Ya, I mean that was the plan. They were expecting a different film. They were expecting something a little more Hostel.
You were away from the scene from quite some time between "The Blair Witch Project" and "Altered," can you tell us what you were up too for all that time?
Dan (Myrick) and I tried to get this movie called "Heart of Love" going. It was a comedy, and we had the script and just kind of turned into a mess. The distributor we were working with didn't seem to be really interested in making the movie. They just seemed interested in using the leverage to get us to do other things. We ended up in this huge thing with them about "Blair Witch," and "Blair Witch 2" and "Heart of Love." After that we kind of just went our separate ways for a little while. Dan moved to California and I moved back to Maryland. We just kind of slipped away from film making.
I know Dan and I both tried to get a bunch of projects going. I had been trying to be a filmmaker since I was 16 and around that time I was in my early 30's, and I think I just wanted to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. So I got married, I had a couple of kids, bought a couple of houses. We finally settled here in Maryland. So Endeavor showed us some projects, but nothing that I really wanted to direct. That was really kind of the status quo. I started writing a lot of stuff, and that's how "Altered" came to be. I got it and I really loved the script and the writer happened to live 45 minutes from my house. So Jamie and I started collaborating.
I just wanted to change the script, make it darker. When it first came to me it was called "Probed." It was more of a comedy, like a black comedy. It was really edgy and just kind of wrong in a bunch of different ways. So we slowly kind of turned it into what it became. Then almost 3 years ago this time, I pitched it to Greg, who had produced "Blair Witch," and he dug the idea and asked me to send him the script. So we all kind of got together and said "hey, this is a good time, let's all get together and make another movie." And that's how that project came to be.
I just saw it the other night and loved it.
Oh cool man, glad you liked it. You know "Altered" was the first time I had done anything with a real budget, and it was a real learning experience for me. It taught me a lot of stuff. You learn every time, and I'm really proud of the film. I think it's a cool film. It's not, you know, a great film, but I think it delivers for the horror crowd. It delivers in a bunch of different ways and it's a fun little film. It's not meant to be anything bigger than that. I'm glad people are digging it you know, overall the reviews have been good. People on the web dig it, so it's a good thing.
It actually reminded me a lot of Carpenter's "The Thing." Was that one of your influences when you were rewriting the script?
Ya absolutely, I mean I love that movie. It's probably his best film. The thing about "Altered" was that it was the first film I had directed that wasn't an idea that I originally came up with. So it was kind of a challenge for me to kind of turn this thing that didn't originate from me into something that I liked. I just felt that it had to have a little goofiness to it. But ya, "The Thing" is one of those movies where everything was right. The way he did the effects, and the casting, and the tone and the music... just everything really works.
Ya. I thought Adam Kaufman was great in "Altered"... and I've seen him in some other stuff and he really seemed to be playing against type.
Adam was kind of a big surprise, and a really welcome surprise. It was kind of a scary thing because he was on a list for a long time and we went for a few other people that just weren't available, or we couldn't offer enough money. The only thing was Adam really hadn't done much stuff. His biggest thing was "Taken," and like you said that wasn't a "Wyatt" character at all. But I thought he was a really good actor and I thought he was really interesting. It just got to the point where I had auditioned a bunch of people in LA and I couldn't pull the trigger on anybody. There was a couple of people that I really liked, but nobody just really blew me away.
(Adam) was unavailable to read, but my producer Greg in LA had lunch with him, and Greg was like "ya, I think he seems like a good guy. He's got a good look, a scruffy look." So I called him on the phone and talked to him for a little while. As soon as I heard his voice I thought he was great. He was literally the only actor that I cast that I had never seen read until that day that he was in Orlando doing the read through of the first script. It was a really scary thing because that's just a very strange way to cast. You're right though, I mean without him the movie wouldn't work at all.
I saw from his filmography that he was on Dawson's Creek
Ya, he was on Dawson's Creek, and he was on Buffy, and Taken was his big thing. Adam's a strange guy though. Not strange, but he's a real interesting guy. I think since then he hasn't done anything. He's just kind of one of these guys who... he was a minor league ball player for a while, and he dropped out of college, but he's a really smart guy. He's kind of restless, and I think maybe the acting thing doesn't challenge him enough or something.
And pretty much all the press that we did was basically me. They didn't even get a publicist. They did NOTHING for it, which is amazing to me.
Mike Williams (from the Blair Witch) I didn't even know he was in the movie till I heard someone on a podcast mention him. He's absolutely unrecognizable.
Ya ya, he's awesome. He's the first guy I cast. As soon as I read the script. As soon as we had the characters figured out I called him up and told him I had a script for him that he's gonna like. He called me back and was like "ya, let's do it!" So he was cast and everybody else kind of came from LA later on. I hadn't worked with anybody except him actor wise.
