What if…? The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project was a legitimate phenomenon and its impact on Hollywood and pop culture can’t be understated. The surge of found footage movies that followed in its wake is a testament to that influence.

Image credit: Artisan Entertainment

I recently joined Susy Botello, Beraat Gokkus and Brionne Olsen on the Clubhouse app. In the beginning of our conversation, Beraat Gokkus joined us to discuss the film and our experiences when the film came out. Beraat was in Turkey at the time, and Brionne was in South Africa. Susy was in San Diego, and I was in Canada.

Image credit: Susy Botello

Susy, Brionne and I moved to a thought exercise: What if the Blair Witch Project wasn’t made in 1999 — what if it was made today?

Back in ’99, the actors also acted as camera operators and were equipped with a CP-16 film camera and a Hi8 video camera. So, we asked ourselves: How would it be shot in present day circumstances? Would they use professional or semi-professional cameras? Would they use mobile devices? Would that even be feasible? So we stepped into the three characters in the film during a simulated pre-production of the film.

Josh with the CP-16
Heather with the Hi8 Camcorder

The truth is that the needs of the story dictate what kind of equipment they would be using. Susy, Brionne and I are all mobile filmmakers, so we would steer our characters toward using mobile devices. Smartphones for filming for sure, maybe a tablet or two in the mix.

From our story perspective, it’s unlikely the characters would be film students; otherwise, they’d have access to high-end cameras from the school. Same if they were industry professionals, as they would likely have mid-range to high-end cameras. No, in order for them to feasibly shoot on phones, our characters would have to be amateur or indie filmmakers, YouTubers, or mobile journalists, so we would craft the story around those criteria.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Once we decided how to explain, in universe, why they were shooting on mobile devices, we had to take a good look at the logistics. Top of mind was power.

Battery life on a smart phone, even in airplane mode, is less than ideal when filming. The answer is, of course, portable batteries. They’re cheap and one battery can usually do two complete charge cycles on one phone. That’s one problem out of the way, providing lots of back-up power for very little cost.

The other limiting factor is storage capacity. You can’t add an SD card to an iPhone (but you can attach a small USB thumb drive built for iPhones/Android phones), and shooting in 4K can use up a lot of storage. The high efficiency codec helps, but storage is still a problem. It didn’t come out on top, but one solution is a flash drive or external hard drive. What did come up was a laptop, and that led to a lot of debate among the three of us.

Susy was of the opinion that they wouldn’t bring a laptop with them. Brionne believed they would. I was on the fence, but quickly fell into the opinion that they would bring a laptop. Brionne’s argument for it didn’t completely convince me, but it did make me think of other filmmakers I know who can’t wait to start editing their footage as soon as a shoot ends. Having a laptop would then serve a dual purpose: central storage and the ability to start cutting immediately.

The Blair Witch Project 2021

For the purpose of this exercise, the assumption is that the scripting and pre-production have already been done. The only difference is in how it is shot.

Once we determined that there was a feasible way for the characters to shoot on mobile, the discussion turned to how the film would look. Would it be significantly different from the original? The answer was a unanimous no. Even with smart phones that have cameras that are objectively better than those used in 1999, the film would still shake out in roughly the same fashion as the original. It would still be a group of people shooting a documentary, interviewing people, then going into the woods to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. They’d still get trapped in the forest and eventually fall victim to the Witch.

Mike testing sound equipment

One question remained though. If they have GPS (one or all them would have their personal phones not used for filming) there’s no reason for them to get lost. But that’s the thing with the Blair Witch Project and the direct sequel (not Book of Shadows). They don’t get lost, the Witch literally transforms the forest around them, and that’s why they keep passing her same stump even though they passed it 8 hours ago. Maps didn’t matter in 1999, and GPS won’t matter in 2021. Even with today’s tech, it doesn’t impact the supernatural aspect of the story.

Heather loses hope

And that’s what I love about filmmaking with mobile devices. It’s not the camera that matters, it’s the story. And story is everything. The camera is simply the means to convey the visual part of the story to the audience. Filming on a RED or an iPhone 6s really doesn’t make a difference, what matters is that the story you’re telling is interesting, engaging, and compelling enough for someone to watch.

So if you’ve got a great story idea, don’t wait until you can get the ‘right’ camera. Get out there and make it, today!

If there’s anything this little thought exercise has taught me it’s that anything is possible.

Follow the Mobile Film Stories Club on the Clubhouse App.

Susy and I also discussed this experience on the SBP Podcast Mobile Filmmaking which will come with episode 111 when it’s published.

Instagram @jasoncmarshall

Twitter: @jasonmarshallca

Alternate Instagram @zerotheorymedia

My writing for HBOthenevers:

Susy Botello on Twitter: http://twitter.com/susybotello

Brionne Olsen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrionneOlsen

Beraat Gokkus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BeraatGokkus



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