The prolific producer talks The Purge: Anarchy , Ascension and future films
When a director sits in our office and they say “what kind of movie are you looking for?” I always say “I'm looking for a low budget, high concept movie” and The Purge checks every box three times. The first movie, the fact that it's so contained and it took place in a house and there weren't many characters kept it inexpensive, and the idea of crime being legal for 12 hours a year, where you could kill people and not go to jail is very high concept. When James pitched it to me I was like, “Oh my god, we're gonna make this.” And then he sent me the script, so I called him back and said, “Oh my god, we're gonna make this.”
What lessons did you learn making the first Purge film that you brought to Anarchy ?
The Purge was a home invasion movie where we really teased the concept and even when we were making it we talked about… and a lot of people since have been like, “You know, you showed the Purge on a video screen and we hear about it but we don't get to see it.” So the second movie is all about seeing the Purge and seeing what happens outside during Purge night from seven at night until seven in the morning.
Was it always the plan to open up the world for the sequel, or was there ever talk of doing another home invasion style thriller?
No, that was always the plan. We always thought that if the movie was successful and we got to make a sequel we would always make it outside, we wouldn't do another version of another family inside the house. We wanted to up the spectacle and the budget. Even though the budget was still very low by Hollywood standards it was not our under five million dollar norm. We definitely felt like we couldn't make another movie where you don't really see what the Purge is all about. So we all really wanted to do that.
Is this film evidence that you're prepared to spend more where necessary?
I'm never prepared to do that on an original. We've never made an original movie for more that five million dollars. On sequels we've actually done it a lot. So on the Insidious and Sinister sequels, and on some of the Paranormal Activity movies we've spent more than the first one cost. Once you have a movie that catches on and you're not testing your proof of concept anymore then my very risk-averse nature allows me to spend a little bit more on the sequel. But like I said before, it's nothing compared to a Hollywood movie, we're still 90% off the average price of a Hollywood movie.
You say you're risk-averse, but you do give your directors a great deal of creative freedom when they're making their films. At what stage do you step back and say, “It's all yours now”?
I'm risk-averse financially, but I'm a risk-taker creatively. But those two things are connected; if you keep the budgets low then you can take creative risks in a big way. As soon as you relinquish control to the director and give the director final cut, what usually happens is the director is desperate for your input because they're not worried. Once you give the director the confidence that ultimately he's gonna to win any argument, they want to know what you think of the script, what you think of the crew, what you think of the actors, what you think of the cut of the movie, what you think of the marketing. All of the stuff that usually become very conscientious are much less conscientious because the director knows he's gonna win. So we give a ton of input through the whole process and we're listened to, I would say, around 80% of the time. So 20% of the things I want don't happen and that's kind of what I have to live with.
The political commentary is much more overt in Anarchy compared to the first film – was that something you or James [DeMonaco, writer/director] wanted to explore in the sequel?
That's something James encouraged me to explore. He really wanted to do that and I love it. I guess I should say we encouraged each other. I think that the politics of the movie are very subversive and awesome. We've never had a movie with as much politics smuggled into it. So I'm really into that.
Do you see The Purge as an annual franchise now or are you only planning to make a sequel if there's a story worth telling?
We have the stories now. I'd like to make a story about the revolution, the good guys who realise the Purge is not good for America– I'd like to make a story about them. I'd like to make a story about the New Founding Fathers and how that law first came into place, which would be a prequel, bring Ethan [Hawke] back to life. And James has a ton of stories to tell, so I think in terms of anything I've ever worked on that there are more places you could take this than the other movies that we've done, so I don't know about every year. But I’d definitely like to make more, so I hope people like the movie so we can make more.
You're best known for the success that you've had with low budget horror films, but you’re also producing Ascension at Syfy. How did that collaboration come about and what was it that attracted you to that story?
