‘The Blair Witch Project’ Effect: How Found Footage Shaped a Generation of Filmmaking

     September 16, 2016

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It was the summer of 1999. Fears of Y2K had yet to fully manifest themselves, though Hollywood was still finding success with world-ending pictures like the previous year’s Armageddon and Deep Impact. The traditional-yet-twisty smash horror hit The Sixth Sense had yet to debut and the equally mind-bending sci-fi film The Matrix was already changing the future of the cinematic landscape thanks to its incredible bullet-time sequences. But another film–one that was cobbled together on an unbelievably low budget, incorporated the technique of using “found footage” (something previously seen only in cult films) and developed a brilliant word-of-mouth marketing campaign–would have far-reaching effects on the cinematic world that would outlast any of the other fads of 1999.

The Blair Witch Project certainly didn’t invent the found-footage genre of filmmaking, just as its infectious and rapidly spreading marketing campaign was not entirely novel. But what The Blair Witch Project did better than any film that came before it, and arguably any that have come since, was bring the found-footage horror genre into the mainstream by combining low-budget, guerilla-style filmmaking with an irresistible hook that audiences were more than happy to gossip about. Once word spread that “actual recorded evidence” of a ghostly urban legend had been recovered and was being played in theaters nationwide, this thing took off like dry kindling in a campfire. Echoes of The Blair Witch Project have been reverberating ever since with many copycat films falling short, some finding commercial success, and others pushing the very boundaries of the genre and filmmaking itself. We take a look at some of them below.

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