Case Study 3 (1999) – The Blair Witch Project: Realism

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The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a found footage psychological horror. This film relies heavily on the creative aspect i.e. visuals and audio content, due low budget. The sound is a huge factor that contributes to the psychological aspect of the movie, as audiences are left guessing half the time to fill in the voids from the lack of action on screen.

The concept of this movie is based on video footage shot with handheld cameras and remains in this style throughout the entire movie. The sound design you hear in this film also remains consistent to what you would expect to hear from a handheld camera – realism and without any musical scores or stings. Scenes that are shot with different handheld cameras are sonically unique e.g. the noise level you can hear when camera switches or each character’s voice are shaped to fit the characteristic of the cameras sonic signature.

The only music that played during the whole movie except for the end credit sequence is the song from the radio. The song gives viewers an inkling in the era the film is set in and it is called Rigors by Digginliies released within the same year – 1999. The song choice here fits in really well with the visual as the genre of the song sounds a lot like grunge, where the grunge scene was made main stream by bands like Nirvana in the early 90’s. The visual content is of low quality which is something you would expect when watching video play back on a VHC cassette. The soundtrack is full of back ground noises like close traffic with cars passing by, airplane engine above the sky and dense woodland soundscape, these noises are layered on to add additional sense of realism. Another audio aspect which was thoroughly well thought out was during intense scenes of the movie, such as the full-blown argument between Helen and Michael and scenes where they were running away from their tents while getting chased by the unknown, very noticeable knocks and bumps sounds are also added for authenticity. When these unknown sounds that terrify the character and audiences are taken out of context, the sounds are not scary at all. Sounds of rocks rumbling, leaves rustling and tree branch and twigs snapping are sounds you would typically hear within a woodlands ambience, apart from children laughing and screams and snares – presumably from the witch, are obviously something typically not heard in a woodland ambience. The reason why these identifiable physical sounds are as effective as they are and works, simply because of Daniel Myrick’s ability of story-telling and Andy Hay’s use of Foley.

Audio panning plays an integral role to introducing the element of confusion and suffocation amongst audiences. The clever use of stereo imaging gives the illusion that these sounds are all around, completely surrounding the characters. This sense of confusion is of course, reinforced by the reaction from the characters as they frantically try to locate –  and also to run away from – the sound source. Their panic state during these scenes, subsequently intensifies as these unknown noise draws closer and louder.

Conclusion

The term ‘realism’ is what made The Blair Witch Project as successful as it did. This will be an important aspect to consider when constructing the sounds and ideas for my soundscape, as each scuffle and bumps can add a sense of realism. As my soundscape is planned be in binaural, the sound for localisation will also be greatly considered to introduce the element of confusion, this will result hopefully in making typical sounds you would hear in whatever scenarios I decide the soundscape in that much more ominous and scary. The problem with trying to extract certain concept or designs from movies to induce fear from participants is that it has considerable more time, in comparison to a 5-8 minutes of soundscape. This is something I hope Philip (co-script writer of my soundscape) and I can tackle, as his experience of script writing was brought on for this project for this very reason. I do however, have high hopes after a brief discussion we shared as we talked about different techniques that may work in my soundscape.

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