Interview with Producer Jason Blum

We sit down with Jason Blum, producer of the Insidious and Paranormal Activity films, to discuss the state of horror, where he thinks it is headed, and just what has come to define his successful micro-budget productions.

Jason Blum is one of the leading names in horror today. If you have seen any movie with a creaky door or a rattling floor, chances are that it was a Jason Blum production. Graduating from the early an wild days of Miramax under Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Blum worked briefly as an independent producer at Warner Brothers before starting his own production company, Blumhouse Productions. As a producer specializing in “micro-budgeted” genre fare, Blum has produced many of the latest popular horror films, including the genre-shaping Paranormal Activity franchise, Sinister, Dark Skies, The Lords of Salem and Insidious. It was in promotion for Insidious: Chapter 2 that Blum was kind enough to sit down with us for a few minutes to discuss the state of the horror franchise, where he thinks it is headed and just what exactly he is looking for in a Blumhouse production. With your time as producer on Insidious, Sinister and The Paranormal Activity movies, how have you seen the horror movie genre change over the past several years? Jason Blum: More people are definitely doing it. I think it’s gotten cooler, little bit cooler to do it. There’s still people who have prejudices against horror movies, but a lot less than there used to be. And I think actors are more willing to do horror than they have been in the past. Like really quality, theatre New York actors are taking shots at these movies in a way they didn’t used to. And where do you see horror going in the next five or ten years? Do you see it in the process of changing right now? I think it definitely will change. I don’t know how it’ll change. I think there’ll be another Paranormal Activity, which none of us can imagine what that is. I’m always looking for it. I try to see the movies early. I go to festivals. I’m always trying to figure out what that next new, different thing is. I wish I knew what that would be, because then I’d go make it. But I’m sure that that’ll happen. Every time that happens—Saw kind of shifted what horror was for a while, and then Paranormal shifted what horror was for a while, and I’m sure there’ll be another one, but it hasn’t happened yet. When you’re finding films to make, how much of it is a personal decision of what affects you, as opposed to what you think the masses may enjoy? It’s always a personal decision. It has to be. My easiest judgment for a script is “do I want to keep reading it?” One would assume if you’re in the movie, you will want to keep sitting and keep watching it. If I’m reading a script and I don’t want to keep reading, I wouldn’t say we never make it, but the director would have to have a real good pitch and a real good idea as to why [we would make it]. We have made movies where I hadn’t felt that way about it and sometimes it was the right thing to do and sometimes it wasn’t the right thing to do, but basically it has to feel like reading a good book to me. And if it does, then we’ll try to make it as long as it meets our other parameters. Actors on the set of The Conjuring said they started feeling an entity or supernatural things happening to them. Have you ever experienced that on the set of all the scary movies you have produced? Well, I haven’t had that feeling on set yet, but I am waiting for it to happen. [Laughs]. Making a scary movie, despite what our friends on The Conjuring are saying, is not [horrifying]. Ethan Hawke is not a horror movie fan, but he’s a really good friend of mine, and I finally cajoled him into doing Sinister. Later, he said one of the reasons he was really resistant to doing a horror movie is he thought it’d be really scary on set. [Laughs]. And it could not be less scary! There are little kids, their parents are there. It can’t be scary. He had such a good time, we did The Purge right after, because he’s like, “I want to do this again.” But the sets, disappointingly, are not scary. Not nearly as scary as the movies. Are there any particular horror movie or directors who influenced you to enter this genre? Hitchcock. I love Hitchcock movies. I took a Hitchcock class in college, so I saw all his movies. I wrote papers on his movies. They’re what got me going on these movies. So, that is definitely what got me going in these movies. I started doing scary stuff when I was really little. I loved Halloween. It was a big holiday in our house, and my mother and I would start making our costumes back in July. So, it was a long process. And I always won the contest for the best, craziest costume. I would say I first came to horror through Halloween and then eventually through movies. Do you have a personal favorite horror movie? I really love Poltergeist. I think that’s a great, terrific movie. I did really love the first Friday the 13th. I thought that was such a crazy movie. This movie really does have a throwback to