Sequel Screenwriters Explain Their Toughest Hollywood Jobs

Photo: Artisan Entertainment

I should have known something was amiss by how I actually came to be the director of this movie. A young executive at Artisan, the short-lived studio, who was a huge fan of Paradise Lost, reached out to me to see if I had any interest in features. I said, “I have this really cool project I’m developing called The Little Fellow in the Attic, ”Which is a film I still want to make. It’s a true story about a guy who lived in the attic of his lover, unbeknownst to her husband, for 20 years. She loved the idea, and I kept meeting higher and higher levels of executives. Finally, I’m sitting with the three guys who were running Artisan. I start my pitch, and before I could even finish the first sentence, Amir Malin, the president, held up his hand and said, “You’re not here for that movie. We actually want to talk to you about the sequel to The Blair Witch Project. “

I had a difficult relationship with Blair Witch. As a documentarian, I had a problem with the idea that shaking the camera equates to reality, and this movie was sold to the American public in the early days of the internet like it was real. The Artisan guys said, “Well, here are three different scripts for a movie. Why don’t you take them home? ” All three of them were continuations of the found-footage technique. I called them up 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. I, as a documentarian, observed this fascination of how this film became this cultural phenomenon. Even after the movie came out, fans went down to Burkittsville in droves because they were convinced that the witch is real. Let’s make a sequel that talks about that phenomenon. ” They bought it, much to my surprise.

The funny thing about it is I basically had no oversight on set. I kept sending dailies to LA and they kept emailing me back, saying, “Keep up the good work.” I handed in my final cut, and I get this phone call from a marketing executive: “We’ve tested the movie, and we need more scares.” They ordered a bunch of reshoots and changed the structure of the film. My movie didn’t have any of the bloody reenactments. The final reveal was supposed to be this ten-minute scene in which you finally realize that there is no Blair Witch and that the kids were the killers. Artisan took that scene, broke it up, and sprinkled it throughout the movie. They gave Jeffrey Donovan this big backstory with a straightjacket like he came from a mental institution. None of it made any sense to me.

I was director in name, but I had lost control. My agent, who’s no longer my agent, said, “If you step away, you’ll never get another opportunity to make a movie.” I just gulped and went along with the changes. It was a very painful experience. There’s a happy ending to the story, though. When the movie came out, it put me into a profound funk. Literally, for months, I curled up in a ball of depression. I remember my wife came into my office and said, “Come on, snap out of it. Watch Paradise Lost and remind yourself you’re a good filmmaker. ” So I popped on Paradise Lost, and the opening title sequence is to a Metallica track called “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” That was the start of 2004’s Some Kind of Monster. That was one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever had in my life, and that film definitely would not have happened had I not had a massive belly flop with Blair Witch 2.

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