Michael Williams Takes on Role of Lifetime
In 1999, the psychological horror film, The Blair Witch Project, hit the theaters, and became an instant hit that went on to gross over $248 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful independent movies of all time.
The film cost $22,000 to make, and made back $240.5 million, or $10,931 for every dollar spent. It took 8 days to film to boot. What you may not have known is the backstory of the connection between the movie and Garrison.
The film’s leading actor, Michael C. Williams ,is not only a star on the screen, but also in the hearts of students at the Garrison Union Free School. At the school, he is a guidance counselor and mentor.
Williams landed the Blair Witch Project after reading about a casting call in a trade magazine, along with thousands of other hopeful actors competing for the role.
The competition was stiff, but he landed the gig. “It was a big deal for me, I was making $500 a week and they put me on a bus, sent me to Maryland to film, I loved it; it was my first paying gig two years after college.”
Over two years later, it finally hit the theaters, “It was the pinnacle for me.” The film made its debut at the Sundance Film festival in Park City, Utah. “I figured they would give me a cup of coffee and a pat on the back, and of course it just exploded.”
Williams thought the success of the film was due in part to viral marketing, through the internet, which was new to most people at the time, and also the fact that people were actually believing in what they saw on the screen, “Because they weren’t used to the internet lying to them, and because they didn’t know what the internet was at the time. It became the perfect storm of timing.”
After the film went on to make millions at the box office, his agents discouraged him from acting in any other medium other than film, “You’re a movie star now. kid.” But Williams admits that after the Blair Witch he had a lot of “near misses” in his career getting roles. That was hard at first to accept, because people in the industry did not know what to make of the actors in the Blair Witch Project. It was exactly the same time the reality show “Survivor” came on, and some saw the Blair Witch movie as a reality type of film, and assumed the actors were just reality stars and not legitimate actors.
“I understand it now but it was tough to swallow for a long time. I did get work, but it was inconsistent.”
Williams hopes that most people liked the film because of the believable acting and the realistic film making.
And what about fame? “One day they are flying me out to L.A. to be on the Tonight Show. It was an overnight success which was a shock, then a year or two later you’re not working as much and that is another shock.”
Although fame was fleeting, Williams said, “I would not have traded the experience for the world.” He moved back to New York in 2003 and opened an acting studio in Hawthorne, mostly for teenagers and younger children. “I loved working with kids and I started to recognize that even in college. I would come home and work in summer camps, I just love their energy that they have, their openness to the world and their resilience.”
Williams still continued acting about four months out of the year away from home. “It’s a hard business,” he said. “After starting a family with two young kids, I knew I might have to make a choice one day.”
It was the influence of a beloved high school guidance counselor, Donna Garr, that helped guide Williams. He established a strong relationship with her, saying she was always there for him, “during every major event in my life.” He would call her and keep her posted on what was going on in his life. “When my father passed away, she was such a major support system for myself and my family. She was amazing. She has had such a major impact on my life; I didn’t even realize it until I was going back to get my Master’s in Guidance.”
Williams told her if he could positively affect one child’s life, as Garr had influenced his .... And today, he has done exactly that
Williams is a much loved faculty member and a welcome addition to the staff. He has helped many children over his two years at the Garrison school. His anti-bullying classes and workshops have been a tool for Garrison school teachers and students, and have taught them to be aware of other people’s feelings and how the treat one another.
Building up the self-esteem of students is another key way that Williams has affected school and has been a resource for parents and students
As one student put it, “We love Mr. Williams, he is the best!”
What about a return to acting? Although the original filmmakers have been talking about re-visiting the film with a third installment, using the original actors, Williams said he would only do it if was filmed in the summer. “I’m a guidance counselor now and I love my kids.”
Williams married his high school sweetheart Toni. They have two children and reside in Thornwood.