Though he’s now a major player in the world of horror, Jason Blum fell into it almost by accident, beginning as an acting buddy of Ethan Hawke, doing time at Miramax, and then producing Dwayne Johnson’s family flick The Tooth Fairy. But it was his involvement with a little independent shocker called Paranormal Activity that has gone on to define his career – his Blumhouse production company has since cranked out the likes of Insidious, Sinister and Dark Skies, most of which were well-received…all of which were primarily shot in and around a single house (not the same one each time, though!) on an ultra-low budget. Further developing the brand, he even had a “Blumhouse of Horrors” in downtown L.A. last Halloween.
His latest production, The Purge, deals with a family under siege in, yes, one house – albeit one that’s been tricked out like a panic room – on a night when all crime becomes legal for 12 hours. Though it’s more of a thriller than his explicitly supernatural films, it features gore aplenty, as well as its share of masked maniacs.
Will there be a prequel called The Binge? I did not ask him that, but I did get to ask him a bunch of other stuff, including one question from our own Canadian.Scott.
Luke Y. Thompson: Obvious question – How does one go from The Tooth Fairy to movies like Sinister and The Purge?
Jason Blum: There’s another question that would precede that, which is “How did I go from Hysterical Blindness to The Tooth Fairy?” Or Kicking and Screaming to The Tooth Fairy. So I worked for Bob and Harvey [Weinstein] in the 90’s for a long time. I started my own company in 2000. I produced plenty of independent movies, 90% of which you probably never heard of. I got really frustrated making movies that no one ever saw, so I decided to totally change my career, when I was about 34.
Around 2004, 2005, I wanted to make a big studio movie with big studio distribution, so I made The Tooth Fairy, and I got half of what I wanted. Well, I got both things that I wanted, but I only liked half. I loved the distribution part of The Tooth Fairy, but I was not a big fan of making a movie like that for a studio that did not warm my producer heart. So Paranormal Activity happened right after that; I actually got involved with it before I started The Tooth Fairy, and it came out right after The Tooth Fairy came out, and that was the perfect combination of what I spent 15 years doing, which was making movies on my own. Making movies independently, but having a studio release it – that’s what Paranormal was, an independent movie that a studio released.
So I was, like, is there a way to continue that? That is what my passion is, where I’ve kind of found my place in this business. That’s what Insidious is, that’s what Sinister is, that’s what The Purge is: independent movies that are released by the studios. Hopefully, I’ll continue to do it for a lot longer, because I really love it more than anything else I’ve done in my career.
LYT: Is horror always where your heart was?
JB: No, my heart is really in this model. I love horror movies, I love Oscar movies, I love action movies, I love tentpole movies. My heart was always in movies, and my heart still is in movies. I have an affection for horror because it fits my model really well, and I’m passionate about this model that I do, which is a very auteur, European model, except that we make commercial movies. It’s filmmaker driven; the filmmakers have final cut, the filmmakers have total creative control, and we kind of get to do whatever we want to do, which is like an independent movie, but the studios release the movies, so that people see them.
LYT: How many of the movies when they come to you to film are set in one house? Do you fix them so they are set in one house?
JB: A lot of them are. We reduce locations, because that’s a big expense – not so much for the location, but traveling with a crew is always expensive. So we look for movies that are not too many locations, not too many speaking parts, but also the biggest way we keep the budget low is that everyone above the line works for free, so I work for free, the director works for free, actors work for free, or scale, and I love that way of working. We bet on ourselves. If the movie works, everyone gets paid – the above-the-line people get paid, depending on what they made in the past. If the movie doesn’t work, no one does, but the movies are inexpensive enough that no one gets radically hurt, so it’s a model I really like and believe in.
LYT: Is Blumhouse going to stay strictly horror now? You put your name on a Halloween House of Horrors now, so it’s really associated with that.
JB: I hope so – I hope so. We’ll stay in kind of a dark genre, so horror/thriller, horror/sci-fi. We’re not going to do a drama; we’re not going to do a comedy in this model. I may be attached individually, as a producer, to those kinds of movies, but Blumhouse will really stick with this model.
LYT: One thing I thought was really interesting about this movie – I like that there are so many ideas in it, and I think people, whatever their ideology, can read stuff into it. When I’m watching it, I get some of the class warfare stuff, and the way it kind of mocks people who say “Thank you for your sacrifice” without thinking about what that means. But there was an arch-conservative journalist that I know about 5 seats down from me, who when the lights came up said “This is what happens when you get Democrats in charge! Quadruple-digit depression.”
