How Jason Blum Plans to Upend Film Distribution With ‘Green Inferno,’ ‘Delirium’ (EXCLUSIVE)

By Brent Lang

Popular on Variety

Most movies are either given massive theatrical launches or they are relegated to on-demand and DVD.

But Jason Blum, the producer of micro-budget hits like “The Purge” and “Sinister,” believes there’s a third way. His Blumhouse Productions will tweak traditional distribution patterns and marketing strategies with three upcoming horror releases, the first of which will be Eli Roth’s cannibal film “Green Inferno.”

“We’re trying to take advantage of the continuing evolution of marketing and distribution options within the horror genre,” said John Hegeman, the marketing and distribution veteran who is overseeing the release. “We believe there’s a middle ground that focuses on a more controlled theatrical release driven by digital and social engagement with a specific and identifiable audience.”

When “Green Inferno” debuts next week, it will roll out over approximately 1,500 targeted theaters, roughly half of the number of venues used in a standard wide release. Instead of relying heavily on broadcast advertising, which typically accounts for 75% of a film’s marketing spending, more than half of the effort will be spent on digital promotion. All told, Blumhouse expects to spend in the single-digit millions, less than a third of what a studio shells out to market a picture. That means that the studio will consider an opening of between $4 million to $5 million a success, Hegeman said. Those numbers would usually have studio distribution executives reaching for the Valium.

“Green Inferno” is being released through Blumhouse’s newly launched label BH Tilt, which is mandated with shaking up distribution and marketing approaches. The second film that will be released with this method is “Delirium,” a supernatural thriller formerly known as “Home” that stars Topher Grace and Patricia Clarkson and is directed by Dennis Iliadis. A third film will be decided upon at a later date.

As part of the initiative, Universal, where Blum has a production deal, will pay for the promotion and advertising. The studio has worked hard to identify theaters where horror films are particularly popular as a way of minimizing the film’s distribution footprint. Hegeman likens the approach to the one that faith-based films like “War Room” have used by drilling down into audiences that are most likely to show up at theaters instead of marketing a picture to the broadest possible consumer base.

“Horror fans are an active community, which makes it easier to find them, reach them and engage them,” said Hegeman. “There’s a lot in common between genre films and faith-based ones.”

It’s something Hegeman, who was brought on board last year to help with BH Tilt, helped introduce. In his work at companies like Artisan and Lionsgate, he helped revolutionize digital marketing to make films like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Open Water” hits.

You won’t see the next “Purge” film embrace this plan. Blumhouse doesn’t believe this model should be applied to all its films, only the ones focused on die hard horror fans, that typically carry a hard R-rating.

“We have to be careful in the movies that we pick,” said Hegeman. “We need to make them as targeted as we can, so they become an event for a very specific audience.”