'Blair Witch' Buzz
March 14th, 2004
by Christopher Wehner
"Blair Witch Buzz" -- it's like heroin to the drug addict, speed to the racecar driver and performance enhancers to the professional athlete. Generating the kind of buzz for your project that produces a million dollar sale, oh yeah, ain't nothing better it's our drug. If you've got a good agent, then maybe, just maybe your script will pick up speed and generate a little hype. But almost all of us do not have agents, and have no idea how to use the web to our advantage. Whether you're a filmmaker or writer, generating "Blair Witch Buzz" is your goal. How you would go about doing it is one thing, actually doing it is another.
How do you generate "Blair Witch Buzz?" First, to have an understanding of just the kind of hype we're talking about lets reexamine the myth, the legend, "The Blair Witch Project." (BWP)
Thirty-five thousand dollars, that's how much BWP cost, not a whole lot. In 1994 Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" cost a bare seven thousand dollars, and it was a better film in my opinion. If Rodriguez had the web of today to use and manipulate, who knows how much bigger it could have been.
How and when did it begin? The Blair Witch Project web site came out over a year before it hit the big screen this past summer, 1999. In early 1998 before even a script had been written, Eduardo Sanchez (one of the films makers) developed a web site about the fictitious Blair Witch to showcase to potential investors and generate some buzz. It was not long before "spiders" from search engines began indexing the site and morbid web surfers began finding it.
"The Blair Witch Project" was filmed in the "mockumentary" style made popular by Rob Reiner and his film "This is Spinal Tap." BWP is about three filmmakers, as if you don't already know, who disappear while searching for a fabled 200 year-old witch. The filmmakers/screenwriters are Central Florida Film School pals Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, along with helpers Greg Hale and Robin Cowie.
What caught my attention while researching this phenomena was the suggestion by Salon.com that the filmmakers themselves are behind the development of the more than 20 "Blair Witch" web rings, which helped to generate the on-line buzz. Hype so large that blairwitch.com generated at its height some 75 million hits. How can you do this? Well, ultimately you can't. This type of cultural phenomena only happens once every few years. But does that mean you shouldn't try? No of course not, you could start the next phenomena.
Get the snowball rolling! The rumor is, that there was a group of people who were encouraged by the filmmakers to start posting messages all over the web stating that they had seen the movie on video tape. Now remember, this is before it was released as well as the fact that Artisan Entertainment who purchased the film was not just distributing tapes of the film to whoever wanted one. Piracy was never a problem with this film as they were so late in making it, getting a complete copy in the can was hard enough.
Make shit up! These postings were common on web rings, message boards, chat rooms and after awhile thousands of other sites, some created within 6 months of the film's release. I say, "So what!" This is simply a tremendous effort by these filmmakers and Artisan Entertainment because frankly, their movie was not all that great. The posts I've read by people claiming to have seen the movie, how they were so scared, and who or what they saw hung or butchered, it was remarkable. The amount of hype, it was like a machine as every hour there was more of it. Everyone got involved, there were people posting bogus comments without having seen the flick (no way to confirm this obviously). All I know is there were people posting from parts of the country where the film wasn't even showing. Whoever or whatever started the snowball, it just kept rolling and did it ever get big. Even taking out the fact that it is a small low-budget indie, I've seen better indie films. If you really think about it, all good marketing is disguised trickery, some do it better than others. These guys were really good at it.
Get it on "Aint-it-cool-news" or else! And that's not all, Harry Knowles -- one of Hollywood's 100 most powerful people according to Premiere Magazine -- supposedly posted rave reviews about the movie without even seeing it. Knowles web site, Aint-it-cool-news.com, is perhaps the most influential site on the web when it comes to movies. From Oscar winning writers and producers to the most powerful executives, when a review about their movie appears on Knowles site they come running. It's been said that Harry is being bought these days. I don't know, but what I do know is that he has a site viewed by millions each month, and it can single handedly kill a movie or create instant buzz.
