The Purge: Election Year is now out on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD. Blumhouse Productions, the production company behind the Purge films, mostly produces low-budget independent genre films. The company is behind some of the most successful recent horror franchises including Paranormal Activity and Insidious. The team also produced the 2014 indie drama Whiplash for which Blumhouse founder and CEO, Jason Blum, received an Oscar nomination. We recently spoke with Jason Blum about the latest Purge installment and what it’s like working in the horror genre.
Fandom: What do you think about our current political climate and how The Purge: Election Year is a pretty intense reflection of that?
Jason Blum: Yeah, I think that unfortunately, The Purge turned out to be a little closer to reality than we had hoped or anticipated. That’s what I feel like. (laughs)
Fandom: I believe it. This is the third in the series, and it had a successful run when it came out around the 4th of July. What do you think fans of the first couple of movies who haven’t seen this one yet should be looking out for with Election Year?
Jason Blum: I think that it’s the best of the three. It’s definitely the most timely, especially with the home video release date being four weeks before the election. I think if they want a break from what’s on cable news and a comment on it in a much more fun and amusing way they should see The Purge: Election Year.
Fandom: How would you describe the movie to fans of genre films who haven’t caught up with where The Purge is right now? What would you say to someone fresh to the series?
Jason Blum: The Purge is a concept that once a year for 12 hours crime is legal. As a result, the United States unemployment is way down, and the economy is booming. That’s largely because people who can’t afford to protect themselves are often killed.
Finally, the voice of reason, who happens to be a woman, is running for President of this New America, and her main platform is to stop the purge. She thinks, correctly so, that the purge is a terrible New American tradition. She’s running to end the purge, and the people who came up with it that we call the New Founding Fathers, plot her demise.
Fandom: Talk a little bit about Senator Roan. Elizabeth Mitchell plays an incredibly strong character throughout the film. Did that character come from any inspiration? What was the origin of that role?
Jason Blum: She was inspired by Hillary Clinton of course. She was definitely inspired by Hillary, and my guess is Hillary too would be against the purge. That’s who we were channeling. She was a younger Hillary Clinton.
Fandom: How did Elizabeth Mitchell approach the character and the material?
Jason Blum: That’s more of a question for James DeMonaco or Elizabeth. All I can say is that whatever her process was, we were really pleased with it because I thought she did a terrific job selling something that’s awfully hard to sell. The purge is a pretty fantastical idea. To make it grounded and make it feel real like there really was someone running to end this while taking it all seriously is pretty hard to do. I think she did a terrific job doing that.
Fandom: Definitely, and she’s not the only highlight of the cast. You have Frank Grillo who everybody knows as Crossbones from Captain America, and you also have Mykelti Williamson playing Joe Dixon. How was it getting these great and talented actors together for this really intense film?
Jason Blum: Frank Grillo was in The Purge: Anarchy and we always hoped we could come up with a storyline and figure out a way to bring him back to make a third movie. We were very happy to get him back. It’s been fun.
Some actors we approach will say, “Never in a million years am I doing that,” but more of them that we approach are interested in the concept and really like the cautionary tale aspect of it. We’re able to get terrific actors that don’t necessarily do a lot of genre movies to take a shot on one with The Purge.
Fandom: Even behind the camera you’ve got a great production team. You worked with Brad Fuller and Michael Bay on this one. What was your process of putting this one together?
Jason Blum: James DeMonaco is the one who came up with the idea for the first Purge. He wrote and directed it, and he wrote and directed the third. Our jobs as producers have become, as much as anything else, making him feel comfortable with whatever he wants to do. We’ve been lucky enough to work with him, and he’s the kind of driving creative force behind the movies.
Our job as producers is to kind of enable that so it doesn’t get watered down so he can make bold and risky decisions in the storytelling. The biggest way we’re able to do that is to ensure the budgets don’t creep up too high. If it starts getting high, it gets harder to do that.
Our role is very different on every movie. On movies in a franchise, it’s very different if you have the same director or not. On the Purge movies, it’s really all about enabling James to go hog wild. (laughs)
Fandom: With the work that you have been doing for all these years now with Blumhouse, you have actually enabled creative directors and writers to make some amazing films. What drives you in that role as a producer to open the gates to all these really talented people?
Jason Blum: I think I channel my love of film. I really love going to the movies. One of the things that I appreciate when I go see movies is when they look and feel different. You don’t always win being different, but at least you see people taking a chance and trying something new.
As an audience member, I think that a lot of the movies that you see feel like the same thing being told in different ways. One of the things I get the biggest charge about is finding filmmakers with voices that are different and convincing them that I can help them bring that different voice to a movie but they have to help me by keeping it inexpensive.
I think there’s a direct correlation between the more expensive the movie is, the less original it feels. I really work with the directors and say, “Listen, if you make these compromises on the budget, it will open a lane for you to do something that isn’t done often or is never done.”
That’s a kind of process that we have in the company. Some movies work, and some don’t, but I like to think more often than not they feel different and new. That’s a result of my own experience going to movies and doing things that I am attracted to.
Fandom: There’s an old phrase, “art from adversity.” What you’re talking about with having these limits with filmmakers, do you feel like you are enabling these directors to be more creative? Are you putting them in a position to be more artistically driven to work around these limitations to make what they eventually produce?
Jason Blum: Yeah, I definitely think having financial limitations and just sort of general parameters makes for better storytelling. I firmly believe that. When you have every option available to you as a storyteller, it’s very daunting. There are not a lot of people who can do it. James Cameron can and maybe three others, but there are very few and far between.
Most artists that we work with find that just so daunting and intimidating. It’s not a rosy process all the time. There are a lot of moments when they are like, “Ugh, that Blum is driving me crazy.” When we get to the end of it, and we see the final result, more often than not the directors realize there’s a method to the madness. The proof is in the pudding in that most of the filmmakers that we work with; we work with again. So, obviously, there’s something about the process that they like.
Fandom: You’ve had a lot of great successes. In a way, you are sort of driving this new wave of genre films that we are getting. Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and Whiplash were huge successes for you. Have you always been a genre film lover? Were you always into horror, sci-fi, fantasy and action movies?
Jason Blum: I’ve always been a film lover. I love comedies, dramas, genre movies, Hitchcock films, but unlike Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth, I didn’t become a genre nut until Paranormal Activity. When we made it, I got a real inside look into the world of genre fans and genre filmmakers.
Once I got a look into that world, I never turned back. We did Whiplash, The Jinx, and The Normal Heart and even those are darkly themed movies. To me they fit into the Blumhouse brand but mostly what we do is scary stuff. That’s a result, I think, of really falling in love with the community of scary film fans and filmmakers and the movies that they make. That’s really more how I found my way into this terrific and fun world.
Fandom: I know this might seem like kind of a left field question, but there is definitely a link. Are you a Rick and Morty fan?
Jason Blum: Of course I am!
Fandom: What did you think about their Purge episode?
Jason Blum: (laughs) I thought it was terrific actually.
Fandom: What else are you a fan of right now that you’d like to share?