Movies

Blair Witch Project Stars Slam Studio Over 'Reprehensible Behavior' & Lack of Compensation


Summary

  • The actors behind
    The Blair Witch Project
    are speaking out against Lionsgate for years of unfair compensation and lack of recognition.
  • Lionsgate blindsided the actors with a franchise reboot without compensating them, sparking renewed frustration and disappointment.
  • The actors are demanding fair compensation and consultation for future
    Blair Witch
    projects, emphasizing the importance of self-worth.



The Blair Witch Project may be one of the most successful independent horror movies ever made, but the cast of the film, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, are speaking out against Lionsgate for not fairly compensating them for their time on the 1999 staple that not only changed the game in terms of marketing horror movies but also brought in a lot of money that the trio hasn’t seen much of. During an interview with Variety, Donahue, Williams and Leonard go into great detail about their experience with The Blair Witch Project over the years, beginning from the time they agreed to appear in the film, through its promotion and the subsequent time that has seen other people get rich while they struggled to get by.


Their frustration over this issue was newly sparked by Lionsgate, who acquired the original Blair Witch Project studio Artisan back in 2003, announcing they were rebooting the franchise with the help of Blumhouse Productions. This is something that blindsided the actors, making them feel their images and names would be used to promote the franchise once again without giving them their financial due. Donahue spoke of finally getting to a place to be excited about the 25th anniversary of the film since she was booking conventions to meet the fans, but the news of the reboot brought back the realities of how unfairly they have been treated.

“I actually was looking forward to the 25th anniversary. We had booked a couple of conventions. It’s nice to hear nice things from the fans and see the guys. It was feeling very sweet for the first time in the whole history of this thing. And then, boom, comes this announcement, and it’s like, motherf*ckers”



The Blair Witch Project Actors Have Spent Years Seeking Fair Compensation

All three performers have been in a battle that has spanned 25 years to be compensated fairly for their work on the horror movie. As the film made millions, Williams was still working at a furniture store, Leonard was serving his agent food at a catering event the day before an interview on The Tonight Show, and Donahue was driving a car that could barely run. In another move that shows how much Artisan Entertainment stifled them to fake out the audience, they weren’t allowed to utilize their publicists to book interviews or take acting jobs because the “true story” angle of the movie was that they disappeared and were believed dead following their excursion into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland.


The actors were in their early 20s when the film was made, and they didn’t anticipate where the movie could go when they signed their contract with Haxan Films, the production company that was founded by the filmmaking duo behind the movie, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. In their contracts, it stated if the movie grossed more than $1 million, the performers would be entitled to one percent of the profits. They believed what they shot would be roughly ten minutes of footage to flesh out their characters, but they learned a year after the film wrapped that it would in fact be the entire movie. The film then, of course, made much more than $1 million when all was said and done.

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They hoped that they would eventually see profits from the $248 million global gross that The Blair Witch Project brought in, but it became clear by the time the movie had grossed $100 million that would not be the case when Artisan sent each actor a fruit basket for their troubles. Donahue expresses that this was when it became obvious to her that there was no real intention to give them anything substantial for their work. The former actress said:

“That was when it became clear that, wow, we were not going to get anything. We were being cut out of something that we were intimately involved with creating.”

While they were given a small “performance bump” by the end of the summer of 1999, in the years since, all three actors have had their likeness and names used to market Blair Witch-related projects and set up sequels. All three performers sued Artisan in the mid-2000s, ultimately receiving a $300,000 settlement while others continued to make millions off of the project.


When it came to making the 2016 film Blair Witch, Lionsgate wanted to use Donahue’s likeness and last name in the movie, but she invoked her settlement, which prevented them from using her face and only her first name, Heather. Unfortunately, Williams was in a different position at the time, indicating that when they asked to use his likeness in the 2016 film he obliged as he was living in a one-bedroom apartment with his family following their house being destroyed by a flood.

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It remains to be seen if their open letter calling out Lionsgate will result in significant compensation. The actors have requested “meaningful consultation” on all future Blair Witch projects that would use their likeness, as well as retroactive and future residual pay for the movie that would be similar to what would have come to them through SAG-AFTRA. The actors had no union representation when they signed on to do the original movie but a SAG-AFTRA representative stated they were communicating with Lionsgate in hopes that they would be fair, something that might be tough since there were no union contracts covering the film.


For Leonard, this comes down to knowing your worth, with the actor saying:

“I don’t need Lionsgate to like me. I don’t care that they know that I think their behavior has been reprehensible. I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like anything is more valuable than her self-worth.”



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