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4 out of 5 gamers surveyed…

Years ago, we took an afternoon off and shot some tongue-in-cheek commercials for our Game Masters and Battles products, as well as the DVD for the Bag Witch Project. We put ’em on a DVD and played them at the convention booths, and then kinda forgot about them.

Going through the office this week in search of something that might sound like an ejector seat, we stumbled on the master tape of those spots. Shameless goofs that we are, we put them up on our YouTube channel. No one’s seen these since GenCon 2001…enjoy!

More embarrassing old Toxic Bag vids at our YouTube channel.

Return of the Bag Witch

I’ve written here before about “The Bag Witch Project,” the short film we made in 1999 as a marketing gimmick, that went on to be unexpectedly successful for us. And I’ve told you about the follow-up, 2000’s “Curse of the Bag Witch,” which was based on the TV special “Curse of the Blair Witch,” which was part of the marketing push for “The Blair Witch Project.”

Since this is the tenth anniversary of the release of “Curse,” and since we’ve had more than a couple of requests for it, we’re releasing “Curse of the Bag Witch” as a downloadable iPod-compatible movie. Featuring guest appearances by frequent Toxic Bag cohorts Alan Vuchichevich, Dan Hitzemann and Heidi Miller, as well as cameos by the “Bag Witch” cast and clips from the original movie, “Curse” is available from our website for about a buck and a half.

"Curse" VHS cover

The blurb from the original VHS tape:

The Unnecessary Investigation
That Takes Over Where the Parody Left Off!

This shocking mockumentary, created by the producers of the parody sensation “The Bag Witch Project,” further examines the odd legacy of stupidity that has occasionally bothered the gaming community of Milwaukee for the last three decades. Tracing the history of events that make up the legend, this silly story chronicles the origin of the Bag Witch, the embarrassing Harrison Barker junk food “massacre” of 1988, and the final, confused days of the three role-playing gamers who disappeared while looking for the legendary game tournament in 1998. This wholly unneeded investigation includes additional interviews with friends, authorities and experts involved in the case that were not seen in the original parody film. Before you see the hilarious “Bag Witch Project,” find out the ridiculous history of events that just might be the CURSE OF THE BAG WITCH!

Advertising poster for "Curse"

The Bag Witch: still alive somewhere

I’ve spent many hours reading through the fantastic I never thought I’d find myself there. On their “Evil is Deathly Cold” trope page, they refer to a scene from our 1999 Blair Witch parody, The Bag Witch Project. Scroll down to the “Film” section.

I gotta say, I’m pretty geeked about this.

The Bag Witch Project: Part Three

Gencon 2000: The Curse of the Bag Witch

The year between Gencon 1999 and 2000 was a busy one for Toxic Bag. We were hard at work on “Strange Places,” the fourth volume of the Game Masters Collection sound effects CDs, as well as doing sound design for a couple of feature-length independent films and starting location recording for our “Battles” sound scenes CD.

The Bag Witch Project had taken on a small life of its own, spreading through word of mouth at game conventions across the midwest. We heard of a guy who would hold “Bag Witch” screening parties at every convention he attended. Someone sent us an entire case of Twinkies snack cakes based on one of the gags in the film (and we do mean gag–Chris had to eat the Twinkie and he finds them pretty gross).

Not that we had a runaway hit by any stretch. Bag Witch‘s appeal didn’t seem to extend beyond the gamer world. As more and more Blair Witch parodies cropped up, the parodies became as much part of the Blair Witch conversation as the original film. One film critic even brought up Bag Witch in an interview with Blair Witch‘s Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez as an example of how many awful parodies were out there.

So we decided to produce a follow-up video. As no Blair Witch sequel had yet been released we decided to make a parody of “Curse of the Blair Witch,” the SciFi Channel special that accompanied the original film and provided much of the back story of the legend of the Witch. So we wrote up a back story for the “Bag Witch,” wherein a woman is ejected from MarCon (an early incarnation of the GenCon fair) in Milwaukee in the late 1960s and vows revenge. The name “Bag Witch” is explained –in possibly the clumsiest retcon ever devised—as a foreshortening of “Lunch Bag Witch”—part of the witch’s curse, apparently, was that all the bag lunches at MarCon suddenly spoiled. We cast a bunch of relatives and friends (including an appearance by the infamous Chain Mail Girl as Joe’s, uh, “love interest”) and spent the summer shooting “The Curse of the Bag Witch.” “Curse” is the polar opposite of “Bag Witch”–scripted, tightly edited, with cool motion graphics and music, and best of all Steve and Joe didn’t have to act in it (Chris does have a brilliant cameo as his own brother)!