Don't forget about cable and TV! The buzz for "Blair Witch" really started when John Pierson devoted a segment of his cable show "Split Screen" to the film and also mentioned the film's little web site, this was 1998. People became intrigued and wanted to know more, but the movie had not even been completely filmed yet! With the money Myrick and Sanchez got from the "Split Screen" segment, they were able to go back to Maryland and shoot for a week. While dodging the press' request for tapes of the film, as they didn't have any, Sanchez and Myrick were able to tell the likes of the LA Times to wait until Sundance 1999 as by then their film was set to show at the late night last showing of the festival, the "Park City at Midnight" slot. After the showing Artisan Entertainment had the vision and desperation to purchase the film for a cool million. There was already enough buzz that hinted at the possibilities, so it was a smart move on Artisan's part. The movie-goers at Sundance loved it and that was enough for Artisan.
Get a killer web sit! The first thing, the very first thing that Artisan did was to quickly take over the site (blairwitch.com) and developed it into an interactive media site with weekly installments, which brought people back again and again. With a response from the teen segment of our population equal to that of the "Titanic," the site was a winner from the get-go. The web site takes the brilliant POV that the Blair Witch actually existed, and the presentation of the myth is ambiguous enough that teens and young adults who visited could be swayed into thinking that the movie footage was real, and that the three students did actually disappear in the woods that night. Simply brilliant, enough said.
Get your ugly mug in print baby! Sanchez and Myrick made the covers of both Time and Newsweek, they sold their movie for a million, and after its success they have been signed for millions more to develop other projects, and yes a BWP II. Okay, so maybe Time and Newsweek is a little out of your league, but hey, the same could have been said for Myrick and Sanchez too! The point here is take every interview that is offered, especially ones from online sites. Spend several hours a week on the web making contact with different film and media web sites, talk them into interviewing you...beg and plead!
So what can you do to get some buzz, some hype going for you? Well, I hope I've pointed out a couple of things, but if not pay attention. First, remember that it's not always important that people understand you. Second, it's how things seem, not how they really are, that is important to the suits in Hollywood. Make it seem like you've got a movie, maybe shoot a short trailer (okay, if you've got a couple thousand bucks). Use a video camera and shoot some really confusing footage, or just shoot nothing at all and add some screaming...oh yeah, make sure it's dark and you're in a forest. Third, don't worry about the stinking script, start a web site and tell your friends about it. Now understand, your web site better be good and look bigger then your script (no wait, "Movie idea," you don't have a script yet). Get some photos of would-be actors, take some photos of where your "movie idea" would be shot. You get the idea...
Oh yeah, before you go, always remember to talk about your "Movie idea" as if its in production, as a matter of fact it's always in production. Even if you haven't written a word, it's "In production." Now start writing the damn script and hope that by the time you're done, you've got something goingafter all, it worked for Sanchez and Myrik.
SIDE BARS TO THIS ARTICLE
HOT OFF THE PRESS!
In marketing your product, and after all always consider your "movie idea" a product to be distributed, try to appear to be the victim of some unjust circumstance, for example: "End of Days" web site greeted visitors a week before its opening with the very disconcerting message:WARNING: Third part interception in progress!
Redirection to 296.666.999.696
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RESTART
This movie is a fraud. I alone know the End of Days.
Was their site really hacked? After all its happened before ("The Lost World," "Face/Off," and several others) Or was it a clever marketing ploy by Universal? Nothing gets teens and young adults more interested in a movie then "anti-hype." The kids see something as anti-establishment, and dare I say anti-Hollywood, and they'll come flocking. The Internet has spawned a new era of unconventional marketing tactics that actually work. They've always started marketing campaigns aimed at the impressionable youth of our society, but they haven't always been successful. Now they have a medium that is perfect for these types of ploys.
BLAIR WITCH WASN'T THE FIRST!
In 1994 one of the first web sites for a movie was by MGM/UA for its feature film "Stargate." It was the first movie to have it's trailer released online, before it was on TV. It was the first to start web-rings and do promotional tie-ins on web outposts such as Compuserve. But that was not all, MGM/UA directly targeted college students with special screenings on campuses and by reaching out to Sci-Fi fans on the web. Before considering the results consider this, the film had no blockbuster names and was widely considered a footnote on a fall schedule that included "Pulp Fiction," "Clear and Present Danger," "True Lies" and "Forrest Gump," to name a few. The result, it opened at more then 16 million and at the number one position. While "Blair Witch..." opened at a more sizeable 24, what "Stargate" did some 5 years ealier was still a considerable feat.