Behind-the-scenes star: Jason Blum

Off camera: The secret to producer Jason Blum's success

45-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Blumhouse Productions Jason Blum. -- PHOTO: UIP
45-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Blumhouse Productions Jason Blum. -- PHOTO: UIP
The violence in The Purge: Anarchy (above) strikes a chord in cinemagoers, says producer Jason Blum. -- PHOTO: UIP
The violence in The Purge: Anarchy (above) strikes a chord in cinemagoers, says producer Jason Blum. -- PHOTO: UIP

What does it take to be successful behind the scenes in North America? Life! talks to Singapore-born artist manager Andrew Ooi and king of horror Jason Blum

The secret to producer Jason Blum's success is simple. He says: "I'll never direct a movie, I have no interest in writing or directing, I'll be terrible at it. I'm not a frustrated writer or director. That makes me a good producer."

The 45-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Blumhouse Productions has made a name for himself by turning micro-budget movies into hugely profitable hits.

Supernatural horror flick Paranormal Activity (2007) was made for US$15,000 (S$18,900) and has grossed over US$193 million worldwide, launching a franchise that goes up to Paranormal Activity 5, so far.

Action horror film The Purge (2013), in which all crime is permitted over a 12-hour period, cost US$3 million to make and took in more than US$89 million worldwide. Its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, opens here tomorrow.

The film's success comes at a time when violent crime in the United States has been decreasing. Speaking over the telephone from Los Angeles, he says: "I think that's why it has struck a chord because violence is on people's minds. The film is meant to be a cautionary tale. The Purge: Anarchy is a fantastic idea for a movie but not, not, not, not, not a good idea for society."

He adds: "I have many Purge stories I would like to tell. I don't know how many I'll get to tell but I think that the mythology could hold up over many movies or even a television series."

Inevitably, budgets go up for a sequel as the scope increases. The first Purge takes place in a house while Anarchy takes place in the streets and costs three times as much to make. But by Hollywood terms, that is still considered inexpensive.

Keeping costs low has many benefits, he says.

"You don't have to think about the market that much or try to please a lot of people. We really try to think about making really scary movies and if you do that, it works worldwide. Most of our films do about the same in the US as they do outside of it."

But this does not mean that the model of paying a headlining actor US$20 million for a blockbuster project is over, he adds.

"I have a very specific business model, but I think there are lots of movies that could not be made using our model. If your Transformers budget is $100 million below the line or whatever it is, you can't turn around and pay Mark Wahlberg scale (minimum wage)."

Blum enjoys the challenge of making a movie on the cheap. Better yet if it is in the horror genre.

Over the years, he has learnt to trust his instincts. "I saw The Blair Witch Project (1999) early on and I passed on it and I never forgave myself for that," he says, referring to the hit movie that kickstarted the trend of found footage movies.

"When I saw Paranormal Activity, I thought this was really scary and I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice and this time, I'm going to try to get this distributed."

Blumhouse Productions was founded in 2000 after the Vassar College graduate worked as an executive producer for Bob and Harvey Weinstein and subsequently as an independent producer for Warner Brothers.

He adds: "I love horror films and I feel that I understand them pretty well. How do you make a movie at the price of an independent movie and have it distributed like a studio movie? That's a fun puzzle to try and solve every time."

The 10-year, first-look producing deal he signed with NBC Universal in July certainly helps. What it means is that he gets "more resources so we're able to do more".

More also means venturing beyond horror. The upcoming The Boy Next Door is a thriller starring singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, while Jem And The Holograms, slated for 2016, is based on a 1980s cartoon.

The creepy haunted house opening title that Blumhouse Productions is associated with would probably not be the best fit for such works, including the music drama Whiplash (2014).

Blum has already thought of that. "We already have that in our office. It's the same name but a different logo, which we use when we don't make a horror movie."

bchan@sph.com.sg

The Purge: Anarchy opens in cinemas tomorrow.