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EXCLUSIVE: Producer Jason Blum on The Purge: Anarchy, Paranormal Activity 5, Amityville and JEM

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Blumhouse Productions

Name any popular low-budget horror franchise right now, and Jason Blum is probably behind it. Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, the upcoming Amityville reboot…most of them films that sell the concept rather than a big-name star, and many of which take place primarily on one location.

The Purge: Anarchy breaks the mold a bit, by taking characters outside to the streets of Los Angeles on the annual night when all laws (with some exceptions, like the ones keeping the government intact) are suspended. For the larger canvas, we can thank not only the success of the first film, but also the interactive theater attraction The Purge: Fear the Night, which has spawned yet another live experience, this time a touring adventure in which teams of six participants must solve puzzles, Resident Evil style, to make it through a madman’s house before time runs out and he comes home to kill you.

Also, Blum’s doing the Jem movie. Yes, really. And it’s one of many things he spoke to us about…

Luke Y. Thompson: You are now officially the only filmmaker I’ve interviewed 3 times.

Jason Blum: Oh my god! I don’t know if that’s good or bad!

LYT: You have that unique honor. So we were speculating at the junket yesterday that you were off watching the World Cup. True or false?

JB: [laughs]No, that actually wasn’t true. I wanted to go, but there was a whole kerfuffle, so I sadly didn’t make it. But I heard it went well!

LYT: It was really fun, the new experience. And so different from the last one, too. What sort of things did you learn from Fear the Night in coming up with Breakout?

JB: We learned so much! One of the things that we tried on Fear the Night that didn’t really work was we tried to borrow from – fuck, I forgot the name of the show. The show in New York. Sleep No More, where people, you kind of let people roam around on their own, and I think we did it too much. We just way overdid it, so on the experience that you went through over the weekend, it was much more controlled. Obviously we were – we had to do it within the confines of two semis.

So for me, I felt like that was sort of like a low-budget movie. Like, I think parameters make people more creative, so I think that we had less space to deal with actually made the experience better.

We also were less – the one in downtown, there was pressure to get more people, so we had less constraints that way. But I don’t know – I liked it better. I like the idea of figuring it out, and the puzzle of it. I thought we learned from our mistakes.

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LYT: Was the constraint of having the two trailers – was that self-imposed, was that something that was conceived from the outset, or was that just something that, technically, you needed to do?

JB: I’d say a little bit of both. We could have put four trucks and had one – we were running them simultaneously next to each other. But I think it was creative and practical driving each other. For a little while we talked about actually doing three trucks, and then we came up with the idea of doing two separate ones of two trucks each. So it was a little bit trial and error in the planning stages.

LYT: In the new movie, when you see the hunting ground in the end, it made me smile, because I remembered that location from Fear the Night. Was it the same sets or was it different?

JB: You know, I can’t tell you for sure if it was actually the same plastic hedge, but definitely one informed the other. We certainly – there were some props we used from Fear the Night in the actual movie. I don’t know if it was all exactly the same, but definitely there was some stuff that we used in both.

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LYT: At the time that I interviewed you for Fear the Night, it seemed like the shooting of the sequel was completely separate and they weren’t really connected in any way. Did that change as the shooting went on?

JB: It did. Well, it changed – we did Fear the Night in October, and then we shot the movie in January. But I think when we spoke, the film maker and production designer and other people hadn’t actually been through it, and it was two separate things. But when they went through it, they actually decided to borrow more from it than I had – than anyone had kind of anticipated that they would.

LYT: One of the things that I almost find with going through them is that it does feel like being in a movie, in both instances, but there’s a danger that they’re almost more fun movies, I think! That you’re competing against the actual theatrical movie. Do you see that as a risk at all, or is it fun to compete against yourself in that way?

JB: The live event versus the movie?

LYT: Yeah.

JB: I don’t see that – I’m not too concerned about it. First of all, the numbers are so different. I could see how – a more conservative business person might think that, but I just don’t think the world works like that. I think if you have a great experience with one, you’re going to want to do the other. I can’t imagine someone seeing the movie and going “Oh, no, I’m not going to do it,” or the other way around. I think that they really help each other. Now, not everyone would say that, like you pointed out, but my feeling is that stuff is all really helpful.

