Producer Jason Blum started out producing films like “The Reader” and “The Tooth Fairy,” but it wasn’t until he produced a little movie called “Paranormal Activity” that Blum found a niche: producing micro-budget film projects. With his production company Blumhouse Productions, Blum turned “Paranormal Activity” into a horror franchise and helped produce hit films like “Insidious,” “Sinister” and “The Purge.”
Blum’s latest film, “Insidious: Chapter 2,” picks off where the first film left off with Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) emerging from the Further with his son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins). However, a haunted spirit from the Further followed them back to the real world and it threatens to destroy the Lambert family. I had the chance to chat with Blum when he was in town promoting the movie as we talked about what he looks for in future projects, the status of the new “Paranormal Activity” film and working with his friend, Ethan Hawke, on his films.
When you find projects to produce, what in particular do you look for when reading scripts?
Jason Blum: We look for two things. We look for high-concepts, big ideas that can be marketed broadly. We also look for movies we can that can be told inexpensively. Not too many special effects, no big explosions, no cities being destroyed. Not all the time, but most of the times, those are scary movies. That’s kind of how we started producing as many scary movies as we do because horror movies could fit those two perimeters we work within very specifically.
What would you say is the maximum budget for each project?
Blum: I’ve worked on a $70 million movie and I hated it. I didn’t like doing big, expensive movies. Our maximum budget is about $5 million.
Do you think you can use that formula you have been using of making small-budget horror movies and releasing them to studios with movies outside of the horror genre?
Blum: I think so. We are going to try with Joe Carnahan’s next movie. He directed a film for us called “Stretch” that Patrick Wilson stars in. He’s done with that and we’re editorial on it now. It’s going to come out in March.
What attracted you to horror movies?
Blum: I always like horror. Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid. I studied film in school and I especially loved Hitchcock. I wrote a paper on Hitchcock so I always loved all things scary. Not only movies, but live event stuff and costumes. I’ve always been really into that.
I recently read on Collider that producer Avi Lerner doesn’t read scripts or projects he’s interested in. He takes them if he likes it and just hopes for the best. I understand that Hollywood’s angle is to amass more and more money and this is a business as usual, but I can’t help but be frustrated and anger at stories. It’s a really terrible reminder that cinema is treated as a disposable art form rather than an everlasting one. Being a producer yourself, do you read the scripts for the projects you’re interested in and depending on your answer, why or why not is that important to you?
Blum: I do read the scripts we do. I think it’s very important to read the scripts that you do. I think what Avi does really, which is another way to do it, is if there is a big director and big actors, he figures they know what they’re doing. He doesn’t just hear the ideas. He hears that John Travolta is in it and this director is involved. It’s not just the idea, but it’s also the people involved. I think it’s true that he probably doesn’t read them, but it’s more than just an idea. I read a gazillion scripts. Obviously, we don’t do most of the scripts we get, but I do read the scripts to the projects we do produce.
Have you ever thought about remaking an old horror franchise like “Halloween” or “Scream”?
Blum: Yes. We did a movie for MGM called “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” which is a remake we did with Ryan Murphy. This film, which was first done in the 70s, is the first remake we did and it was fun. I would like to do more of that.
Is “The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes” a sequel to the 2005 remake or is it a reboot?
Blum: It’s a reboot. We’re developing that story now. It’s taken a while to get it right. People come at it very cynically like “You are just trying to do another ‘Amityville’ movie.” I really wanted to make a movie like “Sinister” or “Insidious” that feels new and different. It takes a long time to get that right.
Was the release date for “Insidious Chapter 2” meant to be release on Friday the 13th or was it just a coincidence?
Blum: Not always. Last year, we saw that date and that there was a window and we were really excited about it. As soon as we started prepping the movie, we locked that date. We didn’t get the date first, but we started the movie and we’re very happy to grab that date. I am pleased with that day.
To callback to what you said about reading scripts and keeping the director’s vision intact, you said in an interview that you tell the filmmakers that you are working with, “I can promise you a hit, but I can promise you that you will make the movie you want to make.” I think it’s kind of refreshing and rare to hear a production house have that kind of outlook. It’s also kind of a relief seeing that you have “Ouija” on your slate. In terms of just putting the director’s vision first and what the writer has penned on the paper, what are you going to be doing with “Ouija” and what are you expecting out of that project because it is based on a board game and “Battleship” didn’t fare too well in that department.
