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The Blair Witch Project Cast Opens Up About How Hollywood Has Treated Them

Blair Witch's Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard reveal their two-decade fight for compensation.


In 1999, The Blair Witch Project ushered in the age of found footage horror films, and it had the unique touch of a marketing campaign that pretended its cast members--Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard--actually went missing while investigating a local legend and were feared dead. The movie earned $248.6 million off of an initial budget that was estimated to be between $35,000 and $60,000. It also sparked the beginning of a two-decade and counting fight for the stars to be properly compensated.

Last month, Lionsgate announced plans for a new Blair Witch Project movie that will be produced by Jason Blum and Roy Lee. In response, Donahue, Williams, and Leonard issued an open letter asking for "meaningful consultation" for any projects that use their names and faces as well as retroactive and future payments for the original Blair Witch Project as if it had been filmed under SAG-AFTRA rules. Subsequently, the trio spoke to Variety at length about the struggle they've endured for the last 25 years.

"I'm very grateful for what I have now and how f***ing hard I fought to get it," said Williams. "But it still impacts me. I buried all this. Giant corporations don't care that this happens to young artists. It's bulls***. And that's got to change somehow. Hopefully, we will help somebody to see: Don't do what we did."

The report goes into detail about how much work the trio not only put into making the film and shooting most of it themselves, but also maintaining the illusion that they were dead and living with the legacy of a movie that used their real names. Their initial compensation was reportedly in five figures before the trio sued Artisan in 2002 and eventually won a settlement of $300,000 each. Part of the terms of that settlement called for the studio to stop using their names and likenesses to sell the movie and its sequels. But as Donahue notes "they keep doing it anyway."

Williams and Donahue have since settled into lives outside of the entertainment industry, but Leonard is still a working actor. And he is very forthright about where he stands with Lionsgate.

"I don't need Lionsgate to like me," said Leonard. "I don't care that they know that I think their behavior has been reprehensible. I don't want my daughter to ever feel like anything is more valuable than her self-worth."

It's unclear if the trio's efforts will get Lionsgate to mend fences with them or properly compensate them. Since the original Blair Witch Project was a non-union production, SAG-AFTRA don't have any jurisdiction over the dispute.

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