch Project?
Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend… The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two-day hike to find the Blair Witch and never came back. One year later, the student’s film and video are found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project.
A marketing campaign ahead of its time
The Blair Witch Project brought in a new age of viral marketing for movies. Prior to its release general movie marketing consisted of trailers, interviews in film publications and maybe if the film was big enough, a red carpet premiere. However, The Blair Witch Project showed up and shook it all up.
So viral marketing in 1999 will have been very different to nowadays. It is safe to say that had The Blair Witch Project come out 10 years later, it may not have had such an impact. The aim of the campaign was to propagate the myth of the Blair Witch and that the film was, in fact, a documentary, not a piece of fiction. (This is a good point to state, that just because a film says “based on a true story”. Doesn’t mean it is true, *cough* Amityville *cough*).
A dedicated Blair Witch website
At the heart of this campaign was a dedicated website, which was set up by the distributors at Artisan Entertainment. Bear in mind the internet was not the beast it is now and people often believed what they read. The aforementioned site was set up to suggest that the Urban Legend about an evil witch who lived in the woods of rural Maryland was actually true. They didn’t do half a job here, the site included dedicated pages offering information about the witch, a timeline of major event, backgrounds on the missing students and even interviews with family members.
It was a huge and incredibly innovation campaign by Artisan, with Jessica Rovello (director of online services at Artisan) at the helm. Rovello kitted the site out, even including images and B-Roll from the filmmakers. Using the footage and images Rovello marketed them as private images and news coverage that as collected by investigators.
An offline effort
Alongside the inspired online marketing campaign was a big offline effort. The studio created missing person posters to post around various college campuses. The posters directed people to the site, which helped add another level of legitimacy to the whole campaign.
I would certainly say that the success of this campaign and in turn the film itself, had something to do with the infancy of the internet, the zeitgeist and fascination of what is going on in other peoples lives/ cities and who doesn’t love a good urban legend?
A ripple effect
Marketing like this was similarly used for Batman The Dark Knight, wherein the marketing campaign actually won a Cannes Lions Cyber Grand Prix Award. Which is considered to be the gold standard in immersive/ interactive participation campaigns.
Very briefly, fans were given the chance to directly involve themselves in the world of Gotham; from helping Dent become D.A, serve as Joker’s henchmen and joining ‘citizens for Batman’. The offline campaign allowed fans to get involved by dialling numbers found on billboards and written in the sky, joker cards left in comic shops and eventually the first look at the joker was revealed. This campaign went on for a whole YEAR!
Genre defining film making
Granted, The Blair Witch Project is not a film you think of when someone says “Genre Defining” but it is true. The use of handheld camera footage, sharp editing and grainy footage created a whole new dimension to this film.
Again- the success in part can be put down to the lack of personal technology i.e mobile phones did not have the recording capabilities and the internet access that we benefit from today. There was certainly no using Googlemaps if you got lost in the woods with a creepy witch!
Camcorders were an expensive luxury item and the film scene had not encountered anything like this before. The audiences did not need to be asked to suspend their disbelief, they just took for granted that what they were seeing was, in fact, a documentary and not a work of fiction. Couple the documentary style, with the flawless marketing and a sightly less desensitised and more trusting audience and it, is not hard to see why The Blair Witch Project was so successful.
Whether you think The Blair Witch Project is a good film or not, there is no disputing its effect and impact on the marketing and technical production in films.
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