In easily one of the best surprises us horror fans have been treated to as of late, the recent collaboration between director Adam Wingard, writer Simon Barrett, and Lionsgate, which was initially titled The Woods, was revealed at this year’s Comic-Con to actually be a sequel to one of the most influential genre films in modern cinema: The Blair Witch Project.

Simply entitled Blair Witch, Wingard and Barrett’s effort embraces everything fans love about the original film while also incorporating several fun elements that take the legend of the Blair Witch in some really intriguing and clever new directions.

I recently had the opportunity to speak in depth with Barrett about all things Blair Witch. During our nearly hour-long chat, Barrett discussed how the sequel came about through a prior collaboration they had with Lionsgate, You’re Next. He also talked about the challenges of keeping the production a secret for three years and finally revealing the project in San Diego during one of the biggest pop culture celebrations of the year.

Barrett also discussed the pressures that come with writing a sequel to one of the most important modern horror movies of the last 20 years, getting feedback from the original Blair Witch Project filmmakers, why he and Wingard work so well together, and much more.

Check out part one of our interview with Barrett below, and look for part two later this week. And for those of you who may be concerned, there are no Blair Witch spoilers in this piece, so you don’t have to worry about anything getting ruined for you ahead of the film’s release on September 16th.

Blair Witch’s to the big screen first began several years ago, right around the time Lionsgate first nabbed up Wingard and Barrett’s previous horror collaboration, You’re Next, and coincidentally enough, also within a few months of the world premiere of V/H/S/2, which featured the duo alongside Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale, two of the creators of the original Blair Witch Project.

“The chronology is a little weird with this, only because there were a lot of odd coincidences and lucky things involved in this all coming together,” explained Barrett. “The fact that we had just made a film with Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale, co-writer and co-director and producer of the first one, respectively, where we were harassing them about whether they were going to release another Blair Witch movie when we were at Sundance with them representing V/H/S/2, still feels weird. Adam and I were both big fans of their other work, too, and we're fans of Dan Myrick's work as well, we just hadn't met him yet.”

“Then, in February 2013, we had this super secret Lionsgate meeting with Jason Constantine and Eda Kowan, where they told us that they had the rights to The Blair Witch Project, that they had been talking to Roy Lee and Steve Schneider about potentially doing another one, and what would we think of that? They are both big fans of You're Next. It wasn't like this was an assignment that Adam and I pitched for and got; it was more like this interesting conversation with some studio executives that we developed a relationship with over the process of them acquiring You're Next, and we developed a lot of trust towards them. We knew at this point that Jason and Eda always kept their promises, so we didn't have the innate fear that I have in working with studios.”

“When you're a writer, you're generally at the whim of what can be a pretty tedious process, if you're not on the exact same page creatively as your studio executives. Adam, Jessica [Wu], and Keith [Calder] don't have to do any real work until after I've written a script that everyone agrees could be a good movie. Getting to that process, if you don't get along with the studio executives, can be a nightmare. I'm very gun-shy about working with studios as a writer to the extent that I pretty much won't do it—to be absolutely blunt—unless it's for our executives at Lionsgate, who I already know. These guys love You're Next, and whether that's good or bad judgment, I couldn't say, but it means at least that we're on the same page.”

Although taking on a sequel to The Blair Witch Project was a dream project for Barrett and Wingard, they did want to make sure they got the blessing from Sanchez, Hale, and Myrick—the only catch was that they couldn’t initially tell the trio they were working on the sequel. “Ed, Dan, and Gregg had no idea that we were meeting Lionsgate about it until our deals were done. That was probably the hardest thing to keep a secret, because we weren't totally sure what they were going to think. You don't totally know that you have someone's blessing until they actually give it to you. We were pretty sure that Ed, Gregg, and Dan would be happier with us making the film than with just about anyone else because of our friendship with them, but we still couldn't ask them until our deals were done because Lionsgate really wanted us to keep it a secret.”

“Once they did find out that we were working on this film, they were really happy, and we had a conversation where I was given permission, in a way, to change things and to do what I wanted, which I needed. You can't just make the first film again. I knew I was going to be changing and expanding things of that mythology because that's the correct creative approach to doing this kind of work.”

“On one hand, if you don't have respect for the original material, you shouldn't be making a sequel. On the other, if you're so respectful that you can't creatively go outside of it, then you also shouldn't be making a sequel because then you'll be hamstrung by those limitations. I knew that I was going to get loose with the mythology and change and add things because that's what a good sequel does.”

Even though the proverbial ball began rolling on a new Blair Witch in early 2013, Barrett would have to wait until later that year to deliver the first draft of his script to Lionsgate due to his prior commitment to working on another collaboration he had in the works with Wingard: The Guest.

Barrett recalled the process early on, saying, “That was another cool thing about working with Lionsgate. They knew that I was working, and as long as I was working, they really gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted, to write whatever I wanted, and to take as much time as it needed, which is why it took three years. For a little while, it was really just trying to figure out when this movie was going to fit into our slate. I delivered all my drafts very quickly after The Guest finished up and Adam was editing it. I was able to start working much more efficiently, but still, that first draft took a few months. I had a few months to think about it, but it benefited from that process.”

“During production, I did something like 12 rewrites, because we were always trying to figure out what this movie was and what was working and what wasn't,” continued Barrett. “We budgeted time-wise for a fair amount of trial and error. It's the process of discovering what works and what doesn't. You can plan for anything, but you're very limited in what your tools are when you’re making a movie like this. Constantly, we'd shoot a scene, it wouldn't work or we learned that it needed to be different, and we couldn't just come up with it on the spot. Then I'd go and I'd write a new version of it. Every time, I had to do that, I had to generate two completely different full drafts of the script, one for us, our producers, department heads, and cast that actually said Blair Witch in it, and another version in which all the names were different, since we still had to keep this a secret.”

Creating various versions of his Blair Witch script was a unique challenge for Barrett. Even certain key members of those involved with the original film received the “safe” versions of his script instead of the fully-fledged Blair Witch ones they should have received, which may have confused a few folks during production.

“Our production coordinator Simon Abbott came into the process right at the beginning of shooting, and at one point he was talking to our line producer, Jenny Hinkey, and he told her, ‘The script's not bad, but it just seems like a Blair Witch rip-off, and I don't know why they don't just call it Blair Witch and see if they could actually get the rights.’ She was like, ‘Come over here, I need to tell you something,’” [laughs].

“Eduardo told me that he only ever read the safe drafts, because Lionsgate kept sending him the wrong versions, and I thought that was very funny,” Barrett added. “Eduardo and Gregg got the safe drafts and Dan got the real draft. I'm joking about it now, but there was a lot of technology involved in all of this. In our own low-budget way, we were doing our own new Star Wars type of movie where the dailies were sent through secure systems that would track everyone who was looking at them.”

“Our editing facility even had cameras installed everywhere so that Lionsgate, at any moment, could check in and see what was happening. If anything ever leaked, they'd have a record of who was there and who wasn't. We were really quite diligent and serious about it, and if all this hadn't worked out, if it hadn't been a success after Comic-Con, I would have been really depressed because we put a lot into this from every direction.”


In case you missed it, check out our Comic-Con review of Blair Witch:

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.