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Article ID: 3038
Age Group: Adult
Posted: October 22nd. 2000
Blair Witch II - Peg's Trip to the Webfest
by Peg Aloi
October 17, 2000 5:00 pm
Tomorrow, Mercury goes retrograde. Tonight, I am about to get on a 5:45 plane to Los Angeles.
The Blair Witch Webfest awaits: 3 full days (64 hours!) of live chat, performances and internet hype of the eagerly-awaited sequel to The Blair Witch Project, last summer's runaway blockbuster that, despite its $60, 000 budget, made more money than any other film in history (way over a hundred million dollars). Opening October 27th, we get Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
My assignment: appear as a spokesperson for the pagan community and attempt to say something intelligent about the portrayal of Wicca in film, and answer audience questions to the best of my ability.
My mission: to take advantage of this very public and much-hyped event to set the record straight on many of the misconceptions the general public still has about modern witches (most of them based upon sensational media images).
Oh, did I mention Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow?
5:15 pm: After some snaggling with my electronic ticket (my ID says "Margaret, " my ticket is issued to "Peg, " oh, for an Irishman who can explain this to the airline), I go to the waiting area. Gate 33: a lucky number. (I am terrified of flying so I look for reassuring numerological stuff. I also clutch a ball of hematite inscribed with a pentacle during take-off and landing. Please, no broomstick jokes.)
5:16 pm: There, I see Shawn and Jacqui, two Salem witches who are also flying out for the webfest. They will be performing a live ritual and casting spells, according to the official webfest schedule.
I have wondered more than once if they might be mad.
I mean, performing ritual in front of millions of potentially non-sympathetic people?
Then again, I have wondered the same thing about myself: what in the name of the Lord and Lady am I DOING???
5:17 pm: Shawn recognizes me (must be the tiny 1-inch pentacle I'm wearing--but actually, I am looking right at him, as I had seen him in a documentary film about Salem and knew to look for a tall, hulking man in goth attire). He stands to shake my hand. He is dressed head to toe in black and must stand six-foot-five in his stocking feet (he is wearing boots). Jacqui, also dressed in black, smiles and shakes my hand. "Good, " Shawn says, "now there are three of us, so we're all set."
5:18 pm: Turns out they are not mad. They are nervous.
Shawn tells me there have been rumors that people think we are selling out the pagan community by participating in this thing. He says there is also a rumor that we are being paid a lot of money to do this. I laugh.
5:19 pm: I momentarily wonder why I didn't ask for a lot of money to do this. Then I remember why I do this sort of thing in the first place.
5:20 pm: I tell Shawn that when I heard he was one of the people going I was pleased, since he carries himself well on camera. I ask why Jody Cabot cancelled (she was to go instead of Jacqui) and he says she got nervous about how she might come off to people who don't know her.
5:21 pm: I get nervous about how I might come off to people who don't know me.
5:22 pm: I notice they have brought a huge antique candelabra and wish I had brought some sort of cool visual aid (besides my videotape of The Craft). Then I realize getting that thing in the overhead bin is gonna suck. "They told us to bring stuff, " Shawn says. "Hey, it's Hollywood, " I say, "I bet they can make stuff for you."
5:23 pm: I pull out an apple, and offer apples to Shawn and Jacqui. We are all starving and hope that dinner on the plane will be edible.
5:25 pm: They anounce the boarding call, and we three witches enter the plane munching apples. Shawn says "This is Peg's witches-eating-apples travel spell."
Hey, they don't call me Albion for nothing.
5:27 pm: We are on the plane. Shawn says they are in Row 23. "Aw, you get 23?" I whine. "That's a good number." (I'm in row 35; not a bad number, since 3 and 5 are both witchy numbers. But it ain't 23...)
Numbers good. All will be well.
5:31 pm: After we stow our bags (the candelabra was placed in a special compartment for unwieldy occult items), I wander up to Shawn and Jacqui's seats. Shawn jokes about taking over the mike and making witch jokes to break the ice with the other passengers. I say, in my best airline steward voice: "Today for your inflight enjoyment we will offer tarot readings, astrology, numerology, and psychic readings."
Shawn laughs and thanks me for saying I felt better after seeing his name on the schedule. I tell him, we just have to have fun and drink a lot, and we'll be fine.
The little beep noise sounds, signalling us to take our seats, and Jackie says "Thatch your brooms, we are preparing for takeoff!"
