First published (in a slightly shorter version) by Grolsch FilmWorks
The founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, in 2005 Jason Blum produced one of the most profitable films of all time, Paranormal Activity, and ever since his name has been synonymous with lucrative low-budget genre titles like Insidious (2010), Sinister (2012) and The Purge (2013), all of which have spawned their own successful theatrical franchises. He also invests in some very impressive non-genre films, like this year’s Oscar-nominated Whiplash (2014). With the The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s improvingly postmodern retread of Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 exploitation docudrama, in UK cinemas from Friday, Grolsch FilmWorks chatted with its producer.
Grolsch FilmWorks: Noah Baumbach’s eighth feature, While We’re Young, is currently showing in British cinemas – but his feature debut as writer/director, Kinking and Screaming (1995), was also your first production credit. What’s the story behind your involvement?
Jason Blum: Noah was my roommate in college. We made a bunch of student movies together, so we knew each other, and he was also my roommate after we graduated, we lived in Chicago together.
GFW: And did you always want to be a producer, or did you find out on Kicking and Screaming that production was your thing ?
JB: I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in movies but I always wanted to be in the movie business in some way, since I was in, I think, high school. The more I did, the more I loved it – it just took me a long time to find out what part of the movie business I liked best, and what I liked doing best. There were a lot of experiences I had that were good and not good, but it took me about 15 years to figure out something that I really liked, my place in it. But yes, that [Kicking and Screaming] was part of my journey.
GFW: In 2000 you founded Blumhouse Productions. What do you see as Blumhouse’s model and mission?
JB: Its mission is to make low-budget, wide-release movies – we don’t always accomplish it, but that’s our mission. And the model is to give filmmakers more creative freedom than they typically have in the US. Everyone kind of bets on themselves. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the directors get a lot more creative freedom. It’s a much more European system, it’s a European system but for commercial movies based in Hollywood.
GFW: So does that mean that you’re quite hands-off when it comes to the actual making of the films?
JB: We’re involved, and we have a voice, and we’ve made a lot of these movies now so we have a lot of information which we’re not shy about sharing, but at the end of the day most of the time – not all the time, but most of the time – we give the directors final cut and we let them make the movie they want to make.
GFW: And when you say your mission is to produce low-budget films, what do you mean by ‘low-budget’?
JB: For me, low-budget means it is under $5 million, and because our movies are released by studios – not all of them, but a lot of them – I’m comparing that to a studio budget of $50 million. So we’re 90% off the average studio movie. We’re not competing with independent movies, we’re competing with studio movies, so that’s what I mean.
GFW: What has been the draw of horror for you, both personally, and as a producer?
JB: Well, Halloween was always my favourite holiday, I really loved scary stuff. I started doing movies in New York, where there really wasn’t a culture of doing scary movies, and I’m also interested in independent movies and studio movies. I got very frustrated the way independent movies are distributed, because no-one sees them, and I got very frustrated making studio movies, because it’s such a creative process by committee, and so what Paranormal Activity did for me is combine both those things. It’s like the ultimate independent movie distributed by a studio, and the best fit for that is genre. Not necessarily horror, there’s a lot of horror, but you know, The Boy Next Door (2015) was an erotic thriller, I think it’s more genre – although I don’t ever want to stop making horror movies. I love them, and 90% of what we’re doing now continues to be horror, but we’re trying, we’re dipping our toe in other genres that would fit that model: Jem and the Holograms, perhaps, a totally independent movie, low-budget, being released by a studio. Or like I said, The Boy Next Door, same idea.
GFW: Of course, until 2005 when you produced Paranormal Activity, none of your productions was in the horror genre – and since then, you’ve worked on other non-horror titles, like Emmy-winning AIDS drama telemovie The Normal Heart (2014), this year’s Oscar-nominated Whiplash, and others. Do you regard these projects as entirely separate from your horror work, or do they all for you as a producer form part of a continuum?
JB: The only separate entity for me was The Normal Heart, because the budget for that – it was expensive – it was a $20 million plus movie and we were a producer-for-hire. But Jem and the Holograms and The Boy Next Door – all those feel like low-budget wide-release movies where we gave the director more control than they would ordinarily have, so those fit into – I mean, I would say that the spirit of Jem and the Holograms embodies our company. It’s all about embracing the individual and embracing the kind of unique and weird and nerdy and different – and one of the reasons I love horror movies is because I feel that horror fans, we’re al kind of outcasts, and people kind of look down on horror movies, and I like that feeling of being the underdog and it creates a kind of community. People who like horror stick together and are supportive of each other, and I really like that. I wasn’t like Eli Roth or Tarantino where I grew up, like, loving horror more than anything else. I really loved movies, and I found horror through Paranormal Activity, and I stuck with it, because that was finally when I figured out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.
GFW: Besides Whiplash and Oculus, Blumhouse produced yet another of my favourite films of last year, Patrick Brice’s Creep, which remains criminally unreleased in the UK. I assume it was a very low-budget production, so does it conform exactly to the model of film that you’re looking for at Blumhouse?
JB: Creep was less than a million dollars, obviously. But, uh, yeah, I think Creep checks all of the boxes for us. Really effective, really scary, it gets under your skin, and it’s really original. I loved it too. It is coming out relatively soon too, believe it or not – I’ve been working on that, and I’m glad you like it. I thought Mark [Duplass] and Patrick [Brice] did a great job on it.
GFW: How did you become attached to The Town That Dreaded Sundown?
JB: Ryan Murphy asked me to lunch. I’d never met him before. I was a big admirer of his work, I think he’s presenting just incredibly interesting things. He said, “Look, I’ve always wanted to remake this movie. What do you think?” I’d never heard of the movie, I watched it that night, I called him the next day, I said I’d love to do it. I said, “Would you be willing to produce it if we did it low-budget, cos that’s the core of our system.” And he said, “Yeah.” So we went together to MGM and we said wanted to produce together and make the movie together, and that’s exactly how it happened.
GFW: It could be called a meta sequel, or it could be called a remake within a remake. It’s got all the postmodern self-referential sensibilities of Scream 2, only it takes itself really quite seriously. How would you describe what is going on in The Town That Dreaded Sundown?
JB: I think you’re exactly right. The first movie is tucked into the second movie, and it’s kind of a meta horror movie. I think it looks beautiful. I think the movie, it’s very compelling, but it’s a more offbeat horror movie than the ones that we typically do – and I really like that about it.
Words by Anton Bitel