CS Interview: Jason Blum Talks Happy Death Day and More!
Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions are releasing Happy Death Day this weekend, and ComingSoon.net had the chance to speak to prolific producer Jason Blum (Split, Get Out, Whiplash) about the Groundhog Day-style thriller, as well as his thoughts on Universal’s Dark Universe and M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass!
Blumhouse produces an original and inventive rewinding thriller in Happy Death Day, in which a college student (Jessica Rothe, La La Land) relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.
Happy Death Day is directed by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and written by noted comic book scribe Scott Lobdell and Landon. The film also stars Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Jason Bayle, Phi Vu, and Donna Duplantier.
ComingSoon.net: So, I really enjoyed Chris Landon’s previous film, “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.” At the time I thought it was a silly-looking movie that I did not think I was going to like, but did. And now here is “Happy Death Day,” which also has kind of a silly premise. I came in thinking I wasn’t going to like it, but then it really won me over. What is it you think that Landon brings to the table to make these premises palatable?
Jason Blum: Well we did horror movies before this together, so we know each other really well. And he really really loves ’80s horror movies and I think that that really helps. It is more that he’s also a super talented writer-director. He really knows how to do those two things really well. He is in a great moment in his career, and I’ve been trying to do something with him that was not a “Paranormal Activity” movie for a couple of years, so it was really exciting to finally get to do this. But he understands this genre as well as any person I know.
CS: And obviously this is another of several recent riffs on the “Groundhog Day” formula – which is acknowledged in the film. But even though it is marketed as a horror twist on that formula, it is really at heart a mystery. What was the process for developing the central mystery, of having just the right amount of red herrings, plot twists, etc.
Blum: It was originally written by someone else. It had been around for ten years and Chris reengineered the script. He put the mystery into it and turned it into what “Happy Death Day” is now. I think it is more of a horror movie than anything else, and I think for a mystery it has a lot of comedy in it. I think it is also a coming-of-age story, basically a lot of different genres all wrapped up into a scary movie package.
CS: It is a lot of things “Groundhog Day” wasn’t, like being told from a female perspective for instance. And I heard someone described it as sort of a “CW horror movie.” It is a very different take, I mean, were those all things that spoke to you?
Blum: Well “CW Horror Movie,” I wouldn’t really say that spoke to me, but I think definitely the idea about trying to maintain a balance between horror and comedy, that for sure was something that we talked about. It is something I think Chris achieved in the movie. It is hard to make a movie funny and scary at the same time.
CS: It never occurred to me until after I saw it that it was rated PG-13. I was watching it the whole way through assuming it was rated R. It was kind of surprising to me because it felt like a rated-R film for some reason. What do you think is the right approach to do horror sans that level of gore without losing the intensity?
Blum: We always talked about it as a PG-13 movie and it was the level of intensity that was important to us. This film is a horror film, but it is not straight scary. There is a little more to it than horror, and so we really shot the movie with that in mind. We edited it with that in mind too, so we planned on having it PG-13 from the beginning.
CS: I’ve seen and heard several sources at this point saying Universal is considering shifting from the big-budget model to a lower-budget “Blumhouse” model for some of the upcoming Dark Universe movies. But I keep hearing that you are not actually involved, is that true?
Blum: No, we’re not currently involved in Dark Universe, but it’s intriguing.
CS: To me it seems like a no-brainer to get you involved with that, because obviously you know this world so well. You know how to make those work as horror movies. Is it too much of the “corporate machinery” for your taste?
Blum: Well, I never heard that they were doing a low budget, so that’s news to me. Also I’m not really interested. The reason that it works is we have a great relationship with Universal, so I think if I wanted to do it they could be very open to it, but I would only do it low budget. So far, the only conversation around those movies is sort of bigger tent-pole versions of that, which doesn’t make sense for our company.
CS: Right, but it’s interesting that you brought that up though because you do have Glass coming up. Would it be fair to say that that would be a Blumhouse movie on a bigger scale than we’ve seen before?
Blum: I think that’s certainly true. It’s not that different because our sequels are not low budget like I’m talking about. They are still less presented than traditional Hollywood Studio sequels, but they are more expensive than our originals. “Glass” is a sequel, so it makes sense that it would be a little bit more expensive.
CS: It is interesting because it’s a sequel to a series where the first one was a very expensive Big Studio movie. And I know there were some hurdles to get the Bruce Willis cameo at the end of “Split.” Were there even more corporate hurdles to go through to get a movie where Bruce Willis is front-and-center?
Blum: What was really nice is that M. Night was one hundred percent responsible for bringing back everyone who came back. It was all him, his relationships, his negotiating, he did all of that. I just watched with great admiration and awe.
CS: He has so brilliantly ported the superhero genre over to the thriller genre with those movies, especially with the first one, which was very much ahead of the curve on super heroes. But now that comic book movies are ubiquitous, what new things do you think he has to bring to the genre, or a new perspective?
Blum: Oh, he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve, I can tell you that.
CS: Fair enough, fair enough, when do you start shooting on that?
Blum: Uhh, soon. I think soon. [EDIT: Since this conversation shooting has already begun on Glass.]
CS: You’re also making a lot of inroads into TV with “The Purge” and “Tremors.” Can you talk a little bit about what that experience is like? Has it been a little bit out of your comfort zone?
Blum: Yeah, we’ve been ramping up TV a lot. I wouldn’t say it’s out of my comfort zone because I feel like there is a lot of similarities, especially because we do low-budget movies, which are kind of shot like episodic television. The physical production feels very familiar to usm but we have “The Purge,” we have a handful of documentaries that we are doing and we have “Tremors,” we have another project we are about to shoot. We’re really ramping up TV and really trying to move our TV to people into our movie company. We are a lot closer to doing that than we were twelve months ago. And I’m happy about that because we just finished “Sharp Objects” for HBO. It has been a lot of fun to exercise a different level of my brain.