Q&A: “Blair Witch” writer and director share method behind the horror

Charles Liu

“Blair Witch” director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar to talk about their surprise sequel to “The Blair Witch Project.” The Daily Texan participated in a roundtable Q&A with the filmmakers.

The Daily Texan: How did you pay homage to “The Blair Witch Project” while bringing your own ideas to the table?

Adam Wingard: I think the starting point was saying, “What would happen if people went into the Black Hills Forest in 2014? Does the technology shape that experience now?” We realized we could create a more immersive experience, especially with the Bluetooth cameras that the characters are wearing. It’s the same world and the same feel as the original film, but everything’s just a little more heightened. We just wanted to take the “Blair Witch” universe and turn it into a roller coaster ride.

DT: “Blair Witch” reveals more about the Witch than the first movie did while withholding information to preserve her mystique. How did you find the balance between exposition and restraint?

SB: We knew we couldn’t do the first movie again, which gave you nothing. We knew we wanted to give people more and show them something, but it couldn’t be in any way that wasn’t not mysterious. We couldn’t be totally answering a question. Adam had the brilliant idea that if we ever saw [the Witch], it would be for a split second or obliquely, just barely enough to register.

AW: Ultimately, you never want to explain anything, but you want to give audiences tools to be able to come up with theories about what is going on. You give them multiple theories so at the end of the movie they can take away what they want from it.

DT: Simon, when you finish the screenplay, do you just hand it over to Adam and wait to see the product, or are you heavily involved in the production?

SB: When Adam and I first started working together on our first feature, “A Horrible Way to Die,” we were crewing together in some capacity because we had a very small crew. I arranged equipment, crew and cast, so I was very involved. Then we moved on to “You’re Next.” I’ve been able to step back and stop producing as much, but I’m still looped in. I never interfere in Adam’s creative decisions unless I have a note for the cast and I am involved in [some capacity as a producer]. This way, when I view a rough cut, I can approach it with some amount of objectivity. 

DT: Can you talk about how you staged the jump scares?

AW: It was really difficult, because I knew they had to have some sound or organic quality to them. So I had ideas like someone stepping on a stick at the moment [the characters] are turning around to see something that surprises them. Sometimes the actors give away a scare if they know it’s coming, so one of the things I did to achieve the [scare] was control the actors’ performances. Let’s say if the jump scare is coming from a loud noise — I had these air horns with me that I called my “scare horns,” and any time I wanted a jump from the actors, even if they didn’t realize there was going to be a jump in the scene, I just blasted off the air horn and they would flinch. But they eventually learned that if that air horn goes off and scares you shitless, you have to keep staying in character. It was a great tool because it got an authentic reaction.