The Budget Bruckheimer. The LeBron James of Horror Cinema. The Smartest Producer In Hollywood Right Now. These are just some of the labels thrown at film producer Jason Blum.
As the founder and CEO of the Blumhouse Productions, Blum, 49, is behind some of the most successful horror movies in history, notably the found-footage shocker Paranormal Activity, which grossed US$194 million (S$267 mil) worldwide from a US$15,000 budget, and spawned five sequels. (Total global tally: a whopping US$890 million!)
The Blumhouse formula is simple. Keep the budgets under US$5 million by shooting in LA. Hire above-the-line talent that will work for scale. And never, never forget that the project is auteur-driven.
Blum doesn’t just do horror; he won an Emmy for producing the AIDS-themed drama The Normal Heart and received a Best Picture Oscar nom for Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. (Just don’t remind him of the dreadful Jem and the Holograms by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M Chu.)
Insanely protean and prolific, the married father of two has more than 10 TV shows and movies lined up this year alone, including Halloween, the direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 seminal slasher that negates everything that happened in the subsequent films (including the Rob Zombie reboots).
Here, Blum tells 8 DAYS more about relaunching a horror classic, dabbling in Asian horror, and hiring directors with zero horror experience to make horror movies.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
8 DAYS: What was it about the original Halloween that you like that is reflected or captured in the new Halloween?
JASON BLUM: The original movie is probably the most iconic horror movie of all time. There are a lot of similarities between the way the original Halloween was made and the way [Blumhouse Productions] make our movies. We keep very low budget. We give the directors total control; we give them final cut, which John Carpenter had on Halloween. We try to do things new and different, and [the original] Halloween certainly felt like no other movie that came before it which no one expected it would work. [Because of these similarities], it holds a very close spot to my heart. I’ve been wanting to make a Halloween movie for a long time and we were finally luck enough to get to do it.
John Carpenter, was part of a wave of filmmakers — such as Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and George A Romero — who used horror to explore socio-political issues. So have you with The Purge and Get Out.
I would say John Carpenter, more than any other filmmaker, kind of [have the largest influence] over Blumhouse. Get Out is a social thriller and The Purge is really about gun control in America. [After these movies,] more and more directors have come to say they want to use horror to tell a story about an issue that they care about. Now, that’s been done forever. It was done since Frankenstein. It’s been done since the beginning of movie history. But no one did better and more on-point than John Carpenter with the movies he did in the ‘70s.
John Carpenter hasn’t directed a movie for a while. He kept himself busy with his music. Have you ever had a conversation with him, trying to lure him back to directing again?
No, but I know that he’s not opposed to it. We talked about it once about 10 years ago, and I know it’s not impossible. But we have not spoken about it. I’d be very excited to find something for him as a director.
Halloween is directed by David Gordon Green, a great director who hasn’t done horror. Neither has Jordan Peele with Get Out. Two of this year’s best horror movies, A Quiet Place and Hereditary, are directed by filmmakers with no horror background. What is it about making horror movies with directors with no horror pedigree?
I really believe in that. I have a belief which is very un-Hollywood, which is that I’d rather have a good director do a horror movie than a good horror director. Because like any other movie, a good horror movie is really much more about the storytelling and acting than the scares. So when we look for directors, I just look at directors that I admire. I love all of David Gordon Green’s movies; I really loved his [debut] movie George Washington and I’ve been trying to hire him ever since. He finally said yes to Halloween. So that’s one of the unusual things about Blumhouse’s approach to making movies.
Do you see yourself as a modern Roger Corman? He makes low-budget movies and nurtured a lot of up-and-coming directors back in the day.
Not so much. I know Roger; I like him and I admire his work. But we have a different approach. He hired directors who were really just starting out. He discovered new directors. We actually are more likely to work with directors who have a bit of experience. I actually don’t think it’s good to marry a new director with a low-budget project because they don’t know what they’re doing. So I never had a lot of luck with young directors with no experience. Most of the directors we use have either directed a lot of movies, or have [a lot of experience] on set. Joel Edgerton, who did The Gift, had been in over 30 movies. Jordan Peele, even though Get Out was his first directorial feature, had show-runned hundreds of hours of [his show Key & Peele]. So unlike Roger Corman, we actually look out for directors who have a lot of experience, not directors who are just starting out.
What was the movie you’ve worked on that taught you the most about producing?
Wow. That’s a good question. (A long pause) The [Dwayne Johnson comedy] Tooth Fairy. I don’t do big movies like that, but that was the movie that I learnt the most about producing (laughs). I was very involved in that movie in every aspect of it, from the beginning to end. It was a great experience, but I didn't particularly like it. First of all, I don’t like producing like that. I don’t like being on the set every day. I like to do multiple things and get into a project when things aren’t going well. So for that movie, I was really under the hood and involved in every single thing from beginning to end.
When a movie doesn’t perform well, how do you deal with the disappointment?
Luckily we have a lot of things going on, so usually when one thing doesn’t work, something else is working. But it’s still no less painful now than it used to be, when something you worked very hard on doesn’t work; it’s always very disappointing. On the TV side, it’s different, but on the movie side, we don’t get paid unless they work. So unlike most producers — they get a fee if their movies work or not — we only get paid if they work. So it’s doubly disappointing. Not only is it emotionally disappointing, but also financially disappointing. When it doesn’t work, it’s not fun. It’s always hard.
You teamed up with Netflix on the Indian horror mini-series Ghoul. You have a deal with China’s Tang Media Partners. Are you telling more Asian stories?
We’re trying a little bit. I’m really interested after seeing how scary movies are different around the world and trying to produce scary stories in different languages. I’m trying to do a movie in Chinese; I don’t know if we should shoot it in China or in Canada. I’m interested in the tradition of horror movies in other countries. I learn about our business and how our movies do when I travel a lot of abroad. Our market is 50 per cent in the US, 50 per cent outside of the US, so I pay a lot of attention to what’s happening to the company all around the world.
Last question. Eleven years after Paranormal Activity, some people still doubted the story of Steven Spielberg being terrified by the movie and that he later brought the DVD screener back to his office in a garbage bag. Seriously?
It’s totally true. The movie was set up at DreamWorks, and we had a test screening of the movie and it tested really well. [Then-DreamWorks CEO] Stacey Snider gave the DVD to Steven. Steven watched it, he loved it. The reason Paranormal Activity took off was really because of Steven Spielberg. I mean, he wrapped it in a plastic bag and hung it outside his door because he was so scared of it — that is absolutely a true story.
Halloween (M18) is now in cinemas; BlacKKKlansman is showing at The Projector. The First Purge is out on iTunes, VOD and Blu-Ray/DVD.
Photos: UIP, TPG News/Click Photos