These days, it’s hard to count on any one brand of horror to deliver time and time again. In fact, most of the brands of yesteryear have faded away, with some of the auteurs like Wes Craven, Clive Barker, John Carpenter and others moving onto other things or lacking the punch they once did with their films. However, filling the void in recent years when it comes to consistent, crowd-pleasing horror has been producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions has become the premiere name in the genre since his first venture into the scares with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY back in 2009.
Building a production company built upon micro-budget projects with widespread appeal, Blum has built a bit of a horror empire for himself since then, fostering PARANORMAL ACTIVITY into a long-standing franchise now heading into its fourth and fifth chapters, while also being behind budding series like SINISTER (which has a sequel in the works) and THE PURGE (also seeing a follow-up in development). INSIDIOUS was another entry into his impressive resume producing horror, and now two years after the first film, he’s involved once again for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, which sees a number of characters returning to expand upon the greater story of The Further and the Lambert family’s connection to it.
In Miami to talk about the new film, I had a chance to sit down with Blum to talk about the business model for Blumhouse, why it’s been so successful and some of the various projects that have come under their banner over the years. But before we got into the more frightening material, I figured it’d be best to start at the beginning, namely his first dealings with a major studio on a much maligned film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson… and away we go. Enjoy.
Jason Blum – I like your shirt. [Points to Guns N’ Roses t-shirt beneath my jacket]
The Infamous Billy The Kidd – Thank you… To start, you’ve been doing a lot of work with Blumhouse now that everything is going through you, but I wanted to go back at least to your first involvement with a studio with is THE TOOTH FAIRY.
Jason Blum – Nice! I like it.
The Kidd – Which, I’m sure you’re well aware, has been hammered time and time again over the years. So what was kind of the story with how THE TOOTH FAIRY came together and what drew you into doing THE TOOTH FAIRY and did you expect it to snowball into what it eventually became?
Jason Blum – You mean into horror movies?
The Kidd – Well snowball more into the reception that TOOTH FAIRY got. Did you expect doing that kind of family film with The Rock that it would have been hit hard so much upon release to kind of the legend that it has now.
Jason Blum – What is the legend of THE TOOTH FAIRY? I honestly have no idea. That it’s really bad?
The Kidd – Yes, but also up until what The Rock became what he is now, it was “How is The Rock making these movies? Why is The Rock making these movies?”
Jason Blum – But he did that other movie before, the football movie where he wears the tutu.
The Kidd – He did do the football movie… But before he became this big action movie guy it was like, “Why isn’t The Rock making these films?”
Jason Blum – Well he was doing a lot of comedies.
The Kidd – Yes, he was trying to branch out a little bit. But where you are now, doing horror, and I know now you’re steering your own ship, but then you had studio involvement, so can you talk a little bit about that?
Jason Blum – Yeah. So I started working as an executive for ten years, and then I made like ten independent movies and nobody ever saw them, and I was like, “I can’t take this anymore, I want to make a big studio movie that a lot of people are going to go see.” That’s why I made THE TOOTH FAIRY. So I made this big studio movie and a lot of people did go see it. I actually thought the release of the movie was great. The way a studio releases a movie is impossible to compete with. But I thought the making of the movie… I found it personally very frustrating because any movie that’s very expensive a lot of people are involved in the decisions. So right after THE TOOTH FAIRY came out, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY came out, and that was kind of the mix of my two careers. It was an independently made movie but it was released by a studio. So I had spent half my career with studios and half with independent, and I thought if there was a way to build a business where you adme movies independently and had studios release them, that’s what I’d like to do. That’s what THE TOOTH FAIRY gave me: a launching pad in my head for what the company has become now.
The Kidd – And did it then help you be able to navigate the studio system?
Jason Blum – Yeah, it did a lot. It was crucial to what I do now to work that closely with a studio and work with all the different departments in a studio and to know how all the different departments relate to each other. So it was a great learning experience for me.
The Kidd – Blumhouse is now… It’s not just horror films. It’s more than just a production company, it’s become its own brand. It’s a brand of horror that when people see that Blumhouse is attached to it, they kind of have an idea of what they’re going to get or they have a mindset of what the quality of the film is going to be going forth. What do you look for in a project in order to bring it under the banner? Is it possible financial success? Is it the quality of it? What makes a film a Blumhouse film?
