Low-Budget Producer Jason Blum on The Secret of His Success

In his keynote address at SXSW, indie producer Jason Blum outlines the secret to his success.

At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons [L], and was nominated for Best Adapted Screeplay and Best Picture.

Everybody wants to know the secret to Jason Blum’s success. If there was a turning point for the indie producer, it was, of all things, “The Tooth Fairy,” the big-budget studio film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Having worked in acquisition for Miramax in the ’90s, Blum eventually left to forge his own path as an indie producer.

“I produced eight movies, 7 1/2 of which nobody has ever heard of,” Blum told the audience at his SXSW keynote address earlier today. “I got frustrated making movies nobody had heard of,” he explained. So he went on to produce “The Tooth Fairy.”

“I couldn’t stand it. It was what I thought I always wanted. I was there every day in the trenches and I hated everything about that job. But what I loved — and what I got from ‘The Tooth Fairy’ — was to see how studio movies were released,” he explained.

The experience inspired him to create Blumhouse Productions and a business model that relies on low-budget films ($3-5 million) using experienced directors looking for creative control. After “Paranormal Activity” made Hollywood take notice, Blum stuck with the successful model and repeated the success with low-cost franchises like “Insidious” and “The Purge.”

“Everyone thought I was nuts because everyone thought ‘Paranormal Activity” was a magic trick… Then we had the sequel to ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Insidious’ and ‘Sinister.’

Recently, we had ‘The Purge’ which was the moment when the establishment finally was like ‘this guy is on to something.'” According to Blum, “Purge” cost $3 million and grossed $80 million worldwide.

Blum outlined the key elements of his low-budget model:

1. Everybody above the line works either free or for scale.

If an actor asks for a trailer or other frills, he’ll tell them, “You can have all those things, but you have to pay for it yourself. But more often than not, those things go away.”

2. Never work with first time directors.

“We work with experienced directors. We make a deal — we’re not going to pay you a lot, but you get to do what you want to do. Most directors get final cut. It’s ‘auteur’ filmmaking, but for commercial movies…

I tell directors: ‘I can’t promise you a hit, but I can promise you the movies is going to be yours.’ When you work for a studio, they pay you a lot of money, but in exchange for that, they tell you what to do.

3. Cut down on time spent negotiating.

The way we structure our backend, we key the payments to the box office — so that cuts the negotiating way down and it’s very transparent. One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’re really transparent with our process.”

4. Don’t release every movie wide.

“One of the benefits of doing low-budget movies is you don’t have to release them wide to recoup. You can release it in a smaller way, make your money back and keep going.”

5. Don’t go with the hot directors.

“The directors that everyone’s chasing, we’re not chasing. If someone says ‘we’re meeting every studio in town,’ I always say they should enjoy those meetings and shouldn’t come here.

My perfect director would be James Wan, who had done “Saw” and had two difficult experiences with a studio. He couldn’t get a movie made and had a ton to prove and there was no way ‘Insidious’ was not going to be a great scary movie… Experienced directors can do a lot more with less.”

6. Story and character matter — even in horror movies.

“The scares don’t work if the story and characters don’t work… if you take away the toys, the director has nothing to focus on but those things. I think it makes the movie stronger.”

7. Don’t think about a sequel until the original is shot. “Whenever anyone is doing an original movie and they say ‘we want to end it this way for the sequel,’ I always say ‘don’t do that.’ You can always figure out a sequel, but it’s really bad to plan for a sequel. We don’t think about the sequel. We think about making a really good movie and if it’s good, we think about a sequel.”

8. Shoot in Los Angeles.

Blum said he shoots 80% of his films in Los Angeles because “you get the best actors” and talent is willing to accept a smaller paycheck if it means they can “kiss their kids goodnight.”

Now that Blum has a number of financially successful movies to his credit, he is using that power to shepherd non-genre indies such as “Whiplash,” which recently received raves at Sundance. “I could never have made ‘Whiplash’ five years ago,” said Blum, who also produced “Creep,” which is having its world premiere at SXSW.

Talking about the future of film distribution, Blum emphasized that “a wide release shouldn’t always be the golden ring” and anticipated that theatrical windows will eventually collapse.

“The fact that we haven’t collapsed windows is pushing the best artists into TV,” he said, “‘True Detective’ wouldn’t have happened eight years ago.” Along those lines, he’s trying to emulate his low-budget film model in TV.

“We’re interested in having the same conversation with showrunners that we’re having with directors… Let’s make 10 episodes for $300,000 each.”

When asked for advice about how to break into the industry, Blum urged the crowd not to wait for approval from Hollywood. “The advice I give for filmmakers starting out is don’t wait for me. Don’t wait for the industry… It’s a mistake to wait for Hollywood to tell you you have a good idea. If you have a good idea, try to make it on your own as cheaply as possible… on your phone.”

