Written by: Ron Cotton on September 13th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: March 9, 1998 (premiere)
Directors: Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler
Writer: Stefan Avalos
Cast: David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, Rein Clabbers, Michele Pulaski, Tom Brunt, Mark Rublee
DVD Released: September 26, 2006
Approximate Running Time: 87 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
DVD Release: Heretic Films
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
The Blair Witch Project blanketed media venues into believing that three filmmakers journeyed deep into Maryland searching for the urban legend, the Blair Witch. The three filmmakers end up missing and only later 16mm film canisters and Hi8 tapes are unearthed. Blair Witch became an independent film phenomenon grossing over $248 million, becoming the most profitable American film of all time (as compared to its production costs).
What’s more shocking is the year prior, a similar film called The Last Broadcast was released, with a somewhat similar story, location, outcome and the media gimmick of being a “true story.” The Last Broadcast stands superior to Blair Witch for several reasons. The Last Broadcast was a completely digital costing only $900 to create. Blair Witch cost anywhere from $22,000 to $35,000 to create (before film transfer). Instead, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler went into sponsorship with Digital Projection Incorporated for it’s theatrical run which included the first digital showing at Cannes. Utilizing DLP technology, many found The Last Broadcast’s video to appear superior to 16mm film.
“The Last Broadcast made cinematic history On October 23rd, 1998, as the first feature to be theatrically released digitally via satellite to theaters across the United States.” (wikipedia)
Many film buffs point to Cannibal Holocaust as the originator of the genre, yet neither the directors and writers admits any links to this hallmark film.
David Leigh (David Beard), a film documenter investigates the truth behind the bizarre murders of three members of the cable access show “fact or fiction.” The lone survivor Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), the self-proclaimed psychic who guided the teams deep into the heart of the Pine Barrens in search of the urban legend Jersey Devil is blamed for their deaths. With evidence and testimonies that prove otherwise, David Leigh sets out to reveal the truth as he delves deeper into the series of event that led up to the demise of hosts Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler) and Steven “Johnny” Avkast (Stefan Avalos).
The Last Broadcast is an enjoyable ride even when some of the filmmaking shows through with the faked headlines. The performances Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos during the testimonies were convincing. The reality feel of the “fact of fiction” show and the crew delving deeper into the Pine Barrens was gripping. The twist ending appears vastly different from the overall feel of the rest leaving some viewers with disappointment. This could be from many factors: the pacing, the filming, or even the point of view. This jarring effect was purposefully done to shock viewers. Yet, the ending of The Last Broadcast leaves more satisfaction than the pointless ending of The Blair Witch Project.
When watching The Last Broadcast, one must keep in mind that this is one of the first home-made digital desktop feature films ever made and that the cameras were meant to give that camcorder reality feel rather than the high-gloss of film. Keeping these merits in mind, The Last Broadcast appears nicely on DVD, although the source material will never see much of an improvement on HD-DVD. Glitches in the video footage were done intentionally which enhances the features overall realism. Without using film look software, the endings cinematic look is a close approximation of film. No digital breakup is apparent.
The audio mix for The Last Broadcast isn’t above par, yet gives the sense of being a documentary. The background soundscapes have an interesting feel that works with the film. Including two directors commentaries, one from 1999 and another from 2006, each has different insights of the film not mentioned in the other. As expected, the latter has better audio quality. The Last Broadcast includes subtitles in both English and in Spanish. The subtitles in Spanish have a more professional presentation, yellow with an enclosed black border, while the English subtitles are only yellow and at times can get lost in the video.
Behind the Scenes of Production (1999) is about the director’s experiences with the first video capturing board, who gave them the Jersey Devil concept, how 1970 documentaries inspired The Last Broadcast, and other lesser known filming techniques. Behind the Scenes of Post Production (1999) describes how at the end of their shooting day, they would edit their films. How numerous images in the film were completely digital creations and filmed from that point. How they enhanced the effect of interlaced video. Stefan Avalos states offhandedly that “The post becomes part of the production process” describing how many of the effects that you would have to manipulate in production, is realized in the post environment instead.
Behind the Scenes of Distribution (1999) describes the method of taking there desktop digital film to the big screen. Sweeping away any thoughts of turning The Last Broadcast to celluloid, they instead took the uphill battle of keeping the medium in digital. The end result: The Last Broadcast was better than any celluloid transfer they could have chosen. Approached by distributors, they decided to handle the distributing on their own and again, keeping the medium in its digital format. With the help of sponsors, they made this a reality. With distribution being the hardest step in filmmaking, this was an amazing feat.
The Legend of the Jersey Devil (1999), an audio tale about the jersey devil with some dark forest imagery. Raw Interview Footage (2006) demonstrates how the directors harnessed the realistic testimonies from non-actors in this 15 minute feature. “Fact or Fiction” (2006) shows complete uninterrupted clips from the fictional public access show. Guests feign real paranormal powers as Locus and Steven worry about their dwindling viewer ship.
Jim Seward: Alive and Well performs the songs “god don’t lose” on guitar and “stay down low” on banjo. Both the Theatrical Trailer and a Short Trailer of The Last Broadcast as well as trailers for Lance Weller’s Head Trauma and Stefan Avalos’ Ghosts of Edendale. Gallery of Gore is a photo gallery of international box art, poster art and photoshoped crime scene photos.
“We will never know the real story about it. But, we don’t hold anything against those guys. We wish them the best.” – Lance Weiler on The Blair Witch Project
The keep case of The Last Broadcast is clear displaying original art by Stephen R. Bissette inside of the case. The thick booklet was produced in conjunction of artists and writers of the Center of Cartoon Studies. In comic book format, it unfolds the myth of the Jersey Devil in an entertaining way. The last two pages of this booklet details the history and importance of The Last Broadcast.
Even if some say that The Blair Witch Project stole his thunder, Lance Weiler was able to buy his house with funds acquired from this low-budget film. With a positive outlook of the experience, both directors are proud of forging ahead as trailblazers of digital filmmaking and distribution. The Last Broadcast is wholly a superior film in comparison to The Blair Witch Project. Yet, in a few instances, the cinematography is marginally better than Blair Witch. Putting this aside, this is a must watch film for both aspiring filmmakers and others in the Blair Witch camp. For everyone else, this film deserves at the very least - a casual viewing. Even with all the mention of Blair Witch, The Last Broadcast can stand solely on its own merits.