After Blair Witch
Eduardo Sanchez ’90 does not have much of an ego for a celebrated movie director. Oh, the lanky, gentle-mannered co-director of the runaway blockbuster Blair Witch Project has ambitions as big as any of his peers among America’s emerging young movie directors. Yet, he is equally content to bounce his 21-month-old daughter Bianca Bella on his knee or to unload railing that he bought to repair fencing on his West Virginia property.
“I want to enjoy the stupid things of everyday life,” Sanchez answers to a question about his aspirations. “I have learned that there is more to life than filmmaking.” The 34-year-old Sanchez and his wife, Stefanie, both alumni of Montgomery College, have settled into the after-life of the magical ride that was The Blair Witch Project phenomenon relatively unaffected by the hype and notoriety surrounding modern day celebrities. Sanchez, whose family emigrated from Cuba via Spain to the United States, has done mostly conventional things one might expect from someone who has received a windfall of wealth. In the three years since Blair Witch rattled Hollywood’s golden gates, Sanchez has given back to his family, bought property, gotten married, and become a father. As he considers future projects, Sanchez takes into account not only their creative value and importance, but also the reality that he may miss a “big chunk of my daughter’s life.” Because of the hype surrounding The Blair Witch Project, the rags-to-riches, behind-the-scene story of the film is well known: an independently produced movie financed by maxing out credit cards, filmed using only minimal production techniques but genius touches of experimentation, shot in the woods around Gaithersburg over a two-week period using unknown actors left to their own devices, gets plucked out of obscurity at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival by Artisan, and released as summer fare in the 2000 movie season to meteoric success at the box office, earning investors $240 million total on a movie that cost $30,000 to make.
Can the magic of Blair Witch be recreated? “Absolutely not,” Sanchez claims, adding that despite its success few people appreciate the film for what it is: “a little movie that got too big for its own good.”
“Blair Witch is not a conventional movie; it has no music, no set shots, or scenes,” he notes with a hint of swagger in his voice. “We shot it on video and never dreamed it would make it into the mainstream.”
To the critics of the film’s experimental technique and naive style, Sanchez simply says, “They should rent it and watch it on a video screen and see if it doesn’t affect them.”
While Blair Witch’s success has made Sanchez and his codirector, Dan Myrick, celebrities and has given them entry into film industry circles, the pair has struggled to convince investors to back their next project, Heart of Love, a comedy about a man who has visions and becomes the center of a cult following. For now, the pair have decided to shelve the film due to the lack of financing, and they are independently working on individual projects.
“Mainstream movie-making is not about art; it is about the bottom line,” Sanchez states with the resignation of a realist, who has confronted the beast and has chosen to tactfully retreat for the time being. One of Sanchez’s mentors here at Montgomery College, Professor Don Smith, says even as a student, the Wheaton High School graduate displayed a quiet, but firm resolve to get around problems rather than let them derail a project. “He would always find elegant ways to get to a final product,” says Smith of his former student.
While at Montgomery College, Sanchez gave rein to his ambition to become a film director under the tutelage of Smith and others within the College’s Visual Communications Technologies Program. Several of his early film projects, including Video-All and Gabriel’s Dream, his first feature-length film, were produced in editing rooms on the Rockville Campus. Although he earned his bachelor’s from University of Central Florida’s prestigious film school, Sanchez credits Montgomery College and Smith, in particular, as having had a significant influence on his career. “It was not so much what he [Smith] taught in the classroom,” Sanchez says, “but how much he believed in me.” Despite the challenges of breaking into corporate Hollywood, Sanchez is upbeat about the future and is determined to see his next film on the silver screen within a year. He has several “horror” scripts he is considering, and is also developing a possible independent action/comedy film based on a screen play he has written entitled White Trash. “I am living my dream and will never give it up,” he says. “But I want to make movies for the right reasons and be as uncompromising as I can be.”