How the Blair Witch Project broke the innocene of the internet

Posted on 25 January 2020
By Dana Andersen
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In 1994, three students ventured into the Maryland woods, with little more than their camping equipment, and the intention of creating a documentary about the Blair Witch. They never returned, but their footage was discovered a year later.

When The Blair Witch Project was released, ‘evidence’ came along with it. The starring actors were not yet famous, and interviews with them were refused, on the basis of them being missing, believed dead.

An official website containing missing posters, pictures of Josh’s car, and news stories of the missing students, only continued to convince people they had witnessed proof that The Blair Witch was real.

Marketing included the three main actors, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams, being asked not to appear in anything else for at least a year, following the films release.

Admitting that there were points they considered the possibility that they were being set up for a snuff movie, the eight days of filming they endured for this movie were surely not easy.

Perhaps that why Donahue has gone on to be a medicinal marijuana grower, rather than an actor.

The actors were also listed on IMDB as “Missing, presumed dead” for a time following the films release. Donahue’s mother even received sympathy cards for her daughters ‘death’.

At various film festivals, including the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, flyers were handed out asking people to watch the film, and come forward if they have any relevant information.

People were terrified, certain everything they had seen was footage from three student documentary makers. On some corners of the internet though, people were already talking about this being the first movie to fully utilise the internet, as a marketing tool.

Brian Lavin posted on saying “The whole thing is a great example of modern marketing skill and the influence of the web in marketing and altering perceptions” all the way back in August of 1999, not long after the movies release.

Twenty-one years later, many found footage movies have been created in an attempt to replicate the fear, and success, created by this marketing technique.

Word of mouth, a new, naive internet community, and clever marketing were what created the fear, and huge box office gain, of The Blair Witch Project. It was a time in which people believed the things their friends told them, or the websites they found on the internet.

That’s why these types of films will never gain a legacy such as that surrounding this 90’s horror classic.

Marketing the film in this way, bringing people in to care about these real people, only for it to not be real after all, broke the trust cinema, and the internet, had held prior.

The Blair Witch Project made its self a historic success, to the point that there is still an annual, fan-lead, camping trip to the filming locations used, while simultaneously ensuring that nothing else would be able to follow the same path.

As the internet has grown, and become part of our daily lives, we’ve learnt to check sources. We don’t read something on one website, and believe its true.

When we see a film marketed as ‘based on a true story’ or filmed as found footage, we roll our eyes because we’ve seen it before. We know its not real.

We can still enjoy the film, and appreciate accompanying marketing, but we as a society know that its not real, and thats because of The Blair Witch Project