It’s been over 20 years since “The Blair Witch Project” first hit the movie theaters, and I still remember how strange it felt to be in the center of a phenomenon.
I was one of about 15 people in the original Blair crew team. I did whatever was needed: assembling stick figures, dressing the sets, lugging equipment. I also did historical research during editing with fabrication and story history expansion (Rustin Parr was hanged, I drafted the court documents for his trial and hanging, I also provided background material pieces for the website, photographs, and historical narrative articles for things like Coffin Rock and the little girl that drowned).
After it sold, I did writing and history fabrication for the Blair special. Then when it released, two of us created a traveling museum history piece that went to all the big premieres.
The strangeness of being in the center of a phenomenon, that electric push of fanatic interest, didn’t start when every single movie theater in our city sold out on opening night. It didn’t start at Sundance when the lines snaked around the block for the first ever premiere. It wasn’t in the early viewing where titans of the film industry shot astonished “Who the hell are these guys?” looks over their shoulders and Hollywood agents flew in secret to sign the team on the spot.
If I could pinpoint the moment when I truly felt that control was lost, it was after a radio program in LA started talking about the pitch website which had been assembled in response to a rabid small group of fans, who were in turn obsessed from early pitch material that aired on John Pierson’s “Split Screen.” But I will say categorically that I felt the obsession the story generated when it was nothing more than a verbal pitch, one that easily got onto the front page of Indiewire and had Pierson calling Dan up and wanting to be the one who aired the early material first.
The truth was, from the very beginning, there was something about the story that people wanted to believe. And they wanted to believe it in the same exact way that people, vaguely bored and half-listening, wanted to believe that “War of the Worlds” was also true. These stories are compelling, fun, scintillating in a very gut-instinct way. For those of us educated in Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” and Jung’s Archetypes, we are told that there are common mythologies so deeply ingrained in what it means to be human, that every era will naturally repeat these stories in a very codified and repeatable way. Knights and princesses, witches and grails, these icons resonate and always will. Having been in the eye of the storm of a story that became a global myth, I was astonished to see that there is also a repetitive, almost archetypal, structure of belief in “that which we should fear.”
People crave excitement. They want to craft a narrative about the fears that might land at their doorstep, and it better be grand. What they want to hear about are aliens and witches and vast organized groups of enemies bent on destruction of liberty.
In this day and age, what I find truly terrifying is how hard it is to tell someone the thing they want to fear is a story. It is a story based on zero facts and zero evidence, and is wholly crafted by enthusiasm and excitement. It is a piece of entertainment to be sold. For years after Blair, the question was asked “Is the public too jaded, could you sell them a story like this again?” And I can tell you that the clear answer is “yes.”
For everyone who believed in Pizza Gate (including people who sat on the National Security Council), and for everyone in every country who continually is certain that vaccines render them infertile, these things people want to believe are the new truth, based on word of mouth and an aching need to believe. And that truth spreads like wildfire through the strangest of pathways, and once it reaches a critical mass, it becomes a permanent part of our mythological set of pathological fears.
For Blair and War of the Worlds, the result is fairly contained, and I hope ultimately simple good entertainment. But for matters of politics and public health, it’s astonishing how high the death count can go. This isn’t new. There’s over a century of vaccine fears to show you that the idea that giving control to man to stop disease immediately somehow gets connected to preventing women from getting pregnant. From fluoridated water conspiracies, to the belief that it’s likelier to die from wearing a seatbelt by being drowned in a car, people want an urban legend about how controlling danger actually kills you. And I have discovered that these types of stories are a gut instinct that almost no one is immune from, and oh boy do people want to spend a lot more time thinking about them than getting their cardio in every week. Heart health is a far lower fear than something creeping up on you from the woods, no matter what the reality of the odds are. When Blair was first out, we had private investigators and other experts calling us to track down “the original book” and “the original lost kids” and after telling them none of it was real, the answer was still “Oh I know you have to say that for liability reasons.” There is a misconception that we worked hard to fool our audience, when the truth was our audience worked hard to fool themselves. In a world of Easter Bunnies and Santa Claus, we should embrace the reality that human beings are emotional creatures who want to perpetuate romantic and emotional stories in their lives, both in their fearful and joyful moments.
When we were asked to screen Blair with a Q&A following, I talked about how I found this the most interesting aspect of the movie. Maybe you feel the same. Or not.
GET YOUR TICKET HERE for just $15. Each ticket includes a small popcorn & drink and offers a shot at winning a signed poster from Blair Witch’s Sundance debut back in 1999. The event is being co-presented by Arts & Humanities Bainbridge and the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce to benefit the Historic Lynwood Theatre.
ABOUT JULIA FAIR. Julia moved to Bainbridge Island four years ago with her husband and two children, and has found her work home at IslandWood. An original native of Mississippi, Julia started her career working on the successful independent film, The Blair Witch Project. Her first produced feature length scripts, Believers and Alien Raiders, were released on DVD by Warner Brothers home video, and she strongly encourages you to rent them as she does still receive residuals on them. Quentin Tarantino counts Alien Raiders as one of his personal favorites, just saying. Outside of writing, Julia has been heavily involved in research as well as viral marketing for a variety of science fiction and paranormal movies and shows, such as In Search Of and Hellboy. Her experience as an intensive and detailed researcher, as well as a horror and fantasy/sci-fi maven led her to be tapped by Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios where she worked behind the scenes in the Brain Trust for both Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Michael Bay’s Transformers. She recently spoke at the Library of Congress, discussing the making of modern myths and how Blair Witch, like War of the Worlds, reveals the way humans can seek out and even forcefully choose to believe misinformation. She enjoys long walks, nature, white papers from the National Institute of Health, the companionship of good friends, and dystopian sci-fi.