Well, this is an interesting topic to discuss. With critics and audiences going wild for horror movies like Happy Death Day, Get Out, and The Purge, it feels like the only things that get a theatrical release are horror, superhero movies, reboots, Disney, or big Blockbuster spectacle.
Thus, horror will be the topic of the day. Why? Because it’s the genre that Blumhouse has best utilised in the transmedia space and is what has truly distinguished is from its competitors.
It certainly seems that Blumhouse is one of the more social-media tech-savvy companies out there, especially when it comes to connecting with their younger target demographic. There is also their dramatic side of things – with Blackkklansman, and Whiplash but that certainly appears to be a separate wing of their core horror identity.
But how exactly have they used the multi-platform to carve out a name for themselves in a digitally-disrupted industry?
HORROR, POLITICS, AND AUTHENTICITY
Especially with modern horror like Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out, on top of other successful responses to Halloween (2018) it’s clear that Blumhouse and the horror genre is on a bit of a hot streak at the moment.
This isn’t a coincidence, seeing as the horror genre often flourishes in times of political change. The difference now? Our politics and social interactions have been transformed through social media.
With young people especially, there is a conscious attempt at merging horror, experience, and the online space into creating a multi-platform identity.
This is where Blumhouse really shines – and they were a decade ahead of the game.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE 2007 PHENOMENON!
It may seem like a long time ago now, but 2007 was a revolutionary year for film marketing. iPhones were just entering the picture, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were these young and upcoming “Social Medias”, the credit crisis hasn’t yet turned a generation off of capitalism and commodities, instead of streaming services we had DVD delivery and rental … and everyone was hyped about Hairspray.
But in a time when the MCU had yet to blow us away, we had Paranormal Activity take the world by storm. How? Crowdsourcing.
Now, I don’t think we’ve properly discussed “Crowdsourcing” yet on this blog. So, for a basic explanation, crowdsourcing is a means by which companies or institutions outsource a function to a large network of people – usually online – and have them contribute in some way to the product.
View it as a close cousin to “Crowdfunding”. But where crowdfunding involves raising funds and a financial investment on behalf of supporters, crowdsourcing doesn’t rely on a financial element.
For producers, this can be interacting with a fan base to give ideas/feedback during the development or marketing process – with some great results.
When it comes to transmedia, I prefer to view crowdsourcing as another way of getting a community engaged through another platform – with the potential of impacting the narrative (or understanding of narrative.)
The earliest online example of this fan-engaged narrative is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project which used the online space to create a faux police reports, mysterious paranormal events, and a mythos about the “real” events.
It was one of the best uses of creating a Hyper-Reality in the history of film marketing.
But it was Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity that really evolved this concept into an ingenious marketing campaign.
Paranormal Activity had a similar approach when it came to word of mouth but evolved the online concept to incorporate elements of ownership and active participation to influence the distribution of the film. On the website for Paranormal Activity was a box with the words ‘Demand it!’ where participants were able to vote on the movie to play at their local cinema. With this, Paramount had the tools to determine which cities would best respond to the film, and where to launch the limited releases and spreading word-of-mouth.
Demanding cinemas show a “forbidden” film? Now that’s how you make an enticing marketing campaign – and this was far from the first time Blumhouse would use the online space like this.
THE PURGE: BLUMHOUSE’S MODERN TRANSMEDIA
Moving away from the marketing campaigns of the past, Blumhouse has evolved to have more of a brand identity. When you market yourself as a young indie horror production company, online social media savvy is everything. Blumhouse got on top of this in the 2000s and has since managed to run successful campaigns for their other films.
But creating a transmedia property is a slightly different skill. It isn’t so much about creating a brand, it’s about creating a narrative and a world across multiple platforms.
When it comes to genre, producers will instinctively think of Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres when using a transmedia space.
This isn’t too surprising. After all, what better way to explore an extensive fictional universe than by creating multiple avenues to explore and engage with it?
However, Blumhouse uses these avenues a little differently, seeing as their horror is more often than not character-driven and set in the “real world” with properties like Happy Death Day and Get Out. We don’t really need a tie-in video game or TV series to explore the history of the creepy white family in Get Out, without it feeling like an inauthentic cash grab.
As such, their most noteworthy traditional use of transmedia is undoubtedly their The Purge franchise. What started off as a high-concept horror premise (making crime and murder legal for one day of the year in a dystopian America) has since been transformed into a movie series, and a TV series continuing the premise in another format.
Having seen all the movies and series, I can say that they complement each other perfectly. The series doesn’t feel at all like a spin-off, and with the increased runtime you get in television there’s a greater way to develop the world of the franchise.
Moreover, the marketing of this franchise encouraged “Purge Parties” complete with creepy masks and a social media campaign – very smart for turning a film into an event.
This is where transmedia can be used effectively to transform a single property into something that can truly resonate with today’s platform-neutral consumer.
We now see Blumhouse tinkering with other possible series formats to further explore their universe, like the rumours about their upcoming Sinister TV series.
There are also rumours of a Blumhouse Cinematic Universe – that’s still up in debate at the moment, and something that I’m sure their development teams are presently discussing.
Then again … we do now have Happy Death Day dealing with multiverses and time dilation. Could be an interesting first stepping stone?
RISE OF THE PODCASTS!
I mentioned earlier about the horror genre thriving in terms of social and political change – often with a liberal bent to their storytelling.
