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Platinum Dunes Partners Talk ‘Ouija,’ The Surprise Success of ‘The Purge’ and What’s Next for Jack Ryan

This week marks the 13th anniversary of the remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, the first production of the Platinum Dunes banner run by Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller.

Since that release, the trio has gone from remaking classic slasher pics like “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” to rebooting popular characters like “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and beginning a new partnership with Blumhouse Pictures, which has led to “The Purge” and “Ouija” franchises.

With “Ouija: Origin of Evil” opening this Friday, Form and Fuller sat down with Variety to discuss how they have stuck to strategy, their hits and misses, and where they see their new take on “Jack Ryan” going.

In 2001, you started developing “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” This week is the 13th anniversary, coincidentally with the release of “Ouija.” First off, I want to talk about how you started with the first film and how you’ve evolved. Have you stuck to strategy? What have you done to evolve?

Form: When we started the company, I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be in the horror business. It wasn’t something we discussed, it was really about finding commercial projects, and we knew we wanted to make movies for less money, so we had to find a genre that was commercial and that we could do somewhat inexpensively, and we knew that wasn’t going to be an action movie, and I guess it could have been comedy, but the rights to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” through Brad, ended up in our lap and we all thought it would be a great idea. Like, you could probably make a scary movie for not a lot of money, maybe it’s one location…so we started talking about what that could be, before there was even a script or anything, the idea of taking the movie from 1973 and how we would re-imagine it.

Fuller: Part of the philosophy that Michael had was let’s give first time directors an opportunity to make a movie, and horror at that time lent itself to [that]. There were good horror movies, but they didn’t look beautiful, they didn’t have the Michael Bay aesthetic. When the “Texas Chainsaw” rights came to us, we felt that if we brought in a visual guy to shoot that, and elevate it, we could make something that could make a big difference.

Form: We also loved the idea that there was a take on it where maybe these were actual events. And the idea of ‘inspired by a true story’ and we thought that could be really helpful in the marketing of a scary movie, someone actually thinks it real, it actually scares them more.

Fuller: And at the end of the day, Bay came up with this incredible notion of what a teaser trailer for it would be…That idea was so compelling of what that was going to be, so when we went out with that, without shooting really much of anything…Michael shot nothing except a guy coming through a door…We were able to get the financing for our first movie, so that’s kind of how that came together.

Fast forward to 2016 — you’ve had three films out this year, all of them sequels. Does that show your growth and hard work, that you’re producing work that’s getting greenlit for second and third installments?

Fuller: I think when we choose a movie, we’re always choosing it based on the concept, and so the concept of “The Purge” is probably one of the best ideas certainly we’ve ever had…It’s an amazing idea. The sequel to “The Purge” is a testament to [writer/director] James DeMonaco and this amazing idea that he came up with. The story itself has resonance. We are the ambassadors for that notion, but at the end of the day, the credit goes to James DeMonaco for coming up with something that he just keeps on expanding the universe in a way that people are interested.

Form: We didn’t think that the movie was going theatrical, much less thought there was going to be a second and third film. At the end of the day, Drew and I looked at each other and we recognized that the tide was changing and low-budget horror didn’t mean $15 million, it meant $100,000. This was right on the heels of the first “Paranormal [Activity],” so we looked at each other and said “We better learn how to make movies for a lot less than we are making them for.” “The Purge” gave us the opportunity to learn how to make a film for $2.5 million.

Fuller: Yeah, we started in low-budget horror in 2002, and that was $9 million for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and we thought we were making a real low-budget movie. But then you cut to 2012 when we made “The Purge,” and it was $2.5 million.

Form: And what was crazy was that year, we made a movie for $2.5 million, and we made another movie for $100 million, in the same year. We went from “The Purge” to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in the same year. I mean, it was kind of two sides.

Fuller: We definitely saw both sides of filmmaking in one calendar year.

Form: A lot of sequels get hurt, and it was sad for us because we really loved [“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”]…we felt good about the movie and we really believed in that film. They can’t win in a way that you want them to, but at the end of the day, I think that Andrew, Michael and I really feel good about what we managed. It just a shame that the audience didn’t respond the way we would have hoped.

Fuller: They just didn’t find the movie somehow.

You mention Jason Blum a lot, and that partnership started with “The Purge.” Looking back, it was obviously a brilliant idea for you guys, but were you nervous at all going into this partnership or were you excited when it started coming together?