By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire | March 9, 2014

Jason Blum’s 5 Tips for Low-Budget Filmmaking Success

Some must-read insights into the success of low-budget producer Jason Blum.

Writer-director Eli Roth, who served as the moderator for an in-depth, hour-long conversation at the 2015 Produced By Conference on Saturday, May 30 in Los Angeles with producer Jason Blum and top executives at Blum’s wildly successful company, Blumhouse Productions, opened up the session with quite a bit of flair.

“I’m so excited to be moderating this panel,” Roth told the audience, “not just because I am a fan of Jason and Blumhouse, both personally and professionally, but because if there is one question we all have [it’s] how [you] take a $15,000 horror movie and turn it into a $1.4 billion dollar empire?”

While Blum didn’t give up the ingredients to the secret sauce, he and his team did provide some unique insights about low-budget filmmaking, which you can find below:

1. Work with people. Do more than just give and take orders.

In the case of Blumhouse, collaboration sits at the center of what the company describes as its “director-oriented approach” to filmmaking, which grew out of their firm low-budget production model. Head of Physical Production Jeannette Volturno-Brill told the audience that Blumhouse extends a director free reign over a film as long as the scope of his or her vision remains within the confines of the budget. She likened the director to “MacGyver.” “We say, ‘You’re a MacGyver. You have two Popsicle sticks and a roll of duct tape — what do you want to make?'”

To keep projects within their respective budgets, Volturno-Brill said she and her colleague, Blumhouse Head of Post-Production Phillip Daw, work closely with each director and the crew to determine how the money is best spent in line with the director’s vision for the film.

The collaborative spirit between Blumhouse executives and the directors and crew brought onboard for each project emerges from the $3-5 million production model, which is structured such that each participating entity — no matter whether it’s Blumhouse, the director, the crew or the actors — enters into a project on an equal financial footing. According to Blum, $3-5 million “is about what we are able to recoup on the movies if they don’t get a wide release. In a worst case scenario we break even, or maybe lose a little bit of money, but not very much, and everyone gets paid scale.”

Because no one entity has more or less to lose than another, collaboration between all parties becomes all that much easier and, as Blum also noted with regard to Blumhouse in particular, “it allows us to do all the stuff I talked about — to take chances, do weird things, do different kinds of movies.”

2. Work with the same people. If not always, then as often as you can.

One of Volturno-Brill’s biggest priorities — which makes it one of Blumhouse’s biggest priorities as well — is her commitment to the crew. Throughout the panel discussion, Volturno-Brill stressed the importance of taking care of your crew — noting, in particular, how most of the people that fill the positions on a Blumhouse set are people who have worked on another one of the company’s projects (or perhaps even more than one) before.

According to Volturno-Brill, working with the same crew on multiple projects provides a certain level of stability to the production process that isn’t usually characteristic of the set of a film being helmed by a first or second-time director (which is generally the caliber of directors that Blumhouse works with on a regular basis). When Blumhouse has a rapport with crew members, it also makes Volturno- Brill’s job easier because it provides her with the creative muscle to guide the director such that that the film stays within budget, and the director never feels as if his or her vision is being compromised.

Blumhouse has facilitated long-term relationships with crew by bringing many aspects of the production process in-house, making it possible for them to edit, color correct, mix and even produce certain visual effects for their projects without having to go to a third-party provider.

3. Be flexible.

“We have to be nimble,” noted Blum very simply. “When directors and actors are working for scale, you shoot when they want to. When you’re paying them seven-figure sums, you shoot when you want to.” Being nimble means that once a script is ready to be shot and talent get attached, Blum and his team need to be ready at a moments notice because A-list talent won’t make a commitment to a low budget movie that plans to shoot in 12 months as it could potentially cost them a job on a much bigger budget film. Said Blum: “I have to be able to say, when you have a four month window, you call me and on Monday we’ll start our prep.”

4. Have fun.

“Everyone says we do low-budget because it’s big profits — and I’m not saying that isn’t a terrific thing,” Blum said. “But we’re certainly at a place in our lives where we could be doing expensive movies and we choose not to, and I really feel like there is a real correlation between not spending a lot of money and having fun.”

The relationship between the amount of money spent on a production and the enjoyment factor ties back to the fact that the low-budget model is set up such that everybody involved has very little to lose and almost everything to gain. “Shooting begets shooting,” he said, “and it keeps you out of your office in your head going crazy. You interact with people who are making things, even if it’s at a very rudimentary beginning level.”

5. Don’t chase “what’s hot” — just focus on what you like.

Chasing after the so-called next big thing is similar to when a dog tries to chase its own tail. Just when you think you think you’ve got it, it slips out of your grasp and then you are right back where you started. “We all do it,” Blumhouse Head of Television Jessica Rhoades noted during the discussion, “[try] to anticipate what our boss is going to like.” At Blumhouse, however, Rhoades said that she and her colleagues are encouraged to follow their gut. “Gut check,” she called it — meaning that if a project gets you and the people that you work with excited, then it’s worth pursuing, in spite of what a trend report might say.

