Platinum Dunes absolutely loves to scare the crap out of audiences. Founded in 2001 by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form, the production company initially took a stab at the horror genre with 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre update. They subsequently followed up with other notable remakes and reboots, including 2005’s The Amityville Horror, 2009’s Friday the 13th, 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street, and 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In addition, they launched franchises with 2013’s The Purge and Ouija.
With the success of The First Purge – the fourth entry in the franchise – and the box-office hit A Quiet Place, not to mention their upcoming TV series Jack Ryan and The Purge, 2018 has proven to be a landmark year for Platinum Dunes. Fuller spoke to SYFY WIRE about the past, present, and future of Platinum Dunes… and the projects that got away.
The First Purge has made over $100 million worldwide thus far. It’s also the fourth installment in the franchise. What about this concept really strikes a chord with audiences?
When we started the whole thing, it was this crazy idea that felt like a science fiction movie that could never happen. With each subsequent one, people keep on saying it gets closer to reality, which is terrifying, and I hope everyone is wrong. At the end of the day, and if you strip all the political parts of it away, it is a story about a protagonist who is a hero, who is selfless to save other people. Audiences tend to respond to that. So we’ve had a couple of different people who are heroic in saving peoples’ lives, without a lot of regard to their own safety. If the action is good and you care about the characters, and there are a couple of scares in there, the audiences seem to be responding to that in a very positive way.
The original Purge took place in an enclosed space in a house. How have the scope, scale, and tone evolved?
The first one took place in a house because we only had $2.5 million to make the movie. There really was no choice. The creativity came from limitation of the budget. The Ethan Hawke Purge was Blum’s first movie under his Universal deal. I can assure you no one really believed that this would be a franchise that could spawn three sequels or prequels or additional movies, and now a TV show. There’s something about this concept that resonates. To be honest with you, I don’t have the definite answer as to why that is. It’s a concept that people are interested in.
The First Purge also marks the first entry that creator James DeMonaco hasn’t directed. Why the shift? And how nerve-racking was it handing over the reins to someone else?
It was very nerve-racking to turn it over, because James has been a great steward of the franchise for the first three movies. I, certainly, was a little surprised he didn’t want to direct the fourth one, because he wrote it and knew it better than anyone else. At the end of the day, James has other things he wants to do. He had already committed to doing the television show. He couldn’t do both the show and the movie. It was impossible. The new challenge of showrunning that show was very appealing to him. He chose to take that. But he was very involved in the movie. He was around when they were shooting. He was active in the editing room. But this is a story that director Gerard McMurray knew well from his upbringing and could relate to. We felt that could add a realistic element to the story and understand to live in a place like that. It brought a different feel, and we were looking for that. You can’t keep on making the exact same thing over and over again. It felt like a different and smart direction to go in.
The Purge films have explored sequels and prequels. What does the future hold for this franchise?
Honestly, I have not received any calls about anything other Purge-related. It might be too early to start to figure that out. Our focus, James’ focus and Jason Blum’s focus is on the TV series right now. If Universal wants a fifth Purge movie, I’m sure everyone would love to do it. It’s this franchise we all started on together, and we were all in one place at our life. It’s nice to keep on going back to that place and working with those people. It’s so rare to build something with people. I love being with Blum. I love being with James DeMonaco. These are guys who, if I am able to work with them again, that makes the experience better, because I just enjoy my time with them. The future right now is the TV show, and if Universal wants another Purge movie, we will start having those discussions. But we haven’t yet.
It’s disappointing that last week was another Friday the 13th, but there was no Jason Voorhees movie out. Last time we chatted, production for a new Friday the 13th was gearing up and then it all fell apart. What happened?
There was a couple of things. I think there was concern about the rights looming at that point. Paramount was concerned if they made that movie and the rights were not available… if you are going to make that movie, you want to be able to ride it for more than one or two movies. That didn’t exist in this rights structure. We were going down the road to make the movie, but, at the end of the day, economically and/or creatively, they didn’t want to make it.
