'Blair Witch Project' Actors Say They're Still Being Exploited By Studio 25 Years Later

The three stars of 1999′s “The Blair Witch Project” are speaking out against film studio Lionsgate as plans for a revival of the era-defining horror classic get underway.

In a wide-ranging interview with Variety, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams say they’ve missed out on profits from the original movie, which raked in a reported $248 million at the box office worldwide. Given the film’s then-unique faux documentary conceit, none of the three actors were able to benefit from its unexpected success, and are now seeking residuals and “meaningful consultation” on future projects that use their names and likenesses.

“I’m very grateful for what I have now and how fucking hard I fought to get it. But it still impacts me,” Williams told the publication. “Giant corporations don’t care that this happens to young artists. It’s bullshit. And that’s got to change somehow. Hopefully, we will help somebody to see: Don’t do what we did.”

Added Leonard: “I don’t need Lionsgate to like me. I don’t care that they know that I think their behavior has been reprehensible. I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like anything is more valuable than her self-worth.”

The trio’s remarks come just months after Lionsgate honored the 25th anniversary of “The Blair Witch Project” by announcing plans for a big-screen revival. The new film will be produced by Jason Blum, whose work includes the “Paranormal Activity” and “Halloween” franchises, and is intended to “reintroduce this horror classic for a new generation,” according to Lionsgate Motion Picture Group chair Adam Fogelson.

Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the original “Blair Witch Project” follows three student filmmakers (played by Donahue, Leonard and Williams) who hike into Maryland’s Black Hills with the aim of making a documentary about a local myth known as the “Blair witch.”

From left:
From left: "Blair Witch Project" actors Joshua Leonard, Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams in 1999. Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

The group goes missing without a trace, though their abandoned film equipment is discovered a year later. The big-screen film was supposed to be a compilation of that “found footage.”

When Artisan Entertainment ― now a subsidiary of Lionsgate ― picked up “The Blair Witch Project” for distribution, Donahue, Leonard and Williams were barred from attending its Cannes Film Festival premiere or participating in interviews in order to maintain the illusion of the movie being a true story.

None of the actors had union representation when “The Blair Witch Project” was released. Although the movie was a critical and commercial hit, they said many casting directors assumed they’d just played themselves, given that their real names were used for their on-screen characters.

In her chat with Variety, Donahue says she had an epiphany when “The Blair Witch Project” passed the $100 million mark at the box office, and she and her co-stars were sent a fruit basket.

“That was when it became clear that, wow, we were not going to get anything,” she recalled. “We were being cut out of something that we were intimately involved with creating.”

In 2000, Donahue, Leonard and Williams collectively sued Artisan as a sequel, “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” was being rolled out. About four years later, they were able to reach a settlement for about $300,000 that would be paid to each of them over several years.

As part of the settlement, however, Artisan “can’t use our names and images to make money for themselves anymore,” Leonard told Variety. But, Donahue added: “They keep doing it anyway.”

In response to the actors’ claims, the directors and producers of “The Blair Witch Project” issued a joint statement to Variety saying they were “hopeful Heather, Joshua and Mike find a satisfying conclusion to their conversations with Lionsgate.”

“For us, this anniversary provides an exciting opportunity to celebrate the movie and its legacy with fans,” the statement continued.