Perhaps the most instructive example of this philosophy is Blumhouse’s involvement with Andrew Jarecki’s six-part docuseries, “The Jinx,” which aired on HBO earlier this year. Jarecki, Blum said, came to him with all six episodes ready to go and in search of a provider to put them on the air. After watching the first episode, Blum was so impressed that he didn’t need any more convincing. “I feel like that’s one of the things that I am proudest of our team for — finding things that are really off-beat like that,” said Blum. “It seems, in retrospect, not offbeat, but before there was all this stuff around it, it was very offbeat.”

Although Blum admitted that projects like “The Jinx” and “Whiplash” do not specifically fit under the Blumhouse horror brand per se, he argued they do fit into the bigger picture. “We’re in a position now — a very lucky position now — where we have a certain amount of clout in the business and so, we can get things made that are tricky or hard to get made.”

By Shipra Harbola Gupta | Indiewire | June 2, 2015

Google a pirate, says News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson

Google a pirate: News chief

News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson. ‘The words “intellectual property” don’t appear in the Google alphabet.’ Picture: Richard Dobson Source: News Corp Australia

News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson has attacked Google for piracy, zealotry and kleptocracy for its disregard of copyright and distribution of journalism created by others.

In a speech at the Lowy Institute Media Awards last night, Mr Thomson warned that, without proper remun­eration, well-resourced reporting would be further challenged in the future, with the digital age hostile to ­investment in ­journalism.

Mr Thomson, in Australia for News Corp’s board meeting, said aggregators and distributors such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn had a “new-found fondness for premium content” created by others, but had an aversion to paying for it.

Provocatively, he also called LinkedIn “pretenders” and “spammers”.

“The supposed idealism of these companies is in stark contrast to their actual behavio­ur,” Mr Thomson said. “That Google’s newly conceived parent company is to be called Alphabet has itself created a range of ­delicious permutations: A is for avarice, B is for bowdlerise, through to K for kleptocracy, P for piracy and Z for zealotry.”

Mr Thomson said he was fortunate to be a custodian in a company that invested in thousands of creative acts around the world each day, from great journ­alism and compelling analysis to feisty blogs, capti­v­ating videos and brilliant books.

But, he said, Google and other aggregators had little respect for original content or copyright created by media companies struggling to profit from news.

“The words ‘intellectual property’ don’t appear in the Google alphabet,” he said.

Mr Thomson said there was a “deficit in reporting resources created by the egregious aggregation of news by distributors for whom provenance is an inconvenience and who are contemptuous of copyright”.

While media companies such as News Corp created important content, he said, the distributors were appointing editors not to create but to curate.

“And these curators tend to have a certain mindset, a deep fondness for polit­ical correctness, and a tendency to be intolerant of ideolog­ical infractions,” he said.

“Silicon Valley is moving from the PC to being a purveyor of the PC. The stream of content is often a flow of soft-left sensi­b­ility, a stream of content consciousness in which genuine debate is in danger of drowning and alternative views rarely surface­.”

Mr Thomson contrasted this with the nature of newspapers, which were characterised by public debate and carried passionate arguments about issues­.

Moving to a greater distrib­ution of politically correct content by the “e-elites”, Mr Thomson said, was taking place without any serious discussion of the social consequences.

He paid tribute to News Corp’s executive chairman Rupert­ Murdoch and said that, without him, instead of being at a fine award ceremony that celebrated the continued importance of journalism, the group would be in the backroom at a dingy pub lamenting its passing.

The Australian

August 14, 2015 12:00AM

Road trip pays off for Last Cab to Darwin

Australian filmmakers criss-crossing the country to talk about their films has paid off
twice now this year. First director and star Damon Gameau appeared at more than 70 Q&A sessions on the way to the documentary That Sugar Film becoming a hit.

Now director Jeremy Sims and (mostly) actor Michael Caton have appeared at 48 Q&As leading up to the solid opening for Last Cab To Darwin last weekend. The final one – at least before a couple of industry screenings for AACTA Awards voting – was at a small community hall in Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, on Sunday. “It was packed,” Sims says. “People, as usual, laughed and cried and they all stayed to talk about the film.”

But Sims cautions against the idea that grassroots word-of-mouth campaigns are the way to go for Australian films. “It’s only if you’ve got a good film,” he says. “If you’ve got a bad film, it’s the worst way to market a film.”

Last Cab,which has Caton as a Broken Hill taxi driver who heads to Darwin to take advantage of new euthanasia laws, took $1.15 million on the weekend. With previews, it has taken $1.37 million already, adding to a strong year for Australian films that includes the hits The Water Diviner, Paper Planes and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Garry Maddox – SMH – August 12, 2015

ABC TV screen sector ‘dysfunctional’ says producer

Samuel Johnson plays Molly Meldrum in the TV miniseries about Countdown snapped up by Sev

Samuel Johnson plays Molly Meldrum in the TV miniseries about Countdown snapped up by Seven. Picture: Ben Timony. Source: Supplied

The screen sector has called for greater transparency at ABC TV as one producer said the department was the “most dysfunctional” he had experienced in 28 years.