Jason Blum – Well, really simply boiled down… First of all: Low budget. So it can’t have… you know… buildings falling down. Not too many special effects. And then it has to be high concept, and most things that are kinda low budget and high concept are scary movies, and that’s what we do. It’s not exclusively what we do, but it’s most of what we do. And so we look for movies that can be made for a certain amount of money but can be marketed broadly. That’s really what we look for. And beyond that, I look for compelling stories. We always do this thing in our meetings where we say, “If you took out all the scares, is the story that’s being told here compelling?” Are you gonna want to sit on the edge of your seat and wonder, “What’s the character going to do next?” I think that’s a very important part to making the movies that we make. A lot of people talk about scary movies and they’re like, “What are the scares? What are the scares?” The scares in scary movies are pretty similar. There’s not that many new scares. What makes scares really effective, I think, is what happens in between the scares. And if the storytelling is really good and the acting is really good, and you’re creating a certain amount of suspense, when you do a scare, it’s much more effective. That’s what we focus on a lot when we’re making the movies.
The Kidd – There’s this franchise war in Hollywood going on now where everyone’s trying to get these properties. When you’re looking at these properties, things like THE PURGE or INSIDIOUS or PARANORMAL, are you looking down the line at what these films could become? Or are you looking at it one at a time?
Jason Blum – No. We totally take it one at a time. I think it’s really hard… It’s hard to make any movie connect with an audience. It’s particularly hard to make a micro-budget movie connect with an audience. So when we’re developing the movies and the writer says, “This could be a franchise,” I always say, “Put that thought away.” Because if the movie is successful, you can figure out what the second movie is going to be. I think you want to focus the filmmaker’s energy on making a great movie, so I really discourage people from thinking about what a sequel will be. That’s a benefit of working with a low budget. If you’re making a movie for 100 million dollars, that’s irresponsible. You have to think about what the next movies are going to be. But one of the many fun things about making a low budget movie is that you don’t have to think about that. You just have to focus on making a really good movie and worry about the sequel later.
The Kidd – With Blumhouse, it’s kind of the opposite of the model of what the studios are doing. Everyone is going bigger and more expensive and you seem to stay right around the same area, sometimes even going smaller. Why hasn’t Hollywood figured out or failed to grasp that concept of doing smaller movies that have the potential to make a lot of money and to create something new and fresh for them as opposed to having bloated budgets, 100, 150, 200 million dollars… As we see, Hollywood is struggling to support those films and if you look during the summer, you have a lot of these smaller, different films. So why do you think the studios aren’t getting that?
Jason Blum – Studios are built to distribute movies, which they’re spectacular at. And they’re built to make expensive movies. By definition, a low budget movie… We make all of our movies outside of the system. When you’re making a low budget movie, part of the trick… well there are a lot of tricks, but one of the biggest ones is that the decision making process has to be really fast and fluid. You can’t have a big public corporation overseeing a four million dollar movie. So I think they’re going to acquire more of these movies, but I don’t think that studios are going to start producing these movies. Unless they set up their own separate divisions to do it, and even then it’s very tricky.
The Kidd – Obviously with INSIDIOUS, the finances made sense to do another one. The first one was made for a very small amount of money and really hit with the horror crowd. Where does the creative come into that, in striking the balance between, “Obviously it makes sense for us to do a sequel because we can make a lot of money off of it, but in the process making sure it’s a story worth telling.” Is there any fear of “A one-off is fine for us. We’ll just pull the plug and do one and we’ll be okay”?
Jason Blum – This is a different way to answer your question, but for me, the most important thing with a sequel is getting… Not all the time but most of the time… To get the people who made the first movie to come back and do it. There was a lot of pressure after we made the first INSIDIOUS, like “Let’s go make a second movie and we can do it with someone else.” And I think that movie never would have been as good. As long as James [Wan] and Leigh [Whannell] were saying, “We might make a sequel if we’re inspired and we get a great idea,” I would always say, “I’d rather wait on the possibility that they may do it than just hire someone else to do the sequel.”
The Kidd – Because you run the risk of whoever the new regime is missing…
Jason Blum – The DNA of the movie.
The Kidd – Yes. Exactly.
Jason Blum – There’s DNA in a movie, and the director and the writer are the ones who have the DNA of these movies in them, so that to me is the biggest thing. If the director and writer want to do a sequel, I’m always all in. If they don’t want to do it… I shouldn’t say never because with PARANORMAL, Oren [Peli] didn’t want to do the sequels so I wouldn’t say I never do it… But it’s a lot tougher to do. It’s a lot more labor intensive if you don’t have the same writer and director doing it. If we had a big successful movie and we didn’t make a sequel it’s because the writer and director didn’t want to do it and there’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t pursue it.
The Kidd – How quickly did James and Leigh know that they had it?
Jason Blum – Two years. It was a long time. I kept saying it to them and they were like, “Eh, maybe, maybe not.” I think we’re in a different time with sequels now when it was twenty years ago, or even fifteen years ago, like when SAW first came out, there was a stigma around sequels. And now… J.J. Abrams does sequels, Michael Bay, every huge director. So I said to James, “You created this thing from nothing, and you don’t want to… There’s going to be a lot of pressure to make a second movie. And I’ll wait as long as you want until you find something that inspires you, but I think if you just say, “I’m never gonna do it,” you’re giving this thing that you made to someone else and you shouldn’t give that away.” And it took two years for him to respond to that point of view, but he finally did.
