Jason Blum, 'Truth or Dare,' and the Underappreciated Art of Making a Cheap Movie
Jason Blum is a genius. He’s one of the best things to happen to the movie business in the last decade. Where studios like Disney and Universal are consolidating properties and churning out $200 million event films, Blum has found a way not only to take chances but almost always make a profit. Blumhouse Productions has made 36 theatrical films since 2009. Only two or three of those have failed to earn back their budgets. Hell, he could pay the production cost for all 36 of those films with the profits from his Paranomal Activity franchise alone. He’s a guy who knows how to make money work, and he can take risks because his expenses are low and his upside is huge. In fact, of the 20 films with the biggest return on investment of all time, Blumhouse produced six of them. He took $9 million and resurrected M. Night Shyamalan’s career with Split. He spent $4.5 million and got Jordan Peele an Oscar (and a $255 million-grossing film). With $3.3 million, he earned Whiplash three Oscars, but then spent $4 million to make Jennifer Lopez’ The Boy Next Door. The guy’s got range.
Blum is not a “make one for you, make one for me” kind of person. He’s an, “I don’t care if it is good or bad, who is the audience and can it make a buck?” kind of guy. He makes Oscar contenders, cult hits, and cheap-ass horror films. But he’s also the opposite of Netflix, which opens its purse strings for anybody with a recognizable name. Blum is like, “No, no: Don’t give me the A-list actress or the big-time director. Find me the director who is going to be A-list in two years, and the actress who going to command a salary bigger than the entire budget of this movie with her next film.”
Jason Blum has turned producing films into its own kind of art. He’s like the Billy Beane of movie producing, and Jessica Rothe and Lin Shaye are his Scott Hatteberg and David Justice.
His latest, Truth or Dare is not good. It boasts a 15 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and that’s a fair assessment if you’re watching the movie through a critical lens. But it’s more fun to watch it through the lens of a producer, who says “we need a high-concept hook that’s easy to market and a bunch of cheap but familiar faces that will draw in the teen crowds and let’s make it as violent as possible and still maintain a PG-13 rating.”
So, he takes a game familiar to everyone — Truth or Dare — hires that actress from Pretty Little Liars (Lucy Hale), that actor from Teen Wolf (Tyler Posey), that little-known actress who will probably be a movie star in three years (Violett Beane), the boyfriend from The Goldbergs (Sam Lerner), a competent but little known director (Jeff Wadlow, Kick-Ass 2), and kills most of the teenagers in a bloodless but violent fashion.
It totally worked, too. Truth or Dare cost $3.5 million to make, and it’s relatively cheap to market by targeting teen-driven shows (starring members of the cast), taking advantage of the 10 million Twitter followers and 25 million Instagram followers between Hale and Posey, and lining Hale up to run the Teen Vogue Instagram account the day before the film’s release. Bing, bang, boom: Bob’s your Uncle.
It earned nearly $20 million in its opening weekend.
The movie is not even that bad. It’s fine. It’s passable. A group of college kids are cursed by the game Truth or Dare, and they’re forced to play or they die. The truth questions drive the friends apart, and the dare questions kill them (this variation of the game requires that every third person choose Dare). It’s a low-rent version of the already low-rent Final Destination, and there’s not a character in this film we’re sad to see die (except the gay Asian guy — that one stung). Everyone gets kilt, there’s an after-credits sequence teasing a sequel, and the audience goes home with bellies full of popcorn and a sudden revulsion for Geoff from The Goldbergs, who is a surprisingly convincing date-rapist douchebag. Meanwhile, Blum can take the profits from this shitty little teen-horror knockoff and use them to extend Lin Shaye’s career or turn a long-time character actor into an Oscar winner or fund a forgotten director’s long-time passion project. It’s a system that I absolutely do not mind being a part of, even if it means watching a middling horror flick every couple of months.
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