Many production companies have been distressed this year by the late or abrupt cancellations by the ABC of TV projects well into their development, inaction on key decisions and the apparent ad hoc programming strategy for the drama, kids and light entertainment strands.

Most perplexing is the ABC’s decision not to commission the miniseries about its seminal music show, Countdown, and its host Molly Meldrum.

Mushroom Pictures’ miniseries, Molly, starring Samuel Johnson in the title role, is anticipated to be a major hit for the Seven Network, following its success with INXS: Never Tear Us Apart last year.

Yet the ABC turned down the project, despite ABC drama chief Carole Sklan wanting the project, with a more senior ABC TV manager arguing he believed Australian audiences would not be interested in Meldrum’s story.

The ABC’s unwillingness to produce the upcoming political drama Enemies of the State, based on the life of former High Court Justice Lionel Murphy, has also raised concerns. The project, which has been picked up by SVOD service Stan, is seen to be right in the ABC’s sweet spot: a real-life political drama being developed by the producers of Rake, Peter Duncan and Ian Collie, Paper Planes filmmaker Robert Connolly and the ABC’s Q&A host Tony Jones.

Symptomatic of the decision-making recalcitrance is this week’s development, where it is understood a major ABC talent, used prominently in ABC TV marketing this year, signed a deal with a commercial network for his next series, after being left stranded and frustrated by inaction from the ABC.

While producer complaints about programming decisions are a constant of the business, there is heightened fury within the sector at ABC TV’s late or fractured decision-making and the move of funds and attention away from the drama and kids sector into light entertainment.

The ABC’s new strategy to purchase international format rights for its own productions, such as the misfiring How Not To Behave, has also confused producers, none of whom wanted to comment publicly due to their ongoing, or anticipated, commercial relationships with the ABC.

But The Australian understands one producer was so annoyed by his company’s treatment, he wrote to the ABC earlier this year stating he had not seen ABC TV in a “more dysfunctional and disrespectful environment” in his three-decade career.

The ABC’s new head of content and creative development, Adrian Swift, has been the lightning rod for many complaints. One of the former Nine development boss’s first tasks was decommissioning many projects greenlit before his arrival, which has cost a number of businesses substantial development costs.

Also, internally ABC commissioning editors are now engaged in what one producer described as “their own Hunger Games-style battle” as competitive funding has been introduced between genres.

“The brinkmanship and power being used is pretty poor,” said one producer with an ongoing relationship with the ABC. “They’re treating a lot of good relationships like shit.”

Screen Producer Australia director Matthew Deaner said ­clarity on programming and expenditure strategy was required.

“In order to create business stability and allow for better planning there needs to be greater transparency around the way in which the ABC and SBS report their program expenditure,” he said.

“The broadcasting financial results published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority are a good example of reporting obligations for the commercial sector that should be replicated for public broadcasters,” Mr Deaner added.

He said the snapshot of aggregated expenditure, revenue, profitability, assets and liabilities of the commercial radio and television sectors “crucially provides a layer of commercial transparency that underpins business confidence in the independent sector”.

Drama decision-making has been complicated by changes in strategy. The ABC built its local drama stocks back across many years with relatively safe bets appealing to older viewers, including Bed of Roses, The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, ANZAC Girls and The Dr Blake Mysteries before it took riskier gambles on series The Slap, Serangoon Road, Redfern Now, Jack Irish, Rake and others.

As it took more risks, with dramas such as The Code, Glitch, Crownies and The Time of Our Lives, the audiences have not ­responded.

Many within the drama sector were dismayed by the lack of innovation when the ABC commissioned this year new series of Janet King, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Rake, The Code and Jack Irish.

The ABC director of TV, Richard Finlayson, was unavailable for comment.

Media and Entertainment Writer

SVOD: Netflix surge threatens free-to-air TV

Media watchers around the world find no surprise in the move away from traditional forms of television. The writing has been on the wall since the turn of the century that the child of the digital revolution — internet protocol television — would become a substantial threat to incumbent free- to-air broadcasters and their ­subscription-based cousins.

But what is surprising is the speed of change we are now seeing. It is not just fast or super-fast — it is happening at warp speed.

Credible analysis of internet traffic suggests that Netflix, the international market leader in providing subscription video on demand through IPTV-based streaming, already has more than 1.5 million customers in Australia. As one analyst told me: “the smart money was that Netflix would have 2.2 million Australian subscribers by 2020. I think they’ll have that by the end of 2015.”

