Jason Blum is the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, the production company that with it’s innovative business model that is behind the hugely successful Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Purge franchise. Of the latter The Purge: Anarchy is in cinemas now and he took time out from his busy schedule to talk with us.
Hi Jason, how are you today?
Everything’s going very well, very well indeed. Lots of Purge:
With the original film there was a sense that there were so many stories going on in that world. Do you think then that it was inevitable The Purge: Anarchy was going to happen?
Well if the first movie hadn’t worked then no but we always wanted to and while making The Purge we talked about what it could be. Then when we screened the first movie and everyone who liked it said that they wanted to see what was going on outside of the house on the street, so that’s what we made.
Do you feel then that even though there are the several interconnected stories in this film, there’s so much more to tell?
I hope so. I feel that there are at least two more movies that James (DeMonaco) and I have ideas for. Of all the things I’ve worked on this world lends itself the most to additional stories so I hope we can. It’s such a cool and strange idea and whether it’s the revolutionaries or the Founding Fathers there’s just so much going on.
You’ve been instrumental in guiding how horror has developed in recent years. I wondered what you thought was the biggest single change or development?
That’s a good question. I think the biggest change, and this is cyclical so it will ramp up and then go away, is that it’s all got more competitive. More people are now doing horror so you need a film to offer more. With Paranormal Activity it was enough just to be scary but now it feels like a movie has to have an edge and more of a cultural concept and impact. I wonder how the first Insidious would have done if it opened now rather than 3 years ago. Now we have a franchise established so more are on their way but that’s definitely different. It will shift again though.
That said then do you think a film like Paranormal Activity, or The Blair Witch Project years before, can break out now; something that’s just an idea and no budget?
I think 100% it will happen but it will be nothing like either of those films and that’s why it will happen. Who knows what’s it’s going to be?
Is that because they’re found footage films? For many that’s the way into the business as they can be made cheaply even though they attract criticism.
I think that the found footage thing is definitely cooling off but the style as a form of filmmaking, for better or for worse, will never go away. Someone will always figure out a new story to tell and it will come back. It’s not going to leave! (laughs)
With your company Blumhouse Productions you have a very specific model. I wondered if you can explain your philosophy.
All our movies are low budget and we do that for one reason – to have total creative control. We make a deal with our directors that they make a film for very little money and they work for very little money but they get to do whatever they want. That’s basically it.
Has any film tested or broken the criteria?
Oh definitely! The Purge: Anarchy breaks the rule! Although for us that means a $9 million movie as opposed to a $3 million dollar movie, which is still cheap for a sequel in Hollywood. We break the rule on all of our sequels. Once we have a title that’s established we’ll always spend a little more money. If a film works then we’ll back it but they’re still cheap for sequels. We’ve never made an original movie for more than $5 million dollars though.
Has there been a film then that has surprised you then with how successful or unsuccessful it has been?
Oh my God! I’m surprised with every movie we make! About half go out into the world and do well and the other half go straight to DVD or VOD. If I weren’t surprised and we knew prior then we’d just make the successful ones. I’m always surprised though when one of them catches and is a big hit and vice versa. It happens on a daily basis. If I was right all the time that would be boring! (laughs)
Given the way you do make films then as a writer’s and director’s medium do you sit down with them and worry or discuss whether a film will be commercially or critically successful?
I read every review and if they’re bad they really bother me. I think it’s really hard to design a movie to get a great critical response.
Commercially though, yes. When a filmmaker comes to us we give them notes throughout the process. We give notes on what crew to hire, what actors to cast, and on the cut too. The difference is we don’t force them to take the advice which is not unusual in Europe but really is in Hollywood. More often than not the directors take our advice because they don’t have to, but about 20% of the time they don’t and I have to live with that.
Given the auteur style of filmmaking you promote then why do you think studios don’t follow your model given the success you’ve had?
I think the studio model works for Pixar and Disney and Marvel, basically for any tent pole movie as that’s what they’re built for. And they do it terrifically well and I love going to see them, well, some of them, but I’d never want to make one. But I think low budget production is just not what studios are able to do anymore.
So horror then which relies on being a creative outlet for writers and directors is now a low budget genre?
People may disagree with me but I think horror is better served cheaper and films like Transformers are better served expensive. I would never want to see a cheap version of Transformers; it would be terrible. But horror the less special effects you have and the grittier it feels the scarier it is because it feels real. When you put all the Hollywood bells and whistles into them it makes them less scary.
Do you think then that your model then is the way forward for other genres that don’t rely on huge effects?
I think so. We have this erotic thriller coming out in January with Jennifer Lopez which is exciting and a couple of brands that we’re involved in. So yes, in answer to the question I think there are definitely other genres that benefit from less money rather than more.
You clearly work with talented people then but not household names. Is that a conscious decision then when it comes to your directors?
I don’t think about it like that but it matters to me that the director has made at least a couple of movies that I like. Hollywood tends to focus on the last movie a director made and that’s less interesting than the body of work as a whole.
To finish up then was there a horror film that kick started your interest in the genre?
The first movie that scared me to death was Friday 13th which I watched in the house alone and I was too young to see it. I didn’t watch another horror film for years after that. My favourite director though is Hitchcock and I hope one day to make a movie a half as good as what he did.
Jason Blum, thank you for your time today.
Thank you for your time too, bye.