Interview: Jason Blum talks ‘The Purge’, ‘Paranormal Activity 5′, and working with Barry Levinson

Imagine a world where crime and unemployment are on the downswing and the economy and education are soaring. Now imagine that the one trade-off is a single night of the year where all crime is legal for a twelve-hour timeframe. It’s the creepy if somewhat illogical conceit of the new home-invasion thriller The Purge. Of course, in the hands of director James DeMonaco, actor Ethan Hawke and producer Jason Blum, the film focuses in so intently on its nail-biter setting that suddenly the idea of a purge night becomes a realistic possibility.

Recently, PCN got a chance to sit down and talk to one of the men behind The Purge, Jason Blum, who has been having a great run of success with his Blumhouse Productions shingle. From Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The  Bay, Blum has been bringing low-budget horror back to mainstream theaters with a vengeance. Love or hate some of  Blumhouse’s output, you must concede that a mere ten years ago–the same time discrepency between our reality and The Purge, incidentally–most of these films would have only been available as single DVD copies on a Blockbuster shelf or playing in small, eclectic arthouse settings. Now, when The Purge opens, the entire country gets to see it at the same time.

When we chatted, we spoke to Jason about working with Ethan Hawke, managing The Purge and it’s bizarre concept, the challenges of the Paranormal Activity series, and what it was like to work with Baltimore legend Barry Levinson. Check out the entire interview below.

The Purge opens in wide release Friday, June 7th.

Pop Culture Ninja: The danger of a concept like The Purge, which almost feels like something from an alternate reality, is that as you make the setting more realistic, the idea can seem more absurd. Suddenly, people are asking things like ‘who cleans up the bodies’ or ‘what does law enforcement look like now’?  As a producer, how do you create that balance of the concept and make it seem real?

Jason Blum: I think we’ve kept it contained, which I think helps. It’s not about this idea and the world at large, but about one family’s very specific experience dealing with this tradition. It’s not the first time the U.S. has done this—they have been doing it for a handful of years–so the characters do have some history with the Purge. If you try and tackle it as a theme across the United States, you run into a lot of the problems you mentioned.   James’ idea is to tell it from the point of view of one family and I think he succeeds, because he shoots the concept through just the mom and dad and two kids and what happens to them over the course of this night.

Ethan Hawke is exploring a similar theme to Sinister here in The Purge, playing a man with a determined path, who is challenged by external forces to see his deficiency. Until Sinister, we had never really seen him in a horror film before—even Daybreakers is more science fiction than not—and now you’ve got him in two. How did you manage that?

He and I have been friends a long time, and we started a theater company together in the early nineties, and then we did Hamlet together about ten years after that. Ever since I’ve been doing horror movies, it’s exactly like you said, he’s been definitely reluctant, not a big horror movie fan. I’ve been saying, ‘the way we do them, they are really fun, we have total creative freedom; the horror movies of the two-thousand teens are like the indie films of the nineteen-nineties.’ He finally broke down and did Sinister, and we both had a great time doing the movie.

He liked it so much, he said “What else do you have? I have four weeks in January or February to do this again.” So I gave him the script to The Purge, and he said yes right away. I was really happy about that and it’s very satisfying to work with someone you have such a close relationship with, and have such an easy rapport with.

Is there anyone out there in the indie field right now you have your sights on, that you would work with?

I’d really like to work with Ti West. We have flirted with a couple of things, but haven’t found anything yet. I’m really hoping to work with him, and I really admire his work.

Have you seen an indie film called Resolution, by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead? It’s an interesting and refreshing take on found footage and meta-horror. I think those guys are going to really have something to offer the genre as they move forward.

No, I haven’t. Did it receieve distribution? I will definitely have to check it out.

Anthology films are crawling back out of the rubble. There’s two iterations of V/H/S now, and there was Trick R’ Treat. Would you ever consider doing a Blumhouse portmanteau?

I’d really like to do that on television. I think there’s room for that, and I’ve been playing with that idea for awhile. We haven’t figured it out yet, but I’d love to try and do it for tv.

Speaking of television, you produced The River last year for ABC. Personally, I had a good time with that show and was sorry to see it cancelled. There really aren’t enough creepy monkeys wearing doll masks on network television for my tastes.