JB: You have noticed – I’ve been screening the movie at colleges, we did a two-week tour, where we did a different city every day – and I was shocked at that, and that’s the experience that I’ve had with screening the movie. The people on the right and the people on the left – the movie is not polarizing, both sides come out of the movie and feel like the movie reinforces their beliefs. So I’ve had the same experience as you. People on the right say, “The Purge is a terrible thing, the government is too big, the government should get out of our personal lives.” People on the left say, “This is what happens when you let the NRA run wild. This is where we’re headed.” And I’ve loved that aspect of the movie! I did not expect that, but I love it.
For me, first of all the movie succeeds if it’s a great, scary, fun, entertaining movie. Second to that, if it makes people talk about violence in America, that’s great. Whatever side of the aisle we’re on, everyone is against these terrible things that have happened, and the only way to stop it from happening is to talk about it and see if we can break the log jam that exists now and change something. So, again – not why I made the movie; I think there are other forums for this kind of thing. But if it stirs this kind of conversation, then I’m psyched about it.
LYT: One of the things that I thought about after seeing it was that throughout the movie, the Purge itself is kind of the antagonist, but thinking back on it, it’s almost a good thing, in a way, because it rips the mask of hypocrisy off of everyone.
JB: In what way?
LYT: In that all of these people that you think are your neighbors and friends suddenly reveal that they’ve always hated you, they’ve always harbored ill intentions, and in the long run, everybody’s true character comes through. The kindly veteran is still a kindly veteran who spares people’s lives, and those people turn out to be hypocrites. I thought maybe society needed that, for everyone’s masks to be ripped off. The fact that they put masks on is kind of an ironic counterpoint to that.
JB: Well, I think that’s a cool thing about the movie: you go in with the notion of “Wow, this is something terrible!” Then you’re in it and you think “Maybe this isn’t so bad?” Then you come out of it, and you’re saying “What am I thinking? This is bad!” I think it twists your thinking about what a Purge would be like, and I like that about the movie. I’m psyched to hear that reaction; that’s cool.
LYT: Even though your model is low-budget, I kind of hope as an audience member that if this does well, there could be a sequel that would be on a grander scale. We could see The Purge writ large. Is that something that’s impossible to give them?
JB: No, I’ve thought about that too. I don’t mind spending a little more money on sequels. We’ve always done that, and if we were going to make a sequel to that movie, I think I would like to go out and see what was going on in the rest of the nation. I think that would be the logical place to go. I hope I can make that movie.
LYT: The masks that they wear, it was funny, because Rhys Wakefield looks almost exactly like his own mask. Was it modeled after him?
JB: I didn’t think of that. It’s like an extreme version of himself. We probably did that unconsciously. We spent a lot of time thinking about the masks. I made the movie with Platinum Dunes, and they were really involved in a lot of the creative aspects of the movie, and they had a lot of input in the masks, which I’m happy with how they turned out. But that wasn’t on purpose. (laughs)
LYT: When you work with Platinum Dunes, do you work with Michael Bay at all?
JB: A little. I mostly work with Brad and Andrew. Michael chimes in at important moments, and he was kind enough to lend us people from his crew, his DP. His steadi-cam was our DP; we used an editor of his; we used his casting person, and a few other people, so he lent us a bunch of people who were awesome! Creatively, his partners Brad and Andrew were involved all the way through. Michael – I wouldn’t say he was ‘hands-on’, but he had an eye on us.
LYT: Whose idea was the billboards, and are you afraid anyone is actually going to act on them?
JB: Universal was in charge of all the marketing, and I love the billboards – I think they’re so cool! No, I’m not afraid, but it would make a good story if they did, but I think people know that they’re movie ads, especially because there are so many!
LYT: They’re very convincing!
JB: I think they’re cool, don’t you?
LYT: Yeah, they’re scary. It reminds me a bit of the early District 9 stuff, except with that you obviously know there aren’t aliens walking around.
JB: Yeah, exactly! We talked about that. I think it’s a really bold thing to do with the movie poster, and I really like them. I really like them – I love the trailer for the movie too.
LYT: One of the questions that’s been on a lot of our minds for a long time is when is Oren Peli’s Area 51 coming out? We’ve been hearing about that for a long time.
