Director Daniel Myrick on The Objective and Escaping The Blair Witch

By
Photo: Getty Images

It's been a full decade now since The Blair Witch Project first scared the bejesus out of moviegoers (or at least made them motion sick). Daniel Myrick, who directed the movie with Eduardo Sánchez, has stayed true to the genre, spending the last ten years writing and directing low-budget movies with supernatural bents. His latest, The Objective — about a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan that comes across a decidedly unfriendly alien life force — premieres at the IFC Center tomorrow. Myrick spoke with Vulture about homicidal spacemen, rocket-propelled grenades, and living with the legacy of Blair Witch.

What kind of research did do you for the film?
Well, we had to research special-forces operations, the tactical behavior of soldiers, the war in Afghanistan, that whole bit. The technical advisers that we brought onboard went to great lengths to keep the action and the scenes true to what would actually happen. Everything down to the way the actors held their guns. I've never been in the service, so I wrote the story, and then brought in these guys to make sure the terminology was correct. They kept me reined in, forcing me to wring the suspense out of real situations. They were instrumental in helping me out.

You filmed in Morocco. Where there complications with the government?
Oh yeah. It was right around the [2007] Casablanca bombings, so everyone was on high alert. We had a full shipping container of authentic, real, special-operations paraphernalia, everything from M4 rifles to rocket-propelled grenades. Some were rubber doubles. Others were the genuine thing; they were just equipped to shoot blanks. They appointed three Moroccan military guys to watch us the whole time there, and then to keep watch over the equipment after shooting.

Do you consider this film political?
Personally, from a viewer's standpoint, I'm not crazy about walking into a movie and getting preached to. But if you want to drill it down, there is a message. Effectively, [the killer alien] is more of a benevolent kind of thing that seems to react when attacked. Arguably, the soldiers create their own bogeyman. Ultimately, it's just about respecting what you're going after; we have to be careful how we define our enemy, or not understanding our enemy.

Do you have any plans to revisit Blair Witch for its ten-year anniversary?
For years, we've wanted to do a prequel idea. Lionsgate originally shot it down, but we're hoping we can revive it with them. We wanted to explore the pre-mythology of the Blair Witch. But with the economy the way it is, it's tough to get anything made that isn't a hot sequel. But we're hopeful.

What are your feelings about the legacy of the movie? Are there movies out there — Cloverfield, for example — that make you think, "We did that first!"?
I don't think we did it first. I think we popularized it and brought it into the mainstream language. As far as hand-held storytelling goes, The Real World was out on MTV for a year at the point when we first started developing the idea. What Blair Witch ended up doing was pulling it all together for this new internet generation, and we became an icon for that. But it wasn't totally original; we just popularized it. Sometimes I'll read a book and they'll use it as a verb, you know, someone Blair Witched someone. So it's humbling and flattering to hear that it's entered the lexicon in that way. But I don't want to get caught up any "reinventing cinema" talk.

Has it been difficult to break out of the Blair Witch box? The Objective is already being referred to as Blair Witch in the desert. Does that bother you?
Yeah, it does. But I try not to get too worried about it. It is easier for me to get a thriller financed and done than it is a comedy, but I take the bad with the good: I get to make films, original film that I write and direct, and that's more than a lot of people can say. And hopefully once the body of work builds, people will not only equate my name with Blair.