Blockbusters on an indie budget

Jason Blum is a rarity in Hollywood - the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions has pioneered a new model of studio filmmaking by producing high-quality micro-budget films for wide release.

His latest, The Purge, which is now playing in Singapore, cost just US$3m (S$3.8m) to make but has gone on to gross about US$85m worldwide so far.

The thriller stars Blum's close friend of more than two decades, Ethan Hawke, who slept on the producer's couch and worked for next to nothing, in exchange for a cut of the box office takings.

The idea was conceived from the phenomenal success of 2007's Paranormal Activity, the CCTV-styled horror film that Blum made for US$15,000 but raked in close to US$200m globally. It convinced the 44-year-old that this highly cost-effective business model was a viable one and became his modus operandi.

There's no looking back since; in the past two years alone, Blumhouse has produced five films that outgrossed their budgets on opening weekend.

"This is our only business and we're very disciplined about sticking strictly to the model," says Blum, over the phone from Los Angeles. "I've had a lot of practice... I worked on low-budget films that nobody saw."

But he adds what he's doing now comes from a combination of his previous experience working for a major studio and his passion for stories with big concepts that are easy to market to the masses.

"It's like I'm making half an indie movie," he says.

Blum feels the horror genre works well for his business model; that's why he's done a lot of them. But he clarifies there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to choosing his projects.

"We don't say we're looking for horror movies; we say we're looking for movies that are low budget with a wide release," he explains.

"We think practically about what could be made relatively inexpensively (and) if you put it in those parameters, 80-90 per cent of the time you're going to wind up making horror movies," Blum adds. "I don't think this model ever worked for drama; we'll probably never make a drama under this model and it never works with comedy."

Blum claims there's no secret formula behind what he's doing besides just being very financially disciplined. That alone makes it difficult for others to copy what he's been doing.

"If someone walks in with the best new version of Transformers, I'm probably the only producer in Hollywood who will say that it sounds like a great idea but (Blumhouse) is the wrong company for it," he quips. "Other producers who are trying to do what we do are usually trying to do it in between bigger budget films. We do this full-time so it's all that we focus on."

Blum predicts movie budgets are going to move north and south with the middle-ranged ones that cost around US$50-60m disappearing. "It's either going to be Transformers or The Purge," he claims.

No prize for guessing which direction Blum intends to head. "As always, I'm interested in looking south."

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