There’s a fascinating profile this week on NPR’s Planet Money podcast about a producer by the name of Jason Blum. You might not immediately know who that is, but you know his movies: He snatched up Paranormal Activity, a movie made for $15,000 and it went on to make over $200 million.
That wasn’t a fluke. In fact, since Paranormal Activity, Blum has become incredibly adept at producing low-budget films that turn out huge profits. He’s behind five of the most profitable movies of all time, based don return on investment. He made The Purge for $3 million. It made $90 million worldwide. He made Insidious for $1.5 million. It earned $97 million worldwide. He made the Ouija movie for $5 million. It earned over $100 million worldwide.
He’s good. He’s very good. And it’s not just horror, either. He produced Jennifer Lopez’s The Boy Next Door ($50 million on a $4 million budget) and even the arthouse hit Whiplash ($13 million on a $3 million budget, a veritable bust for Blum).
I mention Jason Blum here because he seems to have a magic touch for creating something out of nothing, and if you’re a struggling director who wants a hit that’s practically guaranteed, he’s a good guy to go to. Remember Rob Cohen, the director who launched the Fast and Furious franchise but fell out of favor after Stealth bombed? He directed The Boy Next Door. Cohen is bouncing back from that by directing the Ronda Rousey led Road House.
Then there’s M. Night Shyamalan. The Sixth Sense director is coming off a string of critical and box office disappointments. He was given $5 million and a no-name cast to direct The Visit, and there was something about those limitations, about the low expectations, and about the need to create something out of nothing that seemed to wake Shyamalan up. The Visit, as Rebecca notes, is good. Guess what? Audiences responded. In fact, more people saw The Visit on Saturday than on Friday, which is virtually unheard of for a horror movie these days.
It’s the result of good word of mouth, and it’s given M. Night Shyamalan a $26 million opening weekend, on a $5 million budget. Compare that to the $27 million opening of his last film, After Earth, which was made for $130 million, or the $40 million opening of The Last Airbender, which was made for $150 million.
It all comes down to the numbers.
It seems like all that money — and the expectations that come along with it — might have been getting in Shyamalan’s way of doing what he does best: Telling small-scale stories. Granted, M. Night Shyamalan may still be a deeply delusional jackass, but he’s a talented jackass. He just needed a guy like Jason Blum to keep his ego in check.