JB: I could ask the same thing. Although, in Oren’s defense, we futzed around with Paranormal Activity for 3 years before that came out. Found footage movies, you have to go back and reshoot a ton. Paranormal Activity – we went back 50 times to reshoot that movie. And again, a reshoot meant Oren with a camera and Katie and Micah and that’s it. But that’s where we are in Area 51. Shooting, looking, shooting, looking – we got very wrapped up in Paranormal Activity for a while. I do think eventually it will find its way out into the world, but it’ll be a while still.
LYT: Is Paranormal Activity still ongoing, or is it on hiatus?
JB: We’re on 5! So yeah, we’re in the middle of making 5, and it’ll come out in October. We have Insidious 2 in September, then Paranormal Activity 5 in October.
LYT: One of my regular commenters is a huge Paranormal Activity fan. I asked him if he had any questions for you, and one of the ones he had was, “Why witches?”
JB: Why the coven? That’s a good question. I think that you have to share a little bit more of the mythology behind what the evil is, I thought, in Paranormal. So witches aren’t the only evil, but there’s a coven around our favorite demon. I kind of thought that was cool – it was a collective idea, there’s me and Oren and the writer, we’re all involved in that. I also liked that you could have a bunch of them, but I’m open to ideas. What would his idea have been?
LYT: I’m sure he’ll respond in the comments. I still have a screener of the original Paranormal Activity with its original ending. Obviously, at that time, with that ending, there were no thoughts of sequels. But once you got to part 2, how far did you plan the mythology out?
JB: It’s impossible to think of the movies like that. You can’t think past – at least, we are unable to think past one movie at a time. I think most franchises, it’s like that. It’s so hard – you try to be consistent, and come up with a mythology on 3 that makes sense for 1 and 2. You can’t then plan for 4. I also think it’s a little bit of a bad omen. You want to think you’ll do one at a time. Obviously, as long as people keep coming, we’ll hopefully keep making them. It’s too hard a storytelling thing to do, to plan on the next one while you’re making one. It’s hard enough to tie it to the movies preceding it, as opposed to tying it to the movie that comes next.
And I’d also say that for movies that we start – whenever we’re talking about a new movie, like The Purge or Sinister or Insidious, any of those movies – any time that anyone talks about a sequel, I always say, “Don’t write your movie to a sequel.” Make a great movie! If you make a great movie, we’ll figure out a sequel, that’s a good problem to have. But don’t assume that you’re going to have a sequel from your first movie, you know? It’s hard enough to make a good movie without worrying about that.
LYT: So let’s say for part 2, you wouldn’t map out a bible that had a witch’s coven in it, and then when you get to part 3, hey! There was a coven idea back there.
JB: No, we wouldn’t map it out, but we might say, “This would exist.” Some of what was in the third movie might have originally been in the second movie. Not in the case of Paranormal, but in general. Or some of the mythology in the third movie might have definitely been in the second movie, but it’s not like we have specific scenes and we’re like, “Oh, put that in the next one.” We don’t think about it like that.
LYT: Aside from the specific sequels you’ve mentioned, what do you have coming up that you’re really excited about in the pipeline?
JB: Psyched about Insidious 2, psyched about Paranormal 5, I’m really psyched about Jezebel, this movie at Lionsgate – this guy, Kevin Greutert, who directed Saw 6 & 7, and he edited those movies. I think he did a great job on those movies. That’s the immediate, the next 5 or 6 months. Those are the three movies I’m looking towards at the moment.
LYT: Does your background in stage really help when you’re doing single-location kinds of movies?
JB: It helps with actors. We try to use a lot of actors – besides Ethan [Hawke], we used Josh Hamilton, we used Molly in Paranormal 3 – I try to use actors in these movies who don’t normally do – who aren’t known for doing scary movies. That’s the best thing about my theater experience and background, and I’m still doing some stuff in theater. That helps, that’s a good thing, and I can sometimes be good at talking those actors into doing our movies when they might not be inclined to do them.
LYT: You may have announced this, but are there plans for more Sinister going forward?
JB: There’s a Sinister 2, which Scott Derrickson and Cargill are slaving away on the script, and hopefully we will shoot it in the not-too-distant future, so yes, there will be a second Sinister at a theater near you, sometime in 2014.
LYT: Is Bughuul in your house of horrors?
JB: Bughuul is not yet in the Blumhouse of Horrors, but we may give him a guest appearance, as he certainly should be!
The Purge opens Friday in theaters. There’s still time to win a free T-shirt and mask from us.