Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Return of the Blair Witch

This Friday “Blair Witch” hits theaters.  The film is a sequel to the classic 1999 film, “The Blair Witch Project.”  I was initially struck when I found out it was produced in secret with the fake title, “The Woods” and then announced as a “Blair” sequel at the San Diego Comic-Con.   After seeing the trailer my hopes were raised that this might actually be a suitable follow-up.  The first sequel, 2002’s “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” was completely forgettable. 
Nowadays I’m not a huge horror connoisseur.  I watch “The Walking Dead” like the rest of the planet but unless something really stands out I usually skip it.  The young Brandon was completely opposite.  My initial interest in film was special effects.  This included make-up, you know the gory stuff.   I devoured everything I could get my hands on –Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Raimi, you name it.  So, it should not be a surprise that in 1998 at the tender age of 22 I planned to launch my indie-film career with a horror film.  Remember at this time video stores still existed, so the whole straight-to-video thing was a real avenue for independents of all stripes to release their film.  

Back to the Blair Witch and those cursed woods!  I first heard about “Blair Witch” when it was at the Sundance Film Fest.  The filmmakers did a masterful job of marketing the film as possibly being true.  They went as far as posting missing flyers of the actors in the film around the fest.  Before the film was released in theaters a mockumentary called, “The Curse of the Blair Witch” was broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel.  When the film was finally set to premiere locally in May 1999 at the Spectrum theater, I was ready.  I went alone after work to the first showing they had.  The theater was sold out and I don’t want to be too dramatic here, but there was a palpable sense that the audience did not know what to expect.  While writing this I checked out the film’s Wikipedia page and it indicates that USA Today says this was the first film to go ‘”viral.”
If you have not already guessed, I loved the film -- the hand-held cameras, the found footage style, the improvised acting, I loved it all.  It was spooky and told a convincing story of being lost in a haunted forest.  At the time I was watching my girlfriend’s (now wife’s) cats since she was away in Europe.  Also, my horror project had stalled in the face of a daunting production.  I distinctly remember standing in her apartment calling my film partner and leaving a fevered message that I just saw “Blair Witch,” it was awesome and we need to get our project off the ground.  “It was do or die time!”  And you know what?  We got it going and made the film.  That’s more than a story; it’s a book for another time.
The film was a huge success and became one of the most successful independent films of all time (from a budget to profit ratio).  The key word is independent.  Two guys not from LA or NYC, made it in Maryland with no stars or real crew.  They were total outsiders who caught Hollywood’s attention and that’s something you don’t hear of often.  I think the film and their production offers many lessons for independent filmmakers.  I also think that 16 years later the film still holds up!   Here’s to hopin’ this new film can live up to the legacy of the first film.  Worst-case, we can enjoy a repeat viewing of the original.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Recently, I had the fortune of reading “We Love Books, Films & Company.”  This online monthly magazine is produced locally by University at Albany Professor Ray Ortali.  It’s both scholarly and hopefully entertaining, focusing on the work of the best writers in the Capital Region.  The project was started as a complete labor of love by Mr. Ortali.  Ray is someone I met years ago at Upstate Independents film group and Ray has always been an ardent supporter of local independent filmmaking.  Recently the magazine expanded to encompass screenwriting! 

Ray’s reasoning is simple, “a good film first needs a good script.”  The first two screenplays are from Capital Region filmmakers Kevin Craig West and Christopher Schiller!

Here’s the best part- you can receive this completely free!  Just email with your name and you’re on the list to receive the next issue!  


Monday, May 23, 2016

Season 8 Films and Schedule!

Thursday, June 23rd at 10pm
Nice to Tweet You by Justin Maine
Beaks is a bird who lives to tweet, chirp and sing. But when a hiker in the woods suggests she can tweet better than him, Beaks is all atwitter. Is social media for the birds? This funny flight to the finish between nature and technology seeks to find out once and for all.

Guilt Trip by Majestic Tillman and Rashid  Howell
Shot in one single take, Guilt Trip is the story of two cousins dealing with the aftermath of a crime gone wrong.

The Dark is Shifting Almost Imperceptibly Toward You by Marilyn McCabe
This is a video-poem exploring the ephemeral but circular nature of life.

Kiki on a Bad Day by Christian Meola
After taking more Adderall than her usual dose, Kiki struggles through her routine plagued by bad luck, endless obligations, and a bizarre encounter with a boy.

Thursday, June 30th at 10pm
Passing by Kristin Holodak
In human history, there have always been outsiders – those visibly different. And there have always been those outsiders who slipped through unnoticed. The ones who passed, walking among the crowds – unlike and unnoticed. But when an alien anthropologist is discovered on Earth, passing for human, the definitions of like and unlike have to change.

Biollante by Patrick Stephenson
Shot in an evening and edited the next day. Based on a song written by the filmmaker, inspired by a picture of a rose a friend shot which reminded him of a Godzilla film that he saw as a kid but couldn't quite remember.

It’s Natural by Darian Henry and Wylia Mcleod
This documentary explores the many styles of hair that Black women have to choose from, and spreads a positive message about being yourself and being empowered.

Thursday, July 7th at 10pm
Bogged by Elliott Ambrosio
Atticus, our protagonist, is stuck in his basement by an unknown force. All he wants is to get out and see his sweetheart, even if that means attempting to escape again, and again, and again, and again.

Take Out by Kristin Holodak
When a young man enters a cafe unexpected kindness may be the most valuable thing he takes away.

The Demon Inside by Elliott Ambrosio
The Demon Inside is a psychological thriller that follows the story of a man who loses his wife to a horrific murder. He's taken refuge in a tool shed in an isolated area where at night, an unknown entity comes out for him from the depths of the woods. 

Thursday, July 7th at 10:30pm
Disneyland Dream by Marty Hardin
In July, 1956, the Barstow family of Westfield, CT entered a contest sponsored by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) for a chance to win a trip to Disneyland. They were selected as one of 25 families nationally to receive a trip with $300 in spending money. The family patriarch, Robbins Barstow, documented the experience.

Immortal Dear by Dan Holodak
Five friends and former college bandmates are forced back together after years apart, when their friend and drummer of the band commits suicide

Thursday, July 14th at 10:00pm
The Cake is a Lie by Julie Casper Roth
On the day the last robot on Earth becomes sentient, the last human on Earth dies.

Tethered by Caitlin Stedman
A short film exploring the moment a mother loses a child under controversial circumstances.

Life Is Grand by Maya Suchak and Freddie Boehrer
This short Youth FX documentary reveals the hopes and dreams of Abdul Nur, the “Mayor of Grand Street” as he talks about the importance of community and his sidewalk general store.

Thursday, July 14th at 10:30pm
Falling by Maya Suchak and featuring Mikayla Appleberry
As two girls discover their feelings for each other, one of them is forced to choose between her new relationship and her father's disapproval. FALLING is an experimental narrative film that explores the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth as they navigate the intersections of love and family.

Curtis by John Yost
In the world of altered perception, the cat is king!