The ‘Witch’ is back

'Blair' returns, but its Web wave may be hard to reproduce

It’s time to see if the “Blair Witch” hype is still alive.

The indie smash that earned more than $140 million at the box office mystified marketing veterans and Internet junkies everywhere, but everyone is asking, “Can Artisan do it again?”

Amorette Jones, Artisan’s exec veep of worldwide marketing, admits that they don’t have the same tricks up their sleeves that they had for the original “Blair Witch.” “We don’t have the benefit of illusion — is this real or this is a movie?,” she says. “So we won’t have the same viral impact that the first site had just by the sheer word of mouth.”

  • “The Blair Witch Project” cost $40,000; its sequel: $12 million.
  • Since the site’s launch in April 1999, it has received more than 10 million unique users.
  • The stealth marketing of “Blair Witch” would be difficult to repeat considering the ubiquitous coverage of just how supposedly effective the Web campaign was.

    “It’s like trying to capture lightening in a bottle twice,” says Jones, who was a key player in the marketing of the first film and now heads efforts for “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.” “We have had to change our Internet strategy to market the second movie. The second movie is not shot in faux-documentary style. It’s very commercial with special effects, the kind of movie that people are used to seeing.”

    And that may be the problem.

    “Blair Witch 2,” which bows Oct. 27, is a very different movie than the original.

    Produced for $12 million, “Blair Witch 2,” revisits the Black Hills around Burkittsville, Md., but this time the antagonist, described by an insider as a “young Hannibal Lecter,” leads a tour group through different locales and legends featured in the first film and supporting properties.

    According to Jones, Artisan isn’t focusing its efforts on replicating the underground buzz for the second installment. Instead, they have evolved the original site (www.blairwitch.com) to incorporate both movies: Since the site’s inception in April, 1999, it has received more than 10 million unique users.

    “The site provides this complex time line dating all the way back to the early 17th century to present day and it encompasses all the characters from the movies,” says Jones. “It’s a virtual ‘Blair Witch’ museum, an organic function where all of these characters are introduced in relation to one another.”

    “A site needs to be evolving and involving to create a communal feel,” says former Artisan marketing chief John Hegeman, who recently ankled the company to launch his own horror-sci-fi Web site, Distant Corners (www.distantcorners.com). “That’s what we tried to do with ‘Blair Witch.’ Don’t try and explode with your message like you would with a summer movie where you spend $35 million and make it overwhelming for your audience.”

    Artisan’s marketing campaign for “Blair Witch 2” will involve several nontraditional off-line components, including a cable program and publishing ventures.

    “The movie and the site must be complementary to each other,” says Jones, “but they should also be able to exist and entertain in their own right.”

    Jones says franchise legs drive traffic to the site, especially Showtime’s “The Burkittsville 7,” which increased user hits 150% after the show aired. The inter-related stories and complex characters are updated often to get unique users to the site and, hopefully, into the theaters.

    Meanwhile, Artisan has bigger challenges to face this fall — like convincing investors to jump on board its delayed initial public offering. As the company tries to raise $140 million, it doesn’t want Wall Streeters to think it’s a one-trick pony.

    Although Artisan officials say the movie’s performance won’t affect their IPO, a successful run for “Blair Witch 2” could seriously improve the indie’s visibility and prove the company can conjure up magic more than once.

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