Ten years ago, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez scared the bejeezus out of moviegoers everywhere with their micro-indie horror hit, The Blair Witch Project, which went on to gross a record-breaking $140.5 million. Now that there’s another rock-bottom-budgeted fright fest, Paranormal Activity, racking up big bucks ($39 million and counting), the comparisons to Blair Witch have been constant — and understandable. As Paranormal attempts to take down Saw VI this weekend on few than 2,000 screens, we rang up Myrick (pictured, above) to get his take on the spooky successor to his horror smash. He had plenty to say, including plans for a possible trip back to Blair with Sánchez.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you feel about all the comparisons between your movie and Paranormal Activity?
DANIEL MYRICK: I think they’re flattering. It’s encouraging to see another film come out that’s in the spirit of the Blair Witch aesthetic. And the marketing approach that’s doing so well reaffirms in my mind that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to have a successful film. Blair set the bar pretty high, so it’s nice to see another film 10 years later hopefully repeat the same success.
Have you seen Paranormal?
Yeah. I liked it. There are things I definitely would have done differently, ’cause that’s just me the filmmaker speaking, but I try to look at it objectively, not as the Blair guy. I thought it had some great scares in it. I got to see it with an audience at a private screening, and the audience reaction was great.
Hollywood is a tough place, especially when people get sudden fame. What advice would you give to Paranormal’s writer-director Oren Peli?
Well, I think with a film like this, you get pigeonholed into a certain kind of genre. I definitely see the logic in capitalizing while the iron is hot, getting a couple of movies under your belt, if the studios are willing to finance projects you feel good about. And it seems like he’s doing that now with a project called Area 51 that he’s shooting. That is smart. I can only speak for myself as a filmmaker, but eventually, you want to branch out and try different kinds of things, which can be difficult if you’re put into this genre position. Only Oren can decide if he wants to continue down this road or branch out into other ideas or scripts that he may have. I think he’s doing the right thing now.
What would you tell him not to do? How does he avoid becoming the guy who directed Paranormal and then went away?
Well, I think…[Pause] The mistakes Ed and I made were, we were trying to do a complete 180 from Blair Witch. We were trying to develop a comedy as our follow-up movie and although it was pretty close to our heart, it certainly wasn’t embraced by the studio. We felt like we were on our own. Artisan [the indie outlet that distributed Blair Witch]…kind of held that project hostage. Sometimes these two- and three-picture deals that everyone likes to brag about are more or less leverage to get you to do stuff down the road that you may or may not want to do. So you have to be careful about that.
It is a nasty business.
It’s a nasty business. It’s business. You have to be realistic and pragmatic about it. And I think if Oren maintains that pragmatic and down-to-earth approach in his filmmaking and strikes that balance between art and commerce, he can do very well. He’s certainly in the genre that appeals to that.
What advice would you give the actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat?
The big difference between Blair Witch and this film is, I don’t think a ton of people are going into Paranormal Activity thinking it’s completely real. Blair Witch, at the time it came out, with the Internet in its infancy, we were able to catch people off-guard. They watched our film and it was very disarming. They didn’t feel like they were watching actors, they felt like they were watching these authentic performances from people that were just like them. With Paranormal, it’s a little bit different. I think people are more sophisticated now. So my prediction is that the Paranormal actors will get more credit for being actors, whereas our actors, they almost did too good of a job. I think [Katie and Micah] will be able to capitalize a a little bit more effectively on pursuing an acting career based on this film.
What are you up to these days?
I’ve got a project called Savant that is making the rounds and we’re trying to get it set up, I’m hoping, for next year. It’s a psychological thriller about a man who has been incarcerated and has this unique ability to convince normal people to become mass murderers by just talking to them. So it’s a dark thriller. I wrote the script a couple of years ago. And Ed and I are both circling around some other Blair ideas. We’re thinking about collaborating again. With this whole Paranormal Activity thing, there’s a spotlight shining back on Blair. So the timing might be right. Who knows? We’ll see how it goes.