Live Performance, Movies

Insidious Producer Jason Blum Talks Ouija, Sinister, Jem, The Purge, Shared Universes, More

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Blumhouse, the production company that gives us most of today’s low-to-mid budget horror franchises like The Purge and Insidious (and also the occasional art movie like Whiplash), is sometimes in danger of outshining its onscreen product with live tie-ins. Both Purge movies featured live walk-through theatrical experiences, and now Insidious: Chapter 3 features an “interactive mobile experience” that combines a walk-through haunted house-like corridor with an Oculus Rift 4D virtual reality journey. I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but the Rift experience isn’t quite at the level of the one for Interstellar – it integrates the surroundings quite cleverly, but there’s still weird “prisming” around the edges of things, and having actress Lin Shaye actually in it showcases the limits of full-VR humans.

I only got to enter the scenario after speaking with Jason Blum, but knowing his background in live theater, I was able to talk a bit about possible future plans along these lines, as well as hitting him up on every one of his franchises I could think of. You’ve already read the part about Jem…now read the rest.

Luke Y. Thompson: I was hoping to do the live Insidious experience first. I imagine I would have a lot to ask you about it.

Jason Blum: Oh, you haven’t done it yet?

LYT: No.

JB: Oh, it’s cool.

LYT: But I know with your background in live theater these things must be really fun to put on.

JB: Yeah, they are really fun.

LYT: Honestly, I love the two Purge ones even better than the movies.

JB: Oh, did you? That’s so cool. You did the trucks and the Purge event down here?

LYT: I did Fear the Night, and then the Escape, as well.

JB: Oh, that’s great. That’s cool. I’m glad you liked it. Yelp fucking killed us on that. We did Fear the Night, and then no one liked it, so we revamped it after four days and then everyone loved it, but Yelp would not change the reviews. It was tough for us, but it was fun to do.

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Some dork gets scared by this stuff.

LYT: The one I did was the revamped one, I’m sure, but it was good. And then in The Purge 2, to see some of the same sets carry over was cool.

JB: Yeah, that’s great. That’s awesome!

LYT: I was like, “Oh my god, that stuff – I was there.”

JB: That’s great. Good, good, good.

LYT: I was thinking insanely off the top of my head that you should do a Whiplash one where a guy throws cymbals at your head.

JB: [laughs]A Whiplash haunted house would be great.

LYT: It’s a tenuous connection to make, but did your experience in making scary movies inform the fact that your scariest character is not in a horror movie?

JB: In J.K. Simmons? [laughs]That’s a great question. I don’t know, I also go Whiplash is like the independent horror movie – the ultimate Sundance horror movie. But maybe, maybe – maybe J.K. is a combination of all of our villains put together.

LYT: The obvious question: Paranormal Activity is your flagship franchise. What kind of interactive experience, if any, do you have planned? Do you have anything in mind?

JB: We don’t yet. The movie’s coming out – the fifth movie is coming out in October, and we don’t yet, although I’ve tried a couple of times to do kind of a play, which hasn’t worked. I mean, we never put it up. But I’d love to do something. I’d love to do a live event with Paranormal, but we haven’t done it yet.

LYT: Is it tougher because a lot of your other movies have physical, evil characters, and Paranormal is mostly stuff you can’t see?

JB: MMmmm – I don’t know. I think sometimes that makes it easier, because then you can invent. If you haven’t shown it, you can invent it. I think there are a lot of people involved. I think it’s more political than creative.

LYT: Totally random, inside-blogger question: How is [former horror blogger-turned Blumhouse director of development]Ryan Turek working out for you?

JB: He’s awesome. He’s doing a great job. I just spoke to him this morning. We just showed him the new cut of Paranormal, and he gave his notes on it, which were terrific. He is a really great hire for us, and we’re really happy with how he’s working out. It’s really, really helpful to have his voice in the room when we’re talking about how to make great horror movies.

LYT: Is The Ghost Dimension [the next Paranormal]still going to be partially 3-D or all 3-D? Is 3-D going to be a part of this film?

JB: It’s an ongoing discussion. [chuckles]It’s an ongoing discussion.

LYT: That’s interesting. There’s such a divide with 3-D. I’m personally annoyed that so many of my colleagues have complained, that I don’t get 3-D screenings of movies anymore.

JB: That’s right, yeah. I think 3-D – it’s hard to get it right. I think when 3-D is great, it’s really terrific, but there are so many movies that were in 3-D that shouldn’t have been, that it kind of wrecked it for the rest of them, I think, which is a shame. But when it’s right, it’s really cool.

