Sequel Writers Explain Their Toughest Jobs in Hollywood

Photo: Craft Entertainment

I should have known something was wrong by the way I became the director of this movie. A young executive at Artisan, the pop-up studio, who was a big fan of lost paradise, contacted me to see if I was interested in the features. I said, “I have this really cool project I’m developing called The little man in the atticwhich is a film I still want to make. This is the true story of a guy who lived in his lover’s attic, unbeknownst to her husband, for 20 years. She loved the idea and I continued to meet higher and higher executives. Finally, I’m sitting with the three guys who ran Artisan. I start my speech, and before I can even finish the first sentence, Amir Malin, the president, raised his hand and said, “You’re not here for this movie. In fact, we want to talk to you about the sequel to The Blair Witch Project.”

I had a difficult relationship with Blair Witch. As a documentary filmmaker, I had a problem with the idea that shaking the camera equals reality, and this film was sold to American audiences in the early days of the internet as if it were real. The guys from Artisan said, “Well, here are three different scripts for a movie. Why don’t you take them home? All three were extensions of the found footage technique. I called them and said, “I appreciate you giving me the scripts, but I don’t think you can do this anymore. So they said, “Well, what would you do?” I said, “Let’s not do a sequel to the underlying story. As a documentary filmmaker, I observed this fascination with how this film became this cultural phenomenon. Even after the movie was released, fans flocked to Burkittsville because they were convinced the witch was real. Let’s do a sequel that talks about this phenomenon. They bought it, to my surprise.

Funny thing is, I had virtually no supervision on set. I kept sending dailies to LA and they kept emailing me back saying, “Keep up the good work.” I’ve made my final cut and I get this phone call from a marketing manager: “We’ve tested the film, and we need more scares.” They ordered a bunch of reshoots and changed the structure of the movie. My film had no gory re-enactments. The final reveal was supposed to be that ten-minute scene in which you finally realize there’s no Blair Witch and the kids were the killers. Artisan took this scene, broke it up, and sprinkled it throughout the film. They gave Jeffrey Donovan this big story with a straitjacket like he came from a mental institution. None of this made sense to me.

I was nominal director, but I had lost control. My agent, who is no longer my agent, told me: “If you withdraw, you will never have the opportunity to make a film again. I just swallowed and accepted the changes. It was a very painful experience. There is a happy ending to the story, however. When the movie came out, it threw me into deep funk. Literally, for months, I curled up in a ball of depression. I remember my wife coming into my office and saying, “Come on, fuck off. Watch lost paradise and remember that you are a good filmmaker. So I jumped on lost paradise, and the opening title sequence is from a Metallica track called “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”. It was the start of 2004 some kind of monster. It was one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever had in my life, and this movie definitely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had a big flop with it. Blair Witch 2.