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Thursday August 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday August 22, 2013 MYT 1:00:30 PM
by john horn
It can be done: 'The Purge', which was made with very little money, became a surprise hit in the US. The movie opens in Malaysia today.
Despite its low budget, The Purge makes a killing at the box office.
SET in the near future, The Purge is a tale of society that has managed to eliminate crime 364 days per year by allowing the public one night of prosecution-free blood lust. Ethan Hawke stars as a suburban father whose security systems are designed to protect his family and neighbours from the government-sanctioned lawlessness, where everything – up to and including murder – is encouraged.
When his young son decides to shelter a homeless man being chased by some locals, his pursuers lay siege to the home, quickly proving the fortifications somewhat less than reliable. The family must hold off the intruders until dawn, when the mayhem moratorium is reinstated.
The Purge is the first collaboration between Universal and producer Jason Blum, who also was a producer on Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister. Under a three-year deal announced in 2011, Blum has wide creative leeway to deliver genre movies costing US$4mil (RM13.1mil) or less. The dystopian thriller cost a little more than US$3mil (RM9.8mil).
Shot in 20 quick days in Los Angeles (with a couple of extra days for reshoots) last year, The Purge was made for a fraction of the typical Hollywood budget, largely because almost everybody was paid the minimum amount allowed by Hollywood’s unions. In return for working on the cheap, they will get a bigger payday if the film performs well. “Everybody above the line basically works for free,” said Blum, referring to the actors and top filmmaking talent. “And when you work for free, you get total creative control.”
Universal had some input in casting and created the film’s marketing materials, but Blum and director James DeMonaco weren’t subjected to endless script notes and executives didn’t scrutinise the film’s daily footage, the way most studio productions are supervised. In a way, Blum said, that loose oversight creates a more collegial atmosphere because you’re not afraid of the studio, or of losing control of the production.
When The Purge was completed, Blum screened it for test audiences before he showed it to the studio. The previews suggested that Hawke’s character wasn’t quite likable enough, so DeMonaco cut a few lines of dialogue about how some victims of violence deserved their fate. He also decided he needed to add back a scene he’d scrapped for budget reasons showing Hawke more forcefully defending his family.
Universal executives liked the finished film so much they decided to schedule The Purge opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s comedy The Internship, a 20th Century Fox film that cost about US$58mil (RM190.1mil). (In its opening weekend in the US in June, The Purge debuted at No. 1 with US$36.4mil [RM119.3mil]. The higher-profile Internship started with only US$18.1mil [RM59.3mil]. As of Aug 4, The Purge had earned US$64.4mil [RM211mil] in the US box office gross)
Donna Langley, Universal’s co-chairman, said the deal with Blum was launched because the studio wanted to get back in the genre business, and at a low cost. While the studio was behind classic horror titles such as Frankenstein and Dracula, its more contemporary efforts within the realm were mostly unsuccessful, including flops with The Wolfman in 2010 and The Thing in 2011.
“We were looking for someone with a strong expertise in the thriller and horror genre,” Langley said. She added the studio is so attentive to maintaining its franchises (Fast & Furious 6), comedies (Ted 2 is in development), animated movies (Despicable Me) and new big-budget endeavors (at year’s end, 47 Ronin) that the studio doesn’t have the “bandwidth” to focus on low-budget fright flicks.
Some of Blum’s most recent films have recorded huge returns on investment. Made for about US$15,000 (RM49,000), the first Paranormal Activity in 2009 grossed more than US$193mil (RM632.5mil) worldwide; 2011’s Insidious, produced for about US$1.5mil (RM4.9mil), grossed US$97mil (RM317.9mil) globally; and last year’s Sinister, budgeted at US$3mil (RM9.8mil), grossed more than US$77mil (RM252.3mil). Sequels to all three films are in the works.
Part of Blum’s pitch to Universal is that because the movies are so cheap, the studio isn’t obligated to release them theatrically – they can go straight to DVD or VOD if executives wish. That can save millions in marketing expenses if the studio isn’t convinced the film will do well at the box office. Because Universal has guaranteed video and television distribution deals around the world, the studio can basically break even if the movie never makes it to the multiplex.
“Some of my movies work, and some of them don’t,” Blum said. “I want to be able to say to the studio, ‘We missed, let’s go to VOD.’” – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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