‘The Purge’ Producer Brad Fuller on The Future of Platinum Dunes
Thus far, Platinum Dunes hasn’t made movies for everyone. “Everyone,” of course, meaning a fair chunk of the online film community. Producer Brad Fuller — who started the company with Andrew Form and Michael Bay around 10 years ago ‐ is well aware of the lashings he and his partners have taken. Remaking a horror classic is going to lose certain audience members from the start, but some of Platinum Dunes’ work has been met with downright hate.
However, some of that hate comes from an insular community, as proven by the box-office numbers A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th delivered. They were R-rated horror hits that Fuller has been having a difficult time making since Elm Street. This is what led him to teaming up with producer Jason Blum and making the high-concept thriller The Purge. The home invasion pic was made for two million dollars which is a low budget that Fuller and his partners aren’t exactly used to. The Purge represents a new direction for Platinum Dunes.
Fuller made the time to tell us about where the company is going and why it had to go there:
What did you think of Pain and Gain?
I love the movie. I had nothing to do with it, except to root for it. I thought Michael did a great job. I think he succeeded in trying to make a movie about pretty difficult people to watch and made them worth watching, which isn’t an easiest thing to do. A lot of people take a run at Bay, but he can do different things and do them well.
How did you and Michael Bay first meet?
We grew up together. I’ve known him since we were 15 years old and then we went to college together.
How about Andrew Form?
Drew worked for Jerry Bruckheimer. He was his assistant, so Michael met Drew on Bad Boys. It was Michael’s idea for the three of us to work together.
So did you all grow up with the same dream of making big, commercial movies?
Yes, absolutely. Drew and I definitely did. Bay was already Michael Bay, while Drew and I wanted to get a movie made. We all wanted to make, as you said, big commercial movies. When we started Platinum Dunes, we wanted to provide first time directors with an opportunity to make their movies, which is how we went into the whole company initially.
Were you ever interested in directing?
No. It wasn’t just that I had no interest, but I wasn’t talented in that area at all. That wasn’t even an option of mine. When we were in college, Michael made a student film, but I wasn’t even interested in directing a student film. I was producing. It just wasn’t my thing.
When did you learn it wasn’t for you?
I just knew it wasn’t my skill set. In my class at Wesleyan, Bay, Joss Whedon, Miguel Arteta, and so many talented people were there. It was obvious I had no talent at all.
[Laughs] Was that disappointing?
No, it wasn’t. I didn’t have to be a director. I always wanted to be a producer. I always knew I wanted to have relationships with directors and help them realize their vision. There was never a heartbreak in the inability to direct. I consider myself very lucky to have been in the Wesleyan film program at the time. There was maybe 20 of us, which was Freshman through Senior. I was lucky to be in a room with guys who were clearly talented. I don’t know if Matthew Weiner was a film major, but he was there. It was a great group of people.
At the site we hear a lot of filmmakers dismiss film school. I’m guessing you disagree you don’t?
I wouldn’t have had a career if I didn’t go to Wesleyan and met Michael Bay. No way. Much of my career is due to Michael. I had the most amazing film professor who everyone talks about, Jeanine Basinger. She is just so influential. I still talk to her regularly. Actually, Michael and I were on the phone with her last week. All of her film majors talk to her all the time. She has an incredible group of people who are so grateful for the knowledge she gave us. I’m still learning.
What did you learn on The Purge?
First of all, we had never worked with Jason [Blum] and didn’t know what to expect, but had such a great time working with him. We just got along so well and recognize each of our companies do something great. If we could figure it out the right way, The Purge could be the perfect merging of what Blumhouse does and Platinum Dunes does. It was kind of an ego-less experience, where it was about getting it done and doing our thing. When you look at the movie, I think you can see our contributions. I’m actively seeking more things to do together, and we have been since we wrapped. I talk to Blum everyday.
Blumhouse is really about making movies with low risk involved. Have you been wanting to make movies with that business model?
I feel like we had a really decent career until Jason Blum came around. We thought we were smart guys for making these horror movies for 15 million dollars while other people were making them for 30. We were coming off A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was our most successful movie at the box-office, and then Paranormal Activity came out, suddenly making us the guys who were too expensive. Blum was doing it in a totally different way. Drew and I recognized we didn’t know how to make a movie for under three million dollars, which is why the partnership is so good. He’s created his own model and he’s consistently put out movies that make money.
