Horror films on a shoestring ensures success

Producer Jason Blum changed his career in 2007 with Paranormal Activity (above), which had been put together for US$15,000 and grossed US$193 million worldwide.
Producer Jason Blum changed his career in 2007 with Paranormal Activity (above), which had been put together for US$15,000 and grossed US$193 million worldwide.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Producer Jason Blum changed his career in 2007 with Paranormal Activity, which had been put together for US$15,000 and grossed US$193 million worldwide.
Producer Jason Blum changed his career in 2007 with Paranormal Activity, which had been put together for US$15,000 and grossed US$193 million worldwide.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Call most people cheap and you might expect a slap in the face, but horror film-making legend Jason Blum wears his parsimony like a badge of honour.

From Paranormal Activity in 2007 to this year's critically acclaimed Get Out, the 48-year-old producer has made many of the defining horror movies of the last decade - always on a shoestring.

Paying actors peanuts, but working with studios that ensure that his films get worldwide distribution, he has recouped some US$3 billion (S$4 billion) at the box office from a portfolio made for less than a twentieth of that amount.

"The most important part to making a successful low-budget horror movie is the story and acting have to be great. Not the scares - the scares are less important than the story and the acting," he noted.

By cutting budgets down to the bare bones - typically US$5 million for an original movie and US$10 million for a sequel - Blum has redefined genre film-making.

Of his most recent works, Get Out, Split (2016), The Purge: Election Year (2016) and Ouija: Origin Of Evil (2016) have grossed US$664 million on a combined budget of US$27.5 million.

An executive working at Miramax, Blum was briefly an independent producer at Warner Brothers before striking out on his own with Blumhouse Productions in 2000.

"I was frustrated at Miramax just because I always wanted to be my own boss. I left, I started my own company," he said.

Blum's career-defining - and life-changing - moment came when he saw an early cut of Paranormal Activity which had been put together for US$15,000.

When no one else would touch it, he came on board as a producer, steering it to a worldwide gross of US$193 million and making it the most profitable movie of all time.

He analysed the success of the film and realised he had a revolutionary formula that he has since repeated over dozens of low-cost titles, including the Insidious and The Purge franchises.

Paranormal Activity taught Blum not only that a low budget meant more chance of making money, but also that keeping a tight grip on the purse strings often makes for an artistically more accomplished movie.

"I don't think throwing money at scary movies results in better movies," he said.

The Vassar College graduate, who lives in Los Angeles with screenwriter wife Lauren, is in the middle of a 10-year partnership to make movies distributed by Universal.

But he did not set out to be a horror film-maker and was originally destined to go into the family business, an art dealership.

"I loved the holiday Halloween and I loved Hitchcock movies. But I didn't love horror more than other genres when I was a kid," he said.

Over the years, he has built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre, but if he comes across as a frustrated director, nothing could be further from the truth.

"I can definitely say I have zero interest. It's not my talent. I think one of the things that makes me a good producer is that I don't want to direct," he said.

He has tied up with Universal Studios in Los Angeles to come up with a Horrors Of Blumhouse maze at the theme park's hugely popular annual Halloween Horror Nights.

Every autumn, Universal's creative head honcho John Murdy - a longstanding friend of Blum's - opens numerous mazes after dark featuring authentic scares from some of the most iconic properties in the history of horror.

The Horrors Of Blumhouse combines the four films from Blum's The Purge franchise as well as the Sinister movies and Happy Death Day, which comes out on Oct 13.

Blumhouse recently expanded its reach into television and is launching a series version of The Purge.

Next up is Secure And Hold: The Last Days Of Roger Ailes, a biopic on the media mogul whom Blum calls the "scariest man of all".

He built the Fox News empire and died in May mired in a mounting sexual harassment scandal.

"I'm a political animal. I'm trying to convince John to do a Roger Ailes maze at Universal," joked Blum.

"I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but I'm going for that for next year. That would be the scariest maze ever made."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Horror films on a shoestring ensures success'. Print Edition | Subscribe