LYT: At least with horror, there are so many opportunities to do things with it.

JB: I know, I know. There really are. There really are. Well, it’ll raise its head again, I think.

LYT: Now how glad are you that I don’t have to ask an Area 51 question?

JB: My question to the horror community is did my word come true? I said to every person, every interview, I said “I promise it will come out!” And I got very skeptical looks, and I just have to say, I am a man of my word, and in fact it did, or it is about to come about. It’s coming out any minute. And I want it pointed out for all those people who didn’t believe me, I challenge you to test my integrity. [chuckles]

LYT: Actually, the last interview we did, what you said was “You’ll have to ask Oren Peli.”

JB: Is that what I said? [laughing]Well, I’ve done a lot of interviews where I’ve told everyone it was coming out, but I didn’t know when, but in fact it finally is coming out.

LYT: Did he give you any indication of why it took so long? When I saw the trailer, I was like, maybe it’s because there are more digital effects in this one than in your standard found-footage movie?

JB: Well, you know, it’s a collective decision. It’s not just Oren’s decision. It’s Paramount, and I think there are all different factors. He worked for a long time on the movie, also, so I think there were a lot of factors. The real news is, it’s out. It’s Oren’s movie.

LYT: Is he going to direct another one? Would you try to get him to do the final Paranormal Activity?

JB: I hope he’s directing. I keep asking him to direct another movie. I want to make a – I want to do another movie with him. I’ve approached him several times, and I’m waiting for him to say “Yes,” but he hasn’t yet.

LYT; What was his role on this one? I know he has a producer credit. What did he do for Insidious?

JB: Oh, on Insidious? I think he was around a bit – he would chime in at key moments. He was around a bit and would chime in – put in his point of view at key moments.

LYT: And how hands-on were you? I know it’s a first-time director, which is rare for you, but Leigh Whannell’s not really – you can’t really call him ‘inexperienced.’

JB: Yeah, he’s very experienced. I mean, our company is very, very hands-on. Creatively, we’re hands-off, but in terms of every aspect of the movie, our company runs. Creatively, we really created a place where Leigh could do what he wanted to do, and I think the movie really works because we let Leigh’s imagination soar. But from a practical stand-point, we cast, he cut in our office – all of that stuff, we’re very involved.

LYT: With all the properties you have, do you ever think in terms of shared universe, to name a current buzzword?

JB: Yes!


LYT: Would all of the properties ever cross?

JB: We had an idea to do that, but it got shot down. I would like to do it, but it’s not only up to me. It’s obviously up to the people who have written and directed the movies, so everyone has to be on-board with it. But I would like to do it at some point. I think I said that in an interview once. I would really like to do it, but we have no immediate plans to do it.

LYT: I guess you could do a House of Horrors and have all of the characters in it.

JB: That would be fun. I would like to do that. A live event, for sure, would be fun to do, yeah.

LYT: How much input do you have on the live events? I know for Fear the Night, because it was more like a play, there was more input. For ones like Escape, like the last one, how much input…

JB: On the truck?

LYT: Yeah. How much do you leave that to people?

JB: We worked with the guys who did [the]Blackout [haunted house], and I think Blackout is so cool. We encouraged them to kind of take the lead creatively, and they did that. So I give little thoughts along the way, but we really leave it to them.

LYT: Now that you have haunted houses that go even further than Blackout, where there are ones where you’ve got to go through naked, and there are ones that electric shock you, do you ever want to go to that next level, or is there a level beyond which your comfort zone is exceeded?

JB: [laughing]I don’t know. I never say ‘never,’ but I have no plans to do that. But never say ‘never.’ Are there ones you go through naked? I’ve never heard of those.

LYT: Yeah.

JB: Really?

LYT: Yeah.

JB: Oh my god, I’ve never heard of those. Sounds fun, though.

LYT: Every year I hear of new ones that are insane. There was one that takes you up in a ski lift to a ski resort and leaves you there.

JB: Really? Wow, I love it. Well, I’d like to try them. I don’t know if we’ll do them, but I’d like to try them.

LYT: With The Purge, you obviously went up in budget for the second one to expand the world, which in a way makes sense. Talking to Leigh earlier, I was talking about with the Insidious world, you could do a massive, sort of celestial story that goes through heaven and hell if you really wanted to. Would there be any interest in that, or do you think they work better as confined spaces, in one house?

