Is it bad that the Paranormal Activity producer hates horror movies?
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, which is a terrible title that sounds like a Mission: Impossible rip-off, made $26 million worldwide in theatres this past weekend. It’s the sixth film in the franchise and by all accounts the least successful, even though it only just opened and has a reported budget of only $10 million.
Now, you won’t ordinarily find me parsing box office tallies in search of deeper meaning. Earnings are like scorekeeping for Hollywood studios, and since I’m not an investor, I don’t spend much time thinking about it. But the Paranormal Activity figure gave me pause, but only in connection to a recent LA Weekly profile of its producer, Jason Blum, called “Can Budget-Slasher Jason Blum Prove the Way Hollywood Makes Movies is Horrifyingly Wrong?”
Blum is the mini-mogul behind Blumhouse Productions, which has been churning out low-budget horror hits like the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The Purge franchises. Blum also made a bid for critical respectability with the Oscar-winning drama Whiplash (which almost makes up for producing Jem and the Holograms and The Tooth Fairy starring the Rock). Whether or not you like horror movies, Blum’s is a fascinating story and the entire article is worth a read.
Essentially, Blum is a modern-day mini-van-driving Roger Corman. He’s a former Miramax executive who missed out on purchasing The Blair Witch Project, which cost $60,000 to make and earned $248 million, only to set up his own shop and turn the $15,000 Paranormal Activity into the most profitable movie of all time. According to the LA Weekly piece, “his 10-year first-look deal with Universal empowers Blum to green-light any movie budgeted at less than $5 million as long as it’s horror, thriller or sci-fi. If Universal believes the finished film is worth the jumbo marketing costs, the studio releases it on 3,000 screens. If not, between VOD rentals and overseas deals, it will at least recoup its money.”
Cheap is the key and Blum is always looking for ways to cut corners, which isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. Limitations can lead to creative solutions. Unrestricted budgets lead to The Transformers.
As the article points out, Blum pays his directors, writers and actors the union minimums (e.g., lead actors make $2,921 a week, whether they’re Ethan Hawke or Rose Byrne), believing that the usual Hollywood wage disparity “just fucks up the balance, as opposed to, we’re all on the same team.” Of course, when the movies (inevitably) turn a profit, he shares them with the major cast and crew (Hawke reportedly earned an additional $2 million for Sinister, for example, while Byrne and co-star Patrick Wilson each pocketed $7 million for Insidious Chapter 2). To save more money, he tells directors to cut as many speaking roles as they can (silent extras are a lot cheaper), and most of his movies are shot in one location, usually a house.
On the creative side, he’s hands-off with the scripts and he gives directors the much-coveted final cut. As he tells LA Weekly, “One of the problems with Hollywood filmmaking is that the director spends a lot of energy trying to figure out how they’re going to maneuver people to get what they want. When they know they’re going to ultimately get what they want, the whole process is a million times better.”
This all sounds well and good—low budgets, creative freedom. But a couple of things in the story set off warning bells. Firstly, Blum doesn’t actually like horror movies, something about being traumatized by watching Friday the 13th. He’s also “apathetic about nudity and turned off by gore.” Now, as long as he’s keeping his mitts off the movies, creatively, his lack of affection for horror is not problematic—unless it’s preventing him from backing interesting projects. And I’m not saying horror movies need nudity and gore, but to take them of the table is a bit limiting when they’re the bread and butter of the genre. Then again, maybe Blum is just balancing things out.