The first film that came immediately to mind for this was The Blair Witch Project (1999). The film was made for almost no money, over a span of 8 days, and was basically a Do-It-Yourself movie that proved that making films with cheap cameras, and non-professional actors could make a ton of money, without costing that much. I assumed at the time that we would get many more “Blair Witch Project” type movies in the years since. Was I right?Yes, and no. True, more movies than ever before seem to be made – many by amateurs with no money. But very few have had the type of mainstream success that Blair Witch had back in 1999. But what filmmakers now do is make that small film for almost no money mainly as a calling card to get a bigger deal. You can still achieve some degree of success with these types of small movies – Jonathan Caouette;s Tarnation and Shane Carruth’s Primer comes to mind, and I hope Matthew Johnson’s recent The Dirties (review coming this week) gets seen by lots of people – but in reality, none of them have, or probably will, break through like Blair Witch did.
Strangely, in some ways The Blair Witch Project has perhaps become more influential in another way – by showing that the “found footage” genre could work. True, it took Hollywood YEARS to adopt the format (they didn’t even use it for the inevitable – Blair Witch sequel – but after it’s heir apparent – Paranormal Activity – made a ton of cash, they did. Now, found footage is mainstream – in large part because of The Blair Witch Project.