Although this isn’t specifically regarding narrative and story, Blumhouse has done something pretty unique in exploring Podcasts.
The first launch was Shock Waves in 2016 – a podcast under the Blumhouse banner dedicated to discussing the ins and outs of the horror genre.
This is fascinating – especially from a film production company.
There isn’t a danger of being sold something with a podcast. It’s just a group of people discussing stuff about movies they like – in this case, with the Blumhouse production name behind it.
It comes back to selling an identity. Having a production company do a podcast like this is a fantastic way to create a brand across the multi-platform.
Unsurprisingly, I do recommend this podcast – if you’re like me and prefer the slightly analytical side of the film medium.
But the one I listen to most frequently is Attack of the Queerwolf – which I can honestly say has one of the best logos of a podcast I’ve ever seen (sorry Shock Waves).
Hosted by the self-proclaimed “token queers” at Blumhouse (Mark Fortin, Michael Kennedy, and Nay Bever) they explore the horror canon and discuss the LGBT themes present in some classic horror movies.
Both of these podcasts are great in cementing the sort of ideological brand that Blumhouse wants to ascribe to – especially given the social resonance of the horror genre.
In terms of using the multi-platform, these podcasts may not contribute to a narrative, but they do create a more intimate connection between consumer and producer.
For a production company this is a great way to put a human face on your brand, and I suspect we’ll see more companies exploring with these techniques in the not-to-distant future.
BLUMHOUSE BOOKS – GOING ANALOGUE IN A DIGITAL WORLD
I saved this section for last, purely because it’s a rather strange thing to see in film production.
Oftentimes, companies will want to explore other mediums to market their product – it’s why we get things like the “Official Novelisation” of something like Captain Marvel. More often than not, books are an adaptation of visual source material.
But one of the more unique aspects of Blumhouse’s approach to a digital media world, is their series of original horror books.
Often presented as a collection of short stories, beginning in 2015 Blumhouse invested in a form of media that I believe film producers have more-often-than-not overlooked.
Personally speaking, I’m not too big a fan of adapting films to books – purely because it’s a visual medium being condensed in a written format. It’s one thing to visualise a scene when reading a book, but then you have that scene already in a visual format. It’s just weird to me – again … personally speaking.
But creating original content in a different medium – now that’s something I enjoy!
The book market is undoubtedly different to the film market and targets a different audience. But it is no-less affected by the changes created by digital disruption.
With audiobooks, kindles, reading apps, and Amazon services, there are more ways to read books than ever before – and on the same device as you consume other forms of media.
Now, I’ve only checked out a few of the Blumhouse books (Meddling Kids is possibly my favourite). But what became apparent was that they are separate from their other releases.
It continues the Blumhouse brand in another market. And I do hope that we can get a greater synergy between these stories and their cinematic releases in the next decade.
This literary venture is still only a few years old, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out in the long run – I personally don’t know too many people who know about these, but I do recommend them.
It would be interesting to see how these could be used in the future; whether or not we could explore the political background of The Purge or something similar – the potential is there.
But as for Blumhouse’s other avenues beyond film, it’s just about building a world across mediums, so much as it is about creating an identity; creating a multi-platform identity.
A TRANSMEDIA BLUMIVERSE?
They may want to change the name from “Blumiverse” but I think there’s great potential in expanding Blumhouse’s transmedia coverage.
Unsurprisingly, the talk of a Cinematic Universe is on the mindset of all successful studios. Jason Blum has not only hinted at saving Universal’s Dark Universe, but also creating his own Blumhouse universe through pre-established horror properties – so, thankfully, no crossovers between The Purge and Whiplash.
But I think there’s greater potential in investing in multi-platform content – especially with their book lineup. Whereas Marvel appears to now be prioritising their cinematic releases, I think Blumhouse’s use of the multi-platform naturally lends itself to transmedia.
Most importantly, creating a shared universe across multiple platforms offers much more room to develop certain properties.
Jason Blum doesn’t seem averse to using new and developing mediums to reach consumers. With his investment in Crypt TV – short-content producers for social media outlets, there could be potential in expanding upon established stories and characters from other properties.
With Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, who’s to say that the third instalment couldn’t build up the finale through social media content and a crowdsourcing experience in the same vain as Paranormal Activity, or develop a minor character to unite multiple franchises before a cinematic release?
Even with the successful podcasts under their belt, could it not be possible to do a fictional podcast hosted by some of the survivors of their past horror franchises? I mean, it’d be weird – but in a fun, experimental, promotional sort of way.
The technology is there, and I like to think that a company as innovative as Blumhouse can use these social outlets creatively to forge a transmedia cinematic universe.
Blumhouse has really built up a lot of goodwill with its core demographics over the years and have proven themselves masterful at creating low-budget scares with big box office returns.
As such … I entirely believe they can pull off a multi-franchise cinematic universe. After all, they’ve already succeeded with creating a transmedial Purge franchise, and breathed new life into Unbreakable, so who knows?
They already have their brand and identity clearly mapped out online, they’ve successfully used online Crowdsourcing, and they’ve built up an intimate connection with their consumer base, so what’s stopping them mapping out a multi-platform cinematic universe?
It would make sense for them to unite some of these titles to offer a sense of context for their best-known properties.
And what better way to do that than through transmedia storytelling?