This film was a huge success because its makers did heavy marketing via the Internet, spreading rumors and suggesting or allowing people to think that the material they shot was authentic and that the three protagonists really disappeared. This has caused problems for the police department of Burkittsville, Maryland, the setting of the movie; a similar problem occurred after the movie The Amityville Horror was released.
After the movie's success, and franchising started, computer games were sold and of course all sorts of memorabilia, but the makers couldn't re-create the success or innovation of the original movie, which they claimed created a whole new way of filmmaking, Method Film-making, named after method acting.
The technique used was to give the three actors only a loose idea of what they were doing--basically "You are three student film makers doing a documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch"--then turn them loose with a professional camera for the documentary plus an amateur camera to document the 'making of the documentary'. The script was almost entirely ad-libbed, the townspeople interviewed were mostly real townspeople making it up as they went along and the three actors had only minimal contact with the real film crew who did not provide any of the footage and had a role more like a gamemaster. The real film crew's only task was to prod the actors in the required direction and edit together the film using only footage taken by the actors. The result was a very authentic-feeling fictional documentary and three actors that were genuinely cold, exhausted, confused and, most of all, terrified.
The film-makers also created a complex, detailed backstory told through the movie's website and in spin-off books.
The estimated production cost of the film was about $25,000. The movie grossed over $150 million at the box office, making it the most profitable motion picture of all time.
In fact, the method of incorporating the camera and film team into the plot is not totally new. One of the predecessors of this technique are theDanish Dogme95 movies, and, most notably, the Belgian pseudo-documentary Man Bites Dog.
The Blair Witch Project bears many similarities to The Last Broadcast (1998), written and directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler. Both are mock-documentaries about people who go into the wilderness in search of a mythical figure (in this case, the Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens), and vanish; however, the endings are quite different. It is unclear whether one project was inspired by the other, or if they were conceived separately in isolation. Cult film buffs also claim a further inspiration for the film is a notorious exploitation picture entitled Cannibal Holocaust, filmed in 1978. This fictional documentary also told the story of a filmmaking crew who journeyed to the jungles of South America in search of a tribe of cannibal natives, only to end up being devoured by the cannibals themselves.
The sequel, Blair Witch Project 2, did very poorly at the box office. Movie distributors believe this is because the film was rated R, and in response to pressure from Senator Joseph Lieberman over sex and violence in the movies, the National Association of Theater Owners promoted a policy of strict ID checks, thus eliminating the target audience.