‘The Blair Witch Project’ Star Joshua Leonard Slams Lionsgate Over Reboot: It’s Been ’25 Years of Disrespect’

Back in 1999, Joshua Leonard made his acting debut in the now-iconic found-footage film “The Blair Witch Project.” In the last 25 years he’s directed five of his own films and starred in dozens of others, but is still fighting to be taken seriously in Hollywood.

At last week’s CinemaCon, Lionsgate and Blumhouse announced the development of a”The Blair Witch Project” reboot. Leonard’s face was on the press release — but in an April 12 social media post, he said he knew nothing about the project.

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“This is MY face on a press release for a film being made by two major studios — both I’ve worked for, both I respect,” Leonard wrote on Facebook. “The WEIRD PART is that I didn’t know anything about it until a friend sent me a ‘congrats’ screenshot yesterday. My frustration is compounded b/c I’ve been trying to get @lionsgate to engage for over a month about a ‘BWP’ charity screening I’m putting together for @opositivefest to raise money for artists without healthcare, and NO ONE will get back to me.”

Leonard added that the news made him start “thinking a lot about this time, after seeing my ‘BWP’ collaborators recently and sharing memories… sweet AND fucked-up ones.”

He then went on to list a series of assertions surrounding the release of “The Blair Witch Project” and later navigation of Hollywood.

“In 1999, ‘BWP’’s OG distributor [Artisan Entertainment, later acquired by Lionsgate] claimed to have released the most profitable independent film ever (bought for 1M, grossed 250M+), while internally they told us that they were actually losing money from marketing expenses… so WE might wind up owing THEM $,” Leonard wrote. “A Hollywood insider told the press that we (actors) were paid 4M dollars as a buyout for our ownership points, while in reality, we made 300k… and NEVER saw another dime. (After buying a car and paying off his student loans, Mike [Williams] was back moving furniture within 12 months of the release, while still on magazine covers.)”

Leonard continued that since the found footage film blurred the lines of narrative filmmaking and reality, there were more complex legal issues.

“Because we used our real names in the first film, the studio claimed copyright. We had to take them to federal court to win OUR NAMES back,” Leonard wrote. “There were many factors that made ‘BWP’ a success: timing, marketing, etc. But there was also the FACT that us weirdos got together, with virtually no resources, AND MADE A FILM THAT WORKED! Can we just go on record and say that the film itself is a huge part of why we’re still talking about it 25 years later?”

“The Blair Witch Project” was released in 1999 and grossed a whopping $248 million at the global box office. The feature spawned two additional franchise films, plus the Lionsgate-operated Las Vegas escape room experience, “Escape Blair Witch.”

“I’m so proud of our little punk-rock movie, and I LOVE the fans who keep the flames burning,” Leonard concluded. “But at this point, it’s 25 years of disrespect from the folks who’ve pocketed the lion’s share (pun intended) of the profits from OUR work, and that feels both icky and classless.”

Leonard later shared with IndieWire that after his Facebook post, a representative for Lionsgate did respond to his charity screening request six weeks since his initial outreach. Leonard told Lionsgate that he was “deeply saddened” it took a public effort to “make a bunch of noise” calling the studio out on social media for a representative to reply.

“The excuses just make me angry,” Leonard wrote, “as prolonging the gaslighting within attempts at retroactive appeasement feel like a further insult.”

After “The Blair Witch Project” success, Leonard went on to star in horror film “Unsane” and made his directorial debut in 2011 with “The Lie” and co-wrote, starred in, and helmed 2021 indie “Fully Realized Humans.”

IndieWire has reached out to Lionsgate and Blumhouse for comment.

Leonard isn’t the only original filmmaker to speak out on a Lionsgate remake. “The Crow” director Alex Proyas voiced his disdain for any reboot of the film that saw the death of actor Brandon Lee, the son of martial artist Bruce Lee, who was killed on set during the final days of production when a prop gun fired.

“‘The Crow’ is not just a movie. Brandon Lee died making it, and it was finished as a testament to his lost brilliance and tragic loss. It is his legacy. That’s how it should remain,” Proyas wrote on Facebook. He previously said in 2017 via Facebook that any remake “seems wrong to me.”

“The Blair Witch Project” reboot is one of the many horror franchise reimaginings in the works. Original features “The Black Phone” and “It Follows” both landed sequels, with “The Exorcist” and “The Omen” receiving new franchise installments. “The First Omen” prequel has been teased to kick off a new timeline set decades before the original classic.

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