Since your movies have done well, why is there that hesitation to make 15 million dollar horror movies?
I don’t think they’ll make them. It’s too much money. If Blum can make a movie for three million and it makes 40 million, then a studio won’t go out and do the 15 million dollar movie that makes 40. In our experience, if we made a good movie, it’d make about 65 million dollars. That was the top end for our R-rated horror movies, and we had four movies that did that. That seemed like the bar with how far you can go. Making movies for four million that make 40 is a much better business model. I don’t see a lot of people making 20 or 30 million dollar horror movies, especially not on a studio level.
Both The Purge and TMNT don’t fit into the typical Platinum Dunes box. Was there a point where you guys decided it was time to branch out?
Undoubtably. We had to. When we sat down to start Platinum Dunes in 2001 or 2002, I’m sure we wrote down the movies we wanted to remake: Chainsaw, Nightmare, Friday the 13th, and a fourth Halloween which we couldn’t figure out. Now that we’ve gone there, where else is there? That period was the first 10 years and now we’re working on the next 10 years. We started to pursue other projects that don’t fit the model we’re used to doing. The Turtles is one of them.
Is it difficult making that transition? Did you ever hear “but you’re the horror guys”?
Oh yeah. It was awful. There’s not a lot of people who think, “I get it. They made a movie for 15 million dollars, so now we’re going to give them a movie ten times that.” I don’t know what the budget is for Turtles, but it’s a lot more expensive. It’s not an easy thing for the studio to do, and I get that. It was why it took us a long time from Elm Street to The Purge. We had a two and a half year gap where we didn’t have a movie come out, because we were very focused on developing other type of material in conjunction with the horror stuff. It remains to be seen how that works out.
In that two year gap, did you ever have the jitters over not having a movie out?
Everyday. Everyday, at least, 20 times a day.
[Laughs] So did you ever say, “Let’s go find some hotshot kid and give him a few dollars”?
Everyday! You know what? You gotta fight that. That was almost what The Purge was. When the opportunity with Blum came up, it was an incredible opportunity. If we want to keep making horror movies, we gotta learn how to do that. I think if this came at a different time we would’ve been less inclined to do it, because we never saw ourselves who could make those kind of movies well.
Who are some young filmmakers out there you’re interested in?
You know, I don’t really think about it that way. I like to tailor the material to the director. I’m looking at short film reels all the time, but I don’t want to work with them until I think we have a piece of material that’s right for them. Dean Israelite is shooting Almanac for us. You’ve never heard of him, but he went to AFI, made a short, and, strangely enough, we’re now working with two films at Paramount being directed by cousins. Dean is Jonathan Liebesman’s younger cousin, and he’s been telling us for a long time how smart and dynamic Dean is. When Liebesman did Battle LA, Dean worked on that with him and we saw he was talented. We wanted to find a movie that would fit him, which is how we’re about to start shooting the new movie.
Even though you go out to first time directors, you’ve worked with people like Samuel Bayer and Marcus Nispel, who both have a successful background in videos and commercials. Even though they’re first timers for films, is it still important to find directors who have that level of experience?
We call them “first time” directors because they haven’t made a movie. As a rule, we want our directors to have had 500 days on set. Whether you’re directing a commercial or a movie, there is a comfort that comes from knowing things are going to go crazy on set, and you’ll be able to think out of the box to solve those problems. We want a director with that level of experience because, partly, Drew and I, at that point, didn’t have 500 days of experience on set. Now we’re maybe on a more pure pursuit for people who haven’t maybe done anything or a short film, because we’re now better equipped to help them because we’ve had those 500 days. The 500 days thing is a real threshold to have, that knowledge of knowing what surprises are going to happen. I’m surprised less now than I was on Texas Chainsaw.
Do you remember your first day on a set?
Of course I do. I was terrified. Just terrified.
What was it for?
