The Cast of the Original Blair Witch Project is Fighting for Recognition

They weren’t really missing, but their royalties are.

Artisan Entertainment

In 1999, before viral marketing was a glimmer in Hollywood’s eye, The Blair Witch Project made a fictional legend feel real. The found footage horror film and its marketing campaign capitalized on the early days of lo-fi paranoia: fake police reports and missing person posters blurred the lines between fiction and reality, creating a phenomenon that hasn’t been matched since.

While those choices went a long way in making the film a novel hit, it also downplayed the importance of its cast. The Blair Witch Project was largely improvised, and stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams even used their own names for their characters. We wouldn’t have Blair Witch without them, but they’ve been fighting for proper recognition for 25 years. Now, just a week after Lionsgate and Blumhouse announced plans to revive the franchise, the trio began the fight anew.

Donahue, Leonard, and Williams wrote an open letter to Lionsgate requesting “retroactive and future residual” compensation for their work on The Blair Witch Project. The actors each made $300,000, while Artisan Entertainment — the original distributor — raked in over $200 million. Notably, Artisan later used the actors’ names and likenesses for Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 without their permission. It was the beginning of what Leonard calls “25 years of disrespect from the folks who’ve pocketed the lion’s share (pun intended) of the profits from OUR work.”

The Blair Witch Project’s marketing campaign blurred fiction and reality, but deemphasized the cast in the process.

Artisan Films

The cast is seeking residuals “equivalent to the sum that would’ve been allotted through SAG-AFTRA, had we had proper union or legal representation when the film was made.” They’re also hoping to consult on future Blair Witch projects, citing the failure of past sequels and reboots made without their input.

“Our film has now been rebooted twice [and] both times were a disappointment,” Leonard writes. “As the insiders who created the Blair Witch and have been listening to what fans love and want for 25 years, we’re your single greatest, yet thus-far un-utilized secret-weapon!”

Their open letter comes with the support of The Blair Witch Project’s original directors and producers. “As the literal faces of what has become a franchise, their likenesses, voices, and real names are inseparably tied to The Blair Witch Project,” a statement from the behind-the-camera talent said. “Their unique contributions not only defined the film’s authenticity but continue to resonate with audiences around the world.”

Lionsgate has yet to respond, but it would probably be in the studio’s best interest to do so. The SAG-AFTRA strikes marked a watershed moment for actors’ rights; hopefully, its impact can extend to members of older, influential projects. The Blair Witch Project’s cast certainly deserves more recognition after 25 years on the sidelines.

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