In the world of independent filmmaking, it can be difficult to get anything released, much less funded. Everyone once in awhile, though, an indie picture gets its big break, such as “The Witch,” which has held the title of highest grossing indie film of 2016 since February. The film has been praised for its chilling take on horror, but for the team behind “The Witch,” the true nightmare was trying to get financiers excited about a supernatural horror film set in the 1600s with no recognizable star power and zero studio backing.
“The only thing I knew was that I felt extremely strongly that this had to be made,” said Redmond, who added she had read Egger’s previous work, but didn’t think they were marketable projects. That all changed when “The Witch” came into view, which Redmond said had mainstream appeal despite its unconventional nature. But it wasn’t going to be easy.
Photo By Maku Lopez
“Every challenge that could possibly be there, was there,” said Redmond.
When the film was presented to potential financiers, most didn’t understand it. Despite the thorough look-book compiled and presented by Eggers, the film’s unusual 17th century dialogue and the overall concept of the film was tricky to comprehend. Meanwhile, Egger’s lack of filmography added to potential investor’s apprehension.
“We would talk to people and they were like, ‘Nobody’s ever gonna be scared,'” said Van Hoy.
When it came to finding a location, tax incentives placed the film in Northern Ontario. Eggers was upset not to be shooting in New England, he was also nervous about finding the right forest and tree size to fit with the scope of the film.
“It was like months, and months, and months trying to find the location,” said Eggers, adding that he eventually grew more accustomed to the setting once the art designers and production team began rendering the set.
Fast-forward to Sundance 2015, no one had seen the final version of the film prior to its premiere, said Van Hoy, who mentioned that most of finishing touches were added in the weeks prior to the festival.
“There was so much that was finished over the holidays in Toronto, we were there mixing and doing all the CG stuff really down to the wire,” he said. “No one had really seen the version of the film that we knew existed.”
Following its warm reception at Sundance, the film was picked up by A24, who partnered with DirecTV Cinema to have a on-demand release prior to a smaller theatrical release.
“What was really lucky for us was that A24 really needed this to be a big movie, so they treated it as such,” said Eggers, referencing the film’s eventual expansion to a 3,000 screen release. Van Hoy pointed to A24’s previous successes of “Ex Machina” and “It Follows” as having helped to carve out an audience for a film like “The Witch.”
Photo By Maku Lopez
While Eggers might have had trouble getting “The Witch” financed, his prospects quickly changed at Sundance, where he won the Best Director prize. Egger said that right away his agent started fielding calls about him doing franchise work, but that he’s more interested in creating original ideas.
“It’s a weird balance to try to understand how to be yourself and maintain who you are,” said Eggers.