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INTERVIEW: The Blair Witch Legacy Creator Jason Hawkins

INTERVIEW: The Blair Witch Legacy Creator Jason Hawkins

This is a fan-made film and will not be available for purchase or digital viewing.
I had an opportunity to discuss some elements of The Blair Witch Legacy with Jason Hawkins. Hawkins also has aspirations to make his own Friday the 13th fan film and says he has it “if people got behind it…….I already worked out how it would go”. As The Blair Witch Legacy is a fan made film, Hawkins and his crew cannot gain financially from its release. However, as you see in my candid interview with Hawkins, he has plans for the film.

House of Tortured Souls: The Blair Witch Legacy is a ‘fan film’, are you a fan of the Blair Witch franchise (this would include all 3 films currently released) and/or the Blair Witch folklore?
Jason Hawkins: I am a fan of the Blair Witch films. I saw the first one in theatres when, like a lot of people, I wasn’t sure if what I was watching was legit or not. I suspected not, but the film was so well put together, and the marketing campaign so well thought out, that I was able to suspend disbelief enough to get caught up in the story and really enjoy it. As a child, I had seen a lot of the docu-films like The Legend of Boggy Creek and such, so I think I was ready for a film like this. I’ve revisited The Blair Witch Project multiple times over the years and find that it still holds up well. The second film Book Of Shadows my hopes were high. I think I’m one of the few people who thought the film was decent. It’s not excellent, and there’s a lot going on that misses the point, but I thought (when I was watching it as a stand-alone style film) that it holds up in a video store rental kinda way. The third film…I was curious. More than I was excited. I think the reaction to the second film really hurt the release of the new one. I didn’t enjoy the third film in the way I hoped I would. To me, they erred in making it a ‘Hollywood Movie’ filled with the same type of things horror fans complain about on a regular basis. The premise was solid, the idea was there, but the execution was not. I felt it was ‘Oh look, pretty teens go into the woods….oh look the cliché black best friend character…oh look” it was filled with things that took me out of the realism. There was never any doubt that we were watching a ‘Hollywood Film’ from the beginning. It was missing that ‘what if’ factor of the original film. It should have come off as a raw Indie. I think that’s the major differences between the original and the follow-up films. We love the original because of what it is- the underdog's story. The filmmakers were not Hollywood cookie-cutter characters. They looked, acted, felt like real people - because they were. In our film, we wanted to get back to basics, back to a film that feels like it could have been shot with regular people on consumer level equipment – because it was. We embraced that and worked to make it feel exactly like what it is …. a found footage film.

HoTS: Being a fan of the film, how did you produce the budget for the film? Was there an Indiegogo campaign? Investors?
JH: We actually worked with a pretty small budget, even by Indie standards. Being a fan film, we knew we couldn’t profit off of it, and we’ve done our best to be very respectful of the intellectual properties, which would have made going to an investor difficult. With limited options, we decided to make this film directly out of our own pockets and funded all aspects of it ourselves. There was talk of an Indiegogo, but we felt with the right people and the right approach we could pull this off ourselves. The money hunt, particularly for indie artists, is a constant struggle. It’s very, very difficult to get films made, even when you have a solid track record and I didn’t want to wait 5 years…… 10 ….maybe never making this film. I’ve seen too many filmmakers with great ideas wither on the vine and never get their made because they don’t have the budget. We worked with what we had, took advantage of our skills and decided to make the film with a budget we had.