6:00 pm: We get in the air safely. It's getting dark and we fly immediately into clouds, forever chasing an indigo-vermilion horizon. I was hoping to be able to gaze down upon the hills and meadows of Massachusetts aglow in twilight-tinged autumn color. Won't happen. My next sight of Mother Nature will be the palm trees, smog and highways of Los Angeles.
6:01 pm: I start wondering when the drink cart will appear.
6:02 pm: I start gathering all my notes from the previous night's screening of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (hereafter known as "BW2"). Spreading them out on my little tray table, I am daunted. They are barely legible and trying to put them in chronological order is a Herculean task.
Alcohol would help. I chant a silent invocation: EVOE, EVOE, Finlandia, Skye, EVOE, EVOE, Gilbey's and Gordon's, EVOE, EVOE, Absolut, Absolut...
6:03 pm: Ah! Here she is.
May I have a vodka and orange juice, please?
"That's be four dollars."
Four dollars? Last time I was on a plane (to London), we got all the free booze we wanted. I am offended at the audacity of this airline, to charge me money for what is so clearly, at this point in time, a bare necessity. I consider it the first bad omen of the trip.
6:04 pm: Minute Maid and Smirnoff. Eh. At least the foil packet of snacks is tasty, if tiny.
6:05 pm: The in-flight movie, appropriately enough, will be Small Time Crooks. This synchronous correspondence is not lost on your intrepid pagan reporter, no sir!
6:08 pm: Back to my notes. The vodka is kicking in, thank the Goddess.
6:10 pm: A flight attendant comes by with my six dollars in change.
6:12 pm: Another flight attendant comes by with my six dollars in change. Ooh, I am tempted for a millisecond: teach them to charge me for drinks. "She already got me, " I say, and the second attendant's eyes widen. "Oh, she did?" she says and bustles away. I think this means my airplane karma points just went up ever so slightly.
6:13 (EST) until 8:30 pm (PST): I do eventually manage to transcribe all my notes (12 pages) into coherent order.
8:35 pm: We land in Los Angeles. The airport here makes Logan look like a lemonade stand.
8:40 pm: Some tan, cute, blond guy meets us at the gate with a little sign with our names on it. He tells us it is his first day with Artisan. Wow, they have the new guy pick up the talent? Guess it's a more thankless job than I thought.
I tell everyone my friend is coming to get me, so I say goodbye as they all go off to baggage claim. Shawn says we must meet at the hotel later for a drink. I say I have an early day tomorrow.
9:00 pm until October 18, 2:00 am: Yeah, right.
The next several hours pass in a blur. My friend picks me up at LAX, drops me at my hotel (the Roosevelt, right on Hollywood Boulevard! a charming, retro-kinda place), then takes me out for drinks. I know I should be working on what I will say tomorrow, concentrating on what possible questions I might have to answer, but I just can't bring myself to worry about it.
The incredibly smooth and trouble-free flight has me convinced that Mercury going retrograde is not going to unduly affect the webfest, at least not in terms of travel. But Mercury also rules communication... So thinking, I drift off to sleep.
October 18, 2000 5:00 pm
The First Day of the Webfest!
8:00 am: I get out of bed. I am really tired, rather jet-lagged and slightly hung-over, but looking forward to my 10 AM stint in front of the cameras for all the little cyber movie fans. I shower, pull together something black and green and subtly witchy, and head out to the lobby to meet my ride at 8:45. The next day, Shawn and Jacqui and I did manage to stop by the occult shop owned by Fairuza Balk (Nancy in The Craft), Panpipes, which was a mile or so from our hotel, on our way to the airport the next day. We could only stop for a minute, and we got to the airport with barely enough time to catch our flight.
8:47 am: No sign of the van, or of the other two people from the hotel who are also supposed to be riding with me. I worry I have missed it and this whole trip would be for nothing! (Dan, the travel guy, did say we had to leave right on time; uh oh, Mercury retrograde rears its ugly head).
8:48 am: I get a cup of coffee at the cafe next to the hotel entrance. Viennese. I expect it to be dark and Teutonic; it's very sugary, which I detest in coffee, but I am jonesing so badly I don't care. Hail, Caffeina!
8:53 am: I head for the payphones and leave a friendly but panicked message for Dan.
9:10 am: Dan shows up. Traffic sucked, apparently. Epiphany: other cities have traffic problems, not just Boston. I feel a cosmic kinship with Los Angeles. All will be well.
9:17 am: The other two guys riding with us are two roving-reporter types from a radio station who, get this, won a contest to go to the Blair Witch Webfest! They seem very psyched but determined not to let anyone find that out.