movies of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Shining and Poltergeist and Exorcist. Even a little bit of Psycho. Do you like incorporating that sort of “history of horror” for people? Yeah, I do. Really, what I like is creating a place where filmmakers can take risks. So, [director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell] really get credit for giving nods to all those movies, and making [Insidious: Chapter 2] feel like those other movies. The only thing I did is when we talked about it, they said, “We want to try this, and it’s weird and it’s strange,” and I just encouraged them to try weirder and the more weird and the more strange things that they could. So, I really give them 100 percent credit for the movies period. But our business model allows people to do weird stuff like the stuff you’re talking about. I think if you went to a studio and pitched the first Insidious, it never would have gotten made because it was so offbeat. Do you foresee the return of Elise and the, “ghostbusters,” if you will? I mean how could we NOT have them come back? I hope so. I hope the “ghostbusters” come back! [Laughter]. It certainly helps that if Leigh writes it, he can just write himself in. Exactly! Well, we want Leigh to write it, so the bigger the part he writes for himself, the better. And it’s funny that he writes the comedic part for himself. I know, he gives himself all that! I’ll tell you a really funny story about that. When we made the first Insidious, I saw it at James’ house and I really thought the Specs and Tucker stuff didn’t work. And I told Leigh that he had to cut it way back, and then we test screened the film, and the stuff people liked best was the Specs and Tucker stuff, so I said that I was wrong, and we put it all back into the movie.
 Were there any challenges on either Insidious or Paranormal Activity due to the movies relatively small budgets? It’s always challenging. The difference between this movie and Paranormal is obviously that Paranormal is found footage and this is traditionally shot like Sinister and The Purge. So, when it’s found footage, certain actual production issues are easier. The lighting is easier, the camera is easier. You can go faster, as opposed to when you’re shooting traditional and you have to light, and it takes a little bit more time to do. Working with kids is always hard, because you have to have very limited hours. They have to have breaks, and they have to have a tutor, and they have to have a lot of—good things! But it makes it hard to shoot. Food. [Laughs]. Yeah, you have to feed them. Damn that school for getting in the way of my horror movies. [Laughs]. Do you like the business model though, doing movies on a lower budget because they offer more freedom and you can be more experimental in these movies? Yeah, that’s the only reason I do it. I’m in a position now where I could go make expensive movies, but I choose not to. Because when you make expensive movies, you understandably have almost no creative freedom. Like your story has to adhere to certain rules. When you work in low budgets, you can do weird stuff. And some of our stuff works and some of it doesn’t, but it’s always different, so that keeps my job fun. That’s a hundred percent why I do what I like and the model that I work in, because it gives us creative freedom. Does some of that come from Harvey Weinstein and Miramax back in the earlier days when they just weren’t making $100 million movies? Well, I think about that a lot. I was thinking about it this morning actually, because I emailed him. Generally, I think the system, in terms of casting—casting is such a fraught thing. There are so many stories where someone fought so hard for this actor and someone fought so hard for this actor, and the actor wasn’t available and by circumstances this other actor ended up doing it, and they were the best thing in the movie! We are more fluid with our decisions. So we’re casting this movie now, and the director wants this particular actress, and the actress said no, and within two hours we’re on to another actress. Normally, it’s THREE WEEKS before everyone can agree on the next person to go to. But because we make movies on a lower budget, the director gets to choose who he wants to choose, and the decisions are less fraught. That doesn’t make it better or worse, but it makes them easier.  How do you describe a Blumhouse film? Low budget, high-concept. Something that can be told relatively inexpensively, but high-concept means that, again they don’t always go this direction, but if you showed it to the head of marketing at the studio, they would say, “I know what the trailer is, I know what the poster is, I know what the TV spot is, and this is going to go to the Cineplex.” So, movies that can play in the mall, but can be made inexpensively. That’s how I describe what we’re looking for. What is the maximum budget for an inexpensive film? About five million bucks. That’s the top. For us that’s like Transformers. We’re trying to keep it lower than that. Insidious 3. Insidious 3. [Laughs].