Veteran movie producer Jason Blum has turned filmmaking on its head — delighting investors and annoying competitors — with his innovative “micro-budget” approach to the craft.
By saving on every aspect of the process and keeping an iron grip on the bottom line, his Blumhouse Productions company has managed to make some of the most profitable movies in history.
This is how he does it:
With very few exceptions, Blum’s original movies are given production budgets stretching no further than $5 million.
Sequels can go up to $10 million but the producer is not in the business of allowing directors extra cash, no matter how much they insist the boost will improve the movie.
The most important thing, Blum says, is that his “above the line” team, the creatives, work for almost nothing, or as close to it as unions will allow.
Even well-known actors don’t get the star treatment: for the first “The Purge” movie, Ethan Hawke, who has four Oscar nominations, recalls having slept on Blum’s couch every night of the film shoot.
Actors are told most of their money will come through profit-sharing, while directors are often persuaded to come on board because of the creative freedom Blum allows them that they wouldn’t get from big studio productions.
Experienced directors only
Blum only works with directors who have established track records, never first-timers.
He likes people at the helm who have experience in finding innovative solutions while working on tight budgets. First-time filmmakers need not apply.
No theatrical release guarantee
Blumhouse’s original projects are invariably made without a release date in mind, and it’s not until the finished product is screened that Blum decides how to play it.
Actors and directors are never promised a wide theatrical release, and around half of his movies end up on iTunes, Netflix or various video on-demand services.
This way, Blum can guarantee a movie will break even, no matter how well (or poorly) it is received.
Location, location, location
Looking to shoot your sweeping historical epic on five continents, with grand panoramas across desert, tundra, grasslands and oceans? Forget it.
Most of Blum’s movies are made within a few miles of his apartment in downtown Los Angeles. You’ll be lucky if he allows you to shoot your entire movie in more than three locations.
Often, you’ll be confined to a few rooms in a single house.
Smoke and screams
Computer-generated imagery is a no-no. If you want a plane crash in your movie, you’ll probably have to represent it with an interior shot of passengers screaming and a bit of mangled metal smouldering in a field.
The full CGI plunge into the San Francisco Bay is just too expensive and time-consuming for Blum to countenance.
Keep it zipped
Blum knows the union rates for speaking roles in movies; he prefers having as few actors as possible do the talking.
Extras hoping for a line of dialogue should probably try for a job on a Michael Bay movie set instead.