By Erin Free

“I made this disaster of a movie called Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2…it’s the blight and stain on my record, but someone had to do it. For about five minutes, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich was actually going to be the music supervisor on Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, because he was experimenting with his new record label. My film, Some Kind Of Monster [Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s acclaimed 2004 doco about legendary heavy metal band, Metallica], all started because of the disaster of Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. That was a fucking disaster, but it started out as an interesting film in my mind. I thought that I was the last person on earth who would do Blair With 2. I was actually at [production company] Artisan pitching them another movie. They liked my thinking, so they called me in to do Blair Witch 2.

“I was offended by The Blair Witch Project, not as a creative thing…I thought that it was original, but I was offended by the fact that it was sold to the public as a real documentary. That is offensive to a real documentarian. In fact, I’m stunned that there was not one critical argument in all the glowing love fest with how the movie was released…all those articles were about how brilliant the marketing was. I thought, ‘Well, it’s brilliant, yeah, but it’s also duplicitous: it’s one more step in this process of blurring the line between fiction and reality. That is so frightening in our society. I’m the wrong guy to do it from that perspective.

Joe Berlinger
Joe Berlinger

“Also, to someone like myself who makes beautifully crafted documentaries, the idea that shaking the camera around equals reality is bizarre. So they said, ‘Well, those are interesting thoughts that you’ve got there…what would you do?’ So I said, ‘Look, if I were to make the sequel to The Blair Witch Project, I would make fun of the whole idea of doing a sequel. I would do a very self-referential film. I would explore these very ideas that we’ve been talking about – that it’s not good to dupe people into buying tickets. I would do this edgy adult satire with a twist at the end.’ They said, ‘Hey, great idea! Why don’t you do that?’

“So I got sucked into it. I wrote that movie with Dick Beebe, I shot it, and I delivered it. I thought that I was home free. I’m actually very proud of the film that I made: my edgy adult satire. But two months before the release, the new marketing director for Artisan comes in and says, ‘What’s this edgy adult satire? We need a teen slasher movie! We need blood…lots of blood!’ And so they fucking put my movie into a blender and what was once an over-the -top satire became just a poorly acted hackneyed excuse for a film.

A scene from Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
A scene from Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

“This new marketing person really fucked the film and fucked me. But I deserve some of the blame…obviously, I was the director. The painful part of the experience was that I agreed with a lot of the criticism. The film was a mess, but there was a hate fest though. The level of venom that was spewed was so disproportionate to the film. But the film defiantly was problematic; I’m not trying to justify the film. What was so painful was that there was so much personal criticism directed towards me… it was like, ‘You were once a highly regarded documentary filmmaker and now you’ve made poopy in your pants! You’ve sold out!’ I could have lived with the bad reviews, but all the negative press about me was painful…there’s no other way to put it. So I spent the last couple of months of 2000 and the beginning of 2001 curled up in the foetal position, convinced that my career was over. I was devastated.

“And my wife said, ‘Come on, get over it. We all stumble.’ And [the late] Bruce [Sinofksy], my documentary making partner said, ‘Come on, get over it, you’re taking it too hard.’ So I popped on Paradise Lost one day, and cracked open a beer, just to remind myself that I had made a good film once. The opening title sequence of Paradise Lost is an aerial shot over the murder site with Metallica’s song, ‘Sanitarium’, playing over it. As soon as that music kicked in, a light bulb went off in my head. I’d always wanted to make a film about Metallica, and I’d come close to doing it before Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to call Lars. I know that Metallica are about to start recording a new album, and maybe I’ll resurrect this film idea.’ That’s how Some Kind Of Monster began.”

Blair Witch is in cinemas now. FilmInk interviewed Joe Berlinger in 2004 upon the theatrical release of Some Kind Of Monster.


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