LYT: I feel like now I want to see the movie set in Big Daddy’s house, and I want to see the movie about the Fox News-type guy who had his pants down in Fear the Night, and all that stuff.

JB: I feel like it opened up a lot of places to go, if we’re lucky enough to make the third movie, which I hope we will be. We have a lot of places to go.

LYT: The first one, as we talked about way back, it was sort of this interesting litmus test, because people from all over the political spectrum were kind of able to see their own agenda in it. This one feels more like it has a specific political take. Is that nervous making, in terms of the box office, that it might be more divisive? Or is that something to embrace?

JB: Um…I thought the first movie had a specific political take. So I think the second movie, my experience, anyway, is that people kind of bring their own politics to it, which has been interesting. I don’t know. Did you not feel that way?

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LYT: Well, the first one – when I saw the first one, I came at it from a liberal point of view, and I was like, “OK, this is kind of anti-gun.” But I was sitting next to a guy who reviews movies for a religious right site, and he turned to me and said, “This is what’s going to happen when the Democrats take over!”

JB: [laughs]

LYT: But this one, I felt like was really – there’s so much more about the 1% versus the 99%. It felt like it had that progressive point of view. Maybe, again, if I had been sitting next to the religious right guy, he’d have told me something different, but I wasn’t this time.

JB: I think the religious right guy would say he’s absolutely as much against the 1% as the progressives. You’d be hard pressed to find someone – privately is another thing – but you’d be hard pressed to find someone – 99% of people are going to say that income distribution in the country is not equitable. I mean, I don’t think – it’s an interesting thing, but I think that, especially with – there’s a ton of class stuff in the second movie, much more than in the first movie, like you point out. But I don’t think, somehow…it feels not politicized in the movie. I don’t know how we pulled that off. I was really surprised the first time around. The second time around I was less surprised. But certainly, I found a similar thing with people’s reactions, exactly what you said. People on the right say if the government gets into people’s business too much, this is what’s going to happen. That’s how they see the movie.

LYT: I did sort of think, when you have your abbreviation of the NFFA, that it was designed to evoke the NSA a little bit.

JB: For sure, for sure.

LYT: But then on the other end, I was sort of surprised, because I had forgotten, when it said “produced by Michael Bay,” I think of Michael Bay as this very sort of flag-waving, patriotic film maker, and this felt like more of an indictment of the U.S. But then someone pointed out to me, well patriotic people are often suspicious of the government. They love the country, but they’re suspicious of the government. That’s the dichotomy there.

JB: [laughs]I don’t know what he would say about it. I have not discussed this with him, so I don’t know what his point of view would be on the politics of the first or the second movie, honestly.

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LYT: Another thing that I found very interesting – this may have been nothing that you had anything to do with – but the movie just content-wise, it reminded me of sort of old-school hip-hop. You sort of then expect to hear hip-hop on the soundtrack, but the soundtrack goes completely against that. I was wondering if that was a conscious choice, or if that’s just me bringing baggage to it?

JB: How did it remind you of old school hip-hop?

LYT: Just the way it sort of had this urban anger to it, and what Chuck D used to say, that hip-hop is the CNN of black people.

JB: So what’s your question?

LYT: I was wondering if there was sort of consciously a hip-hop vibe to it, and if the soundtrack deliberately played against that? Like if somebody said, at some point, “This should have a rap soundtrack,” and then later said, “No, that’s too obvious. That’s what everybody expects in an urban action movie.”

JB: Certainly not. I never had that conversation with anybody. I think James had that stuff in his mind first, so I think the way that you – what you saw and the songs that went along with it were intended, whether or not they match, or maybe they play off of each other on purpose. Either one of those things may be true, but it wasn’t like we had it one way and switched. We never did that.

LYT: I know last time we talked, you said you don’t plan these things out as long-term story arcs. You see if one does well then see what the next is. But with the Paranormal Activity franchise, do you feel like, as the Saw people decided, that there is value in building towards an ending at some point?