There’s this clause in the rights that the rights revert back to New Line. As that date became closer and closer, Paramount would have made one Friday the 13th movie and then New Line would have benefited if the movie was great. Then New Line could have followed it up with subsequent movies. It put Paramount in a very tough position to go ahead and actually make the movie, and then us to reap the benefits if it was successful beyond that particular film.
That year, some suggested that because Rings underperformed, Paramount decided not to move forward with any more horror. Do you believe that factored into their decision regarding Friday the 13th?
Yes, I do. That was also a time when sequels were not doing as well. We’re all kind of reactionary when you are making something. You are looking for evidence that tells you that what you are making is right on the cutting edge of where society is going, and you certainly don’t want to make something that feels like the timing is wrong. I wouldn’t say the whole thing fell apart because of that. I certainly think that played into it. But I also think the rights, and now the litigation about the right for Friday the 13th, played into it in a much more substantial way than just how the Rings sequel did.
A lot of the scripts for Friday the 13th make it online. What is so difficult about getting Jason right?
When you talk about backstory, that always seems to frustrate the fans. I understand that. But when you are making a movie for a mass audience, you want to make sure the people understand where the character comes from. You can’t assume all the audience has seen the previous movies. The backstory is always a tricky thing. Then, what Jason is capable of doing, and how it fits into the other movies, is also a bit of a challenge. In some movies, he has been portrayed as not that smart and not that agile.
In our movie, he was really agile. That was something we decided. The same way that zombies were not always moving around quickly and dazingly walking, we thought if we are going to make Jason scary, let’s have him run like a linebacker. That’s why Derek Mears was such a good Jason. There are a lot of reasons he was a great Jason, but he’s such a physical actor. We thought that made the character scarier. The audience comes to it with preconceived notions, which makes it impossible to satisfy everyone about it. That’s the problem. To so many people, that franchise is so important. The things that are important to one person may not be important to the next. It’s hard to satisfy everyone.
Whether it’s Jason or Freddy Krueger, why is there a backlash to fleshing out their backstories?
I think sometimes the audience feels we are pandering and we are explaining things that don’t have to be explained. Frankly, I think sometimes they are bored by it. In our movie, A Quiet Place, we opted to make all of that stuff somewhat elliptical, and the audience responded to that. But, traditionally, the backstory is what I get more emails and tweets about. I know I haven’t given you a clear answer to why that is. Everyone brings their own experience to the movie. If what we are presenting is different than what they were hoping it would be, or what they always thought it would be, it feels unsatisfying to them.
Apparently Platinum Dunes wants another crack at Nightmare on Elm Street. What speaks to you about Freddy Krueger?
Let me clarify that. I would always want to do another Nightmare Elm Street, but there have been no conversations about that at all. I have not heard that. I would love to hear that.
The concept of “If you die in your sleep, you die in real life” is something that is so relatable. Then you put it in the context of the great actors who have played Freddy Krueger and it’s a home run.
When you look back at that 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street, what are some of the things you really nailed, and what did the audiences fail to embrace?
I think we nailed the casting. We put Rooney Mara in her first studio movie. She’s such an amazing actress. She’s been nominated for Academy Awards, and she was the right actress to play that role. I really felt great about that cast. Jackie Earle Haley stepped into some very big shoes and was very committed. It’s hard, because when you have a movie like that come out, you get so many reactions. Some people will react to the wardrobe. At the end of the day, I can say about every movie I have ever made, if it was scarier, people would like it more.
That was the story we were telling. It was a beautiful-looking movie. I like the scares. I was surprised at the negative reactions it was getting. I’m proud of that movie. I thought the visual effects were really good. To me, it felt elevated in terms of the way it looked and the way director Samuel Bayer shot it. It felt like an elegant movie. As a producer, it’s like asking me what the problems are with my kids. I guess I know them, but I want to think they are great. I really did love making that movie and when it came out, I was very proud of it. Up until that date, that was our most successful film at the box office, so it was hard to feel that the movie didn’t work in the way that some of the tweets made it feel.
