With 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Eduardo Sánchez, along with Daniel Myrick and Bob Griffin, largely contributed to a filmmaking movement, influencing years of found-footage films to come. Now, with his new film, Exists, we are witness to what Sánchez calls a hybrid found-footage film. This time, instead of a witch, the mythological subject is Bigfoot. We had a chance to ask Sánchez about his five favorite films. Does the list surprise you?
Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977; 93% Tomatometer)
I wouldn’t be a filmmaker if it wasn’t for Star Wars. Like most filmmakers in my generation, it showed us the power of cinema, showed us the power of creating another world. It’s so immersive. That’s the first movie that got me into how they made movies. Got really into the special effects and all that stuff. And now I have a huge Star Wars collection that has completely taken over my basement, to my wife’s chagrin.
I just got rid of a bunch of mine.
Like the old stuff?
I kept some of the old stuff that I had, but in the 1990s when they were going crazy again, I had a lot of that stuff so I unloaded a bunch of it.
Yeah, like all the pumped-up stuff [laughing]? I love that stuff.
Yea. Monkey-face Leia was my favorite.
Yeah, Monkey Face Leia, she’s all… They’re all pumped up like they’re on steroids or something [laughing].
Awesome. But I can see how that’s influential and the effects back then, I still like them better than CGI today.
Yeah, because they were all physical. And there’s just something about that and about the painstaking process that they went through. And also the limitations of it, I think, is kind of, like, part of the creativity. Becuase now you can do anything with CG, you know? And I think the idea that there were limitations, it’s kind of the same way we did the Bigfoot for Exists. It’s like, we made the decision to not do CG and we kind of stuck to our guns so we’re pretty happy with how it looks.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981; 95% Tomatometer)
I guess the next one, chronologically, would be Raiders of the Lost Ark, even though it’s hard to choose just one Spielberg film. First of all it’s George Lucas and Spielberg, which is kind of like Jesus and Moses collaborating on a movie [laughing]. But it was just, you know, it was so different, it just came out of nowhere. I mean Harrison Ford who had been Han Solo and all of a sudden he’s late ’30s and battling Nazis. It was just such a ride and it still holds up. Just movie magic, know what I mean?
I saw it a couple years ago. We were doing a sound mix at Skywalker Sound, it was right before the new one came out, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and they showed a pristine 35mm print of it. It just brought back all those great memories and, again, no CG, you know. Just really good filmmaking.
Again, I think chronologically, is Blade Runner. It was the movie right after Raiders. And Harrison Ford is, you know, my favorite actor. He just has this… He’s just such a likeable guy. He’s obviously been one of the biggest stars in the last 20, 30 years. But he’s really been underappreciated now. And Blade Runner, to me, was such a cool film. And I know it didn’t do well at the box office, but I saw it opening night. People were expecting a lot because Raiders was the film that had just come out before. I just thought it was so ballsy, you know, especially for Harrison Ford to do this, because it wasn’t an action film, it was more of a noir/science fiction movie. And just that opening sequence of going over Los Angeles and those big fire plumes, and the spinners and the angelic soundtrack, it was just, it was religious. It was like a religious experience.
Again, I really got into how they made it. I had already been a fan of Ridley Scott but this really solidified him as one of my favorite directors. Just the mood of that movie, it’s just beautiful. It’s one of those weird movies where I’ve seen all the versions and I actually like the original studio version better. I really love Harrison Ford’s narration. To me it was just kind of classic noir, crime/mystery film, you know? But it was set in this frickin’ crazy science-fiction future and I just loved it.
You’re into a lot of the exciting, effects-heavy classics.
Yeah. Especially early, you know? I was still in high school when Blade Runner came out so it was very much… actually I was in middle school, I guess. Damn, that was a long time ago. But yeah, the eye candy definitely appealed to me. There were plenty of movies with effects back then, but to me, the effects and then Harrison Ford, and the mystery and Sean Young was so frickin’ beautiful… She hadn’t gone off the deep end yet. You know, it was just a great film. One of my favorite soundtracks too.
Spike Lee’s third film. I had just started doing films in high school and Do the Right Thing came out, and there was just this burst of creativity in a drama, of creative energy, and also just the social commentary, and Spike being in it, and the music, and the color, the production design. Then I read the book on the making of it. I read the book that he wrote for She’s Gotta Have It. I really became, like, a Spike Lee connoisseur, you know? But again, just to kind of open my eyes, it took me from kind of like what we were talking about before, like the shiny effects, you know, that kid of shiny object interest of childhood, to movies that can really make you think, and make you talk, make you think about what is going on, and his social commentary really affected me. It really took me from kind of like a Spielberg/Lucas type of filmmaker toward a more socially conscious filmmaker.
I actually did a film that was very inspired by Do the Right Thing called Gabriel’s Dream that never got distributed. But it was about these workers in a particularly hot summer in Maryland, and they were trying to get A/C in their factory, and that was basically the story. Like, workers’ rights. It kind of really took me in a direction that I never thought I would go in. And it never came out, it did some festivals, and we never got distribution for it, this was like early 1990s. But it definitely opened my eyes to the power of cinema as a social statement, as a social tool. And I wrote two or three scripts after that that were very much inspired by Do the Right Thing, kind of touching on social issues.
I was really that kind of filmmaker when I was in film school. But then we came up with the idea for Blair Witch and all of a sudden, we became “horror filmmakers.” But still, I love the idea of always having a little bit of the deeper meaning in material. And some films are just for fun and made that way, but there are others where you want to dig a little deeper. If you can get one person coming out of the theater thinking about what happened in the movie, I think it’s great. And Do the Right Thing consumed me. It was such an important film in my upbringing, you know?
