The Blair Witch Project cast on their struggle to receive financial compensation

The Blair Witch Project cast members Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams are fighting for financial compensation

Blair Witch Project

Back in April, it was announced that Lionsgate and Blumhouse Productions have made a multi-picture pact that will see Blumhouse reimagining horror classics from the Lionsgate library – and the development and production of a new The Blair Witch Project is the first project on that slate. That announcement has inspired the stars of the original film – Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams – to start speaking up about the fact that they have never been properly financially compensated for the roles they played into turning the original film into a massive hit that spawned a franchise.

Made on a budget of $35,000, The Blair Witch Project was purchased by Artisan Entertainment for $1.1 million and went on to earn over $248 million at the worldwide box office when it was released in 1999. Donahue, Leonard, Williams, who used their own names in the film and improvised the dialogue while being paid $500 a week during production, had it in their contracts that they were to earn 1% participation in profits in excess of $1 million. The reward they got for the box office success were fruit baskets, followed by a performance bump in the low five figures. While the movie was raking in the millions, Donahue was driving a fifteen-year-old car (which died right under a Blair Witch Project billboard) to a temp job, Leonard was serving food for a caterer, and Williams was working for a moving company. As Artisan built out a franchise based on their names and likenesses, pumping out all sorts of Blair Witch merchandise, the trio had to sue to get compensation just as Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 reached theatres in 2000. That resulted in a $300,000 settlement that was paid out to them over several years. In the meantime, they were having trouble getting acting jobs because they had played themselves in The Blair Witch Project and casting directors figured that’s all they were capable of. Leonard has continued working in the business throughout the years, but Donahue and Williams have both had to step away at times. The biggest victory in the settlement was that Artisan, which is now Lionsgate, can’t use their names and images to make money for themselves anymore… but the company is still doing it. So when Lionsgate made Blair Witch in 2016 and centered it on the fictional version of Donahue’s younger brother, Donahue had to invoke the settlement to keep her face and last name out of the movie. In 2022, she again had to go after the company when they allowed the use of her scream in the film Tár.

In April, the Blair Witch Project stars let it be known they they want to receive residuals “equivalent to the sum that would’ve been allotted through SAG-AFTRA, had we had proper union or legal representation when the film was made” and they want to be consulted on any future Blair Witch installments.

Speaking with Variety, Williams started to cry while talking about the situation. “Everybody’s wondering what happened, and your wife is in the grocery line and she can’t pay because a check bounced. You’re in the most successful independent movie of all time, and you can’t take care of your loved ones. … I’m very grateful for what I have now and how f*cking hard I fought to get it. But it still impacts me. … Giant corporations don’t care that this happens to young artists. It’s bullshit. And that’s got to change somehow. Hopefully, we will help somebody to see: Don’t do what we did.

When the directors and producers of The Blair Witch Project were contacted by Variety, they provided the following statement: “25 years later, who would have thought we’d still be talking about The Blair Witch Project, a film made by a group of total Hollywood outsiders? We’re hopeful Heather, Joshua and Mike find a satisfying conclusion to their conversations with Lionsgate. For us, this anniversary provides an exciting opportunity to celebrate the movie and its legacy with fans.

As the Variety article wraps up, Leonard says, “I don’t need Lionsgate to like me. 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.” Donahue adds, “Is there value there or not? If there’s value, compensate us accordingly, and if there’s no value, then just stop using us.

A lot more information can be found at the Variety link.

What do you think of the stars of The Blair Witch Project having to fight to be compensated for their work and the use of their identities / likenesses? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Source: Variety

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.