 [Laughs] Like you, I wish we had made more episodes of The River. I think maybe in its heart and soul it was more a cable show than a network show. I really appreciate that ABC took a big chance on it, it was not an inexpensive show.

 I’ve been intrigued by what Netflix is doing with their original programming, and the fact that an entire season shows up without that fear of cancellation. Have you considered anything in that venue?

Yea, Im really interested in that kind of storytelling; I think it’s a fresh, fun way to explore those stories. There are a couple of things I hope we get orders on, that I’m talking to Netflix on right now, but it’s too early to say much about them.

 You have Paranormal Activity 5 coming up. We have four of these now, and all of them are interconnected to form a cohesive story. In the 80’s you’d have completely incongruous sequels and by the fifth, you were in space.  By making these all a piece of a larger tale, does it get harder to keep this story fresh and scary for audiences?

 It definitely does. I’m hoping we succeeded with the fifth one, and I think it’s definitely unique in its approach. It’s hard, because you have to deliver on expectations—people expect to feel a certain way watching a Paranormal Activity movie—but you have to give them something new and fresh too. It’s a fine line, and it gets finer and finer as you go along. You’re definitely right about that.

 One of the feelings I’ve gotten with this series, is that the demonic force at the heart of the series has no real adversary. When are we going to see that Father Merrin, Dr. Loomis, or Ash Williams that is going to give this thing a run for its money?

 [Laughs] I like that idea. I think we’ll have to pull that into our thinking if there’s another one after this.

Maybe Tobey vs. Harvey the Rabbit in a fight to the death?

 I like it. I’m in!

 One of the things I appreciate about your production shingle is that we haven’t really had any remakes yet. But you’ve got one on the horizon that looks like a little different approach to remakes. Can you tell us about that?

 Yes, it’s called The Town That Dreaded Sundown and we’re doing it for MGM. Have you seen that movie, the original?

 Yes. It’s sort of like Texas Chainsaw’s second cousin in a way.

That’s probably a good way to describe it. It’s a slightly less iconic movie than the big horrors; a lot of people know it, but there’s also a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it. We definitely have the Ryan Murphy approach to that movie. I think it will be cool; it’s definitely different.  I don’t have a thing where we say ‘no remakes’ but if I hear an idea, the source of the idea is less important if the idea itself is interesting to me. What appealed to me about it is that it’s different not just from other remakes, but from other horror movies. It’s the kind of movie that hasn’t been out there for a while, and that’s why I sparked to it.

 One of the things I’d like to hear from you, is what we should be paying attention to on your current slate. Everyone is interested in Paranormal Activity, or Insidious 2, but back in 2009 no one outside the blogosphere was aware of PA prior to the trailers. Is there something like that, that we just don’t see coming?

There is, yea. And I’m not saying this because this is the reason we are talking, but The Purge is that movie. It’s, I think, for us, if I’m describing what the perfect Blumhouse movie is, it’s this one. It’s original, it’s unique, it’s very high concept, it’s contained and it’s relatable. It’s an outlier, and this is why I’m here on my rock tour and I’m doing that because I’m really proud of the movie and I think people are going to bring their own baggage to it, but I think people will be surprised by how thought provoking and entertaining it is.   Of everything I have coming up, it really exemplifies what I hope the company does pretty well, and will continue to do.

Is there anything else Blumhouse hasn’t done yet, that you’d really like to do?

I want to try and do a Western. I’ve always wanted to try that with our model.

 There’s really aren’t enough westerns out there.

No, they aren’t. I think if you were to handle one the right way, it’s something an audience could really respond to, though.

 Finally, as a Baltimore native, I wanted to talk to you about working on The Bay. You’ve been asked several times ‘what horror veteran would you work with?’ and here worked with a veteran, Barry Levinson, but it was his first horror movie. What was that like?

 I was so thrilled when I got a call saying that Barry Levinson wanted to make a found footage movie with us. It was really great fun to work with someone who’s made so many really great films, and tells great stories about making them, and it was exciting to be there on his first attempt in the genre. And it’s funny, because I always tell people that the bloodiest, goriest movie I’ve made, I made with Barry.

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