But ya, he was awesome. My buddy Dan just cast him in a movie called "The Objective" which he's editing right now, and Mike is just kind of like this presence on the set. He just helps out whenever he can and he's one of these guys that just loves to act and loves to make films. He's got no ego and is just the coolest dude you can have on set. I always say I wish I could cast him in every one of my films and I think Dan feels the same way. He just makes the film better, not only by his acting but his presence on the set. He kind of just brings good Karma to the film. I feel really at ease with him.
For those who haven't been keeping up with your blogs, can you explain what happened with your theatrical release?
Ya, I mean that was the plan. They were expecting a different film. They were expecting something a little more "Hostel." 3 things happened. First of all the film tested badly. They tested it once and they didn't really give it a chance. We tried to get them to test it again but their decision to go straight to video had already been made. Secondly, there was kind of a shakeup there at Focus, which runs Rogue pictures, the main guy that was running Focus was leaving to be the head of Universal. So nobody wanted to take responsibility for the film. It was a film without a champion, and it's hard to do anything in that atmosphere.
Also I just think they were expecting a different kind of film. I don't know what they saw when they read the script. The writer and actors and I did a pretty good job to get the script on the screen, but I don't know what the hell they were expecting. So you know, it just didn't work out and they pretty much buried the film, which is unfortunate. To my knowledge they put pretty much no marketing into it, even the video release.
Ya, I found out about it through your blog, which I found through Myspace by accident.
Ya that's the way it is, it's all kind of word of mouth. We've been getting some good word of mouth out there but without a good marketing push you can't really do much. Like your saw in my blog, it's the hardest professional thing I've ever had to go through. At the same time it kind of just toughened me up, and the way I feel right now about it I can't believe that 6 or 7 months ago I was going through that. I definitely think about it every once in a while and it's a scary thing, but now it's kind of like "the hell with it, just move on to the next one." Just about everyone has had a film that just didn't work in one way or another. Where the distributor kind of just shits it out. That doesn't mean that it's a bad film. They just didn't know how to market it.
Also I think, and this is just all speculation, but Universal had just released a film called "Slither," a pretty cool film but that one tanked. And they kind of looked at "Slither" and felt it was a little bit similar. They're both tongue in cheek, a little quirky, a little gross, and no one went to see it. I mean everyone online loved it, but no one went to see it unfortunately. And that week that "Slither" was out was when they called us and said we were going straight to video. So I don't know if that movie was kind of like the last straw for them or what, but I think that had a lot to do with it. I mean you know, what are you going to do.
I noticed that the DVD was pretty barebones...
Well it's the same kind of thing. When you're like the ugly stepchild of a distributor... they didn't want to put any effort into it. Those deleted scenes (on the DVD) were things that we had and we completely put together. They were talking about doing director's commentary and doing this and that, and then they just never got around to it. When we came back and asked what was going on they said it's too late. Even the cover art, we didn't see it until they released it to the general public. They gave it to us like a week before they sent it out to stores. And we worked with some cool people there at Universal Home Video, it wasn't really their fault. It was just kind of this thing from above. They just did whatever they could.
I'm really disappointed by the special features too because, we really had a lot of stuff. I don't know if you've seen on my YouTube Channel, there's like 22 behind the scenes videos, which I think would have been cool. There was that, and we wanted to do commentary and even some more scenes that we wanted to put on there. But nobody wanted to make any effort. We actually spent our own money on doing some internet marketing. They were cool enough to match it, and they were cool about that, but other than that man... I got on my site and asked if anyone had seen any marketing for this movie... and there was nothing.
There was an article on Fangoria, because the writer contacted me directly. And pretty much all the press that we did was basically me. They didn't even get a publicist. They did NOTHING for it, which is amazing to me. I don't know what happened there, man. Some people in our camp think that these kinds of movies, that they kind of make them fail on purpose so that they can write them off. I don't know if that's true, but what happened happened and all I can do is speculate on the reasons.
That was another argument I had with them. They wanted to strike while the iron was hot, but I think people were kind of sick of the Blair Witch hype.
I've got some Book of Shadows questions now. You mentioned earlier that you had a falling out with the company that did the "Blair Witch" sequel?
Ya, Artisan was bought out by Lions Gate. They bought "Blair Witch" and they immediately wanted a sequel. We didn't want to do a sequel, we wanted to do "Heart of Love" which is a comedy. Like I said, they held "Heart of Love" hostage to a certain extent to try to make us do "Book of Shadows." We said we'd help them out, but we didn't want to direct or write it. We didn't have any ideas. The only one really that we have now is the Blair Witch prequel. Going back to the late 1700's, and it's winter in this village and shit is happening. People hallucinating and stuff. It's really hardcore and realistic. We would want to cast it out of Europe with people with messed up teeth. (laughs) Not that people from Europe have messed up teeth. Just make it really cool, maybe even shoot it in Europe.