Blum: Right, but that’s what kind of attracted me to it because “Battleship” was conceived as an $150 million movie and we’re doing it for nothing. One of the many advantages to making low-budget movies is that you can take risks. Though I love the idea of using something that is branded already, but doing it on a budget in which we make something cool, new and different and people like it, that’s great. If we don’t, it’s not like “Battleship” where we’re like “Oh my god. I can’t believe we lost that much money.” I think in keeping budgets down, there are a lot of advantages and with “Ouija,” we’re getting close to making that movie. Like the quote said, the filmmakers are going to try something new and different and it will either work or it won’t. There’s not such a spotlight on it because it didn’t cost a gazillion dollars.
How was it working with James Wan?
Blum: It’s the best. Working with James and Leigh Whannell was really fun. The reason this movie happened was that they kept saying, “We might be planning a sequel” and I kept telling everyone I didn’t want to make a sequel. As long as James and Leigh say “We might do it” then we should wait until they say yes or no. Luckily, they finally said yes. It’s great working with them because they really, really know what they’re doing. They have a real vision. They have a real direction and their great leaders. I have ton of respect for them so I love working with them. I hope we do a lot more work with them.
Originally, “Paranormal Activity 5” was supposed to be release this Halloween, but it was pushed until 2014. From your perspective, what happened that caused the release date to be changed?
Blum: We made this movie called “The Marked Ones,” which is a cousin to “Paranormal Activity,” but it was the next film in the sequence of “Paranormal.” We made 1, 2, 3, 4 and then we made “The Marked Ones.” We were happy how it came out and wanted to give it its own breathing space. I don’t think we wanted to do “The Marked Ones” and then another “Paranormal” within six months. We moved that one from October to January because we wanted to shake things up a little bit. I kind of like our January date. I’m excited about it because it was the same date that “The Devil Inside” and “Texas Chainsaw.”
“Insidious,” “Sinister” and “The Purge” are films that you produced, but why was it that Ethan Hawke passed on “Insidious,” but he decided to do “Sinister” and “The Purge.” Was it a conflict in his schedule or was it something else?
Blum: Ethan is one of my best friends, but he can’t stand horror movies. After I did “Paranormal Activity,” I said to him, “Dude, this is so fun. We got to do one of these together.” I sent him “Insidious” and he said, “I am never doing one of these” (laughs). Then I sent him “Sinister.” He didn’t say yes, but he really responded to the idea of…to him, the movie was about a guy who is choosing his career over his family. He is sacrificing his family for his own book and that resonated with him and said that he’ll sit down with the director, Scott Derrickson. If you put Scott in the room with an actor, the actor is going to do his movies. We brought Scott and Ethan together in New York and Ethan was like, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” The funny thing about Ethan is the reason he really didn’t want to act in one of these movies, besides the fact that he is not a fan of horror movies, is that he thought the set would be scary. The set of horror movies are not scary. There are little kids around. It’s not scary at all. Ethan loved it and said, “This kind of acting is so different and this feels like nothing like it would. I want to do another one right away.” I gave him the script for “The Purge” at the end of “Sinister” and he knew director James DeMonaco separately from me, but anyway, he said, “Great. Let’s do this next.” Five months later, we were shooting “The Purge.”
Are you going to try to get him to do another one?
Blum: Yeah. I want to do a western with him. I think that would be really fun. We are also working on a family movie together too. We kind of have an idea of a five-box set. We have two so far so we go three more slots to fill.
What is the hardest aspect of being a producer?
Blum: The hardest aspect of being a producer is getting said “No” to because no matter how much or how little you produce, you hear “No” much more often then you hear “Yes” and it doesn’t get any easier. That’s always the hardest thing. The funny thing about that is that I’ve been doing this long enough that I am totally fine with the “No” now, but what I’m not okay with is someone explaining their “No” (laughs). If I send a script to someone and they don’t want to do it, it’s totally cool, but if they start to tell me why the script I sent to them isn’t good, I get really pissed.
It’s like adding insult to injury
Blum: Exactly. I’m like, “I like it. You don’t like it? That’s fine. I won’t try to sell it to you, but you don’t try to tell me why you don’t like it” (laughs).
“Insidious Chapter 2” starts playing in Hialeah theaters tomorrow. Click here for showtimes.