A Quiet Place scared the pants off of moviegoers this year and caused a lot of noise at the box office. How rewarding was that reception for you?
I don’t even know how to explain that to you. That movie felt like a family. And it was a family because John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are married, and Drew [Form] and John had been on set for Jack Ryan for six months before. I was talking to John during prep a bit. It’s not often, as a producer, that you go into a movie knowing the key people as well as we knew John. That felt very comfortable to us. John, once on set, really wanted that to feel like a family. Actors Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds and John and Emily Blunt spent a tremendous time together, and that’s before we started shooting. When you factor that into John directing the movie and its all being on one location, pretty much for 100 percent of the time, it really felt like a family. I do think that came through on the film.
I will say to you that when Drew and I read the spec script, and we looked at each, we said, “Do we have big enough balls to make a horror movie with three lines of dialogue?” That was a conversation that never ended. It started from the day we read the script, and it went to the day the movie was released. You never know how an audience is going to respond. I knew that John had made a beautiful-looking movie. I knew that Emily and John and the kids had great performances. I knew that Marco Beltrami did a great score. But do all of those things add up to an experience that an audience will leave their house and go to a movie theater for? You just don’t know the answer.
To make it a little bit worse, we as a group had never seen the final film with every visual effect in it, and mixed with the score, until we sat down at the SXSW Festival. Normally, you will show the movie to people and you know how it will work. SXSW was four weeks before the movie opened, so we were right up against it. I can say the single most gratifying experience of my professional career was that screening. At the end of the screening, the audience erupted in cheers. I was sitting next to my wife and my kids. I literally leaned on my wife and cried. It was such a relief, because I had no idea how it was going to play. It was a big risk.
The 2014 Teenage Mutant Turtles reintroduced these heroes in a half shell to old and new moviegoers. Why is now the right time to reboot the franchise?
You never know. We love those characters. We think we have an interesting story. Platinum Dunes and Paramount Pictures are willing to do the research and development to see if it is. If it is, we will push ahead with the movie. At this point, we are trying to figure out the answer to that question.
The Jack Ryan TV series premieres this summer. It doesn’t feel like your normal Platinum Dunes project. What attracted the studio to that property?
I’m going to disagree with you. We had The Last Ship on television for the last five years. It’s a military-centric show. Eric Dane is a heroic guy leading a group of people from stopping horrible things from happening. Because Paramount brought us the rights to the character of Jack Ryan, we jumped at it. I think the reason they thought of us was twofold. Michael Bay had just done 13 Hours, so they knew Michael had some affinity for this type of subject matter. Our show The Last Ship had done fairly well. I think that’s why they came to us. For us, as a television company, I’m always eager to find big, loud stories that fit into something we do. The show is a really big show. We filmed in Paris, Canada…We moved around. It wasn’t like we did a day on location and then we shot on stage somewhere else. We were moving around. I think when something feels big like that, that’s something Michael Bay is known for. When people see the show, people are going to be impressed with what it is.
Platinum Dunes has been on a roll with rebooting and reimagining well-known horror franchises. What other properties would you really like to get your hands on?
The problem that we always come up against is we are a tiny company. It’s always been Michael, Drew, and myself, and now we have a couple of people working for us and helping us read. But we are not a company that has deep, deep development. We work on what we are working on. We try and execute that to the best of our ability. After that, we will look at something else. Right now we are focused on a sequel to A Quiet Place. There are a couple of things we have set up with John. But the property I wanted, that we never got and that my partner Jason Blum got, was Halloween. We really wanted Halloween. But it looks like what Blum has done is awesome. Everything I hear about the movie is so positive. On some level, as a horror fan, I’m super-excited to see that movie. As a producer, that’s the one that got away.