“Blair Witch” Cast Claim They Were Sent a Fruit Basket as Reward for the Film Grossing $100 Million

Joshua Leonard, Rei Hance and Michael C. Williams are detailing their lack of compensation in the 25 years since the success of the film

<p>Ron Galella Collection via Getty</p> (Left-right:) Joshua Leonard, Rei Hance and Michael C. Williams in 1999

Ron Galella Collection via Getty

(Left-right:) Joshua Leonard, Rei Hance and Michael C. Williams in 1999

The cast of the original The Blair Witch Project are detailing their lack of compensation in the 25 years since the film’s breakout success.

After distributor Lionsgate announced an upcoming addition to the horror franchise that launched with the 1999 indie horror hit, its three stars Joshua Leonard, Rei Hance (also known as Heather Donahue) and Michael C. Williams have expressed "frustration," with Leonard writing on social media that they had suffered “25 years of disrespect” and financially “made 300k... and NEVER saw another dime.”

In a new interview with Variety, the three actors claim that Artisan Entertainment, which acquired writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film after its Sundance Film Festival premiere for $1.1 million, sent each of them a fruit basket to commemorate the film earning $100 million at the domestic box office.

Related: Blair Witch Actor Slams '25 Years of Disrespect' as New Reboot Is Announced: 'Feels Both Icky and Classless'

“That was when it became clear that, wow, we were not going to get anything,” said Hance, 49. “We were being cut out of something that we were intimately involved with creating.”

“Giant corporations don’t care that this happens to young artists,” said Williams, 50. “It’s bulls---. And that’s got to change somehow.”

<p>Getty</p> Heather Donahue in 'The Blair Witch Project'

Getty

Heather Donahue in 'The Blair Witch Project'

The Blair Witch Project used a found-footage conceit to tell the story of three filmmakers who venture into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to investigate supernatural occurrences. To advertise it ahead of the Sundance premiere, Myrick, Sánchez and producers at Haxan Films opted for posters and trailers that suggested its three central characters — who shared the names of the actors playing them — were real people who had been missing since their footage was found.

That meant that Leonard, Hance and Williams, non-union performers who answered an open call on casting service Backstage, stayed out of the spotlight as the film went on to earn a worldwide gross of $248.6 million (over 4,000 times its original budget). According to Variety, Artisan Entertainment “took maintaining that illusion so seriously that the actors were barred from appearing at its Cannes Film Festival premiere that May” or booking press interviews that would reveal the conceit.

According to Leonard, 48, Artisan Entertainment admonished him for joining the cast of another independent film at the time, as, per the publication, “he wasn’t supposed to reveal that he was an actor, let alone that he was alive.”

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In 2000, Donahue, Leonard and Williams sued Blair Witch’s distributor as the sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which used archival footage of the original actors, premiered. They reached a settlement of roughly $300,000.

Artisan Entertainment is therefore not allowed to “use our names and images to make money for themselves anymore,” Leonard told Variety. But, added Donahue, “They keep doing it anyway.”

Moviestore/Shutterstock (Left-right:) Joshua Leonard and Michael C Williams in 'The Blair Witch Project'
Moviestore/Shutterstock (Left-right:) Joshua Leonard and Michael C Williams in 'The Blair Witch Project'

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On April 21 following the news of the other upcoming sequel, the three actors signed an open letter from Leonard posted on Facebook that implored Lionsgate, the studio that acquired Artisan in 2003 and owns the Blair Witch franchise, to pay them "retroactive + future residual payments" for their work on the original movie.

Leonard wrote that their compensation should be "equivalent to the sum that would’ve been allotted through SAG-AFTRA, had we had proper union or legal representation when the film was made." They also want to retain "meaningful consultation on any future" project in the series, plus a yearly grant of $60,000 from Lionsgate to aspiring filmmakers making their first feature film.

A representative for SAG-AFTRA reportedly told Variety that the union has been in communication with Lionsgate about these issues, and is “hopeful” about earning the original Blair Witch cast compensation. “But when there is no union contract covering the production, the actors and the union are generally limited to appealing to fairness.”

A spokesperson for Lionsgate did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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