Interview with Jason Blum from Blumhouse Productions
Theres few producers whose names have become as synonymous with horror–and successful horror in particular–as Jason Blum. His Blumhouse Productions was involved with seven movies released this year, nearly one a month, with the latest being the sequel Sinister 2, out on Friday, August 21.
Following up from the events of Scott Dericksons 2012 horror hit Sinister, the sequel follows James Ransones deputy from the first movie, who is now a private investigator chasing after the demon Bagul who has killed off families in elaborate ways, capturing those deaths on film. The deputys search takes him to a single mother (Shannyn Sossamon) living on a farm with her twin sons (Dartanian and Robert Daniel Sloan) who have started to succumb to Baguls frightening ways, and he works with the family to keep them from becoming the demons next victims.
ShockTillYouDrop.com got on the phone with Blum a few weeks back with the knowledge that this interviewer has been wanting to talk to Blum for many years, due to the fascinating career hes had, beginning with the success of the Paranormal Activity movies which helped pave the way for low-budget and found-footage horror movies, all which have proved to be quite profitable. Blum even received an Oscar nomination earlier this year for last years Sundance hit Whiplash.
ShockTillYouDrop: At what point do you decide to do a sequel for a movie like Sinister? Is it basically just Scott (Derickson) having an idea to do another one?
Jason Blum: Well, first of all, the first movie has to be a hit, so thats the first thing. Then, beyond that, its definitely like a filmmaker issue for me. If I can get the original filmmaker excited about a second part of the story, then I go blazing forward. If I cant get the original filmmaker excited about it, its a lot harder for me to get excited about it. So yeah, I guess every sequel weve done, except Paranormal actually, but the second Insidious changed it and James DeMonaco did the second The Purge, so the fact that Scott and Cargill had a very specific idea of what they wanted to do with this story–even though Scott didnt direct it–is usually what gets me excited about a sequel.
Shock: Did Scott have a lot of ideas when he first came to you with the first movie? Did he already establish some rules and things like that or was it something he worked out once the movie was successful?
Jason Blum: I am very superstitious about talking about sequels when youre talking about the first movie, and I dont think Scott and Cargill brought it up much at all. If they did, I dont remember, but if they did, I feel like its really hard to make low-budget original scary movies that connect with a wide audience. To then lay on top of that, Well, if this works, what would we do next? To me, its like one too many rules. I really learned that in Paranormal Activity. Theres no world in which Paranormal Activity logically couldve had a sequel that worked, and there have been five. So I really feel like if you want to do a sequel make the first movie great and cool and interesting. Dont worry so much about the storytelling, and then youll figure out the second one. If I was running Marvel, I would have a very different point of view, obviously. It’s different when youre making $100 million movies or $100 million plus movies, you kind of have to think about where the storytelling is going to go over a series of movies. But when youre making low-budget movies, I feel like its one thing too many to put into the mixing pot.
Shock: I liked the Paranormal Activity franchise more as it went along just because you do learn more. Insidious is also the same thing. The fact that you could actually add more to a story and learn more is the nice thing about television, because you have more time to develop things.
Jason Blum: Yeah, totally, totally, totally. I agree.
Shock: How did you guys end up with Ciaran directing? I assume you saw Citadel and just liked it and thought hed be good for the Sinister sequel?
Jason Blum: Yeah, actually, Derrickson saw Citadel and he brought it to my attention. Then I watched it and I thought it was great and we met. Scott and I sat down with Ciaran in LA and we hired him. He really stepped into a very difficult thing because Scott and Cargill were really involved with Sinister 2, so its hard because you hire someone to have their own voice, but also to listen. He really did a terrific job kind of walking that line and Id love to do another movie with him. There are a couple of things that weve been looking at, but Im looking forward to working with him again.
Shock: Youre having a pretty amazing year. I think at this point, you have had one movie a month, and I think its actually going to be one movie every six weeks from here on. How do you balance all these movies and overseeing everything with all this stuff going on at once?
Jason Blum: Well, its a pretty big company now. We did a panel at the PGA, which I was trying to make that point with the panel, that theres a pretty deep bench at the company, so there are a lot of people doing a lot of different things, so I really have a ton of help. All of our movies are pretty close to the same shape, which makes it easier to make more of them in terms of the budget level. I like to say Yes, not No.
Shock: Its an interesting mix of filmmakers, too, because you have people like James and Scott, who have a lot of experience and ideas. You also have newer filmmakers. I just saw Joel Edgertons first movie as a director, and also Leigh (Whannell) directed his first movie for you and then you worked with M. Night. Its a really interesting mix of filmmakers on different levels, I guess.
Jason Blum: Yeah, and I do like mixing it up. Most of the filmmakers I work with, we dont often work with first-time directors, but occasionally we make an exception and Joel is a good example of that.
Shock: The Gift has a very different feel than some of your other movies. It seems more like a thriller as opposed to horror. Theres a couple of scares in there, but its really very grounded, I guess, compared to some of the other ones.
Jason Blum: Yeah, it is more of a thriller like Boy Next Door was a thriller. It was more in that vein.
