Jason Blum is the CEO and founder of one of the most significant film production studios in Hollywood and the film industry as a whole. The model that he and his team at Blumhouse have created has allowed a new generation of filmmakers to use every inch of their creativity, without totally going bankrupt.
It all started back in 2009 when the film Paranormal Activity was released. Blum, as a producer, was involved from the film’s inception all the way to its release. We all know about the Paranormal Activity franchise, but not many people know that the first film’s budget was roughly around $15,000. The film ended up grossing more than $190 million dollars worldwide, making it an indelible success. Post Paranormal Activity’s success, Jason Blum has produced dozens of other horror films with a very limited budget. These films include but are not limited to: Get Out (2017), Halloween (2018), Us (2019), The Invisible Man (2020), and all the other Paranormal Activity features. And even though those films’ budgets are much more than just $15,000, in comparison to the abundance of other films being made, it’s substantially fewer. For example, Get Out’s budget was $4,500,000 and grossed more than 255 million dollars worldwide. And as for the sequel-remake, Halloween, its production budget was $10,000,000 and grossed just a few thousand more than Get Out.
Blumhouse’s track record is incredible, so what’s the main reason for their success? Low production budgets.
As up and coming filmmakers, what can we take away from this? Several things actually, including:
As Blum demonstrated, you don’t need millions of dollars to create a film, going even further, a successful film. One benefit of limiting yourself to a lower budget is that it pushes you to be as efficient and creative as possible. This in turn, leads you to experiment and try out new techniques, such as camera angles, unknown actors, unique locations, etc. But not only that, it can lead you to try out a new genre, not new in terms of relative time it’s been around, but rather a genre you haven’t tried out yet.
Take Paranormal Activity, for example. There are multiple aspects of the film worthy of study from a filmmaking perspective that are also reflective of the Blumhouse low-budget model. These include:
The director of the film, Oren Peli, was resourceful as possible when it came to the number of filming locations, the budget, and the duration of the actual filming. The film took less than a month to film and was primarily shot in a house. It featured actors that were not payed the same amounts. But it payed off. In the end, they got much more.
As for the filmmaking aspect of it, the camera used a found footage technique. Now this is not something new. In fact, this film borrowed from the classic The Blair Witch Project (1999) which was also a mega-hit, due to its low budget. But I digress. In the 2007 film, the camera was actually featured within the frame. In particular mirror scenes, for instance, you can see one of the characters holding the camera, both filming because of his character and because this is the actual camera recording the movie as a whole. It was quite creative and different.
Another aspect of the movie that contributes to the argument, is the fact that the audio (at least most of it) was recorded from a microphone attached to the camera. This is seen above in the picture. Now one of the most important qualities of any film is the audio. If it’s not clearly audible, it will certainly bother many, including the audience. But to add authenticity to the film and the found-footage genre in general, the director decided to use an external mic attached to the camera. And after having watched it, I must say – it wasn’t bad! Not only was the audio good, but it adds realism. This is another example of how the film was both resourceful and innovative.
As time went on, Blumhouse continued to provide the funds for creative horror projects. They’re the ones who brought on James Wan, who started off the Saw, Insidious, and Conjuring franchises, and let him do what he wanted. And that’s one of the reasons why movies like these remain in the hearts and minds of people, because the artist had the freedom to completely tell the story he wanted to tell in the way he loved.
Switching gears, one of the ironic things about big-budget/blockbuster films, such as the Marvel movies, is that it forces you to be as perfect as possible and at times, that restricts your freedom in using different angles, or trying out new techniques. This is due to the fact that you’re afraid that it won’t work out. There’s more pressure on you because more people will watch your film (there’s a bigger audience). There are also more people to respond to, work for and please. It can terminally restrict your creativity. Now disclaimer, I’m not saying that Marvel films or big-budget movies aren’t creative or restrict the filmmaker’s ability to be as creative yet efficient as possible, I’m saying that it’s more visible and apparent in smaller budget films.
As aforementioned, in low-budget films, you have more freedom to be as creative as you can be and as Jason Blum showed, that can lead to substantial success.
As filmmakers, we can learn a lot from this model and it goes to show you that, it doesn’t take a whole lot to make a movie. What’s important and what actually matters is actually going out there and making it. Filming something. You never know who will end up seeing it, or how successful it can become – financially speaking and/or how it can positively turn your career around 180 degrees, just like that.