In a world where Avengers might die and iconic rappers back President Donald Trump, it’s hard to keep up with which direction the media might take next. To stay ahead of the trends today, one must take risks, something which successful campaigns like Supreme’s expansion and the YEEZY Season 6 rollout understand all too well. In Hollywood though, said risks are harder to take than ever in a marketplace now dominated by billion dollar franchises, but that hasn’t stopped American producer, Jason Blum, from gambling everything on Blumhouse Productions.
As the founder and CEO of the now infamous studio, Blum has become one of the most influential producers in Hollywood, helping to resurrect horror at the box office with a host of ghastly franchises, including the likes of Creep and Paranormal Activity. It’s safe to say that without these films, more recent horrors such as IT and A Quiet Place wouldn’t have killed it with audiences in quite the same way. Blumhouse Productions has also elevated the reputation of genre features among critics too, earning Best Picture nominations at the Oscars for both Whiplash and Get Out.
With more sequels and potential franchise builders on the way, the Blumhouse production model will endure longer than any of the demons who haunt their best features, but how did this relatively small studio beat the odds in the first place? In a movie landscape defined now by explosive blockbusters and muscle-bound superheroes, what did Blum do to avoid the pitfalls that most mid-budget movies have recently succumbed to in Hollywood?
Following his work in acquisitions for Miramax back in the ‘90s, Jason Blum founded his own production company in 2000, a move which he initially described as a low point in his career. A few years of middling activity passed until Blum encountered Paranormal Activity, the haunted house flick that would come to define Blumhouse as a studio.
Made for just $15,000 USD by first-time filmmaker Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity terrified audiences worldwide with a new take on the found footage genre first popularized by The Blair Witch Project. Numerous sequels followed that achieved varying degrees of success, but this wasn’t always guaranteed.
When Blum first tried to sell Paranormal Activity, the film was dismissed as a joke. The best he could do was secure remake rights for DreamWorks, but that was never the real goal. In the contract, Blum stipulated that the studio would have to attend a test screening first, knowing that the audience’s reaction would encourage DreamWorks to distribute the original movie themselves, just like he’d always hoped.
The risk paid off and the rest is history. DreamWorks released the original version of Paranormal Activity instead of a remake, earning them a record-shattering total of $193 million USD worldwide in the process. It wasn’t long until Blumhouse Productions added a few more skeletons to the closet with franchises like Insidious and Sinister, both of which helped cement Blum’s reputation as a dominant force in the industry. This in turn led to a historic 10-year first-look deal with Universal that started with the creation of The Purge franchise and continued to move from strength to strength with the likes of Get Out and Split.
Earning over $3.2 billion USD in the space of a decade is no easy task for any studio in today’s age of piracy and online streaming, yet Blumhouse Productions is more successful than ever, scoring three of their biggest hits last year alone. However, the key to this lies entirely with the success of their first big movie, Paranormal Activity, which remains one of the most profitable films of all time and has since spawned five sequels.
From the moment that Paranormal Activity convinced us all to secretly put cameras up in every room of our houses, the formula for Blumhouse Productions was set. By helping ambitious directors explore high concepts through low budgets, losses were kept to a minimum while the potential for earning increased dramatically. It might sound simple, but studios like Warner Bros. are often a victim of their own success, pouring money into projects like the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) without focusing on story. Jason Blum foresaw this potential pitfall, and so decided to place deliberate restrictions on his filmmakers to stretch their creativity and subsequently reap the rewards.
When meeting with Blum, directors new to the studio are given a budget of just $5 million USD and are explicitly told that their film must feature as few locations and extras as possible. According to Couper Samuelson, 37, the president of feature films for the company, this budget increases to around $10 million USD for sequels, but that’s not the reason why filmmakers like Mike Flanagan and M. Night Shyamalan return to work with Blum time and time again.
During an interview with Metro, Blum revealed that there’s one key question that he’ll usually ask directors before they collaborate: “What have you always wanted to do in a movie that you haven’t been able to do?” and their answer is what subsequently determines the nature of their next project. Unlike most studios, Blumhouse Productions provides directors with full creative control over their projects, using these specific rules to boost creativity in ways that appeal to a niche audience starved of inventive horror in Hollywood today.
By combining rules with risk, Blumhouse Productions has become one of the most lucrative studios out there today, and not just financially. This blueprint has earned Blum and his team worldwide acclaim while still resonating with fans who remain the driving force behind the movie industry. What other studio would dare reboot the iconic Halloween franchise with a team best known for comedy? The studio who propelled comedian Jordan Peele to Oscar acclaim with just one movie – that’s who.
Blumhouse Productions isn’t the first studio to follow this model. Dimension Films found success with the Scream series in the mid ‘90s and New Line Cinema were once known as “The House that Freddy Built” before moving from the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street onto the Lord of the Rings franchise. While Blumhouse haven’t quite reached that level yet, Blum considered the release of Split last year to be “a transformative moment for Blumhouse” that heralds even greater success, one that will come to be defined as “a new act in the company.”
Hype for a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s world-building thriller is stronger than David Dunn himself, the supernaturally gifted hero of the series who will next be seen in 2019’s Glass. Before that though, the upcoming reboot of the Halloween franchise will open even more doors for Blumhouse Productions, all while the studio simultaneously competes for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year with Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. As if that wasn’t spooky enough, Blum looks set to take over the small screen too, building a subdivision of the studio called Blumhouse Television that will develop The Purge for TV.
Supreme founder James Jebbia told Vogue that people respond positively when companies take risks in art, something which also underpins the philosophy behind Blumhouse Productions too. It might seem obvious that combining creative risks with responsible spending could be a winning formula and it’s certainly proved to be a huge boon to Blumhouse, but in reality, not even this is enough to guarantee success. Instead, the key to Blum’s dominance at the box office lies with something even more basic than that.
Whether it’s an abusive drum teacher or the Lipstick-Faced Demon, Blumhouse movies possess an innate understanding of the “things that scare us,” something that Blum himself once defined as the studio’s key philosophy. Made for the fans by fans, the Blumhouse filmography contains more scares than even the most insidious of haunted houses, and will continue to terrify us at the box office long after Marvel’s heroes have all died and Trump has vacated the White House.