At the same time, we looked into the possibility of releasing “Bag Witch” on DVD. We were selling enough VHS copies that it seemed to make sense to move up to the new technology. However, at the time it was prohibitively expensive. For the quantities we wanted to order (a few hundred) we were getting quotes of around $18 per disc! So, shelving the DVD concept for the time being, we decided instead to create a “Special Edition” VHS version of the original film that included the same special features that a DVD would have. We recorded a cast/crew commentary track under the film and cut together some of the deleted scenes, and put it all on the tape. So one could watch the original movie, and if you let the tape run you’d see the deleted scenes and then the whole movie again with the commentary track. How delightfully primitive.

What we said then:

GENCON 2000: The Return

A new year, a new show. Would the Bag Witch still have the effect she had last year? We didn’t want to show up and find we were George Lucas, trying in vain to recreate past glories. For some reason which remains beyond our comprehension, the old girl was once again one of the big hits at the dance. Not wanting to risk the ire of the MECCA fire marshals by showing the films at our booth, we decided to wrangle another Anime room showing. After several discussions with the Anime room folks (thanks to them, btw) we were able to secure a half-hour on Saturday night. While this was not enough to show both “The Bag Witch Project” and our new effort, “Curse of the Bag Witch,” we decided to go with the new piece. “Curse” had its World Premiere at 11:30 p.m. CST on Saturday, August 12, 2000. Now, if you read last year’s missive on the Bag Witch Weekend (and if you didn’t, scroll down–we’ll wait), you know we were absolutely terrified at the Anime room showing. Well, this year we were not only scared of sucking, we were afraid of being old news. Thankfully, as the end credits rolled we were treated to cheers and enthusiastic applause…you can breathe now, Steve.

The run-up to GenCon 2000 was the period where we started thinking of Bag Witch as more than just a fluke, a marketing gimmick that accidentally became a viable product. We started thinking in terms of creating a body of work that was a larger parody of summer blockbuster films, with all the attendant hype and excess: commentary tracks, interactive website, t-shirts, spin-off releases, card games, action figures…

Clearly, we were going out of our minds.

Despite only having one showing, “Bag Witch Project” and “Special Edition” both sold out, and we sold over half our stock of “Curse.” Special thanks again to all the Bag Witch fans who have helped us take a total lark of an idea and turn it into a grotesquely over-realized parody of not just a film, but of its attendant hype and marketing as well! Who knows what will happen next year…I hear there’s a “Blair Witch” sequel coming out this Halloween…

The Bag Witch Project: Part Two

Gencon 1999…

…happened to coincide with the first weekend of general release for a little horror film called The Blair Witch Project. In a ploy to draw attention to our booth at the con, we had shot a short parody called “The Bag Witch Project” and put up a big poster for it next to the stacks of sound effects CDs we were selling. The ploy worked. From a distance, the poster looked genuine enough that people stopped by to inquire whether we were connected with the film. Other people asked if we somehow had VHS copies of the Blair Witch film to sell. The small video monitor we’d brought along looped scenes from the parody and we planned to screen the film in its entirety twice a day.

What we said then:

We put up our big “Bag Witch Project” poster in the booth, it gets some attention and some laughs, and we tell everyone who asks that we’re showing it at 1 and 4. So 1 PM rolls around on Day One, and we inaugurate the World Premiere of “The Bag Witch Project.” Ten people show up, they laugh, we all have a good time, no one gets hurt. After the show, Gemma Tarlach from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel comes up and says “‘Bag Witch?’ What’s this ‘Bag Witch?'” We tell her and she leaves. We figure out of several hundred booths at the ‘con, ours might merit a small mention in her article… The 4 PM show goes well, with about twelve people in attendance.

We asked our neighbors in the other booths if they minded the fact that convention attendees were standing in the aisle blocking passage…no, they said, not at all, it makes people stop and look at our stuff if they can’t get through!

Meanwhile, we spent some of our downtime walking around GenCon in our “Bag Witch” costumes, taping extra scenes. We figured it might be fun to cut this footage in later, to tie the office footage to the convention in a more authentic way, just for the fun of it.

Then all hell breaks loose.

The next day, another screening and this time, security people came over and told us, hey, jamming the aisles like this is a fire hazard, you can’t do that. So we abandoned the booth screening concept. But then we had a chat with some friends from Chaosium, who knew the the guys who ran the anime room, a large auditorium in the hotel that showed anime, trailers, and various other stuff 24 hours a day throughout the convention. A plan was hatched to screen the movie on Saturday.

Friday morning the GenCon article appears on the Journal-Sentinel. We’re mentioned in the lede above The Phantom Menace (not, however, above Pokemon) as “one of the biggest crowd magnets of the convention” with “convention-goers doubled over with laughter.” Four paragraphs out of twenty-four are devoted to “The Bag Witch Project.”