Netflix does not declare its subscriber numbers in various markets, a tactic designed to maximise its negotiating position when it bids for rights. But we know in the first quarter of 2015 it had 42 million customers in the US and 21 million in the rest of the world.

Netflix came to Australia in March this year, so very little of its Australian customer base would be reflected in those first quarter figures. Since March Netflix has been pushing its Australian services in competition with Presto, backed by Foxtel, Seven and Ten, and Stan, a Nine and Fairfax start-up. None of the parties are shouting their audience numbers from the rooftops, in part because many customers are testing their appetite for video on demand through free sign-up deals for the first month.

Active subs may not be paying subs.

Back in the days when three commercial and two public channels amounted to the total TV offering, FTA had 100 per cent of the nation’s eyeballs. After Foxtel, FTA maintained around 80 per cent of the total audience.

If Netflix and other SVOD operators steal away another 20 or 30 per cent — as they inevitably will, in time — then FTA faces a triple whammy: falling viewer numbers, smaller audiences to attract advertisers and tighter advertising conditions as the digital migration continues. This, in turn, erodes its ability to produce high quality, compelling content capable of attracting large audiences.

Of course, the FTA industry is not without the means to fight back. It remains strong in live events, whether they be news, sport or network-manufactured “must see” events such as MasterChef, The Voice or My Kitchen Rules. But news, sport and faux events don’t fill a 24/7 schedule.

Seen from this perspective, there is no surprise in the stockmarket reaction to the FTA market leaders in Australia. The Nine network floated last year at $2.10 and traded as high as $2.35 at the end of May this year. It closed at $1.39 on Friday.

Seven West Media was trading above $2 a year ago and is now 93c.

These figures reflect the new reality.

Mark Day, Columnist – The Australian July 13, 2015

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Cannes: 21 Films That Stood Out at the 2015 Festival

Variety critics Scott Foundas, Justin Chang, Peter Debruge, Guy Lodge, Jay Weissberg and Maggie Lee weighed in with their choices for the 21 best films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (listed in alphabetical order):

1. “Amy.” British director Asif Kapadia followed up his 2010 “Senna” with this even more daring and revealing portrait of the brilliant but tragic jazz diva Amy Winehouse. Drawing on a wealth of professional and user-generated video, Kapadia again eschews the usual talking-heads interview format to keep WInehouse front and center for two harrowing hours, during which we come to understand how thoroughly the troubled singer lived her life under the camera‘s relentless and unforgiving gaze. The result is an unforgettable portrait of the cult of celebrity in the iPhone era. (Scott Foundas)

2. “Arabian Nights.” Even this year’s most impressive competition films couldn’t match Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes’ magnum opus for brazen ambition and conceptual heft. Screened in three parts across one week in Directors’ Fortnight, this six-hour allegorical meditation on the current European economic crisis bristled with invention, ribald wit and flashes of heated fury. Knotting stories of ghost dogs, mermaids and laid-off shipyard workers into one vast tapestry, Gomes made one of the festival’s most daunting-looking pics into one of its most unpredictably entertaining. (Guy Lodge)

3. “The Assassin.” While viewers were rightly mesmerized by the film’s ravishing visuals and exquisite period details, most have overlooked Hou Hsiao-hsien’s subtle and timely political allegory on the uneasy yet symbiotic relationship between Taiwan and China, obliquely yet poignantly evoking the conflicting loyalties and sense of estrangement felt by Taiwan’s settlers and their homegrown offspring. (Maggie Lee)

4. “Carol.” The jury may have fobbed it off with half a best actress award (for half its exemplary star duo, to add insult to injury), but Todd Haynes’ tender take on Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian romance ranks among the director’s most immaculate achievements: Though it’s composed and constructed with metric precision, a raw, reckless heart beats fast beneath its exquisite wintry surface. It also takes an immediate place in the canon of great melancholy Christmas films; one hopes and expects that American awards bodies will give generously in the holiday season. (G.L.)

5. “Cemetery of Splendor.” As familiar as home and as mysterious as a dream, the lush and hypnotic world of Apichatpong Weerasethakul — let’s call it Joeburg — is a place to which I always long to return. His latest film, a melancholy melding of the personal and the political, is a calmer, gentler thing than his previous films, yet it’s no less remarkable in its ability to find a strange, otherworldly magic in the everyday. (Justin Chang)

6. “Disorder.” A drum-tight home-invasion thriller fiercely anchored by the increasingly ubiquitous Matthias Schoenaerts, Alice Winocour’s sophomore feature isn’t a stunningly original feat, but was still among the most pleasant surprises in Un Certain Regard: Few would have guessed from the French helmer’s costume-drama debut, “Augustine,” that she has such tough, tactile genre-filmmaking chops. Hollywood producers should take note. (G.L.)

7. “Inside Out.” Co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen somehow manage to deconstruct emotion while supplying it in generous measure in this deliriously funny, intensely cathartic romp through a young girl’s head space. The result is a wondrous return to form for Pixar, and a welcome reminder that there are still unexplored worlds waiting to be colonized by the imagination — including, perhaps, the imagination itself. (J.C.)

