By Dee Cook, July 30th, 2009

With DIY Days right around the corner, what better way to mark the occasion than to note the anniversary of one of the world’s most successful DIY film projects? Ten years ago this month, The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters after being bought at Sundance earlier that year.

The movie makers were some of the first people to take advantage of the increasingly-popular “internet,” which at the time was not nearly as pervasive or high speed as it is today. Nevertheless, some key players had online presences, such as Ain’t It Cool News, which did a great job in spreading the word about this low-budget flick. Could it be real? Could these people have disappeared, and this is truly found footage? The rumors spread like wildfire, and the mythology created by the filmmakers went a long way to further the legend.

In fact, some point to Blair Witch as one of the first examples of an alternate reality game. Certainly many of the elements are there: immersive story, audience interactivity, an archaeological process of piecing together the tale. And it’s likely that ARG players would recognize some of the names behind the film as those behind recent history’s more innovative ARGs and immersive campaigns. Mike Monello and Gregg Hale, two Blair Witch producers, currently partner at Campfire, known for Art of the Heist and Legend of the Sacred Urns, as well as BloodCopy for HBO’s “True Blood,” and Frenzied Waters for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

For those looking for their own inspiration in telling stories, here’s a great quote from Mike Monello’s Innovators Radio interview: “The greatest thing about storytelling online is that online is a two way experience, so we can listen as well as tell. We try to structure stories that allow people to not just receive a story from us but to actually be able to tell a piece of it on their own and become a part of it.”

Allowing the audience to own the story – to feel like stakeholders in the grand scheme of things – that’s an important, perhaps crucial step in building trust, immersion, and appreciation. As seen in cases like The Blair Witch Project, it is possible to draw an audience in by piquing curiosity and to hold their interest by carefully rationing clues, rather than dumping a truck full of information into their lap all at once.

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Posted in audience-building marketing movies

Dee Cook was elated to discover the world of interactive storytelling because, at that moment, she finally discovered what she wanted to do when she grew up. She has written, designed, and consulted on a score of alternate reality games and campaigns, most recently Focus Rally America, True Blood, and World Without Oil. Find out more about her at

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