In the world of film, having a movie make a profit is no easy task. Now go out and repeat it multiple times a year and you might start to catch up with Jason Blum.
Jason Blum founded Blumhouse Productions in 2000 after having worked in the film industry for some time. While his name may not be that well-known, you are almost guaranteed to have heard of some of the films his company has produced such as the Paranormal Activity series, the Insidious films and Oscar winners such as Whiplash.
With the release of The Purge: Election Year on home video, one of his more popular series is coming to a seeming, although possibly temporary, close. Promoting the film – which is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand – we had a chance to sit down with Blum and ask him a multitude of questions from how the Purge series came to be, down to what exactly is the job of a film producer.
How the Purge came to be
If you are unfamiliar with the Purge series, it proposes that a new political party called the New Founding Fathers had risen to power in the United States, eventually winning the presidency. Once in power, the NFF passed a new law that says beginning every year on March 21 at 7pm, all crimes are legal in the country for 12 hours, including murder.
The first film dealt with how just one home dealt with the Purge in a given year, but the following two movies continued the story of one character on two separate Purge nights.
How does one come up with such a story? Why would anyone imagine a world that would be found acceptable? Simple: Road rage.
“James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed all three movies, is an old friend of mine and I’ve known him for many, many years,: said Blum. “He lives in Staten Island, and he was driving on the throughway in New York, and someone cut him off. And he said something kind of offhandedly to his wife like, “if it were legal, I would shoot this guy,” or something like that. And that is how The Purge was born.”
Having a friend in the industry, however, doesn’t mean you have an instant on-ramp to the highway of success. “[James] wrote the first script on spec, and no one would make it. It sat around Hollywood for three years, which I always find a lot of my material is not new and shiny, and everyone was scared to make it. I read it and I just loved it, and I said to James, ‘This is a really risky thing to do, and there are a lot of ways it could turn out wrong, but we have to do it.”
At first DeMonaco wanted $8 million dollars as his budget, but Blum had another plan. “I told him I’d give him two-and-a-half [million] for it. It all takes place in a house, it can’t be that hard to rework some things and not give up what the movie is about, and that is the Purge.”
Having watched all three films in the series, what I was struck by is the marketing shows you people running wild in the streets wearing crazy masks, allowing themselves to fully embrace this lawless 12 hours each year. However, when you actually watch the films you get into the mental state of these people. What causes someone to Purge? What makes someone sit it out? Blum states, though, that is not what they set out to make. “Every time out on a Purge movie, we want to make a fun ride. The cautionary tale aspect of it, the politics of it, are very secondary to the fact that all of us are trying to make a movie that is entertaining and exciting to watch for 90 minutes. If there is other stuff beyond that, that’s terrific, but that’s not the goal.”
Where to go from here?
Anyone who has seen The Purge: Election Year can tell it feels pretty final at the end – we won’t spoil it here – but without jumping back in time to previous Purge nights, it would be difficult to do another film. With each film being profitable, it seems unlikely that Blum and DeMonaco would just want to close the book and call it a day.
“I think there is more to be done with the Purge as a concept generally,” said Blum, “it could be a live event, or who the heck knows, or maybe another series of three movies. I think you’re right, The Purge: Election Year is kind of the third act and there is kind of a closure and finality to it.”
“I think the Purge is a very pliable concept, and I think there is a lot of stories that we haven’t told that we would like to tell. What form we’re going to do that, and how we’re going to do that, I don’t yet know.”
Shortly before this interview took place, some talk had shown up in trade publications of a possible TV extension of the brand, and while that is definitely on the table, it isn’t happening quickly. “It’s something we’ve talked about, but we don’t have firm plans to do it or not do it, but we’ve definitely discussed it,” said Blum.
If Blum had a preference as to how we experience more stories from the world of the Purge, he’s really fine with whatever may come next. “I really want it to go on, but how it goes on I’m not fixated on. I just want it to go on.”
What exactly does a film producer do?
While speaking with Blum I had to ask him something that I think a lot of people wonder, and that is exactly what does a producer do? Their names flash on the screen during the opening credits like so many other people, but most people think all they do is provide the money for the production, but it’s so much more than that. “I think one of the reasons for that is different producers do different things on different movies,” explained Blum.
“My role as producer of these three movies really changed a lot on each movie.” Looking back over the series, Blum explained he was very hands-on during the production of The Purge. “The first movie was kind of a very risky proposition, even when the movie was finished. There was a 50 percent chance the movie wasn’t even going to get released and my role was I was on the set every day, and one of my best friends starred in the movie and he slept on my couch. You know, we paid Ethan [Hawke] 15 cents to do The Purge, that was one of the reasons we kept it so low budget. I was very involved, soup to nuts, because it needed it.”
On a run-of-the-mill production a producer, though, can wear many different hats. “A producer is totally mercurial. A producer finds the material, finds the money for the material, hires all the actors, puts the financing together, makes sure the budget you say you’re going to make the movie for is actually the budget you make the movie for, works on problem-solving through the development, shooting and post production process and that’s half the job. And the second half of the job is works doing things like I’m doing now which is marketing the movie, publicity of the movie, positioning the movie, the release of the movie. And some producers do all of that, and some producers do a small part of it, and I think that’s why people are always confused about what producers do because there isn’t just one thing they all do.”
The art of the micro-budget
$4 million dollars to the average person is an unimaginable amount of money. Many people will be lucky if they earn that in an entire lifetime, but in the world of film budgets that is what is known as a “micro-budget.” When you have films being made for $200 million dollars, $4 million may not cover the lighting fixtures, and people like Jason Blum turn in entire films for that amount.
Having done it on so many films now – Blum served as the producer on 15 films in 2015 alone – you have to wonder if he’s find it easier to do as time has gone on. “It’s always a restriction,” said Blum. “We’ve never made a movie at [Blumhouse] where people don’t want more money, I think a studio would say the same thing. Whether you’re making a movie for $4 million or $200 million, there’s never enough money, but that case is extreme in our case.”
“That’s the one kind of hard and fast rule we have. We keep that rule intact so that we can break every other rule. We can hire actors who are not names, who haven’t worked before, so we can make movies about violence being legal 12 hours a year. We can do all sorts of crazy other stuff, as long as we do our one rule that we keep it inexpensive so that the risk is low. When you reduce the financial risk on a movie, you can open up the people involved to be as creative as they possibly can be. You can take away the other rules, the rules of development, the rules that they have to cast a star or the rule that the house has to look really nice so long as you keep the budgets low.” At the end of the day, Blum wouldn’t have it any other way. ”
At the end of the day, Blum wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is not easy to keep them low, but it is definitely worth it for all of the other benefits that come along with it.”
Will there be another Purge? Only time will tell, but we have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of all those crazy masks that pepper this world.