That was the idea. But they said no. They said they were going to hire Joe Berlinger and we were pretty excited because we were big fans of Joe and his partner and the documentaries they do together. We thought it was a good idea, to bring Joe in to do this movie, and we thought it was going to be kind of experimental. But from the get go, it kind of got crazy pretty quick. Have you seen "Book of Shadows?"
Actually it's funny you say that. I watched it last week for the first time and really liked it. Since then I've been trying to figure out exactly what involvement you guys actually had in it...
We were executive producer's on it. Which basically means we got paid to put our names on it and not say bad things about it until the movie comes out. My thing is that, it's not a terrible film. It's not a bad film but I just think it has nothing to do with the first film. I think that as a sequel it just didn't do it. Dan and I, our idea for a "Blair Witch" sequel was to show the next incident, after 1993. So the next one would have been 2030 or 2040. Like every 50 years or so.
Not that it would have been "Aliens" or a futuristic movie but just something that takes place in that timeframe. Or we could have gone backwards. But for us, doing the sequel didn't make any sense. But we thought Joe did a good job for the time he was given, and the amount of control he was given because... have you seen it with the Director's commentary on?
Ya, you've got to check it out with the commentary. He was rightfully angry. He put himself in a pretty bad situation. He had like basically like eight months to write, produce, edit and finish a movie. They had a release date and they wanted to strike on that date. So we were basically involved until we told them that we didn't think the story was very good. And they kind of stopped listening to us after that. And then when they finished it they came and screened it for us. And this was before the version you saw, because they basically took it away from Joe, and they added a bunch of stuff to it. All that hospital stuff with the guy being force-fed, that was all them. And all the blood and all that stuff was all added later. I think so anyways, I know the mental asylum scene was added later.
If you liked it though man, check out the commentary it's very interesting. So when they showed it to us we were very disappointed with it. So they asked us to do some press, at least Entertainment Weekly and Premiere Magazine. And I said if they were going to interview me then I'm not going to lie to them, I'm going to tell them I didn't like the movie. I just didn't care for it. It was just a bad scene.
I also had the advantage of seeing it like 7 years later, and kind of viewing it without any hype or expectations.
Absolutely. I mean look, honestly, I have the soundtrack. And I think there's a lot of cool little moments in it. And I appreciate what Joe was trying to do. When you sell your film, you sell your film, and they take the idea, and you have a plan for the idea and they take it and completely do something that doesn't work. It's not as good as your plan, and it comes out and fails and you're kind of like "I told you so." Obviously you're coming to it from strictly watching it and digging it, but for me there's a lot of emotional baggage to it.
Sounds like everyone got screwed on that film (laughs)
Well I mean we got paid... we didn't completely get screwed. When we signed on as executive producers it wasn't for the money. It was a pretty good amount of money but it wasn't money that was going to change our lives. Our thing was we wanted to help, we wanted to make the best film possible. Before Joe got involved they hired like 3 writers. I actually have some of the old scripts which I found the other day. Just two or three completely different takes on it. I actually thought that one of those writer's scripts, ultimately I think it would have made a better film, at least compared to the original. I don't think it was a terrible film, I just think that in my view of Blair Witch it doesn't fit anywhere in the BW universe. It should have just been called "Book of Shadows" and been like a spinoff, I would have totally gotten behind that.
No I mean, it's pretty harmless now. I don't really hold anybody responsible for what happened, and I still keep in touch with a few people from the old Artisan crowd.
I gotta wonder even if you had made the film you had wanted to, if anything would have stood up to the hype of the first one.
That was another argument I had with them. They wanted to strike while the iron was hot, but I think people were kind of sick of the Blair Witch hype. It was this little movie we shot for like 30,000 bucks that was everywhere that became a worldwide phenomenon. I think people just thought enough of this shit. Our plan was let us do "Heart of Love" and then we'll do the prequel. Two years after would have been a great time. People would have had the chance to get away from it and then we'd bring it back with something fresh.
Artisan was a really good company right before "Blair Witch." They had Daron Aranofsky's next film, they had Steven Soderberg's next film after "Out of Sight." They had a lot of really great filmmakers. Not that I'm in that same league, but they had a lot of great filmmakers working there. And they just kind of shit themselves after "Blair Witch." They thought hey, we've got a lot of money, let's make a lot of money next year. They just completely threw all the other movies pretty much out the window.
