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Thursday, September 10, 2009
Blair Witch Project 2 of 3
The casting process was very important because all of the "found footage" had to be shot by the actors themselves. Because of this they not only needed people who could act but also people who could work cameras and sound equipment or were at least willing to learn.
One actor who was all but cast even before the auditions started was Josh Leonard. He learned about the project about a year earlier while living in New York and working for a Documentary production company. After seeing a listing and getting in contact with Ed, the two remained in sporadic touch. The casting notice that went out made no bones about what potential the actors were getting into. As Heather Donahue recalled during an interview on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn in 1999, the notice said something to the effect of "Completely improvised film, shot in a wooded location, shooting is going to suck as much as you can possibly imagine."
Even after reading that over 2,000 people came out to audition for the roles of the final 2 campers. Josh read with many of the hopefuls. When Heather entered the room, Dan Myrick walked up to her and said "You've served 7 years of a 9 year sentence, why should we let you out on parole?" Her impromptu performance won her the role of the director.
Rounding out the cast was a young, trained actor from New York City named Mike Williams. He was fresh out of college and looking for his first film role. Williams background was strong and improv and personally believes he got the part because himself and Josh became fast friends at casting and that initial chemistry won him the role. The Blair Witch project was shot over the course of eight days in October 1997. The scenes in the woods that make up the majority of the movie were shot in Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland, with much of the interviews and documentary footage being shot in the real life nearby town of Burkittsville.
Contrary to popular belief, the trio of actors were not simply sent out into the woods without direction or any idea of what was happening. they were equipped with a GPS and each day were given a set of coordinates. In addition, each was given a small film canister with their name on it, with character directions for that day that were to be kept to themselves.
During the day, Dan, Ed and Greg Hale would stalk the actors using Hale's military training. All of the actors stated they stayed in character for the vast majority of their time in the woods and only occasionally would the producers make themselves known to assure the actors that everything was going according to plan.
Nightfall was when all bets were off. The producers would ascend on the actors while they slept and begin their harassment. This including, stalking, pre-recorded noises, physically messing with their tent and belongings. It's a common misconception that at these points in the film what you see on screen is not acting but rather genuine reactions to the frightening things happening around them.
Unlike most narratively traditional films, the conditions and setup required that the picture be shot in chronological order. This led to the final scene at the house in the woods, which turned out to be the one major exception to the hands-off policy. Due to some technical issues on the first pass, the final scene was actually shot over multiple nights and required a little more direction by Ed and Dan in order for everything to appear seamless in the final cut. Once that was finished, the real story had just begun.
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of my review of the Blair Witch Project.