Jason Blum interview: Ouija: Origin Of Evil, cinema trends, Halloween parties

Producer Jason Blum on the Ouija films, horror, changing cinema, Split, Insidious 4 and Halloween parties...

In the weeks before Halloween 2014, posters advertising a new horror movie started to pop up at tube stations and bus stops. Nothing unusual there; October’s a pretty standard time for new horror movies to be released.

What was unusual was how bare these posters looked. No cast members were named, and there weren’t even any faces on the poster, just the dim outline of a girl playing with an Ouija board, in the dark, with another shadowy figure behind her. The title, Ouija, was the only colour on the whole poster, and if you looked closely you’d see that the movie was “From the producers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the producer of Insidious”, but basically, all the poster told you was that there was a horror movie coming out at Halloween.

And because horror is like that, Ouija went on to become a box office success. Made for $5 million with a cast of mostly unknown young actors, it grossed over $100 million worldwide. But maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, because those producers mentioned on the poster? That’d be Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse Productions. Since 2009, Blumhouse – sometimes with the help of Platinum Dunes, sometimes not – has been responsible for virtually every successful horror movie, as well as dozens of scary movies that maybe didn’t make megabucks but are still worth a watch on Netflix.

If you’re a horror fan, you’ll be pretty familiar with their ident. Blumhouse is the company behind the Paranormal Activity movies, the Insidious movies, and The Purge movies… and now, they’re back with a sequel to Ouija.

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Ahead of the release of Ouija: Origin Of Evil, I had a chat with head honcho Jason Blum about the movie, and horror in general:

Let’s talk about Ouija 2 – or Ouija: Origin Of Evil, I should say! When was the decision made to make a sequel to the first one?

Well, we talked about a bit when we were making the first one but the decision didn’t officially come until the first one created quite a stir – and then we decided that we wanted to do the second one.

How did director Mike Flanagan come on board?

This is our third movie with Mike. We did Oculus with Mike, we did Hush with Mike… and Mike actually helped us with some stuff on the first movie. I always thought if we got the opportunity to make a second one, he would be a good choice to write and direct it, and we got that opportunity. He’s a great filmmaker and a good friend of the company and he’s just done an amazing job for us.

You had to do a lot of reshoots on that first movie. I read that Lin Shaye was originally not involved, is that right? She’s brilliant, so it seems strange to imagine the movie without her.

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We did a lot of work on the first movie, yeah. I can’t say for sure whether she was involved or not, but we did a lot of work on that movie! I think we’ve done eight movies with Lin Shaye now.

Well, she’s awesome, why would you not?

Why would you not, exactly.

So why is this Ouija sequel a prequel, rather than a sequel? Why go back in time?

That was Mike’s idea. I really believe in him as a filmmaker and a storyteller, and he thought that would be a cool way to go, so really he gets all the credit for that.

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Although there was a precedent, because Paranormal Activity did the same thing.

Yes we did. Maybe he picked up on that, but we did not guide him one way or another.

“Do whatever you like! Maybe you could go back to the 1960s…”

Do whatever you like! Make it scary.

I’m not sure what else to ask you about the movie without spoiling it.

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Did you like it?

I did. I liked it, but I remember liking the first one. I went to a midnight screening.

Oh nice!

Yeah, it was Halloween, a midnight screening, pretty much exactly how you want to watch a horror movie. You seem like the guy to talk to about the horror genre at the moment. Ever since the first Paranormal Activity, Blumhouse has been a reliable presence in the genre. How do you see the way the genre has changed over the last few years?

Well yeah, I think it’s changing. I love horror movies, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t make them. I think it’s definitely evolving, which I think is cool. I think we’re going through a good horror renaissance – this summer we had four great scary movies, all of which did very well. The business of horror movies goes up and down and people are always like “it’s working”, “it’s not working”, but generally I think if you make a good movie that’s scary, people will come.

But I do feel like the scary movies that we’re seeing are getting better and better. It’s harder and harder to scare people, and filmmakers are aware of that and they’re making the movies better, and I think they feel more original, which I always like. The thing I’m most proud of about – not all of our movies, but a lot of our movies, is that you might love ’em, you might hate ’em, but most of the time they’re trying to be different or trying new things, which I think is really important.

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Definitely! So what is it you look for in a script or an idea?

What do we look for in a scary movie? I think the first thing is just that, something you haven’t seen before. Does it feel original? And if it does, why? What’s different about it? We look for who’s directing it, who the director is, we look to make sure it can be shot inexpensively, and those things are all connected. Because the more expensive movies get, the more watered down the storytelling gets and the more they have to be like other movies. But if you make movies inexpensively you can experiment a bit.

It’s interesting, because we’ve seen a lot of articles floating about this summer saying “cinema is dead!”, mostly off the back of a few disappointing blockbusters, but it also seems like there are tons of indie and low budget movies that are really interesting coming out. What do you think is going on there?

No, I don’t think cinema’s dying. Cinema’s changing, for sure; it’s never been more in flux than it is now, but I certainly don’t think it’s dying. More people are watching filmed stories than ever before, and watching more of them. How they’re watching them and what they’re watching, that’s changing, but watching stories, I think that’s getting more powerful, not less.

Over the last few years, basically for as long as Blumhouse has been distributing films, we’ve seen streaming become more and more common and more and more accessible, so that must be interesting for you, because it’s another way to distribute movies…

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Yeah, for a movie to be relevant theatrically you definitely have to distinguish it. The bar is higher, but I feel like that actually has a really positive effect on movies.

Well, I guess so, because they have to be better. So looking at the slate of movies you’ve got coming out in future, there’s some really interesting stuff on there. I’m pretty excited about Get Out

Yeah, we are too. We’re really excited about Get Out, that comes out early next year. And we’re really excited about Split, which is [M Night Shyamalan]’s new movie, a follow-up to The Visit, which is a terrific thriller. It really feels like The Sixth Sense, so I’m really pleased about that one.

Later in the year we have Insidious 4… and then we have a few smaller movies coming out. We have a movie called Incarnate with Aaron Eckhart, which comes out in December, and a movie we bought at Sundance called Sleight, which comes out in spring. We’ve been very busy at Blumhouse.

When were you ever not, though? Ever since the first Paranormal Activity you’ve been very busy.

Gotta keep things interesting!

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Is there something specific you look for when you’re making the decision to acquire a movie? I mean, is there a difference between films you’d produce and the ones you acquire?

I think it’s kind of like what I said before: films that feel original, things that are edgy, that have dark themes, that are edgy, and that have a certain amount of fun behind them too. We’re looking for the embodiment of a Halloween party.

Speaking of Halloween parties, I saw your costume on Twitter. That was pretty spectacular.

Did you like the Wicked Witch? I was very excited about that. I hope you put that in your story! That Wicked Witch took about six hours. We don’t have a holiday party at our company, we have a Halloween party, so it’s for all the people who work at the company and all their friends and so it’s a great party. Everybody really goes for it with the costumes.

Jason Blum, thank you very much!

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