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Out of the Woods

Missing in Action For Six Years, Blair Witch Co-Director Eduardo Sanchez Turns Up in Frederick

STICKS 'N' STUFF: Eduardo Sanchez returns to low-budget horror with his next film.

By Lee Gardner | Posted 3/9/2005

Eduardo Sanchez hosts a screening of Curse of the Blair Witch to kick off the Maryland Film Festival’s new documentary film series March 14

Fellow faux documentary Forgotten Silver is also on the bill.

When last sighted in 1999, late-twentysomething film student Eduardo Sanchez had taken an idea he cooked up with fellow student Dan Myrick, put it on videotape for $30,000, and watched agog as The Blair Witch Project earned more than $140 million at the box office and became a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Innovative, canny, and profoundly profitable, Blair Witch was the kind of coup that usually ushers young directors straight to a fat Hollywood deal and a high-profile follow-up project. Yet despite mentions in Blair Witch interviews of another project ready to go, a screwball comedy called Heart of Love, Myrick and Sanchez dropped out of sight. There was one last rumor of activity—executive producer credits for both on the 2000 sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II—and then nothing.

Speaking by phone on a recent Friday afternoon, Sanchez, now 36, makes plain that the lack of a splashy follow-up right away wasn’t for lack of trying. Sort of.

“I had been trying to be a filmmaker since I was 16 years old,” he says. “After Blair Witch I should have just taken some time off, but I sort of half worked and half took some time off, and didn’t really get much done.”

That’s not exactly true either, it turns out. Sanchez got married and had two children; two years ago the Cuban-born, Montgomery County-raised filmmaker used part of his Blair Witch windfall to move his new family to Frederick, just a short drive from the Western Maryland locations where Blair Witch was shot. But his account of the past six years make the success of Blair Witch sound like a mixed blessing.

As he points out, he did sign that Hollywood deal, with Blair Witch distributor Artisan, and that was part of the problem. Sanchez and Myrick hustled up most of the financing for Heart of Love themselves but found themselves feuding with Artisan over the Blair Witch bounty. They finally settled their disputes with Artisan after more than a year of wrangling, only to have the studio refuse to kick in the rest of the budget to do their dream project. “Unfortunately we had signed a first-look deal,” Sanchez says, “so we couldn’t do Heart of Love with anyone else.”

Sanchez says Artisan was more interested in a Blair Witch sequel. Both filmmakers were game, but only after they took a break from horror and everybody got a break from the Blair Witch. “Blair Witch became so annoying after a while that people needed some distance,” Sanchez says, but Artisan was eager for a cash-in follow-up: “They had a release date before they had any kind of idea of what the story was. Under those circumstances there was just no way to win.” Sanchez calls the rush-job flop that went ahead without them “terrible,” adding, “In the end, I’m very happy that we had pretty much nothing to do with it.”

Though the filmmakers continued to pitch projects together and separately, “for some reason or another nothing worked,” Sanchez says. It couldn’t have helped that the pair’s well-known calling card was well-known, in part, because the directors didn’t actually write any of the dialogue, guide the actors’ performances from scene to scene, or shoot any of the actual footage itself. Plus, Sanchez says, they both shied away from the horror projects for which backers might think them most bankable.

“Then about two years ago I was driving to my house in Frederick, and it was dark and it was snowing, and I came up with this really cool horror-movie idea for the first time since Blair Witch,” Sanchez recalls. “At that point it was like, ‘OK, I think I’m ready to go back and do a horror movie.’”

While Sanchez still plans to shoot the script that came out of that nighttime drive, he’s currently in pre-production for another low-budget horror film he co-wrote in the meantime with Ellicott City-based screenwriter Jamie Nash. As Sanchez describes it, Probed is “an alien sci-fi horror monster movie, but it’s also—kinda hard to believe—very much a character-driven film, too.”

Does he have something to prove with Probed? “Absolutely,” he says with a laugh, mentioning that Myrick is coincidentally developing his first post-Blair Witch project—also a horror film. “It’s very much about, for once and for all, let’s prove to people—and also to ourselves—that we can make a normal movie with a regular script and actors and camera angles and lighting and all the other stuff we kind of circumvented with Blair Witch.”

Of course, Sanchez and his partner created more than a movie with Blair Witch. “When we came up with the idea for the film in the early ’90s,” he recalls, “Dan and I thought, How do you make a film that’s 100 percent convincing—there’s nothing in the film that gives away the fact that it’s not real?” To augment that illusion, Sanchez helped create a web site for the film that treated the Blair Witch legend and the disappearance of the movie-within-a-movie’s three film students as real. After Artisan bought the film, the company asked the filmmakers to create an hourlong special to promote the film on the Sci-Fi Channel; they responded by creating Curse of the Blair Witch, a mock documentary on the Blair Witch and the missing mock documentarians. The result was a wave of hype and hysteria that found many gullible moviegoers taking Blair Witch as a record of actual events.

Sanchez, who hosts a screening of Curse of the Blair Witch March 14 for the kickoff of the Maryland Film Festival’s new documentary series, says now that he and Myrick had no interest in hoaxing viewers: “We were just trying to make a good film, and to build an atmosphere that lent itself to what we were trying to do—‘Let’s make this whole experience as encompassing as possible.’”

Although he’s just now getting his first post-Blair Witch project off the ground (shooting on Probed begins in Florida in May), he knows he’s been fortunate so far. As he points out, Blair Witch “was a $30,000 movie. We never thought in a million years that it’d be in theaters across the United States, much less all over the world.” And if he’s chastened at returning with another low-budget horror film instead of, say, the next Harry Potter sequel, he doesn’t sound it. “It was good waiting,” he says. “It seems like [Probed] was worth waiting for.”

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