JB: The thing that I said, and the thing that I believe, what you just said, is 100% accurate on the first of any movie that we do. So on the first Purge, on the first Insidious, on the first Sinister, I always encourage the film makers not to think about what the sequel will be. Once you have a successful movie that you’re going to make a sequel of, I actually think the opposite is true.

So, on the sequel to The Purge, or the sequel to Sinister, or the sequel to Paranormal Activity, or the sequel to Insidious, even, on Insidious 2, for instance, we talked a LOT about what the next movie would be. So all my rules about the first movie, I reverse if we’ve got something – if we’ve got a concept out there, and a movie out there, that people are responding to, and people are liking. Because I think it’s so difficult to achieve that, that I think putting additional restrictions around a film maker on the first.

If I had said on The Purge, if I had given (director) James (DeMonaco) all the notes that I gave on the first movie, and then I said, “Hey, in addition to that, in case we make a sequel, you need to think about these things,” I think it’s too much to give a creative person. It’s too many mouths to feed. But on the second movie, I definitely – like I said, we’ve talked about what the third and fourth movies could be. And on Paranormal Activity, for sure, when we’re working on whatever installment we’re working on – we’re working on the fifth right now – we don’t necessarily do it, but we always talk about, “If we do this, what would happen to this? If we do that, what would happen for that?” That’s a long answer to your question, but I think it makes a distinction. Does that make sense?

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LYT: Yes, but I’ll bring back the other point: Is there value to building to an ending with Paranormal Activity, or is it something that should be kept alive?

JB: I think there’s a huge value in building to an ending. And we talk about it all the time. [laughs]

LYT: Considering that The Marked Ones actually does advance the central story line, why market it as a spin-off instead of a numbered sequel?

JB: Um…I felt, I think we all felt, that it lived in-between its own movie and a sequel. It’s true, it touches on story. I think if we had actually called it Paranormal Activity 5, I think more people would have felt cheated than not cheated, based on that. I think it’s – the other sequels, we established a kind of rhythm with the other movies, which was very consistent, and this movie was really separate from that. We thought – we talked about it – but we really thought it was the fair way to put words around the movie, to call it more of a cousin than a sequel. So people make disagree or agree with that, but that was thinking behind it.

LYT: I love that it broke the formula!

JB: I do too!

LYT: At the end, when you have the gangsters attacking the witches with guns, I thought that was great!

JB: [laughs]I did too! I loved it too. I was really happy with that movie.

LYT: I was like, “More of that! That’s cool!”

JB: Exactly. Exactly.

LYT: So are you filming the Jem movie yet?

JB: Oh, we finished.

LYT: Oh, you finished!

JB: Yeah, we’re done shooting. We’re editing.

LYT: Cool.

JB: I’m supposed to see a cut of it next week. Actually, I’m supposed to see a cut of it this week. I’m supposed to see a cut of it on Wednesday, I think.

LYT: Can you comment on whether or not Synergy is in the movie?

JB: I cannot comment on that. I can actively not comment.

LYT: OK. Also, music-wise, are you going for more of an ’80s glam-rock vibe, or is it going to be updated?

JB: It’s updated. The music is updated.

LYT: I get a lot of questions about that, but I figure it’s probably too early.

JB: Do you?

LYT: Oh, yeah! I run a site that is also about toys, so…

JB: Oh. Well, there you go!

LYT: There are a lot of people concerned. When they heard it was going to be a road trip, they thought that didn’t sound like the original story very much.

JB: They should not be concerned. I think they’re going to be very happy when they see the movie. They’re going to feel very good about it. No one loves Jem and the Holograms on the planet more than (director) Jon Chu, so he was very – and he had total creative freedom to do what he wanted to do. So he’s very, very, very respectful of our fans. I think people will be very happy about it. He really – his idea to do the movie, it wasn’t the idea of the studio or Hasbro, or it wasn’t a big corporate idea to make this. It was Jon Chu’s idea, and he is first and foremost a fan, and I think the fans will see that when they see the movie. It wasn’t like a corporate initiative. It was born from a fan.

LYT: With that said, once it started, how hands-on were Hasbro? Did they let you guys run with it, or did they supervise to make sure?