We had a television deal at Lionsgate and Kevin Beggs, who runs Lionsgate TV, actually pitched me the story. It was a story, like many stories we do, that was not at all obvious and I loved it. What attracted me to it 100% was the story and I think Phil Levens [writer] is a really talented guy. We pitched it all over town and everyone said “no”, as they usually do with things that I try and move forward, except for Syfy. They came on and we’ve just started shooting. I'm really excited about that show, I think it's gonna be really cool. I wish the budget was lower because it doesn't fit our model in that way, but I'm excited about it.
Why do you think you're finding more success with sci-fi horror movies as opposed to straight forward slasher horrors?
What I really like is genre, you know. If it's horror-thriller, action-thriller or sci-fi. I don't think, “Oh, we need to do another sci-fi or we need to another...” I just think about if I read a script, or I hear a TV pitch, or I read a television pilot and I like it, we do it. But if it's not genre, we don't usually do it. We've done a couple of things that haven't been genre this year.
Do you have a long term plan? To move more into TV and bring some of your horror series to the small screen, for example?
I definitely want to do more in TV, but what I really want to do in TV more than bringing the horror movies to the small screen is bringing the production model to television. We're doing three television shows this year, and those are all much more traditional in their price points, but I'd love to do 10 episodes of TV for three million bucks as opposed to 10 episodes of TV for 24 million bucks, and that's one of my goals. Another one of my goals is we do a haunted house every year and this year we have a Purge live event which is touring around the United States which has turned out to be a really cool thing and I would like to do more in the live space, I'm really interested in that. I think people spend so much time in front of their screens that suddenly live entertainment is novel again, so I'm interested in pursuing that also.
There's a Saw roller coaster at a place called Thorpe Park in the UK, so seems like there'd be an audience for it in the UK.
Oh yes, there is! If we get to make a third movie then I will try to make that live touring show and do it in Europe, which would be fun.
Paranormal Activity is the series where you really made your mark. But the numbered entries seem to be taking some time off-screen at the moment, so what's the situation with five, are you giving it a rest?
It needs more of a rest than we're giving it, I think! We're starting shooting in September. In every other movie we keep answering some questions about the mythology and then presenting more, but the one thing we're determined to do in the fifth movie, and we have a story pretty well worked out, is that we made a conscious decision to answer every question about all the mythology and all Paranormal Activities . Period. So whether we start again fresh after that or not is anybody's guess but this movie will definitely answer what everybody is thinking about.
Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity follow-up, Area 51 , has been a long time coming. Is the plan still for that to get theatrical release at some stage?
I'm not sure, it's definitely going to get a release but it may be a VOD or DVD. It may not get a theatrical release, or maybe a small theatrical release, but it's not gonna get a big wide release I don't think. I don't know if that's good or bad news, but the good news is that it's gonna come out and we actually just put it through the MPAA, so I think it's gonna come out within the next twelve to eighteen months.
Is there a reason why it's not getting a theatrical release?
I would say that the movie is probably less commercial than Paranormal Activity so they don't want to spend a ton of marketing on it.
You're also making an Amityville film – are there any other famous horror franchises that you'd like to bring back?
The Amityville movie is finished, we made it with Franck Khalfoun, who directed Maniac , and it's turned out great. When we met about it I said “All I really want you to do is write a script that is the last thing that anyone would expect the next Amityville movie to be,” So that's what he did, and the movie will definitely surprise people. So I'm psyched about that. Other remakes I would like to do – I'd love to do The Tingler . William Castle is a hero of mine.
You could install vibrating chairs in cinemas
I’d love to [laughs]. It’s a little harder to do on 4000 screens though! I think that would be a great remake. We did The Town That Dreaded Sundown , which was an MGM movie that I produced with Ryan Murphy that was the first remake we did. That will come out limited in October. That's like more of an art house movie but I really like it. But The Tingler , one day hopefully!
Bringing it back to The Purge – what would your strategy be for surviving Purge night?
To come to London! Yeah, get the hell out of America. Virgin airlines is my plan.
The Purge: Anarchy is in cinemas across the UK now.