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Video Recording Equipment and Format: Two technological reasons for the Blair Witch Project’s Success

If you are a horror movie fan then you will have undoubtedly heard of the Blair Witch Project. Released in 1999, the Blair Witch Project is an American-made psychological horror film which was written by, directed by and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Upon release the film received mixed reviews from film critics around the globe however overall it has staked its claim as one of the masterpieces in modern horror film making.

Given the super-low budget that the makers of the film had, it is amazing to think that the Blair Witch Project made it on to the big screen at all. Today it is not uncommon to see movies created for tens of millions of pounds, yet the Blair Witch Project made do with just $500,000 - $750,000. As you can imagine, everybody involved in the making of the film received quite the healthy return on investment, however not even the makers thought it would be as successful as it really was.

The key to the Blair Witch Projects success was partly down to the technology used in order to captivate the audience. The whole of the film is captured in Hi-8 video alongside black-and-white 16mm film, which argue as you like sparked a whole new genre of horror movie; the found footage genre, with modern releases such as Paranormal Activity and Apollo 18 doing well in cinema.

Utilizing video recording equipment available to the average consumer, the Blair Witch Project for the first time in film making added a real authentic feel to cinema horror. For the first time hazy footage, shaking cameras and wild-yet-horrific sound effects found their way in front of an audience and all of this combined to create a very scary and clever film.

RCA Hi-8 Camcorder

The whole of the Blair Witch Project was filmed on an RCA Hi-8 Camcorder. Now old technology, Hi-8 cameras lacked the ability to connect to a computer and instead connect directly to a television. Hi-8 tapes were not cross compatible for playback and as such dedicated hardware was needed such as a Hi-8 camcorder or player. This all changed when Sony created the Digital8 format, which opened up a whole new way of formatting for Hi-8 video, a technology released in 1999.

The particular model of camcorder used for the Blair Witch project had a lens system featuring a 16.0 x x Zoom lens - 4.0 mm - 64.0 mm - F/1.4-2.8. Most of the sound for the Blair Witch Project was recorded simply through the camcorders in-built microphone.

Later on in an interview, the creators would reveal they used a Hi-8 camera because the film was supposed to have been shot in 1994.

Editing

Once footage had been recorded then came the task of editing the Blair Witch Project. As noted by Eduardo Sanchez, Co-director for the film, budget was a major concern.

They edited the whole movie by transferring the Hi-8 video on to Beta SP, batch capturing it to Media 100 and then edited out to DigiBeta before transferring to 35mm film. One drawback of using Hi-8 was that there is no in-built time code and as such the creators had to manually replace all footage back in to the Beta SP.

Beta SP (SP stands for ‘super performance’) is the most successful general-purpose pro video format to ever be released. Launched in 1986, the format was adopted as the format of choice for news gathering as well as edit mastering.

Overall

The Blair Witch Project is an amazing film and sparked a whole new genre of horror flick for movie creators to pour films in to. A lot of the films’ success was down to incredible marketing and word of mouth advertisement however what really kept audiences glued to their seat was the way in which the movie was filmed. Utilizing Hi-8 camcorders and amazing sound effects, audiences never saw any blood, violence or gore and instead came out of the cinema psychologically drained rather than eye-sore from the butchery they were accustomed to from years’ worth of ‘slasher’ films.

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