Writer and soon to be filmmaker and director Michael Rotman was heading over to Jerry's Deli with friend Ian Silverman when Eureka! he came up with a parody idea for "The Blair Witch Project." well, sort of...
Mike Rotman: "I was all excited, "The Witchy Poo Project" I thought would be very funny, that lasted about 10 min. Soon I realized who the hell would remember H.R. Puff N Stuff? I immediately changed it to "The Oz Witch Project."
Aug 2, 1999
Michael Rotman starts his job as head writer for a new pilot for USA broadcasting . Rotman also begins to write "The Oz Witch Project" with intentions of shooting it the weekend of August 7. Rotman talks to friend David M. Barsky about the project idea. Barsky informs Rotman he has a DV camera that can be used for free. Barsky is immediately named Director of Photography.
Rotman gets hold of "The Blair Witch Project" VHS tape and find scenes that are best for straight out parody. He jots down ideas while at work (don't tell the executive producers) and calls around to find actors that they can get on a moments notice. Curtis Eames's name comes up . Rotman decides he would be perfect for either the Lion or the Tin Man. Butler begins running around town to find costumes. (A process that would take longer than anyone had ever thought.)
Rotman goes to an acting class to search for possible Dorothy's. He finds one but she wants her manager to talk to Rotman first. Needless to say, she is not used.
Rotman: This girl was perfect- she looked like Dorothy and she did a scene where she cried. I was looking the entire time to see if her nostrils were flaring. The problem was she wanted us to go through her manager. Anyone who has ever tried to do an indy film in a week with no budget, knows that the last thing you want to do is talk to managers. We wanted her to do it and deal with us directly. It didn't happen."
Rotman, missing a Dorohty, panics till he remembers a friend who knows the actress Meredith Salenger (From Dream a Little Dream and Natty Gann fame.) He makes some calls and manages to trade calls with Salenger for the next few days.
Rotman needs to know where they can shoot this where no one can hear the screaming going on.
Barsky says he knows a place. Rotman makes him a producer.
Realizing that the actors and costumes are still not in place, plus the Red Sox are in town- Rotman changes the shoot date to the weekend of the 14th. Rotman is not happy as he knows this is an idea that everyone will have, and first out of the gate will be the only one noticed. Rotman with help from friends finishes up the script.
Rotman: "On a project like this, everyone throws in jokes left and right. Some good, some not so good, but hey, it's always a help to write the script then have everyone pitch in, sometimes gold can be found."
Rotman cannot meet with Salenger as he gets stuck at work longer than expected. She wants to know what the project is about, Rotman does not tell her or anyone else till days before the shoot.
Rotman and Barsky head about an hour outside of LA to Palmdale way up in the middle of nowhere to look at the location that Barsky has in mind. The location is wooded and far from anyone- it is perfect. Rotman and Barsky stop in a local store, in the middle of nowhere, there is an NRA sign in the window, Rotman is scared.
Red Sox beat Anaheim.
Rotman meets with 3 people to play the 3 roles. He crosses his fingers that casting will work. They are given lines and a tape from "The Wizard of Oz" and told to act exactly like the characters. Rotman refuses to tell them what the script they will be shooting is about.
Curtis Eames gives a flawless lion performance.
Guy walks in and looks and sounds exactly like The Tin Man. (If you watch "Wizard of Oz" you'll notice, notice Tin Man has sort of a Brooklyn accent. He actually sounds alot like Ace Frehely of KISS.) Guy being from Long Island has the accent and tone down perfect.
Ron Repel comes in, he is tall, lanky and does great improv and physical gags. he is perfect as well.
Rotman: "We totally lucked out, all the actors were just about perfect! I made a few adjustments on their cadence or some other minor adjustments and we had our male cast all set."
Red Sox beat Anaheim.
Monday August 9
Rotman gets a PO Box so an ad can be put in the breakdown for a Dorothy. Not wanting anyone to be tipped off as to what the project is, Butler puts a vague ad in the breakdowns.
Butler: "The breakdown was for "Blue Harvest," the name I later remembered was the code name for "Return of the Jedi". Later Rotman misremembered it as "Blue Horizon." I imagine if it had been a longer shoot, it would have become "Blue Hawaii. I described it as a young girl's coming of age story. The part required a
young non-singing Judy Garland type."
Rotman: "I don't even want to talk about the 60 year old young Judy Galrlands we got pics from."
Rotman still tries to set up a meeting with Salenger but their schedules keep crossing.
Panicked for a Dorothy, Rotman doubts himself and begins to think of not doing the project.
Tuesday August 10
Rotman makes frantic calls from work, to see how Butler is doing with the costumes. So far no luck finding a good Tin Man outfit.
Rotman sets up a few auditions for Dorothys but is running so late from work, he cannot make them. Barsky and Butler tape them.
Rotman finally meets up with Salenger. She wants to know what the project is. Rotman finally breaks down and tells her bits and pieces, she loves it and wants to be a part of it!
Rotman: "It was a 10 minute meeting, I looked at her thought to myself, she looks like Dorothy and so I asked her to flair her nostrils for me. Here I was, sitting outside at a coffee shop on Beverly, not having more than a few hours sleep for the past week, and I am demanding Meredith Salenger flair her nostrils for me- it was a bit surreal."
Wednesday August 11
The actors all meet for a read through. They are finally told what the short is about. David Henke comes in and discusses makeup needs and what is the cheapest way to make the actors look like the Oz characters. Rotman working on 2 hours of sleep in the past 3 days, has no idea where he is.
Thursday August 12
Rotman works till 9pm then does two read through with the actors till 1am. **That is all the rehearsal that is ever done for the film.** Rotman re-writes parts of the script till 3am. (Rotman, self-hating as always- suddenly hates the script- Barksy, Butler and Silverman convince him that it is funny and nothing much should be changed.- a few scenes are added- like Dorothy singing.)
Rotman: "I wanted to change the entire thing- I felt it was too direct of a parody- it was funny, but something was missing. I'm glad my friends talked me out of it. I look at all the other parodies and I see ours does stick out cause it is simple, straightforward and heavy on jokes- the premise is funny in itself as all the spoofs are, but I think we concentrated on jokes as well.."
Friday August 13
Rotman sits at home all night trying to connect his VCR to his computer so he can printout stills of "The Blair Witch Project." so he can match shots.
Rotman: "I think its really important to do a spoof exactly as the original. The Ben Stiller Show proved this over and over again. It was one of the best sketch comedy shows to come along in a long time, because when they spoofed something it had the exact feel of the actual film they were poking fun at."
Saturday August 14
SHOOTING DAY! Call time is at 6am. We caravan the hour drive to the mountains. Shooting finally begins at 10am with the first shots being those of the "sinister" lollipops.
Suddenly it is discovered that the battery pack for the monitor is missing. Rotman, is not happy and shows his disapproval by kicking dirt.
By 1pm the guy with the monitor batteries show up.
The shoot goes well, till it gets dark and poor Meredith has to crawl around in the woods. Giant bugs are everywhere. She is not happy but it added to her true terror.
The shoot goes straight til 12am where the final shot of Dorothy going arriving in the basement is shot.
The blood on the walls is done with chocolate syrup.
Sunday August 15
10am Editing starts
5am Monday morning Editing ends.
**Coming soon: More about shooting day
**How does one go about getting PR for a independent short?" including "How do you get a tape to Entertainment Tonight and then have them call you an hour later"
** Former Hartford Whaler, Kevin Dinnen is traded to Ottowa and thus never has to play a home game in an empty stadium in North Carolina again.