Chris goes off to stare at Lou Ferrigno before the 1 PM show and when he comes back there are TWENTY-FIVE people SITTING IN THE AISLE in front of our booth, watching “The Bag Witch Project.” Imagine! You’re in the dealer room of a ‘con and you come across twenty-five people who have decided they need to SIT IN THE AISLE and watch a movie playing on a crappy little video monitor. For FORTY MINUTES. What the hell is going on here?

So we’re quite the buzz at the ‘con. So much so that the nice folks from Andon come around to tell us to please keep the aisles clear. So much so that the nice folks at Chaosium ask us to show “Bag Witch” at their showcase in the Anime Room that night. Okay, we say. We hear it’s a cozy little room, seats about fifty. So we cancel the second booth show that day and tell people to “catch us at the Anime Room, but you might want to get there early (8:45 for the 9 PM show) because we hear it’s kind of small.”

The place was packed. The audience laughed, and applauded and cheered like crazy as the credits rolled. Somehow we had a minor hit on our hands.

We get to the Anime Room. It actually seats TWO HUNDRED and fifty people. And it’s full. People have been lining up for “Bag Witch” since 8:30. It’s standing room only. We’re terrified.

All of which is instantly forgotten during the riot that is the Anime Room show and the tumult of applause that follows.

Now we are famous. Friends from other booths tell us that EVERYBODY is talking about “Bag Witch.” One guy who will attend all five shows during the ‘con tells us his dad works for Hostess and, based on ONE GAG involving Twinkies, tells us that he’ll send us a case of same. People stop us in the convention hall by yelling “Hey, Bag Witch!”… which short-circuits our pickup shooting on one occasion. Our flyers are repeatedly stolen from posting areas. The questions about video release are starting to fly.

People now asked if we had copies of OUR film to sell. Wha???

What becomes a legend most? We decide to have one more show in the Wisconsin Room at the Holiday Inn. Most of the audience is led over from the booth by Joe and Steve, who lead the procession while holding aloft the 24″ x 36″ “Bag Witch” poster. This altogether calmer screening culminates in an impromptu Q&A session and the giveaway of the Procession Poster. The last day of the ‘con is marked by repeated, and repeated, and repeated, questions about “Bag Witch.” The question sessions get longer and longer, people are coming by to ask us about subtle references in the film, and a high school kid tries to steal one of our props! We have arrived! Thanks to all the GenCon attendees who made “Bag Witch” the freaky sensation it was!

The convention over, we went back and forth about whether to actually try to sell tapes of the movie, and finally decided, what the hell. We cut in the new convention footage, trimmed out some 15 minutes of the really bad ad libs, and designed a VHS cover. We ended up selling quite a few tapes of the original Bag Witch movie.

And then it was time to figure out what to do for next year.

End of Part Two.

Steve watching all hell break loose

Steve watching all hell break loose

Next: The Curse of the Bag Witch.

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.

Where we’ve been…

Seems to me that there are folks who know Toxic Bag from our various stumblings-around in the Chicago storefront theatre and indie film communities over the last few years. There are also folks who remember Toxic Bag from GenCons in Milwaukee a few years back, with our sound effects CDs, “Bag Witch” cult film and 2 pm dance party in the convention floor aisle each day.

Y’all in the latter category may wonder where we’ve been hiding ourselves.

We didn’t go away, honest. About the time GenCon relocated to Indianapolis (and yeah, it’s been a few years now) we determined that the cycle of putting out a new Game Masters CD every year was pretty darn time-intensive, and if we wanted to do some of the other things we wanted to do, it may be a good idea to step back from that production cycle for awhile and do all that other stuff. So, when the next year came and the farther-from-home, considerably more pricey first Indy GenCon rolled around, we decided to sit it out.

Admittedly, time got away from us a bit. But it ain’t like we haven’t been doing anything.

We have spent the time since our last go-round at GenCon working on sound for independent feature films, shooting our own short horror and comedy films, doing sound design for lots of Chicago theatre companies, working on a series of educational cartoons, and generally doing sound, music, video editing and DVD authoring for a slew of people. We learned a ton. We’ve worn a bunch of hats and played in a bunch of pools. But late at night, during breaks in tech or taking an ear break in the studio, we always talked amongst ourselves about going back to GenCon…

…hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now. There’s no big Toxic Bag GenCon ’09 announcement here. But we do have a bunch of new RPG-related projects in the works, for the first time in a while. And we’ve been in touch with some old friends who are working with us on some pretty cool stuff. We’ll be talking about it all here and at the Toxic Bag website very soon. We hope you’ll be as excited about it all as we are.

Having never really left, it’s good to be “back.”

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