8. “Journey to the Shore.” Not since “Truly, Madly, Deeply” has the communion between the living and dead been depicted with such tenderness and heartache. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan’s maestro of psycho-horror, infuses this hushed, timorous drama of loss, regret and acceptance with his signature haunting mood, employing magical shifts of light and darkness. (M.L.)

9. “The Lobster.” Lonelyhearts who fail to find a suitable partner at a dating boot camp are transformed into animals, or else forced to hide out in the forest where they’re hunted for sport, in “Dogtooth” director Yorgos Lanthimos’ jury prize-winning absurdist social satire. Taking aim at the way modern society imposes a narrow definition of marriage on everyone, the crafty Greek allegorist setsout in the darkly comic Bunuel tradition, before turning its bachelor protagonist (an emasculated Colin Farrell) loose in its unexpectedly tender second half. (Peter Debruge)

10. “Macbeth.”

That Justin Kurzel’s stormy new interpretation of Shakespeare’s punchiest tragedy was left until the very end of the competition led some critics to expect a cautious afterthought. What they got instead was an urgent, visceral update to enthrall the “Game of Thrones” set, unmistakably the work of the same director who electrified festival auds with “The Snowtown Murders” four years ago. With arresting performances by Michael Fassbender and a particularly inspired Marion Cotillard, this spare new adaptation stands worthily alongside Polanski’s 1971 version. (G.L.)

11. “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Having set the high bar for the modern action movie with “The Road Warrior” in 1981, George Miller surpassed himself (at age 70!) with this years-in-the-making “revisiting” of his iconic post-apocalyptic action hero (Tom Hardy, ably stepping in for Mel Gibson), here paired with a formidable female ally in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa — arguably the greatest female action hero since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Miller’s dizzyingly kinetic, color-saturated, wall-to-wall chase sequences kicked off Cannes with a bang which it never quite surpassed. (S.F.)

12. “The Measure of a Man.” Veteran French leading man Vincent Lindon won a well-deserved best actor prize from the Cannes jury for this modestly scaled but powerfully affecting social drama from director Stephane Brize. As an unemployed factory worker turned supermarket store detective, Lindon appears in virtually every shot, effortlessly holding the screen with his weary brow and unassailable humanity. (S.F.)

13. “Mon roi.” While it passionately divided critics, Maiwenn’s power-romance should be required viewing for all aspiring American indie directors (especially those of the mumblecore school). The “Polisse” director demonstrates the raw, heartbreaking emotional truth that one can achieve through personal storytelling and collaborative improvisation, eliciting career-best work from Emmanuelle Bercot (who shared best actress honors with “Carol’s” Rooney Mara) and Vincent Cassel. (P.D.)

14. “Mustang.” Five headstrong sisters in rural Turkey are forced to conform to their society’s rigid concept of female self-expression in Deniz Gamze Erguven’s impressive feature debut. Undeniably scripted with Western auds in mind and not averse to exaggeration, the pic nevertheless boasts energetic performances of an intriguing nascent sexuality (think “The Virgin Suicides” by way of Sally Man) and a maturely fluent visual style very much in line with current arthouse aesthetics. (Jay Weissberg)

15. “My Golden Days.” Arnaud Desplechin imagines the childhood and adolescence of his cinematic alter-ego Paul Dedalus (first played by Mathieu Amalric in 1996’s “My Sex Life … “) in this transporting memory film set in the late 1980s, with Roxanne Shante on the soundtrack and a thick, bittersweet air of first loves, fractured friendships and lost youth. Denied a slot in competition, “Golden” was the toast of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, where it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures for a U.S. release. (S.F.)

16. “One Floor Below.” Champions of new Romanian cinema long ago cottoned on to Radu Muntean’s minimalist storytelling, and while he stays true to his style here, there’s a slightly simmering quality that turns this story of a regular guy unwilling to finger a murderous neighbor into a quietly tense anti-thriller. Wrestling with questions of societal responsibility via a protag used to playing the system, the pic may seem understated, but its themes are weighted with a moral dilemma of quasi-Dostoevskian proportions. (J.W.)

17. “Our Little Sister.” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s portrait of blossoming womanhood is a lightweight yet graceful divertissement that, a few arch Ozu-esque flourishes notwithstanding, reps a companion piece to the hypersensitive feminine sensibilities and visual luxuriance of Kon Ichikawa’s “The Makioka Sisters.” (M.L.)

18. “Sicario.” Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are all aces in Denis Villeneuve’s serpentine, pulse-pounding thriller, but the film’s undeniable MVP is the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, in his second visually stunning collaboration with the director of “Prisoners.” After the likes of “Traffic” and “Heli,” Villeneuve tells us little that’s new about the horrific cycle of violence and corruption that has ensnared both the Mexican drug trade and America’s war against it, but there’s no denying he tells it in muscular, bracingly cynical style. (J.C.)