JB: That’s the beauty of low-budget movies. That’s why all we do is make low-budget movies, because it gives us creative freedom. That stretches across. We might do other genres, but we always do low budget. They, like everybody else – that’s the deal that we make with our directors. Jon Chu works for free and directs for free, but in exchange, he says “I get this time. If I’m not getting paid, I get to do what I want to do.” They very much stuck by that bargain. Hasbro stuck by it, Universal stuck by it, and we stuck by it too. Blumhouse as a company stuck by it, too. We give ideas to our directors, all the way through the process, but we let them decide if they’re going to use them or not.

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LYT: One of my readers wanted me to ask you if you have a replica of the Oculus mirror in your house, and if you would ever consider making high-end prop replicas like that, that people could buy?

JB: The answer is I do not, and I haven’t considered it, although I think it’s a very good idea. If they’re interested, for the right price, we could fabricate one. [laughs]

LYT: [laughs]I’m almost surprised I don’t see more Blumhouse merchandise. It seems like there are a lot of possibilities that it could go with, in addition to the haunted houses.

JB: I think you’re right about that. We’re working on growing the company in different ways, and that’s one of the ways that we were talking about. So hopefully, we’ll do more of that. I’d like to do more of it. And I like doing – one of my favorite things about the haunted houses, as opposed to making television and movies, is that you have direct interaction with the fan, with the consumer, and direct feedback from them. They went through the event, they said “I liked it,” “I hate it.” They told – there was this direct relationship, and I think you would have that with consumer products as well. I got a kick out of that.

LYT: I think a lot of times, people coming out of that would be willing to buy a ton of merchandise. Not that you necessarily want to milk it to that degree, but oftentimes – I saw a guy yesterday who had a T-shirt that said “I survived The Purge,” and I thought, “I would totally get one of those.”

JB: Yeah, I agree with you. I agree with you.

LYT: At the beginning of this film, I don’t think it’s my imagination, it said “BH Productions” instead of Blumhouse. Is that an official abbreviated name change?

JB: BH Productions? No, we only use that because when you decide to put credits at the end of the movie, the guild won’t allow a production company to use a name of a company, even if the name is – like, you can’t say “Jerry Bruckheimer Productions.” You can’t even say “Bruckheimer,” you’re not allowed to say “Blumhouse.” So if the main credits of the movie are at the end of the movie, we’re forced to use BH. But if the main credits of the movie are at the head of the movie, we use Blumhouse.

LYT: Interesting. Did not know that. I see also that you’re working on an Amityville remake. What have you learned from the Ryan Reynolds version that didn’t succeed so well, as far as what not to do?

JB: Well, I think that what we try to do with this movie, and with that movie too – we’re in post-production on it, I’ve seen it now. Hopefully fans will agree with me – what we tried to do is do the opposite of what people expected. So when I met with Frank Khalfoun – we said, I said to him, he said “What do you want in Amityville?” I said “What I want is: what everyone thinks it’s going to be, don’t do that.” I think we came up with something – whether it works or not, I can’t tell you, but I think we definitely came up with something which will surprise people.

And so it wasn’t a direct response to the Ryan Reynolds movie, but it was a response to people’s feeling that Amityville has been retread one too many times. So we reinvented it. I like being the underdog. it’s why I make low-budget movies. I like being the underdog in terms of being – everyone comes at this or come at that movie very cynically, and I think they’ll be happily surprised, which I always get a kick out of.

LYT: The only thing we really want to know is, does it answer the Eddie Murphy question about the original Amityville? Why don’t white people just leave the house when there’s a ghost in the house?

JB: [laughs]Uh…we struggle with that question in every movie that we make! We try to answer it in every possible way that we can – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. We do answer that question in Amityville, and I’ll leave it up to the fans if they think we were successful or not at answering it.

LYT: On that note, Jason, I’ll leave you, but thank you so much. I really appreciate it, always.

JB: Thanks for the third interview!

LYT: I’m looking forward to the fourth for the next Purge.

JB: Me too! Thanks a lot.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY opens Friday.

About Author

Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.) Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist