While it was far from the first film to ever employ the found-footage style, it would be fair to say that 1999’s The Blair Witch Project served to popularize the sub-genre for modern audiences. Made in the still relatively early days of the internet, Blair Witch also established the template for what the world now calls viral marketing, a practice that most major films now employ ubiquitously. An added quirk of Blair’s online promotion was that it was primarily sold as a documentary, and not the fictional narrative it truly was.
In actuality, The Blair Witch Project was the low-budget brainchild of filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, along with a cast of three unknown actors. To preserve the illusion that the movie was in fact composed of actual footage, distributor Artisan Entertainment even went so far as to publicly push the idea that stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams were all actually deceased film students.
Showing a perhaps disturbing level of commitment to this premise, Artisan actually had obituaries published for the three still very much alive actors. In a new opinion column posted on The Guardian, Donahue recalls just how surreal it was to be pronounced dead at the age of 24:
“My obituary was published when I was 24. It’s a complicated thing to be dead when you’re still very much alive and eager to make a name for yourself. It said I was dead on IMDB, a site that was new when I first died in 1999 – a time when people still believed everything on the internet was true. It was the marketing department that killed me.
Being dead and alive at the same time has its advantages. I watched a significant time in my life unfurl without me. Who gets to do that? On a brutally hot July day, the 1984 Toyota Celica I bought with my temping pay when I moved to LA overheated (again), only this time it happened under a billboard with my face on it. I sat there, under my enormous face, waiting for the car to cool down, thinking: “Surely this will work out?” When I arrived home that day I did an interview that I’d surreptitiously arranged with my hometown paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and shared this story, laughing: “I’m like the poorest new famous person in America!”
Unsurprisingly, this breach of the Blair Witch facade didn’t sit well with Artisan, who contacted Donahue and requested she not do anything like that again. Being a young, new to the business actress, she complied. For their part, the studio then sent her a fruit basket. No word on whether it contained a card expressing their condolences concerning her recent demise.
While Donahue wasn’t exactly thrilled when she first learned that a new Blair Witch sequel was coming to theaters, she now feels proud to look back on what will probably forever be her biggest claim to fame, and wishes those involved with the just released sequel the best. “I can’t wait to watch those new Blair Witch kids die this weekend. I hope they’re up for a lively ride.“, says Donahue, a sentiment likely echoed by many horror fans looking forward to a return trip to Burkittsville, Maryland.
Blair Witch is in theaters now.
Source: The Guardian