19. “Son of Saul.” The most powerful and provocative Holocaust-themed film since “Fateless” (which coincidentally also hailed from Hungary), Laszlo Nemes’ Grand Prix winner engages directly with the impossibility that any film could possibly do justice to those events, while challenging the notion that consequently none should try. Nemes rejects the melodrama of “Schindler’s List” in favor of a rigidly formalist approach, one that forces audiences to evaluate and consider its artistic choices alongside the already profound moral dilemmas faced by its characters. (P.D.)

20. “Taklub.” Brillante Mendoza’s ode to the decency and dignity of ordinary people afflicted by the worst typhoon disaster in Philippine history thoughtfully reflects on the limits of faith, compassion and hard work. A welcome return to the studied simplicity of his earlier works like “Foster Child” and “Slingshot.” (M.L.)

21. “Youth.” Paolo Sorrentino’s most tender film to date is dividing the critics and took home no prizes, yet its champions are touting the emotional rich way the bravura filmmaker explores aging via two very different figures in the waning years of their lives. Selling points include standout performancess by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, a blistering cameo from Jane Fonda, plenty of eccentric humor, expectedly wide-ranging musical choices and a visual banquet courtesy of d.p. Luca Bigazzi. (J.W.)

Variety Staff – May 25, 2015

Unfriended producer Jason Blum on how to make a killing in Hollywood

Jason Blum is making a killing in Hollywood by following a simple formula: make it cheap and share the spoils.

Modern Hollywood is all about the numbers, but even in an industry obsessed with box office and back-end (a cut of the spoils), Jason Blum is one out of the box. At 45, the main man at Blumhouse Productions heads a pipeline of profitability built on a simple premise: make it fast, make it cheap, and make a pile of money – if it works, that is (and not all of them do). “We have a budget cap of about $US4 million per film, maybe a little more, and we came up with that number by looking at the movies that don’t work,” says Blum.

Many of his movies do work – like The Purge ($US89 million, two sequels), Insidious ($US93 million, two sequels), or Sinister ($US78 million, a sequel on the way).

But if a film doesn’t make it into cinemas, there’s always DVD and video-on-demand and subscription services, and Blum reckons taking $4 million – half from North America, the other half from the rest of the world – is a safe bet.

Keeping budgets at that break-even point “allows us to do weird, original stuff – because weird, original stuff is not always commercial,” he says. “Some of them work, some of them don’t, but as long as we keep the budgets down we can keep experimenting and trying new things.”

Rose Byrne in Insidious. The Australian actress was paid minimum wage for the film, but thanks to a profit-sharing deal has reportedly earned $US7 million from it.

The latest of those new things is Unfriended, a brilliantly inventive spin on the low-budget horror formula of six people in a room, being killed off one by one. The central premise here is cyber bullying, and the six are in an online chatroom – a virtual room – with the entire film constructed from imagery captured on secondary screens (laptops, phones, instant-messenger screens, Facebook pages and so on).

As is the Blumhouse way, it was made cheap, is going wide and, if it works, will undoubtedly have a sequel or three.

Jason Blum has been producing movies since 1995, but it was in 2007 that this mantra first emerged, when a low-budget horror film called Paranormal Activity landed in his lap. Made by Oren Peli for $15,000, the “found-footage” frightener had been rejected by every studio in town when Blum, who had a production deal with Paramount, made a case for it.

Earlier this year he told W magazine that “Paramount rejected it 100 times” before agreeing to put in cinemas. It grossed $US193 million worldwide and has spawned four sequels (so far).

On his imdb profile page, Blum has a producer credit on 78 titles; boxofficemojo lists 22 titles for a combined box office of more than $US1.8 billion, which suggests the true total is even higher; The Hollywood Reporter has claimed his 10-year output deal with Universal guarantees him a 12.5 per cent cut of the first-dollar gross (the ticket price) on all his titles.

Whatever way you cut it, those are astonishing numbers.

But Blum isn’t just making schlock. He also produced the triple-Oscar-winning Whiplash (for which he received a best picture nomination).

The indie favourite about a student jazz drummer (Miles Teller) terrorised by his teacher (J.K. Simmons, who won the best supporting actor Oscar) is, he jokes, a “Sundance horror movie”.

“I didn’t make Whiplash thinking it would be a big profit centre,” he continues. It was, rather, a passion project, the sort the profitability of the genre stuff allows him to indulge.

“I love our scary movies, that’s going to continue to be the primary focus of me and the people who work at the company, but when something amazing comes across the desk we’re in a position now where we can do it not purely for financial reasons. If everyone loves it but we’re not going to make a lot of money on it, so long as we don’t lose money we’ll pursue it.”

If it all sounds too good to be true there are some who have claimed that’s because it is. The reason Blumhouse movies are cheap is because everyone gets paid only base rates.

