The Bag Witch Project: Part One

These days you’d say it went viral

Because, as I mentioned before, we’re not able to attend the 2009 GenCon game fair, and therefore won’t be able to do anything to commemorate the 10th anniversary of our fluke cult “hit” The Bag Witch Project…we’re instead going to post a series of reminiscences about it here, including what we said about it on at the time.

What we said after GenCon 1999:

The unexpected runaway hit of GenCon 1999, “The Bag Witch Project” doesn’t suck as much as we thought. In fact, the phenomenon caught us completely by surprise and got more than a little out of hand.

In the summer of 1999, Steve and I went with our friend Chris Petkus to the Music Box Theater in Chicago to see a new horror film. We enjoyed it for its refreshingly non-CGI approach, and spent much of the day talking about it. An art-house film at that point, The Blair Witch Project would not open nationally until early August.

Over the next month, buzz about the film began to grow, partly because of a clever internet campaign and a TV special on the SciFi Channel called “Curse of the Blair Witch” (more on that later), both of which presented the Blair Witch legend as a real thing.

In mid-July, as we were preparing for our annual visit to GenCon to sell our Game Masters Collection CDs, we brainstormed about how we might call attention to our booth (without spending enormous amounts of money). We remembered “Blair Witch,” and how simply it was shot, and the idea began to form that perhaps we could shoot a short parody of the film to show on a loop at the booth, and put a mock poster up or something.

(Yeah, cool, guys: a parody of “Blair Witch Project,” that’s original. It’s only the most-parodied film ever made…)

Well, actually, since the film hadn’t opened nationally yet, there were no other parodies. I’m pretty much certain that ours was the first.

What we said at the time:

Sometime in mid-July we were sitting around discussing how to spice up the convention floor booth. We had just seen “The Blair Witch Project” and discussed the idea of making a short parody film depicting our search for a gaming site at last year’s con. “It oughta be easy,” we thought. Three people go off in search of a mystical, mythical thing and never return. As GenCon is a roleplayers’ convention, we cast our characters as roleplayers in search of the infamous “Bag Witch Tournament,” which reportedly occurs every ten years and somehow involves Twinkies (TM) snack cakes. No one knows of anyone who has ever played this tournament…and come back.

So, we outlined the basic sequence of events from the film, came up with a few gags, threw costumes and props together and prepared to shoot. The parody setup was simple: three moronic role-players show up at GenCon, look for a mysterious “Bag Witch” gaming tournament, and get hopelessly lost. We chose “Bag Witch” to play off of “Toxic Bag,” and much later had to retcon an origin for the name.

So, we set off to shoot the thing, expecting to come out with a good twenty-minute short we could knock out in a couple of hours of shooting and editing. Imagine our surprise almost twenty-eight hours later when the final edit clocked in at forty-three minutes. Well, we thought, we’ll just have to only show it a couple times a day at the ‘con… Ha.

Our shooting date was the weekend before the convention. We shot all Saturday. The initial location was supposed to be my apartment, but somehow the intense heat contributed to a power outage in my neighborhood. We quickly revised our plan to shoot at Steve’s apartment instead. From there, out to a house in the suburbs to shoot an “interviewing the locals” sequence, and then off to the office that doubled as the “hotel” where we then edited all Saturday night. Once we shot Chris’ last scene (he played the guy who vanishes) he ran upstairs and started editing while Steve and I continued to shoot.

I should say this before we go much further: I’m not an actor. Steve’s not an actor. Chris, while a genuinely funny guy, is not an actor. We non-actors had no script and ad-libbed each scene. Take from that what you will. We would have thrown in more “gamer” jokes if we’d had time, but we didn’t. Many of the scenes fall somewhat short of what you’d call “great improv” and some are downright painful. The initial edit was at least a third too long…but what the hell, we were just using it to grab attention, it was just gonna be playing at the booth on a noisy convention floor, it didn’t need to be “Waiting for Guffman”…

We photographed Steve for the poster, did some Photoshop work and were off to the convention.

The Bag Witch Project poster

The Bag Witch Project poster

End of Part One. Next Time: GenCon ’99.

About toxicbag

Toxic Bag Productions, Inc. provides sound effects and music for independent films, animated shorts, theatrical productions, dance performances, podcasts and video games. They work out of their studio on the north side of Chicago.

Posted on August 11, 2009, in Confessions of a Guerilla Filmmaker and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Make sure to recount the tale of Bennigahouliganahan’s….

  2. will the story end with an actual copy of the short being uploaded to the blog? PLEASE SAY YES

  1. Pingback: 4 out of 5 gamers surveyed… « Toxic Bag Productions

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