Dan Myrick On The Spot

In 1999, just two years out of film school, Dan Myrick spent eight days in the woods in Maryland shooting The Blair Witch Project. The movie’s huge success—it made nearly $250 million on a $35,000 production budget—demonstrated the power of viral marketing and word-of-mouth made possible by the Web. Now finishing shooting on Solstice, a horror feature film set in New Orleans, the 42-year-old has plans for an indie-film Web portal, tapping the Internet as a viable distribution channel that erodes the control of Hollywood gatekeepers. Q: How did you get into filmmaking?

A: I was a jack-of-all-trades for a while. Then I applied to the film school at the University of Central Florida and got accepted. That’s where things really got serious for me. I graduated and did Blair Witch a couple years after that.

What did Blair Witch teach you about the power of the Web?

It reaffirmed our belief that if you’ve got a good concept and good execution, your only stumbling block is getting it in the hands of people who would want to see it. The Net enabled us to put up a Web site that was literally one click away from Universal Studios. It was the great equalizer.

You used the Web to distribute The Strand, a series of Webisodes set in Venice Beach, Calif. What was the premise?

The Strand was inspired by Robert Altman’s Short Cuts—interrelated stories in a non-contrived way that felt real and authentic. Being near Venice Beach, I felt it would be great to focus on the lives of people there. It’s a wacky, odd area. We took a documentary approach to following several different kinds of lifestyles and how they interrelate. We did this two years ago, and everybody thought we were crazy. I just thought it was inevitable that these kinds of shows would be distributed directly on the Web.

You’ve said the entertainment industry is risk-averse. Why do you think that is?

It’s an economic reality. When you have a large corporation, your goal is to put money in the pockets of shareholders. You just can’t afford to roll the dice too often when you’re trying to support a large corporation. The great thing about the Internet is it opens up this realm of micromarkets, where a guy like me can produce a show like The Strand and I don’t need an 8 or 9 or 10 Nielsen share to be a success. NBC will cancel a show if it didn’t get 3 million viewers. It completely changes the paradigm of what an audience is and what can be a successful revenue model. You can operate with a much smaller footprint both from the production side and the distribution side.

Do you think that part is changing?

I think [the Internet] is going to democratize this entire industry. Being risk-averse has protected them and their bottom line for so long, but all of a sudden the rug is being pulled from under them. They’re understandably worried. They have a production infrastructure and methodology that is entrenched in an old way of doing things. Guys like me come around and say you don’t have to spend $5 million an episode to make a show.

What will the Web do for filmmakers?

Now both marketing and distribution can be conceived in-house, and guys like me can be masters of their own domains like never before.

What are the creative advantages of using the Web as a medium?

There are no rules. It allows the best of both worlds. You have an ongoing series where you can explore the tangents and characters like you do in television shows, but you don’t have the censorship issues that you normally have with a network.

How are you taking advantage of the changing digital landscape?

I’m building a portal. I want to use it as a platform to distribute not only more episodes of The Strand, but to reach out to guys who have the same kind of ideas and concepts as I do and use it as a destination for high-quality, smart, well-thought-out episodic shows that you find outside the mainstream.

What kind of business model will it have?

It will be a multitiered thing where you can see things with ads or pay to see it without them.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be doing?

I always thought I’d be an architect. It’s very similar to filmmaking. You need a technical, engineering mind to make a film, similar to making a building, but there’s a creative aesthetic infused throughout the process as well.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve made?

Spending eight days in the woods in Maryland shooting Blair Witch. It probably will be for the rest of my life.

What’s the dumbest?

Buying that ’72 Caprice clunker when I was in college. I regret that one.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people in my business who make movies don’t appreciate how fucking lucky they are to be making a movie. I always say that the worst day on a movie is better than the best day bartending or waiting tables.

What’s your biggest fear?

Getting stale.