I mean I remember Daron Aranofsky calling me right around the time of "Requeim for a Dream" came out. They released "Requeim For a Dream" right around the time they released "Book of Shadows" and there was very little marketing for it. It was a good film, and Daron called me up and asked me to send him footage from "Blair Witch 2," and I said I'll send you whatever I have. He said he wanted to see it because he thought they put in a tube feeding scene that they stole from his movie, and he needed to use it as leverage because they were going to bury his film. I don't know if I ever sent him anything but they released "Requiem" with little marketing and they spent a ton of money marketing "Blair Witch 2 " and it completely bombed.
So you're saying "Book" was directly responsible for their company (Artisan) folding?
Ya, to a certain extent. Not that they spent that much money on it... and they didn't really fold. Artisan was kind of created just to make money. It was created as an investment for a financing group. So it was always meant to build the company up and then sell it when it was worth a ton of money. It seemed to be the new Mirimax, and "The Blair Witch" kind of showed it's true colors. At that point it became about blowing out "Blair Witch 2," and then it came out and bombed and after that they kind of just staggered along.
They had a few good films after that but they were kind of just stuck. They didn't really know what they were doing after that. Then years later Lions Gate bought them. So you know, it's kind of ancient history but that's what was going on around that time. It's just like a real sour time. Looking back it wasn't like a lost loved one or anything, it wasn't that big of a deal, but during the time it was a huge deal for us. Now you look back and think, "shit happens. "
(laughs) I didn't mean to dredge up all these bad memories for you...
No I mean, it's pretty harmless now. I don't really hold anybody responsible for what happened, and I still keep in touch with a few people from the old Artisan crowd, so it's not like they're enemies. But it was definitely a great company for "Blair Witch," exactly at the right time and exactly a good time in the life of the company because they were willing to take risks. That's why they bought "Blair Witch" and that's why they marketed it that way and that's why they did all the shit they did. But at the same time, that's why they (said) "okay, how are we going to make a 140 million grossing movie next year?" And that's all they became.
So you're currently in pre-production on "Seventh Moon?" I couldn't really find any plot info online...
It's basically about this honeymooning couple in China, that are visiting China during the seventh lunar month, which is kind of like the superstitious month (in China) kind of like Halloween. And they just kind of run into some bad things there in China. That's pretty much all I can give you but it's a lot more "Blair Witch-ey" than "Altered." You definitely see what's going on more than "Blair Witch," but ya there's less in your face kind of stuff. Also just the style, I want to let the actors improv a little bit, and I want to run one of the cameras myself. It's just a completely different style of filmmaking.
You kind of have an idea, or see some material, and you kind of immediately see it in your head, and that vision kind of carries you through, if it's a good idea and something you were meant to do. It kind of carries you through the whole thing. So this is an idea that I came up with a couple of years ago, and the idea of making a horror film in China came up and I immediately thought that the one idea I had would be perfect for China.
It's the first script I've written pretty much by myself. Jamie Nash, the guy who wrote "Altered" with gets the "story by" credit, but I wrote the screenplay myself. And it's the first script I've written by myself since before "Blair Witch," so it's a lot closer to me. It really comes from me, so I have this connection to it. It's kind of exactly the same thing that happened with "Altered," and even "Blair Witch" where I wrote the script and I wanted to make the film but I really wasn't ready for it to ramp up so fast. I sent it to my partners Greg and Rob, and I sent it to them on Friday night and on Saturday morning they were already calling me like, "let's make this fucking movie."
So you know, we have a good team and we went to Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, and we met our production partners. It was a little bit of a shaky situation because we didn't really find the locations we wanted on the first couple of days, and we were kind of wondered if we were going to be able to find the locations we needed in Hong Kong. Our production partners were suggesting that we go to Malaysia, which is a lot more rural. But on the last day, like a fricking miracle we found all these ridiculously great locations, so great Karma there.
Ya I was reading your blog about just issues you were having.
Ya ya, and like I said, you have this vision in your head and you try to keep it... there's always compromising and the movie never comes out like you see it in your head when you first thought of the idea. Most of the time it's a good thing, sometimes it's a bad thing, but for this one the vision is pretty clear and I still think I can get pretty close to it, based on what I saw from my trip.
And when are you prepping that for?
We are supposed to leave here in th emiddle of August, like August 11th is the penciled in date for me. So very soon. It's like a month away. There's a thing called "The Hungry Ghost Festival," that takes place in Hong Kong, and it's like Halloween. It's supposed to be like the gates of hell open up and hungry ghosts come out and just kind of, devour shit. And that's an actual festival that takes place on August 27th, so we have to shoot (that) for a couple of days, and then six weeks prep, and then shoot for about six weeks. I'll be back home for Thanksgiving, hopefully.
So do you know what kind of release date you're prepping for?
You know we don't have a distributor. We basically are raising all the money, and if somebody wants to come in and pick us up we'll definitely look at options. But you know, we want to make the film and see what happens.
Well thanks for answering all of our questions.
No problem, thanks a lot for the interest.