For the key creatives – writer, director, stars – the trade-off is a profit share that kicks in once the film has passed certain hurdles (the first at $30 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter). But for lowly crew, there’s no delayed payday, just the union minimum they signed on for in the first place.

Blum doesn’t see any reason to be defensive about this. “It makes no sense for someone to say, ‘Because your movies are very commercial I should participate [in the profits]’. If it’s a $50 million studio movie you don’t participate, you get paid scale. So why should you participate in ours?”

The real winners in this model, other than Blum, are the stars. Blum says their deals are predicated on their “quote” – the fee they usually work for. So even if John Travolta or Ethan Hawke or Jessica Alba signs on for the minimum (about $3500 a week), their eventual return could be pretty impressive. Rose Byrne, for example, is said to have earned more than $7 million for her role in Insidious.

“We’ve made a lot of people some great back end, so people have come back to try again,” says Blum. “From an actor’s point of view, it’s four weeks and if the movie works it’s a big payday. And if it doesn’t, you were in a cool movie.”

Unfriended opens on April 30 in Australia

Karl Quinn – SMH – April 17, 2015

US Box Office: Five Worrisome Moviegoing Trends in 2014

The worldwide box office saw only modest gains in 2014 as revenue tumbled in North America.

Global revenue reached $36.4 billion, a slim uptick of 1 percent over 2013 ($35.9 billion), according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual report. For much of the past decade, global revenue has seen sizeable year-over-year gains, including 6.4 percent in 2012.

Without Asia — and particularly China — 2014 revenue would have certainly been down year-over-year. The Chinese box office grew by 34 percent to $4.8 billion, marking the first time that box office revenue has crossed $4 billion in any foreign market outside of North America.

In the U.S. and Canada, revenue fell a steep 5 percent to $10.4 billion (revenue also fell by 3 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa). Overseas, total international revenue came in at $26 billion, compared to $25 billion in 2013.

Here’s five worrisome takeaways from the MPAA report:

1. The 32 percent problem

Admissions hit a 19-year low in North America, with 1.27 billion tickets sold. Part of the problem: 32 percent of the population in the U.S. and Canada didn’t go to the movies at all. The same has been true for several years, but it’s clear Hollywood needs to cull a new audience. According to the MPAA, there was actually a jump in the number of frequent moviegoers buying tickets (fueled largely by older consumers), so that means fewer “occasional” and “infrequent” moviegoers went to the cinema in 2014.

2. Where were the tots?

Frequent moviegoers, defined as someone who goes to the cinema at least once a month or more, are Hollywood’s most prized demo. This group makes up only 11 percent of the population but buy 51 percent of all tickets sold. In 2014, there was a steep fall off in the 2-11 age group, with only 2.7 million young children going to the movies, compared to 4.3 million the year before.

3. The Trouble with Generations X, Y and Z

There was also a precipitous drop off in the number of frequent moviegoers between the ages of 25 to 39 (including parents of the missing tots). Those in this category made 7.1 million trips to the cinema, compared to 8.2 million in 2013 and 9.9 million in 2012. It matters because, overall, this age group watches more movies than any other. There was also a continued fall off in the number of frequent moviegoers in the 18-24 age group. This demo went to the movies 7 million times, the lowest level in at least five years. Conversely, frequent moviegoers in the 40-49 age group soared, from 3.2 million to 5.7 million, while frequent moviegoers 60 and older hit an all time high, making 5.3 million trips.

4. 3D Burnout

In 2010, 52 percent of moviegoers in North America saw a 3D title. Last year, that number fell by almost half to 27 percent, even though there were more 3D titles more than ever (47). In 2013, 31 percent of those going to the cinema saw a 3D title.

5. The gender balance

Since 2010, females have consistently made up a larger share of moviegoers, while the number of males has remained flat.

Pamela McClintock – The Hollywood Reporter- 11/3/2015

AIDC coming to Melbourne!

Breaking news from Adelaide! The Australian International Documentary Conference has found a new home – in Melbourne, Victoria.

Film Victoria and ACMI will jointly sponsor next year’s AIDC. And as Katrina Sedgwick told us at this year’s event, she brought the Documentary Conference to Adelaide when she was running the Adelaide Film Festival around 12 years ago. Katrina and Richard Sowada were present at the announcement and are obviously keen to hit the ground running and provide a terrific, reimagined conference next year.

Lucky Melbourne!

After the SA government withdrew substantial amount of funding for this year’s Conference, it was morphed into a no frills version this year by outgoing Joost Den Hartog, who looked as though he really didn’t want to be there. The Conference, named Net-Work-Play, focussed on online delivery mechanisms and digital content as the way of the future.

Film Victoria’s Jenni Tosi also welcomed the arrival of AIDC to Victoria and is clearly a strong supporter of the move along with FV’s Jeni McMahon who was also there.