How the Blair Witch Project Became a Commercial Success

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The Blair Witch Project focused on three student filmmakers who were creating a film about the supernatural legend of the Blair Witch.  The story starts with them interviewing the local people in the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, and ends with them disappearing into the hills with their film equipment.  They are never heard from again.  That is until their film is found and is made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project was a truly independent movie that became a massive commercial success. But just how did this happen?

A Viral Publicity Campaign

In 1998, the production company behind the Blair Witch Project bought the domain name and set up a basic website which talked about the legend.  A year later, in January 1999, the film aired at Sundance and the rights were sold to Artisan Entertainment for $1 million.  In a joint decision, Artisan and the production company decided to place the website at the center of their publicity campaign.

The website was added to over the following six months, and a number of other low-priced marketing techniques were employed.  By the time the film released in July that same year, only around $1 million had been spent on advertising – a lot less than you would expect for a film that went on to have the success that the Blair Witch Project had.

$1.5 Million on Its Opening Weekend

On its opening weekend, the Blair Witch Project was only scheduled to run on 27 screens in the US.  However, each one of these screens was fully booked and the film generated $1.5 million!  Before its release in the UK and Ireland, double the number of screens were made available in order to cater to demand.  The film has since made over $250 million, which is the second highest return on investment for any film ever released.  Modern cinema has led to some fantastic releases over the years, but none has managed to surpass the success that this independent film enjoyed 19 years ago, back in 2009.

Independent Filmmakers Should Take Notes

Independent filmmakers in 2018 can take a lot of notes from the success of the Blair Witch Project.  Although we now have numerous services available to us like DVD replication and social media for advertising, sometimes, going down the simple route is what works.  The Blair Witch Project was a unique idea at the time, and it was promoted using a mysterious website.  Although part of its success is that it was one of the first films to be marketed online, there are many options out there for new filmmakers who are not afraid to move away from the standards.

So, how did the Blair Witch Project become a commercial success?  It broke the boundaries and created something new.  Its creators used what was, at the time, a new form of marketing to promote it.  And, it focused on creating a story.  It will be interesting to see whether any other film matches its success in the future.

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