Fuller: When we started the company, Brad and I — and this is not new news — we sat together on set and made all these movies. We would go make a movie, basically shut down the offices, and then come back. We got into a situation where we were making a movie every year, or even two a year, and we never expanded. After a certain point, it was a nightmare. We looked at each other and asked “what do we do next?” We would literally just focus on one movie and sometimes not even think about what was next. And, you know, we really saw that the tide was turning in the horror business, that the budgets were really coming down, and Jason was obviously killing it…

Form: We sent Jason an email. We knew who he was, but we had never met him. I sent him an email one day, and I remember the email, it said, something along the lines of “now that you’ve stolen our business, what you can do is buy me a cup of coffee.” He responded right away, saying “any time any place.” And literally the next day, we got together with him, and we both had meetings at 20th Century Fox, and we sat outside on the patio, and Jason said we should all work together, because we were all aspiring to the same thing. He wasn’t the Jason Blum of today; he was the Jason Blum who had done “Paranormal Activity,” who had just finished “Insidious,” and I think that he was feeling at the time overwhelmed by the amount of production he had. and really didn’t have the ability to manage all the that himself. And we were two guys who ,frankly, were really cold at that point. Our phones weren’t ringing for whatever reason, and Jason suggested we do this movie “The Purge” together. We had had a relationship with DeMonaco … we had done a dance with DeMonaco a couple years before so we knew [about] James. So we read the script and we looked at each other and we said “this is either the greatest thing ever or the worst thing ever. There is no middle ground.”

Fuller: It was really Andrew’s idea to do the same thing we did with “The Purge,” but to do it with “Ouija.” And so, it felt good to us because Jason had brought us “The Purge,” we brought him “Ouija,” and so that is a very solid place for producers to work together. It’s quid-pro-quo. We each brought each other projects, and it’s very satisfying that here we are, five movies later, and we still laugh and have a good time making movies together.

How did you guys continue to go about with Jason Blum? Obviously he wasn’t involved with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but is there a monthly meeting where you guys talking about projects you want to get involved with? How many things are you guys working on?

Fuller: Just “Ouija” and “The Purge.”

And are there more opportunities you see down the road?

Form: We would do it in a second. We just don’t have anything right now. And frankly, we both are in a different place now. I mean, Jason has a huge company with a lot of people.

Fuller: To be honest, his home is Universal, and ours is Paramount. So it’s very hard for us to work together. Although, we do love working with him. It’s great. Like I said, it’s a lot of laughs and we are very effective together.

Form: Yeah, we’ve had a great run together, we really have.

Fuller: And we are going to make more movies with him. There’s definitely more coming.

Over the 13 years, would you say say that “Out of the Shadows” bummed you the most out? What would you say is the biggest surprise of your careers?

Form: “The Purge.” [The success of] “The Purge” was crazy.

Fuller: “The Purge” was going to be released, but then it was pulled from the release schedule. There was a point where we thought the movie wasn’t even coming out. And the studio went and found a new home on a new date, and then, you know, we started seeing commercials and the tracking. I think the movie opened to $34 million and we made it for $2.5 million. We shot this thing in about 18 days in Chatsworth and it literally exploded on that weekend.

You always seem to try different things with the nature of your films, even with the sequels…Obviously the sequel to “The Purge” was different than the original. What was the idea of doing the sequel for “Ouija?”

Form: We hear from the fans, and they reach out to us. They know how to find us. It was very clear to us that the first “Ouija” was not universally accepted or loved, and we really wanted to do something we felt like delivered on the promise of it was. And [writer/director] Mike Flanagan is a really smart guy — he helped us out in post-production on the first movie, and so he had invested interest in it. When he came to us with the notion with what he wanted the second one to be, it felt like that was the right way, and that was the right “Ouija” movie to make. We are so proud with what he came up with and the way he executed it. He stuck true to his vision in a way that we haven’t seen a director do in a long time. I mean, it was just a great. What he came up with was not as commercial as you would think. He comes and says “I want to make a movie in 1967 and I want it to be shot like a movie in 1967.” That’s not an easy thing to say yes to, it’s really not. And we got lucky that “The Conjuring” was a period movie that worked…He wanted this movie to be an authentic 1967 movie, and the little things that he did feel like he elevated the movie in a way that we could have never expected.

That’s what’s nice about the lower budget format — that you are able to get the second chances even if the first one didn’t hit the mark the way you wanted, and you’re able to get it right the second time around.

Form: I think you are only going to get a shot theatrically a second or third one if your first film performs very well. There are plenty of sequels that go straight to video or VOD but to go out theatrically I think you have to perform at the box office and luckily “Ouija” did. There was an article that came out today that said “Ouija”‘s 2nd weekend had a drop that was much less then your common horror movies, I think we dropped 46% in our second weekend where most drop 60%. The audience really came back on that second weekend and the overseas market did really well on “Ouija”, allowing to make $100 million dollars worldwide on a $5 million budget, so luckily the movie performed where we did get a second chance to make another one and Flanagan delivered on every level for us.

