The 'Blair' up there 


I get livid every time I hear a lottery winner tell a reporter that her unexpected windfall isn't going to change her personality. If you can't respond to sudden success by quitting your job with no notice and dumping the dreary little rubes you used to call friends, then what good is the money in the first place?

The Lotto analogy was uppermost in my mind Friday night, when the five makers of The Blair Witch Project appeared at the Loews Universal Cineplex 20 to help launch the "Hitchcock 100" film festival. Six months ago, the Haxan Films boys would have queued up for tickets with the rest of us; now, they were the guests of honor at a screening of "The Birds." But despite their newfound celebrity status, they were just as humble, outgoing and self-effacing as they had ever been. What was wrong with them?

Maybe they weren't reading the same magazines as we were. Thanks to Time and Newsweek, we all knew that these guys had revolutionized the movie industry's notions of profit and marketing in just under a month's time. To those of us who had been following the story for longer than that, the sight of the Haxans posing for publicity photos in front of a statue of the corpulent Hitch was as amusing as it was vindicating. Suddenly the darlings of their hometown economy, they were receiving invitations to everything from the Hitchcock festival (stretching relevance a bit, but still in the ballpark) to Sale Days at Jimmy Bryant Toyota (okay, not yet -- but it's coming).

As tourists and Universal staffers snapped their picture, the quintet laughed and joked with each other, keeping a good eye on the absurdity of it all. An in-house interviewer asked them if they'd be attending this year's edition of the park's "Halloween Horror Nights."

"If we get some free passes," writer-director Eduardo Sanchez volleyed.

Three more disappear

A request for Sanchez to pose for a duo shot with writer-director Dan Myrick drew some sarcastic jeers from producers Robin Cowie and Gregg Hale and coproducer Mike Monello -- The Three Who Didn't Make It Onto the Cover of Time teasing The Two Who Did.

"We're still relatively obscure -- Rob, Gregg and I -- so that's kind of nice," Monello admitted to me, dashing any mischievous hopes I may have harbored of uncovering festering resentment. The past few weeks, he said, had been "crazy but fun," though the biggest challenge Cowie could name had been mastering the new telephone system that had just been installed at the Haxan offices. To uninformed passersby, we might as well have been three telemarketers discussing our jobs over fajitas at Bennigan's.

Their down-to-earth accessibility was making me feel guilty; with $80 million under my belt, I sure wouldn't be talking to a piss-ant like me. So I ribbed Monello a bit by asking how he and his compadres had found the time to work up something to say about "The Birds."

"We're going to wing it," he punned effortlessly. No wonder he's famous.

Inside the theater, it was only the Universal people who wanted to discuss Hitchcock at all. The audience wanted to know about "Blair Witch": What was in that handkerchief that Heather and Mike discovered outside their tent? A tongue? Eyeballs? What was "that Mike dude" doing at the end of the film -- standing in the corner of that house or hanging there? And was there any truth to the "urban legend" that the movie had been shot on a rented camera that was later returned for full credit?

"That's an 'urban legend?'" the filmmakers shot back, amazed at their apparent ascension to the upper echelon of campfire tales.

Bewitched and bewildered

Not everyone was as well informed. A brassy young kid -- who looked and spoke a little too much like "South Park's" Cartman -- inadvertently broke up the room by bellowing, "How do you like Florida?"

"We live here," the Haxans explained. Welcome to the big time, boys.

Orlando pride was still a big thing with these five, it seemed. They thanked Maitland's Enzian Theater for supporting their film from the outset, and claimed to be very happy with their new facilities over at ...

"Don't say it!" a handful of Universal employees called out from their stations around the room. Their palpable nervousness caused the theater to fall silent; the esteemed guests had committed the faux pas of forgetting that they weren't in Orlando anymore, but on theme-park terra firma -- a whole 'nother animal.

John Howe, executive vice president of Universal Studios Escape, quickly took the podium. The filmmakers, he joked, would have "disappeared into the woods of Maryland" if they had uttered the name of that other vacation kingdom. But they were still "five of the nicest people you could ever run into."

I glanced over at Hale. A sly grin was etched on his face, an expression as devilish and impenetrable as the final two minutes of his film. Whatever he was thinking, he didn't give it voice. Nice guys are like that.


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