JB: I don’t know. I’m interested in continuing it in whatever is in Leigh’s – in James’ and Leigh’s imagination. If they endorse that, I’d be into it. And if they didn’t, I wouldn’t. I guess that’s how I’d answer that question.

LYT: Well, so far The Purge is really the only one that’s expanded on a bigger level. Is that something that could always be done to service the story, or are there budgetary limitations on doing that?

JB: for Insidious, or generally?

LYT: Just generally.

JB: Generally, yeah – I try. The budgets of our sequels are not as low as the original movies, but they’re still very low. I do that so I can say to Leigh “Do whatever you want.” If the budget goes up a lot, then we have to start giving him parameters – creative parameters, which I don’t want to do. I’d rather have financial parameters around a movie than creative parameters around a movie.

So yeah – we can’t go crazy on sequels, and I don’t want to do that, so we have to think – there are certain financial constraints, although they are less than – much less than the original movies.

LYT: That’s what Leigh said: “More money equals notes. I’d rather not get any notes.”

JB: Exactly. More money equals notes, exactly.

LYT: It sounds like you give a lot of notes anyway – you’re fairly hands-on with the creative process.

JB: We give a lot of notes because we have a lot of data, because we do so many scary movies. But we give notes in the spirit of “Look, here are our ten ideas. Whichever ones you think will make the movie better, use them, and whatever you don’t, don’t.” There’s not an endless dialogue about that, which I always find frustrating in Hollywood. It’s like, “Look: Here are our ideas. If you like them better, use them. If you don’t, I’m not going to sit and talk you into them for three hours.”

LYT: It’s hard to keep track sometimes. I had to look up to see if Amityville had come out yet or not. I wasn’t certain if it had.

JB: Not yet, not yet.

LYT: But Ouija 2 is in the works?

JB: Ouija 2 we’re going to do, yeah.

LYT: So that did really well?

JB: Ouija 1 did over $100 million. It was our best original after Paranormal Activity.

LYT: Does it count as original since it was technically licensed based on the board game?

JB: Well, but there was no movie before it, as opposed to a sequel. Like, we’ve had sequels do over $100 million – Insidious 2. But the best original was Paranormal, of everything that we’ve done, and the second-best was Ouija, so it did great as an original movie.

LYT: So the name recognition really helps?

JB: I think it does help. I think it did help. The idea for the second movie is really cool.

LYT: Well, speaking of name recognition, this is the tough question. You must have seen the online reactions to the Jem trailer.

JB: Oh, I did, I did.

LYT: Even William Shatner reacted [on Twitter]

JB: What did William Shatner say?

LYT: Something to the effect of he didn’t get it, no earrings, no holograms, what’s the point?

JB: Well, I think he should…I cannot wait for the movie come out and hear what everybody has to say, and I can’t wait for – a few more people are gonna see the trailer over the weekend, on Pitch Perfect 2, so I’m looking forward to a wider response. But MOST OF ALL, I’m looking forward for everyone to see the movie, and if they still have problems, I will field any complaints personally [laughs].

LYT: Can you reassure some of the fans right now who are a little upset at the way it looks and feel like it’s not true to the property from what they’ve seen?

JB: It is a hundred per cent true to the spirit of Jem, like 100%, and I think that people will be very pleasantly surprised. So in that way it’s good – maybe lowering expectations is good. But I think people will be pleasantly surprised for sure.

LYT: One theory I’ve seen put forward by fans who want to like it is that this is sort of a prequel to the animated version, and then the next film you get the Misfits and you get Synergy…

JB: That is a theory. It isn’t correct. [Laughs.]

LYT: My wife literally screamed and yelled when she saw the trailer, and threw things.

JB: She was upset about it?

LYT: She was upset. She said, “Now I know why you guys were mad at Michael Bay for Transformers.”

JB: [laughs loudly]Tell her to hang in there and have faith. A trailer’s two minutes; a movie is 90.

LYT: Will we hear a soundtrack album maybe in advance of the movie that can give us hope?

JB: Possibly. I’m not sure yet. But I would just ask people to reserve judgment until they’ve seen the movie. I don’t judge a book by reading the book cover, and I just would ask people, don’t judge the movie by seeing the trailer. But if after they see the movie, they don’t like it? They can scream from the rooftops.

LYT: Are you planning a live theatrical event to tie into that?

JB: Not currently, but we’ve talked about it.

Insidious: Chapter 3 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