Following this pic, your next big project you are gearing up on his your next “Friday the 13th”, can you tell us what the idea is for this one?

Fuller: This is the 13th “Friday the 13th” and on some level that’s kind of magical that we are lucky enough to make the 13th “Friday the 13th” movie. The challenges are you don’t want to alienate the people that come to see the first 12 but at the same time you don’t want your audience who haven’t seen the first 12 to feel like I’ve missed out on all of this and I’m not coming to see the 13th film. That’s where and why we were lucky enough to get Aaron Guzikowski, who is an amazing writer and who saw a way to bridge those two audiences and make a way a movie where if you haven’t seen a “Friday the 13th” movie you know exactly what is going on and if you have seen one, you are going to be smiling the whole way through because there are nods to everything that you know but it is not imperative that you know those things to enjoy the film. We have made plenty of Slasher movies and what excites us about this one is that our characters aren’t just meat for Jason to butcher. These are real characters which will hopefully make the bond with the audience that much stronger because you really care about the people in this film.

Form: But when its time for Jason to do his business…

Fuller:…He’s busy.

Form: He does it and we will not let anyone down because when it is time it’s..

Fuller: It’s unrelenting.

Switching gears to TV, you really have been busy on that front with “The Last Ship” and “Black Sails” ending this season and now “Jack Ryan” on Amazon which is obviously your biggest venture. What is interesting about the TV world and what did you want to do when you got in to it and now with the “Jack Ryan” stuff do you want to stick with the Platinum Dunes strategy or do something different?

Fuller: Well, I think we got in to TV because it’s one thing to tell a story in 90 minutes, it’s another thing to tell it in 10 or 13 hours. It’s a different type of storytelling and it felt like it was a real opportunity five or six years ago to start telling stories in a different way and in the same way that Drew and I didn’t want to look the other way when people were making ultra low-budget horror films, we didn’t want to look the other way when great filmmakers were getting into the TV business. I don’t think we could ever have expected that our first television show that we sold would be a pirate show from 1705. We were so blown away by John Steinberg as a writer and showrunner and the notion of a world he wanted to create “Black Sails” that he sold the idea to us in terms of what it was and the experience we had making that show could not have been any better across the board. The actors, Starz!, John and Dan and Robert who came in to run the show with him, that experience was fantastic. So right off the heals of that we sold “The Last Ship” and we had another really positive experience with that. As you see, this is a tiny company and we don’t have a TV executive. So if you want to have a TV meeting we just turn to each other and say “TV meeting, go” and then we are in a TV meeting. Drew and I are limited as to what we can accomplish everyday and the most important thing to Michael Bay and the company is that we maintain quality so we aren’t out there selling 20 shows a year and if we are lucky we’ll sell one and it has to be something we are passionate about and we put our heart and soul in to it.

Form: Which brings us to “Jack Ryan.” We also really believe that it definitely has to make sense for the brand and we feel that “Black Sails” and “Last Ship” are right on brand for us. Paramount has been our home for eight years now and when the talk of “Jack Ryan” came up, it seemed liked exactly what we wanted to do in television and perfect for the brand especially after “Black Sails” and “Last Ship”, “Jack Ryan” felt perfect for the brand and we jumped on it.

Do you feel he is a character that is great for TV right now after such a long time as an iconic movie hero?

Form: I think we are really lucky that we get to take this character that Tom Clancy has written so many books with and get to tell a ten hour story with Jack and the fact that John Krasinski gets to play him for us, I don’t even know how to explain that.

Fuller: We were looking for a John Krasinski type.

Did that have something to do with “13 Hours”?

Fuller: It certainly changed out perception to him and we know Michael loved working with him and he’s fantastic in the film and he looked totally different then we could envision. That role changed a lot for him. You got to meet John Krasinski he’s a force, we just loved him in the movie, talked and got lucky.

What do you see the next five years looking like? Do you have knew goals or are you sticking to the same strategy that has worked so well?

Fuller: I have failed at unscripted television for five years now, so I am hopeful I can break that trend and get a good unscripted show on the air. We are very happy making lower budgeted horror movies but we are also very happy making “Turtle” movies and stuff like that but at the end of the day, if we are lucky and find material that is interesting to us, we want to make it. I think people think of us in a certain way and hope in the last couple of years we have expanded the way they think of us. There was a time when you and I would be sitting here talking and all we would be talking about is remakes and it feels like that portion of the conversation we have kind of been able to shake with “The Purge” and “Ouija” and “Turtles” and we want to keep taking the resources that we have here and utilizing them towards making really commercial but great looking stuff.

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