The Kidd – I want to ask you about the PARANORMAL series. I’ve been a fan of the PARANORMAL series since the beginning, and I know there are some people who aren’t crazy about found footage films, but I defend the PARANORMAL films to the death.
Jason Blum – Good! Good!
The Kidd – My question is, because of the shift in the schedule now, with [PARANORMAL ACTIVITY] 5 being taken out of this calendar year, and now looking at THE MARKED ONES at the beginning of January, is there an idea to go forth to make sure you have it ready for October?
Jason Blum – Yeah. We’re very actively working on that movie right now. Definitely. And it will be ready in October. We’re not moving. [Laughs]
The Kidd – The line has been drawn in the sand.
Jason Blum – The line has been drawn! We’re not moving.
The Kidd – My other question, too, is that Paramount takes JACKASS and they put it in this slot and I think people had heard about the latino spin-off, which is becoming THE MARKED ONES. Why do you think that there’s no horror films in October? Because for some reason, and the horror community seems to observe it and are puzzled by it, there never seems to be any horror films around October other than maybe one. So for the past few years it’s been PARANORMAL…
Jason Blum – No, last year we had SINISTER and then we had PARANORMAL… and there’s definitely a horror movie this October…
The Kidd – CARRIE is, I think it, in early October.
Jason Blum – In early October, and then I think there’s one at the end of the month, too.
The Kidd – But there seems to be this sort of resistance to it. With Halloween, October would seem to be a prime launching ground.
Jason Blum – I think there were too many last year. There was SINISTER, there was PARANORMAL, and then right at the beginning of November there was another one and I feel like people felt that SINISTER and PARANORMAL kinda cannibalized each other a little bit. But in terms of moving THE MARKED ONES, I was all for that because I think it’s good to kinda shake things up a little bit. So I like that idea, and that January date is a good date. After Christmas, people are tired of art-house films. They need a good scare.
The Kidd – They’re like, “No more Oscar films… Give us something completely different.”
Jason Blum – That’s right.
The Kidd – I know you’re working with Joe Carnahan for STRETCH, which is something that’s very different from what Blumhouse would normally do because your track record is all horror. STRETCH feels like something completely different.
Jason Blum – Not completely different. It’s an action-comedy, and it’s still low-budget, high concept. it’s the same idea of a director who has a good track record who has total creative control. So it fits into my paradigm, it’s just not a horror movie. It is all the other boxes are kinda ticked on that movie. We shot it on a very short schedule, we shot it in LA… Production-wise it felt very much like a Blumhouse movie.
The Kidd – Well you talk about a director with creative control. How easy is it for you to give that up to a filmmaker and say, “Go make the movie that you want to make.” Because I talked to Scott Derrickson, and he told me, on the record, that Jason Blum is the producer that a filmmaker wants. So how easy is that?
Jason Blum – It’s not easy. But I bite my tongue and we do it. We give a ton of thoughts through the whole process, but the difference is that we don’t say, “You have to do this.” Sometimes, and it all depends on the filmmaker, it’s very tough. You have to be very disciplined to do it. But the fact that we make the movies inexpensively makes it slightly easier to do. Because we can’t get wildly hurt. We don’t have 100 million dollars on the line. So even if the director is making a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. No one is going to lose money. To answer your question, it’s hard. Occasionally it can be very hard. But we force ourselves to do it. Almost always! [Laugh]
The Kidd – Let me ask you one final question about AREA 51, because you talked recently about it. Obviously this is a project that Orin dove right into following the first PARANORMAL. It’s been four years now in development.
Jason Blum – At least!
The Kidd – And you said that hopefully one day we’ll see it.
Jason Blum – That it’ll come out to the real world.
The Kidd – Have you got any indication as to when that might be? Or how close it is?
Jason Blum – It’s not that we’re waiting for a date, the movie isn’t ready to come out. We’re still working on the movie. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY we worked on for… not four years, but we worked on for two and a half. Found footage movies take a ton of work in post production. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY we went back and shot… thirty times? I don’t know. So we’re still futzing on AREA 51. It’s not that we’re waiting for someone to say…
The Kidd – No, I didn’t say that, but in knowing what you have already…
Jason Blum – I have no idea.
The Kidd – …and still tooling with it…
Jason Blum – I have no idea.
The Kidd – …it’s still…
Jason Blum – I have no idea.
The Kidd – …Okay.
Jason Blum – Could be six months, could be eighteen months, could be twenty-four months. I have no idea.
The Kidd – Could be four more years.
Jason Blum – Could be four more years. Could be for my kids!
The Kidd – Thank you very much.
Jason Blum – Nice to meet you.
The Kidd – Nice to meet you, too.