One movie that’s always kind of a runner up, and I never really mention it because it’s so different than my other favorite films, is Notting Hill. It’s kind of a weird film to put in the group. But it’s such a perfect romantic-comedy and such a perfect vehicle. It’s like a fantasy, every man’s fantasy of meeting a beautiful movie star and being absorbed into her world and somehow making it work out. I love Julia Roberts, but that movie really made me fall in love with her, and Hugh Grant, he was such a likable guy in that movie. The supporting roles are so strong. And just the story of, just the world that… you know, I live on the very edges of this world, but just the world that Hollywood, that these people live in. It was just kind of a really interesting story. It wasn’t just a basic romantic-comedy; it had a lot of things going for it. But that’s definitely one of my favorite films. That’s one of those films that I watch every couple years. I just pop it in.
I remember when it came out, I was like, “I don’t need to see that,” because I’m not much of a rom-com kind of guy, and it was on one day and I totally got drawn into it. Very good storytelling, very good performances.
Yeah. And you know they’re gonna end up together at the end. I mean, that’s what you want. But it just works. It’s very formulaic but it somehow works. I think it’s a lot of the idea of the fantasy of, like I said, of meeting somebody… a random encounter with someone that is just not a part of your world and somehow having a spark. And that person having interest in your kind of every day existence. It’s a really fun show. And [Julia’s] so beautiful in it; she’s just, you know, she’s a movie star.
So Exists is just out now. It looks great. You mentioned how you chose not to use CGI, which I’m a fan of. Tell me how Exists exists, how you found it, or how it found you?
Well, I’ve been obsessed with Bigfoot for, you know, since I was a kid. And really, a lot of those early Bigfoot films and documentaries speared the creation of Blair Witch for both me and Dan [Myrick]. And so it’s always been this kind of pivotal monster or mythological creature, whatever you want to call it, in my life. I was always disappointed in Bigfoot movies by the creature not being what I wanted it to be, what I thought it would be, what I thought it could be. Actually the first script I wrote after Blair Witch was a Bigfoot movie, and this is the third version of that kind of same idea as far as a Bigfoot movie’s concerned. We got the money, raised the money, we shot it and we’re very happy with it. My thing is, it was very much kind of an experiment. I had this idea for what the creature would look like in my head, but I honestly didn’t know how I was going to pull it off. We hired some great people. Spectral Motion and Brian Steele, who’s known as “Creature Boy,” he played he monster. He did a fantastic job, you know? I’m proud of it. It’s definitely a little fun, kind of popcorn film.
I can imagine Steele going into auditions with Bigfoot on his resume. “Hi, I was Bigfoot.”
Yeah, I know. But his resume is, he was Predator, he’s been in Lord of the Rings, he was in Hellboy, he has a f—ing resume compared to nobody, know what I’m saying?
And sort of reminiscent of Blair Witch, it’s a bit of a found-footage style film.
Yes, it’s found-footage. It’s kind of a hybrid because there’s obviously stuff where the camera just is in a place where logically it doesn’t make sense that it would be there, even though we tried to make it as logical as possible. This is a different kind of movie. You know, with Blair Witch, reality was the only thing that we prided ourselves on; it had to look 100 percent real. Everything had to be 100 percent genuine. And now fifteen years later, found-footage has definitely evolved. I think audiences are more open for the idea. It’s just a style of making a movie. There’s music, it’s a movie, it’s got a 5.1 surround soundtrack, you know, it’s an action film, a monster movie, you know. Things have definitely changed since Blair Witch.
And do you sort of give yourself credit for starting this big found-footage movement in film?
Yeah. Again, I and the rest of the guys that I did The Blair Witch with didn’t know what we were doing. The technique was born out of the idea of the movie. We didn’t call it found-footage. We called it first-person POV. Then years later when Cloverfield came out, and Paranormal Activity came out? We knew it was coming, because even after Blair Witch we were kind of… You can do all kinds of movies with this technique. But for us, we didn’t want to be known as the found-footage guys.
It was a different time back then. It really was not the first of its kind but there hadn’t been that kind of movie in a very long time. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves even more like, “Oh, all they do is found-footage movies.” So the technique was born from the idea. But then Exists, we started off as a conventional film and then the more we wrote the script, and the more we thought of it, we thought this could be a return to found-footage, because the story makes sense that these people would have video cameras, that they’d be obsessed. It’s like the YouTube generation that videotapes everything. We thought it was a good opportunity to get back into that style. Also Bigfoot is the perfect subject matter for that style because all we’ve seen of Bigfoot is basically found-footage. It’s people videotaping in the woods and photographs and stuff like that, so he’s kind of a creature that existed in that world. So we thought it would be a good idea to keep him in that world, a world that the audience was familiar with.
And what’s so great about it is it’s scary because you make us wait for it.
Yeah, we follow the Jaws model which I think is the greatest monster movie ever. The idea that you tease it, you show little bits, and then at the end, you give the audience what they want. Like I said earlier, that was the thing I was most frustrated with with Bigfoot movies. Like, you tease me the whole movie and at the end you don’t give me what I want. I want to see the creature, I want to see the creature in action. That’s what monster movies are kind of about. Same thing with Alien and pretty much every great monster movie. Just hold back the creature, and then you show it at the end and you give the audience what they wanted in the end, so that’s sort of the formula we followed with this.
Exists is now open in limited release and available on VOD.