20 years ago yesterday, The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters, becoming a landmark in film culture. It proved not only that an incredibly popular, mainstream horror movie could be made entirely out of faux-documentary “found footage,” but that a successful advertising campaign could be led with a poster featuring the underside of a terrified woman’s tear-filled eyes and snotty nose.
The image worked both for its ability to capture what makes Blair Witch special—the raw, primal fear that eventually overtakes its cast as they descend into a waking nightmare—and its reference to one of the most iconic scenes from the movie: Heather (Heather Donahue) staring into a camera and apologizing for bringing her group of doomed student film-makers into the woods to make a documentary about the Blair Witch.
To celebrate the anniversary of its release, Rotten Tomatoes recruited Blair Witch directors/writers Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick to describe how this sequence—called the “The Confessional” in the script—was filmed.
Myrick describes the scene as “the moment in the film where it stopped being a project about the Blair Witch and started being a chronicling of their last days on Earth.”
“We were directing the actors like their conscience speaking to them,” Sánchez says. “For Heather, it’s like ‘you’re responsible for this.’ Say your goodbyes. Turn the camera light on and point the camera at your face...just give us everything you got.”
Myrick calls the result a “monologue to end all monologues” and Sánchez a moment when they realized they were creating “something special.” Myrick also points out, though, that “there was a lot more snot... rivers and rivers of snot” that had to be addressed. “We wanted to strike a balance between the performance and not getting too distracted with the snot flow,” he explains.
The mucous and abject terror of the “Confessional” scene aside, there are also interesting bits included in the clip that detail the directors’ approach in general. The two describe how they had to keep out of the way of the actors as they progressed through a chronological shoot, giving them only loose directions on how story beats should play out in an effort to craft the movie’s believably frayed performances. Whether or not this means Myrick and Sánchez also put on green face paint and ran around their tents at night, cackling about “my pretties” and little terriers, to further freak out the cast is not, sadly, touched upon here.
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