9:27 am: We get to the studio. They give us these little backstage passes: "ALL ACCESS." Damn, I feel powerful.
9:30 am: From here on in I am introduced to a new person about every minute and a half: promotions people, press, production assistants, techies with headsets, make-up and wardrobe crew, stage managers, etc. etc. I am shown to the Green Room, where I meet Allison Graham, the woman who first called me to ask me to do this. She does not look at all like what I expected. In fact, no one does. Everyone looks very non-Hollywood: no deep suntans, no silicone boobs, no tacky designer clothes. Most everyone is dressed in funky black clothes and is very friendly.
9:38 am: Allison gives me a paper to sign which basically says Artisan Entertainment has the right to use my recorded words and image for any purpose whatsoever, blah blah blah. They own my ass. I sign it, what else can I do?
9:40 am: Allison tells me they are running about a half hour behind, so I should relax.
Yeah, right. It's all starting to hit me: I'm gonna be on this live internet thing with thousands of people watching. I wish I could find some way to get emergency lipsuction, a French manicure and violet contact lenses. No time for any of that.
9:41 am: I am escorted to make-up.
9:42 am: The hair gal is very cool: tall and thin and wearing a gorgeous vintage goth ensemble. We talk clothes. Her hair is purple and she is a Wiccan. I pull my hair into a barrette and tell her not to bother doing anything to it. I wish my hair was purple.
9:46 am: The make-up gal is also cool. I am weirded out by this whole concept and tell her, "I'm from Boston, we don't wear make-up there." I say I would rather she didn't do the whole foundation thing but if she wanted to touch up my lips and eyes, go for it. I bemoan my unexfoliated skin, and she commiserates: "It's this time of year, " she says. In the well-lighted mirror my eyebrows look as if even a chainsaw would not help. She brushes on dark green shadow and cinnamon lipcolor but, alas, I don't end up looking a whole lot less jet-lagged, sleep-deprived or hung over. Oh, for a glamour spell like the one in The Craft!
9:53 am: The wardrobe gal, surprise, is also cool. She praises my sage-green velvet scarf. I was never concerned they'd make me wear a black pointy hat or anything, but I'm glad they like the way I dressed myself today.
10:01 am: I am back in the green room (I now appreciate this term with a whole new pagan outlook I did not have in my theatre major days). There is a guy there who is a game designer from the company that designed the BW2 video game. I never knew there was such a thing. He tells me he did not know anyone in LA and did not want to hang out in the hotel all day until his slot at 3 pm. There's coffee and treats on the table and a cooler of drinks; he gets me a bottle of water. We talk movies.
10:07 am: Allison tells me my time will be cut from one hour to forty minutes because we are running late. I tell her that is absolutely fine and inwardly breathe a sigh of relief.
10:13 am: A woman from Reuters comes in and asks if she can interview me. She scribbles the answers I give and I realize I hate doing interviews like that so I try to talk more slowly for her.
10:19 am: The stage manager (a guy in his late 20s or so wearing a headset) comes to get me. The reporter asks me one more question as I get up and I continue to answer her as the SM leads me away...
10:23 am: I enter the studio where they are taping the webcast. Another guy in a headset (40s, beard, friendly) takes my arm and leads me through the set, which is lit rather murkily. I see Joe Berlinger in a director's chair in front of all these bare trees. There is another set with blue and rose-colored lights and an Indian tapestry on the wall.
10:27 am: I am wired for sound by a woman in a headset who is all business. I hope my stomach doesn't growl or that some little voice in my head saying "There's still time, RUN!" isn't picked up on the microphone.
10:30 am: As soon as Joe finishes, I am led onto the set (this sounds silly but it is actually very helpful to have all these people leading me by the arm through this dark, Byzantine arrangement of cameras, furniture and lights).
10:31 am: As I walk by Joe we both say hi. I say, "Hey, I saw the movie last night."
"Oh yeah, what'd you think?"
"I liked it; very scary...lots of interesting stuff. I would love to talk to you about it." (This of course is film critic code for "I had a few issues..." and I think Joe senses this.)
10:32 am: I am in the director's chair now. Joe and I are still talking while the crew gets set up for the next segment. People are wandering around who aren't apparently doing much and I wonder if they are press. "I'm at the Roosevelt, " I say. "Room 106."
"I'm staying at the Four Seasons. Room 823." (Good number, but he probably knows that.)