HoTS: Where did you find your 3 lead actors – Samantha Marie Cook, Cody Epling, and Jason Reynolds- and what was it like working with them?
JH: We originally posted the project under a code name The March Project intending to cast and shoot in spring. Record rainfall flooded a lot of our locations and caused some conditions that we decided might be hazardous, so we delayed. We had begun the audition process by accepting video auditions. From those we culled the list down to the top 2-3 we wanted to see them in person for each character. We bought these actors in and really put them through their paces. They still didn’t know what they were auditioning for, what the film was about or anything. We narrowed down our choices and invited the actors to join the film, finally telling them what it was and what our goals were. Sam was our first choice and Cody had actually auditioned for a different character but came on as the character we see in the film. (In fact, most of the characters you see in the film had auditioned, didn’t get the role they were after but were offered a chance to come back and be in the film and its supporting character). Jason I had known for a while, having worked with him on a few other projects and training MMA with him. He’s a friend and I wanted somebody who was comfortable in the deep woods and also they were familiar with the way I work. Working with them was hell on earth – I’m kidding of course. We had multiple meetings before film dates, to get everybody comfortable around each other and to work on building the sense of camaraderie that you hopefully see and feel in the film. The characters came together well, and once the weather cleared we moved to shoot. The first few days didn’t go as smooth as we wanted, but it was a great bonding experience and we decided to start over, scrapping the first few days of footage. The trials and tribulations of filming a project like this brought them together in a stronger way, and when we started again, they were on point. It’s hard to believe now that none of them had ever met before we started casting, they seem like old friends.

HoTS: You shot on location in both Oregon and Maryland, was the Burkittsville location welcoming of another Blair Witch film?
JH: Soooooo…..we didn’t actually go to Maryland. We wanted to sell the illusion that we did, much as they sold the illusion of the ‘Black Hills’ in the original. We went to the airport, whole bit, but never actually went to Maryland. I had scouted locations for a few months and done my best to match them up with some of the towns woods in Maryland. We put that in the credits just for fun, and to see if anybody would know the difference. Is that a spoiler? I’m not sure, but it’s a factual statement that the people of Burkittsville have come out with negative responses to the Blair Witch films- in our movie when Sam says “I know, it’s all on the Thrillist website”, she’s telling the truth. The Thrillist website does cover the negative reactions of the people of Burkittsville about The Blair Witch Project. A lot of what we did was very meta –we heavily mixed in fact and fiction. In fact, sometimes you’d hear statements on set such as “wait, is this real real or film real?” and sometimes the answer was simply yes, yes it is.

HoTS: What other film projects can I observe your work in?
JH: I like to stay busy and am almost always working on something, or developing the next project. Over the years I’ve done multiple feature films, including All American Bully with Adrienne King (from the original Friday the 13th), 15:Inside The Mind of a Serial Killer (which is getting re-released soon), and The Devil Knows His Own with Eileen Dietz (from The Exorcist and many more), as well as several short films. Like a lot of indie artists, we’ve had ups and downs with distribution. My films can be found on Redbox, iTunes, Amazon, Walmart and many outlets around the world. Many would call that success, and I suppose it is, but getting distributors to actually pay you for your work is another story entirely. In fact, that’s an entire article unto itself…

HoTS: What is the plan for The Blair Witch Legacy? Will you be submitting it to festivals?
JH: This is actually a pretty complex question. We knew going into this that we couldn’t profit off of someone else’s intellectual property. We are not the copyright holders, and our film is able to exist through the grace of Lionsgate. They have allowed people to play with the Blair Witch universe in the past – these are dozens of fan shorts, fake documentaries, etc, much the same as fans have been allowed to play in other rich, layered, universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and so on. So, knowing that, we made the film by fans, for fans. We have submitted to multiple festivals and conventions, where we’ll be showing exhibition screeners of our film. Currently, there are close to a dozen that will be showing it or trying to work it into their schedule. However, I try to make sure every move I make in regards to film and my career is with a reason. I like to say “No move without purpose” and try to make sure every move is to advance and with purpose. I didn’t just make a fan film. I made a fan film in a popular universe to draw more attention to what we do, and send up a flare in the direction of Lionsgate- “hey look at us. We love the franchise. There is hope for it. Let US make the next one.” How cool would it be to get their attention and have them look at our project? I’ve already worked out most of the details for a sequel, and I really believe the franchise can be given new life and reach new audiences worldwide. And I want to be the one to do it. No move without purpose.

Keep up to date on screenings and festivals showing The Blair Witch Legacy, through their Facebook page and watch for future projects from Jason Hawkins.
Posted by Michelle MIDI Sayles in INTERVIEWS, PARANORMAL, 0 comments