Genre filmmakers don’t come much more committed to what they do than Eduardo Sánchez. The co-director, with Daniel Myrick, of the game-changing first-person pseudo-documentary horror classic The Blair Witch Project, has stayed resolutely independent in the years since that film’s surprise success. How independent? He still lives in rural Maryland, just south of the Blair Witch location and about halfway between Washington, D.C. and Frederick.
His new film, the assured and powerful Exists, which follows the fate of five young people trapped in a remote Texas cabin by an enraged Bigfoot, is but his fifth feature-length film. In this exclusive interview, Sánchez talks about the Blair Witch phenomenon, his disdain for the phrase ‘found footage’, working with Robert Rodriguez, and horror tradition.
There’s an interesting line in the press kit for your new film: “Exists is shot in the style of ‘First Person Narrative,’ which unlike other ‘found footage’ films does not pretend to be of non-fictional origin. Is this a new kind of concept you and Jamie Nash are working on together?
It was originally an idea that I had. Jamie [Nash] is kind of my go-to writer, and he wrote the script. It’s not really anything new, it’s just basically the idea that when we did Blair Witch it was all about making it real and not fooling the audience but definitely bending the truth a little bit and making it seem like it was real. With Exists, y’know, it’s a Bigfoot movie, nobody’s going to believe it. I did a movie a couple of years ago called Lovely Molly, which was a really dark film, and I just wanted to do something really fun. I’ve wanted to do a Bigfoot movie for a really long time, and we finally got the money to do it. We lowered the budget as much as we could, spent all the money on the suit, and we did this thing.
It doesn’t pretend to be a found footage movie, it’s just basically a movie where the characters are shooting all the footage but it doesn’t pretend to be real.
We never came up with the “found footage” name. It’s not really an accurate term, even for Blair Witch. Dan [Myrick] and I always called it first person cinema, you know, P.O.V. cinema. It just uses the found footage style as a technique.
Everybody knows your backstory with Blair Witch and its huge success. Did you ever go through Burkittsville [the small Maryland town where it was shot] when the locals would sit out in front at folding tables and sell little sticks bound together with twine?
No, I heard about it though. I had dinner or breakfast or something with the mayor a couple of years ago. They’re still kind of mad about all the attention they got but some of the residents made some money off of Blair Witch, so at least there was something they were getting out of it. As you probably know, it’s just a nice little town, a perfect town to set the movie in. We never imagined our film was going to do what it did and bring such a spotlight to it.
I notice you’ve stayed local, because Lovely Molly was shot up the road in Hagerstown.
Yeah, I try to. Actually, it’s funny because there are some things I’ve found out about Frederick, and part of me is like, “Man, we could have shot Exists in Frederick.” But you know how it is. The idea of being able to go home at night in this business is just a rarity, so any time I can do something local I jump at the opportunity.
You shot Exists in East Texas, and it seems you’ve got very strong connections with Austin and the whole Robert Rodriguez universe there, so that must have been helpful.
Yeah, it was good. I’d met Robert before, but last year after the Exists shoot was actually the first time we worked together, or really I worked for him [directing a first season episode of Rodriguez’ From Dusk Till Dawn TV series]. He’s the Pope of Austin, you know, he’s the filmmaker there along with Richard Linklater, so you can’t make a film there without seeing the influence of those guys. They’re good guys and they deserve all the success they’ve achieved. The crews love them, so it’s definitely great to shoot there. You know, they’re shooting another season of From Dusk Till Dawn and the executive producer’s already invited me back so I look forward to going back there and working with them again.
You make moviemaking look really easy and really fun, but there’s obviously a lot of hard work involved in it. Is that the goal for you, to make it look easy, or is that just the way your movies turn out?
You know, it is what it is. The goal at all times is just trying to get through it. There’s always something that’s happening, especially with low budgets. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize. You know, shooting a film is not an easy thing, but I surround myself with people I love and with every film it seems we meet more people we want to keep in the family. And the fact that we were shooting a Bigfoot movie, as silly as it sounds, it really was a dream come true, you know?
So if there is anything in the film that appears fun or easy it really is the fact that I was having a ball, one of the best times I’ve ever had on set. Maybe that’s what it was, the fact I was having such a blast.
You have indeed surrounded yourself with a filmmaking family. Producer Gregg Hale, screenwriter Jamie Nash, who else is in your sphere there?
The D.P. of Lovely Molly, John Rutland, now shoots all my films. He’s a great guy, very talented, understands the system I use and meshes well with the rest of the family. I have a production designer named Drew White who does most of my films, three of the five I’ve done. There are producers I bring in, there’s a guy named Kyle Crosby, a young local guy who now line produces my films. Like I said, you meet new people every time. And, obviously, not everybody’s available all the time. But basically, I feel very blessed that I’m able to make films with the people I make films with.
Speaking of Drew White, were the two of you working very consciously with the whole Night of the Living Dead/Evil Dead vibe in the cabin with the thing in the floor and all that. Did that ever come up, kind of an homage to it?
The whole cabin in the woods thing is a horror cliché. For us, it was how do you get people there as quickly as possible so that Bigfoot can get in there and you can show your creature. We were already kind of experimenting with the whole creature thing, so we didn’t want to push the narrative too far out of the kind of familiar place that people are used to. Whenever you do a movie in a cabin in the woods, you’re going to do Night of the Living Dead/Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2. That’s where it all began, that creepy, low-budget vibe. The cabin was the biggest design element in the film, so you kind of have to tip your hat to those who came before you.
Exists is screening at the following Event Cinemas locations: George Street, Liverpool, and Campbelltown (NSW); Chermside (QLD); Marion (SA); and Inaloo (WA).