UCF alumni Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick both ended up at UCF’s film program by a twist of fate, but they ended up creating one of the most successful independent horror films of all time, “The Blair Witch Project.”
After switching over to film from their previous career aspirations, the duo wrote, directed and produced the movie with a budget of $22,000, ultimately garnering a total revenue of $248 million and setting the foundation for a new style of found-footage, handheld horror.
The secret to their success, said the directors, was that there was none.
“It was just a good story,” Sanchez said. “I know people say it [redefined the genre] or whatever, but I think it kind of showed people how to dream, that people from very modest means with just a good idea and some solid execution can really have something that really resonates throughout the world.”
Myrick said it was the result of the “perfect storm” - a combination of Hollywood falling flat with horror films, the mysterious fact-or-fiction component of “Blair Witch,” the rags to riches story of the directors and the film’s marketing campaign.
After the film’s success, Sanchez said it was exciting to see Hollywood experiment with the found-footage technique they popularized. On the other hand, Myrick wasn’t too impressed with films that tried to emulate the style.
Myrick and Sanchez said they had to carefully map out the production plan and then took eight months to edit “The Blair Witch Project” to make sure that the film didn't feel contrived or unrealistic.
Myrick said a lot of films forget that and try to capitalize on a style rather than telling a story.
“If you’re going to create that world, then you gotta stick to the parameters of that world; if you break them, then I think you sort of undermined yourself and that’s unfortunately too easy to have happen.”
The rules of found-footage films weren’t explicitly taught to Sanchez and Myrick, but UCF did play a part in their success by serving as their overall training grounds.
“The biggest lesson I learned [at UCF] was to try to not let your appetite for making the next Citizen Kane outweigh your means and your talent,” Myrick said. “I think most of us, and I was no exception, suffered from wanting to impress everybody and really blow everyone away with my first movie and it tends to be overly ambitious – which is fine but that’s the time when you’re supposed to be making mistakes.”
The lesson that really stood out to Sanchez was the acceptance that no one is an infallible genius and learning the benefit of collaboration.
“[College] is about learning to collaborate and…realize that you’re not a genius,” he said. “You need help with making films and even socially, you need people to inspire you, help you, and to teach you.”
“The Blair Witch Project” started as nothing more than a scene about approaching a creepy, rundown house in the woods. Myrick said his creative process usually starts with an idea that he builds on, and that’s exactly what the two did.
“When we were making it, it was very much an experiment. We had nothing to lose,” Sanchez said. “We were just struggling filmmakers trying to make ends meet.
“There were a lot of fortunate accidents and the shoot was very much blessed. I don’t know what it was blessed by, but it was one of those things where we set about to do a cool film, and all these things came into play that ended up making it a lot better than we thought it was going to be.”
Their advice for aspiring writers and filmmakers who are still struggling is to write what you know and take advantage of the freedom of being unknown.
“Do something that speaks to you, that’s yours, and that you know something about,” Sanchez said. “Listen to advice, but in the end follow your instincts”
Myrick echoed Sanchez’s advice, crediting the liberty of flexibility in their early films.
“The one thing you find out early on…is that the movie never turns out the way you envision it and that’s okay,” said Myrick. “Your film becomes something a little bit different than what you imagined it and a lot of the time, that’s even better.”
Sanchez and his partner Gregg Hale plan to break into television and are in the process of pitching and developing horror-style TV shows as well as developing another show with STARZ. Myrick recently launched GangofRobots.com and is currently in the desert working on writing another movie.
Alissa Smith is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.