Interview: Russ Gomm, ‘The Woods is the world's first found footage documentary'
The UK director discusses his documentary on the making of The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project changed the face of modern horror. It wasn't the first found footage film, but it ushered in a new wave of inferior imitators. What most people didn't appreciate was that directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick didn't just run around filming in the woods, Blair Witch took months and months of planning. And new feature length documentary, The Woods which had its world premiere at Glasgow's FrightFest, takes you behind the scenes. We sat down with director Russ Gomm to find out more.
So what is The Woods about?
Quite simply, it's the making of The Blair Witch Project. I like the idea that it's a found footage documentary, the world's first found footage documentary, because this is 15 year old footage that looks at the making of The Blair Witch Project from the inception right through to Sundance.
How did you first come across The Blair Witch Project?
In 1999 I was a film student and a big fan of horror films. I was in Seattle with my dad and saw this trailer for a TV show called Curse of the Blair Witch, and it dawned on me that there were three film students that had gone missing and there was a witch involved. I thought it was real, I was completely convinced. I couldn't get it out of my head. I got home to the UK and told everyone about it. I bought into the whole thing, I'd read the book (The Blair Witch Dossier), visited the website, I finally saw the film and it terrified me. It slowly dawned on me the film was such a small part of The Blair Witch mythology.
How did you come across the footage for The Woods?
After Blair Witch, I got into Myspace and typed in Ed Sanchez and he was on there. So I sent him a message and he sent me a reply, so we started communicating, talking about films and I sent him some of my short films and it just became a friendship over time. Then he invited me out to work on Lovely Molly. When I went back for the premiere, I stayed with Ed. He knew how much I loved Blair Witch, and he said 'I've left you something downstairs to watch' and there was a stack of discs and I soon realised it was all the raw footage from Blair Witch. It was 20+ hours and I watched the whole lot. He said 'if you like that, we made this thing called Four Corners of Fear' which was a fake Blair Witch 3 so I cut that into a web series and I was pretty pleased with how it came out. So I pitched him this idea of making a documentary about Blair Witch, so he said 'it's funny you should say that we've just found all these tapes that we shot while we were making it.' So he sent me another 20-plus hours of footage, I watched through the whole thing. To me it was a dream come true.
Was there anything you learned about the film from the footage?
I pride myself on knowing a lot about the film, I've read up on it a lot, but there was still stuff that was amazing to see. Ben Rock, who was the production designer, did so much on the film. The footage is there of him building the first stick man. Just seeing how they plotted everything, then the day by day shoot. The footage covered everything from them being in an apartment talking about whether to film on 16mm or video, they were filming before they even started.
Eduardo Sánchez recently returned to found footage, have you seen Exists?
I flipping love Exists because it wasn't pretending to be real. You're not supposed to believe it, the format is just a method to bring you into the film. It's not a quick buck found footage movie.