‘Witch’ spawns 2 more with Artisan

Berlinger to helm sequel, Sanchez and Myrick reteam for prequel

The Witch has hatched a family.

In the wake of Artisan Entertainment’s runaway hit “The Blair Witch Project,” the anticipated sequel has turned out to be not one, but two pics.

Award-winning docu helmer Joe Berlinger, who directed the documentaries “Brother’s Keeper” and “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” is set to direct “Blair Witch Project 2” with a start date in the third week of February, with an eye toward a Halloween rollout.

The development process for “2” has been a combination of several commissioned scripts, out of which Artisan and Haxan Films picked the one they liked best. “What we did was go down various roads with various writers,” Artisan prexy Amir Malin said, stopping well short of naming the winner. “We wanted as many options open to us and Haxan as possible … the story basically is a compilation.”

The sequel will also have the original “Blair Witch” team in place to exec produce and act as hands-on consultants.

Prequel to ‘Witch’

“Witch 3,” which is a bit further behind “2” in development, will be told from the creative p.o.v. of a prequel to the original, in which three unlucky film students vanish in the Maryland backwoods, and which has earned $140.5 million domestically to date.

To be shot in fall 2000, “3” will be released in theaters for summer 2001 and be written, produced and directed by Haxan Films’ Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, who directed the original “Witch.”

The Florida-based helmers will also attempt to venture into the slapstick comedy genre between the two horror sequels.

Artisan is distribbing Sanchez and Myrick’s forthcoming “Heart of Love,” which will hit theaters in early 2001. Billed as “a ‘Kentucky Fried Movie,’ ‘Airplane’-type vehicle” by Malin, it will be shot in a variety of motion picture formats and styles. Financing is split between Artisan and Haxan, with Artisan keeping domestic rights and Haxan taking foreign.

And Artisan will step up with more green for the sequels, at the same time being careful not to ruin the sense of complicit mystery with the audience that created a cult following worldwide.

“The budget level (on “2”) will be around $7 million to $10 million,” Malin added, “and will not be shot with a digital camera that looks like it was made for $50,000 to $60,000. In keeping with the franchise, I think it’s not going to appear like a David Lean film, either. We’ll keep that sense of reality and add a little more meat to the bone.”

Berlinger’s full plate

Berlinger is working on two features with Christine Vachon’s Gotham-based Killer Films, as well as one for Good Machine. He’s also directing and producing “38 Witnesses,” a feature about a 1963 murder case in which 38 eyewitnesses to a brutal killing did nothing to help.

Berlinger’s 1996 “Paradise Lost” focused on three child killings in West Memphis, Ark., in which three teens were tried and convicted in what appeared to be the absence of hard evidence; it was the buzz of that year’s Sundance as the “must-see” real-life horror show, and packed the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah, at a crack-of-dawn screening despite its long running time.

In closing, Malin credited Artisan development manager Cybelle Greenman with the idea of Berlinger to helm “2,” saying the task had been “combining the horror and the macabre. You try to create a realism. That’s what Joe (Berlinger) is going to bring to the table.”

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