"Okay, I will call you." (It actually takes several days and brief conversations before we actually "do" our interview. Joe is being a real trooper with all this hoopla.)
I watch as Joe scribbles something on a piece of yellow paper and gives it to one of the producers to give me. I look at the five or six cameras in front of me and try not to breathe.
Doesn't work for long. I resume breathing and look at the crew, whose silhouettes are slowly becoming visible. Then, all of a sudden, it is time to start.
My friends, I wish I could say I remember every single question that flashed across the teleprompter, and every single answer I gave, but it all happened so fast I am not sure it happened at all.
I started off briefly describing how I got involved with the webfest, and a few words about witchcraft and the internet and the media and The Craft, but then things got busy.
I guess I was lucky because a lot of people were able to connect during my segment (some people could not access the webfest during the first few hours) and asked a lot of great questions.
After the first ten minutes or so, the words "You're fabulous Peg!!!" flashed in red across the screen (the questions were in blue). I assumed it was something from one of the audience, but, after I made a joke about it on camera, I realized it was from the crew.
Despite my lack of sleep and the previous evening's brain cell abuse, I did pretty well; even managing to sound rather articulate at times. I made the crew laugh quite a lot (like when someone asked "Was Hitler a warlock?" and my reply was "Hitler was an ASSHOLE"), and that made me much less nervous. They had to keep pointing out which camera I was supposed to look into. Gosh, I could never do this showbiz stuff for real.
Someone somewhere was typing in all my answers, and a couple of times they flashed in red that I should slow down a little bit and speak more slowly. The SM had given me a sheet of paper earlier that said something to this effect and don't be alarmed when it happens, but it still freaked me out. I would just kind of stop dead and say "uhh..." Maybe the audience thought I was thinking, or something.
There were many questions about the first movie, what witches thought of it, and about Wicca and witchcraft in general. Some questions seemed rather tongue-in-cheek ("Do witches live forever?") and some made me want to cheer ("Can witches change the world?").
The final questions was, I am convinced, a plant from the production crew (they had some canned questions ready for each speaker in case the questions from the audience did not come fast enough).
It was: "Do witches have better sex?"
I think you know what my answer was.
I also looked over at Erica Leerhsen, the beautiful young actress who plays the Wiccan in the film, and said "Erica might know somehting about that." She smiled at me and then I was all done.
As I walked off the set the microphone lady came over to me and took my mike off. Some members of the crew smiled as I passed them and said "You were great!"
As I exited the studio a woman was waiting right outside. "Here's your swag, " she said, handing me a cloth bundle. My swag? I had never heard this word. I was later told it refers to the clothes with logos that are specially made for a production: t-shirts, jackets etc. "Getting swagged" means you get this cool stuff. So I was "swagged" with a cap and a t-shirt. Cool!
I was then asked by another nameless production assistant in black if I wanted to do some press. Sure, why not? Then I find out this is Artisan's own press coverage, for additional promotional material. I think there is still enough caffeine in me for this.
I am brought to a room with more lighting equipment than seems reasonable for a room this size. There is a camera and cameraman. I shake hands with the journalist (Gil) and the camera guy. Gil admires my scarf while the camera guy pins on my microphone.
I answer questions about how I got involved, what sort of opportunity for witches I think the webfest is, what do witches think about how they are portrayed in the media, etc.
I wind up back in the green room, just in time to hear Erica say, "The question is, did anything strange happen during filming?" I am interested to hear about this.
"Well, " she says, "when we were filming the scene where I was invoking the goddess of the Underworld, I didn't sleep for two days after that."
Oops. That pesky Persephone invocation. If Joe had told me the entire context of the scene, I just might have chosen another goddess...
I make a mental note to ask Erica more about this, if I get a chance to talk to her.
And the rest of my time in Los Angeles?
Fun. Sleep-deprived but fun.
I had dinner with the organizers of The West Memphis Three Support Fund and we had a great time.
Oh, and Mercury retrograde?
It got us, but good, on the way home. The flight was delayed three hours.
I got home around 2 in the morning, and was at work seven hours later.
Know what? I kinda miss the palm trees.
The Witches' Voice
October 23rd., 2000 c.e.
Email: [Staff Email]
Also See Peg's Review of this Film
Also See Peg's Interview with the Director of this Film
(The Blair Witch Webfest will be rebroadcast over the next few days in its entirety, in downloadable segments!
Go to the website www.blairwitchwebfest.com for details. You can buy "swag" there, too!)
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