The Purge is set in a dystopian future and presents an American society free of violence, poverty and unemployment thanks largely to a single night of mayhem – an annual ‘Purge’ in which citizens can legally commit any crime they like. At the center of this violent storm sits the Sandin family, led by family patriarch, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). Having profited from the sale of home security systems to protect the wealthy from the state-sanctioned bloodletting, his own family is put at grave risk when Sandin’s young son (Parenthood’s Max Burkholder) allows a desperate stranger to enter their home on Purge night.
We spoke with Purge producer Jason Blum – one of the hottest talents working in Hollywood today, whose quirky roster of low-budget hits includes the Paranormal Activity (2007-2012) franchise and films Insidious (2010) and Sinister 2012 – about his latest movie.
Q: How did The Purge come about and what was it that attracted you to the story?
A: The film was written and directed by James DeMonaco (Jack, 1996, The Negotiator, 1998). I had developed another movie with him about ten years ago which never got made. But that is how I first met James DeMonaco. The Purge has a very high concept – the idea of what would the world look like if crime were legal for twelve hours a year? The minute James DeMonaco pitched the story to me; I knew it sounded perfect for us. We made it soon after he gave me the script.
Q: Tell us about your long running relationship with Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, 1997, Sinister, 2012)…
A: We became friends almost 25 years ago. I produced with a theater company in New York called The Malaparte Theater Company. Ethan Hawke and I did that for a few years together and became great friends. We have been close ever since. I did a movie with him, a contemporary version of Hamlet, in 2000. I had been trying to talk him into doing a horror movie for a long time. I offered him Insidious (2010) and he turned me down and then the first one that he did was Sinister (2012). He really liked it and had such a good time that at the end of the shoot of Sinister he said, “I want to do another one.” I gave him the script for The Purge and we were shooting it about six months later.
Q: What do you like about working with Ethan Hawke?
A: What I love about working with Ethan Hawke is that he is really focused on the big picture. He is a real partner with me on these movies. We talked about who could be in the other roles. We talked about different parts of the script we might change. We talked about how the movie could be released and marketed. We even made a poster for the film that was just for fun, for us, of how the movie might be sold. So he really is an ally, not just in terms of a producer-actor relationship, but really as a creative partner.
Q: Tell us about the rest of your cast.
A: Lena Heady we found… Ethan Hawke and I are both good friends with Pete Dinklage (Game of Thrones 2011-2013) and we are both fans of Game of Thrones. We asked Pete Dinklage about Lena Heady and he said, “Run, don’t walk, and hire her!” We were lucky enough to find the other actors just by auditioning.
Q: Michael Bay is also credited as a producer on The Purge. It seems like an odd coupling – the man known for some of the most Hollywood’s biggest films (Transformers, 2007), partnered with the king of micro-budgeted movies.
A: Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, was interested in getting into low budget production. I actually sent them this project and invited them into the process. I kind of got a kick out the idea that the guy who is best known for the biggest movies in Hollywood producing one of the smallest movies in Hollywood. It turned out to be a great collaboration and we are working together on a couple of other things. They were very involved in this movie from start to finish and I am looking forward to working with them again.
Q: What was the biggest challenge bringing The Purge to the screen?
A: The biggest challenge always in these movies is trying to fit a lot into a little. How to get the stunts and the bigger moments for a reasonable price. The other big challenge was finding the location. I think the house in which a lot of the movie takes place is really a character in the film. We had a lot of trouble finding the right house. We finally did, but it was a long road to get there.
Q: How did you first get involved in filmmaking?
A: I studied in college (Vassar). I got involved with scary movies because I had a great class that I took on Hitchcock. That is what first got me into the genre. I have worked in the movies ever since- my roommate in college was Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) and I produced his very first movie which was called Kicking and Screaming (1995).
Q: How did the Paranormal Activity film series (2007-2013) come about?
A: I spent the first ten years of my career in distribution. I worked for Harvey and Bob Weinstein at Miramax. Then I started producing independent movies. I made a lot of art-house films that were fun to make, but that nobody saw… And then Paranormal Activity (2007) was kind of a perfect storm – an independent movie made outside the system but then released by a studio. It actually happened because I got a rough cut of the film. It was going to go directly to DVD but I talked the director out of that and into partnering with me. I promised him I could get the movie into a theater. It took about three years from that point to actually make good on my promise, but I did. The rest you know. That is how it all started. My filmmaking model was born out of Paranormal Activity (2007). So Sinister (2012), Insidious (2010) and The Purge (2013) are all the same model, which is a movie that is made independently, and then released by a major studio.
Q: How many projects are you currently working on?
A: We are working on… Well, we have Insidious 2 (2013) coming out and then we have the next Paranormal Activity. We have a movie called Jessabelle, (director, Kevin Greutert; with Sarah Snook) for Lionsgate. And then we have another movie with Universal called Stretch (director, Joe Carnahan; with Chris Pine and Patrick Wilson). Those are the next four that we are working on.
Q: Are there any plans to re-release The Purge in theaters for Halloween?
A: No, but we are doing a live event. We started doing a haunted house last year, and so this year our haunted house is going to be called, The Purge: Live. There is actually a website if you want to check it out where I talk more about that (www.purgelive.com). It is going to be in LA, starting in the beginning of October, and will go on for a month… We rented a building downtown – where you would experience more of the mythology of The Purge, expanding on the story from the movie. It is a little more than a haunted house, but it is not a theatrical play. It’s kind of in the middle of those two things.
Q: Is there anything we can look forward to in terms of DVD extras on The Purge?
A: We have interviews with everybody. There is an interview with Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady, and an interview with the Platinum Dunes guys. So there will be some extras on the DVD, for sure.
Q: For those who have not seen the movie yet, what kind of experience are they in for?
A: A very scary ride. It is a very scary movie and a really interesting movie. But first and foremost, I hope they come out very scared.Sydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.