Shock: Jem and the Holograms is also going to be a completely different genre, so are you looking at that as far as branching away from horror and using your model for different types of movies?
Jason Blum: No, Im not trying to branch out. I think if we look at something and it meets our other criteria, which is low budget and would work for a wide release, we will do it, but Im not like, on Monday morning saying like, Lets find other stuff besides horror. The focus and the primary kind of movies and TV were looking for, scary movies and television shows. If something else slips through the cracks every so often, then it does, but its not changing what were really looking for.
Shock: You also are going to be getting into distribution with BH-Tilt, which is interesting because youve established a relationship with pretty much almost every studio as distributors. At this point, you have a lot of projects in various stage of development, so do you think you might release some through BH-Tilt or is Elis movie The Green Inferno just a very singular thing?
Jason Blum: No, I hope it grows into something else. I feel like the distribution landscape is changing really quickly and no one knows where its going to go, so I just kind of wanted to be ready to change with it. Again, I dont know how its going to happen, but definitely, people are going to see movies differently soon. So, we kind of wanted to be poised and ready for that, and thats what BH-Tilt is, but I think BH-Tilt will try all different things eventually. You know, we have Eli Roths movie, which is the biggest theatrical release BH-Tilt has done. Its opening on 1,000 plus screens or whatever in September, so we are trying that, but weve never done that before. So we are trying different things. Thats The Green Inferno movie.
Shock: Whats going on with Ti Wests movie, the Western hes directing? I remember I talked to Ethan Hawke about that last year as well.
Jason Blum: Yeah, its really cool. It came out great and were going to try and put it in a festival or two and see where it goes from there, but Im psyched about it. Im psyched for people to see it.
Shock: He also comes from the low-budget horror route having done movies for Larry Fessenden, so I was curious about this being a bigger budget movie for him, Id assume?
Jason Blum: Yeah, the biggest budget hes ever had for a Western. (laughs) Yeah, for sure.
Shock: The other thing youve been doing is going into more licensed properties and known properties like Amityville, Ouija. Could you talk about trying to balance the original ideas and building upon those, while also taking things that are existing and creating new versions of them?
Jason Blum: Yeah, I feel like working with an established IP (intellectual property) is kind of like doing a sequel, like you have parameters that you have to work within. I think if I only did that, it would be not fun, but I think its fun to go back and forth, just like youre saying. So just like its fun to do sequels and originals, I feel like doing both, they both get better and kind of compliment each other or we get better at doing both kinds of movies. I feel like when youre working off an established IP like Amityville or the Ouija movies, I do believe in that parameters make movies better, that when you put directors into the confines of a budget and sometimes certain creative confines, I feel like it pushes them creatively, and oftentimes, you get a better result. So I think its interesting. Its kind of like a puzzle to me and I kind of like solving them. People are very cynical about remakes and sequels, so people walk into the movie theater rolling their eyes and I like the challenge of trying to turn that response around. I think its always fun being the underdog. I kind of like this one. The reason I love horror movies is because fans, people who like horror movies, like me are kind of weird and outside the system and I kind of like all that. With Ouija, too, its like, Oh, youre going to make another Ouija? and its like, Oh my God, this is pretty good. Sometimes not, but I like that people walk into it cynical and trying to turn them around. We dont always do it, but I like the challenge of that.
Shock: It must be different working with filmmakers like Scott or Night, who can really do their own thing, so I assume that its a little more hands off? I feel youre really filmmaker friendly, but then you also have some things like those license things. You have to keep more of an eye on them. Is that the case, where you can just let M. Night go do his movie and offer notes?
Jason Blum: Yeah, its hard to make people do things differently, but we have a very different relationship to the movies that we do. I would say people have talked about being on the set, Im like, if Im on the set a lot, then somethings not going well. So with Night or with Scott or James or people who have a lot of experience, hopefully Im not on the set very much at all, and usually havent been, although the first Sinister, I was a lot. Nothing to do with Scott Derrickson, but we had production issues on that movie. But yes, for the filmmakers who have more experience, as long as were on budget, were hands off, which is not to say were not noisy and that we give a lot. I got into trouble by saying this because the director told me, You gave us notes all the time, which we do, but we dont force our hand on the notes. We give notes and we then say, Its up to you. You know, Joels movie is the best example of that. We gave him a bunch of notes and a bunch of thoughts, and some of them he did and some of them he didnt, and the movie thats out there, theres one big note that I had that he didnt do, and he didnt do it and its okay.
Shock: Im really looking forward to your upcoming lineup because I see the directors youre working with from Brad Peyton to Greg McLean to Phil Joanou who doesnt make many movies these days.
Jason Blum: Yeah, he made a great movie about Thomas Jane playing a guy, not exactly like Jim Jones, but its based on that and its pretty cool.
Shock: Im sure with the amount of movies youre releasing in the next year, well have another chance to talk and I look forward to it.
Jason Blum: Good. Well, thanks. Im glad we finally got a chance to speak.
Sinister 2 opens nationwide on Friday, August 21. Look for our interview with director Ciaran Foy soon.
(Photo Credit: Parisa/FAMEFLYNET PICTURES)