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The truly horrifying lesson of 'The Blair Witch Project': People will believe anything

Bainbridge Island filmmakers Dan and Julia Myrick draw comparisons between politics today and their box office-shattering movie. #k5evening

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — On the night before Halloween this year, 79 Bainbridge Island residents lined up for movie tickets, fresh popcorn and a chance to revisit a cultural phenomenon made by a team that includes two of their neighbors — Dan and Julia Myrick.

“It's been about 20 years and we're still talking about The Blair Witch Project,  which is fun,” Julia Myrick said on the stage of the Lynnwood Theatre before the screening. “We would warn people back in 1999 when it first came out, there’s a lot of shaky cam so don’t forget that if you feel a little bit dizzy just close your eyes and then the fear will escalate just from the sounds”.

As the movie played, Dan and Julia Myrick went next door to talk about the movie that was shot for about $40,000 and wound up making $250-million.

“It was the best pitch I've ever come up with,” Dan Myrick said. “When you tell somebody that you're a film company that found out about these filmmakers disappearing in the woods and what's left behind are these film reels and we got the reels, who doesn't want to see what's on those reels?”

"All filmmakers were like I can't believe you have this,” said Julia Myrick. “What a great story!”

Dan Myrick was co-director and co-writer on the film. Among other things, his then-girlfriend Julia made the creepy stick figures.

The film was shot in eight days with unknown actors improvising the lines in a popular state park in Maryland. At times the directors had to stop rolling so families out on a hike could walk by. The shoot was a challenge and so was the edit.

“Our mandate was if any frame of film feels contrived it's got to go,” says Dan Myrick.

Credit: KING TV
Dan and Julia Myrick discuss the movie they made in 1999, The Blair Witch Project.

The result is a movie that convinced audiences that what they were seeing was real. After screening at Sundance, Blair Witch Project became a worldwide sensation that put Dan Myrick and codirector Ed Sanchez on the cover of Time Magazine.

At the Cannes Film Festival, the two directors were put on a panel with Ron Howard and Spike Lee.

“What are we doing here? What the heck’s going on?” laughs Dan Myrick. “So it really just became it’s own animal and we were pretty much along for the ride. It was just surreal”.

And yet people really believed the actors died in the woods. Dan Myrick even got a call from a police office investigating the case. Two decades later the Myricks say the lesson of Blair Witch is that people really will believe in the most bizarre made-up stories. 

“So now we get to this current age and I’m really fascinated to see the same markers of people wanting to believe in a fear, and the more obscure the places they get the information from, the more likely they are to believe it,” Julia Myrick says.

“You know we say on the X-Files ‘I Want To Believe’. It's very true. If you want to believe in a fear you will talk yourself into it”.

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