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Blair Witch 2 Pumps Up the Internet Hype

Hoping to scare up big box office sales right out of the gate, “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” plans an all-out Web blitz that is the antithesis of the minimalist online effort that worked so well for the first film.

Since its release, “The Blair Witch Project” has become the poster child for building buzz on the Internet, as this little “indie” film grossed more than $130 million thanks in part to clever online marketing.

To feed the “mockumentary” frenzy, the site featured newspaper clippings, photos of family members who never even appeared in the film, and journal entries relating to the disappearance of the three filmmakers featured in the first movie.

For the follow-up, the film's marketers have gone gaudy. Blairwitchwebfest.com will launch Wednesday and will include a 3-D environment that users can explore; a 64-hour live Webcast; a sweepstakes; an online auction; and other bells and whistles.

“This [effort is] about as big and crazy as anything I could think of. It's about as ambitious as anything I've seen,” said Mark Olsen, associate editor at Film Comment magazine, New York.

This over-the-top effort is a direct result of the first film's success. “They need this movie to explode,” said Olsen. “They're no longer just an underground movie, now they're on top, their resources are better and they have such a high profile. The first movie was a slow burn, word-of-mouth success. This time they have to play the opening-weekend numbers game.”

Blairwitchwebfest.com will feature live streaming programming and interactive events featuring horror film directors, comic book writers, game developers and other fans of the sci-fi genre.

“Blair Witch WebFest is a new and exciting way to capitalize on the extensive reach and power of the Internet,” said Amorette Jones, executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Artisan Pictures, Los Angeles. “Both the casual and intense fan can find something that appeals to them in the Blair Witch mythos, and WebFest is the perfect tool to reach both these audiences.”

At Blairwitch.com, which will launch by the end of the month, fans will be able to create animated characters (including hair color and choice of clothes) and wander around a 3-D community. They also will have the ability to make their characters wave, dance and search for hidden clues within this virtual Blair Witch world.

“We're creating a virtual experience where people can communicate and emote with each other that goes beyond the text that was posted on bulletin boards and chat pages [for the first film],” said Thom Kidrin, CEO of Worlds.com, Old Greenwich, CT, the creators of the Web site. DistantCorners.com is creating a 3-D chat experience for the site as well.

To help build the buzz, a sweepstakes has been put in place where consumers can enter to win a chance to see a private screening with musician Marilyn Manson. They also will receive concert tickets to attend his upcoming tour.

Yahoo Movies is onboard for the Webcast. The site, which recently premiered the movie trailer, will host live chats and will be called upon to drive traffic to Blairwitchwebfest.com. HollywoodStockExchange.com and StreamSearch also will promote the event and Amazon Auctions will allow attendees to bid on props from the film, including the actors' costumes.

Print promotion will appear in Rolling Stone, Fangoria, Wizard Magazine, Comic Book Buyers' Guide and Collegiate Monthly. The Sci-Fi Channel will air a special about the movie Oct. 22, and clips from the show will be available during the Webcast. DoubleClick is handling the online advertising for the site.

In a way, Artisan had to go all-out with its Web campaign, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., Los Angeles, an organization that monitors box office activity.

“Everyone is sort of expecting this from this film. The fans of the first one were obviously Internet-savvy,” he said. “Now if there isn't an Internet tie-in they will be disappointed. They're throwing everything they have into this.”

The big question: Is all of this necessary to promote such a heavily anticipated film? “That's the rub,” said Olsen. “Do they need to do this to get people to see 'Blair Witch'? Probably not. But does it help raise awareness? Sure. If nothing else it will be another front on which people will talk about the film.”

JumpCut, a provider of convergent media solutions, is producing the Webcast. JumpCut also has handled Woodstock '99 and Sonicnet's Tibetan Freedom Concerts.

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