We were shooting the kids in the van [for Texas Chainsaw Massacre]. We shot the scene and thought we were doing a good job. The next day we played it and realized the audio was so bad because the lights were rattling. You couldn’t hear any dialog. We we’re like, “Oh my God, that was our first day and we totally screwed it up.” We lost the entire first day. Suffice to say, that’s not going to happen to me again. I’ve learned from that mistake about sound. My first day sucked.
How did the second and third day go? Any better?
No, no, no [Laughs]. I think you get better incrementally, because you’re going through a war and then you’ve been through it. Everyday you’re learning something new, but a lot of the same problems with first time directors come up time and time again.
Have you ever had a day go perfect?
[Laughs] I’ve never had one! Literally, I have not had a day where I’ve said, “Wow, that just went perfect! The studio is going to love the dailies! Michael Bay is going to love this!” You know, it just doesn’t go that way. A lot of days you’re getting by the skin of your teeth to just make your days. Whenever you get good stuff, you’ll just think the next day is going to suck. I’m making it more depressing than it seems, but, for me, production is a more stressful time than post-production or the release. Production is unrealized potential and constantly having to compromise. Once you have the shot footage, then you can work within the confines. You go to bed every night envisioning what the next day’s scene is going to be, but even the little things might not work. The sun may in the wrong place or it’s the clouds or whatever. I guess my job, as a producer, is to recognize when a compromise is to great and we have to stick around to make it better.
So by the time of post-production and the release, is it still a constant process of problem solving?
It’s always a process of problem solving, but it’s always more finite. When you have the cut footage, you have to work within that. If your actors are having an off day, you have to work within that too. When releasing a film, the concept or campaign either works or it doesn’t. You can try to change it, and we’ve gone through that on movies where the campaign changed two weeks before the movie opens. In my experience when a campaign starts to change, you’re in trouble. I think the campaign on The Purge has been really strong and the tracking is good, showing Universal is doing an amazing job with that film. I gotta give them kudos, because it’s a movie they could’ve put on only 100 screens. They really got behind it. I love the campaign for the movie. I try to look at it at least a little bit objectively, but I think they’ve made it look like something very interesting.
How do you determine whether a movie is successful?
For our movies, we were a group of guys who set out to do this as a business. We tried to make an art film, with The Horsemen, and it was a brutal experience. That was our attempt at an an art film. I don’t think [the director] Jonas would see it as an “art film,” but that was our attempt. The people who put money up for the movie didn’t get their money back, and that is not a good feeling for us. One of the things Michael said to me when we started was, “If you make money for your partners, you’ll make money for yourselves.” We want to make moneys for our partners, so we can live to fight another day. A part of it is trying to be as physically responsible as you can, delivering a movie on a budget so that the movie can do well and we can keep working.
I think we get a lot of shit on the Internet saying we only do it for the money, but I assure you, if we were doing this for the money, we would’ve taken big swings early on. I’ll tell you, you don’t make huge money making a horror movie. It’s a profitable business, but it’s not a home run. If you take a big swing and you fall on your face, then you’re in movie jail. If you don’t end up in jail, you’re in a different league. We wanted to gain as much experience as possible so when a movie like The Turtles came up, we had a sense of how to do that.
Speaking of big swings, World War Z is one of the biggest this summer. Jason Blum and I talked about how, if that movie is a success, whether it could open the door to +100 million dollar horror movies or if it even qualifies as a horror movie. What’s your take on that?
Well, that’s interesting. Here’s the big question, which you can answer for me: is it PG or rated R?
I wouldn’t classify that as a horror movie then. If it’s PG-13, then there’s no blood flying. In my experience, R-rated horror has a top end. As I said, Chainsaw made around 81 million dollars, and that’s as high as I can think of…well, the Paranormal movies go up a little higher. I would not classify that as a horror movie, but I haven’t seen it. It’s a zombie movie, so, yes, I guess it is a horror movie. I’m just talking out loud and babbling, but if there’s no blood in it…I’m trying to figure out the math. You can never underestimate Brad Pitt. He’s an amazing movie star. I think the trailer was phenomenal and the commercials have been strong, so things are pointing in the right direction. At the end of the day, who’s your audience and will they be satisfied? That remains to be seen.
The Purge is now in theaters.