Jason Blum
Reigns Over Horror

by Pamela Price

Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘master of suspense’ once said, “Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.” He had a rare talent for making films that expanded audience’s imaginations in the darkest way possible. When you are a fan of horror and thrillers, as I am, you are entertained by the very nightmarish feeling Hitchcock spoke of. But with all of the supernatural horror movies that are released throughout the year, only a small amount of them leave your blood curdling long after the ending credits roll. In order to bring a truly terrifying story to life, it takes a mind that knows what can really scare. Jason Blum has that mind. For the past several years, Blum has been the man responsible for bringing the latest successful tales of terror to the big screen. A master at the art of filmmaking on a micro-budget, Blum’s company, Blumhouse Productions, have produced franchises from “Paranormal Activity” to “Insidious” and “The Purge.” Their horror resume continues with “Ouija,” “Oculus,” Rob Zombie’s “Lords of Salem,” “Sinister” and their latest release, “Unfriended.”
Although Blum has found a departure, producing other genres such as the HBO TV movie “The Normal Heart,” and the feature drama “Whiplash” which earned him an Emmy and an Oscar nomination, he has an undeniable talent for horror. Blum sees a unique concept and runs with it. “Unfriended” is the perfect example as it is unlike any other supernatural thriller. There’s no camera or change in point of view. The audience simply watches a Skype call on a computer screen for the entire film.
In speaking with the gifted producer at Universal’s “Unfriended” press junket, I instantly grasped his passion and thrill for filmmaking. He’s rolling out great quality movies on a consistent basis. It’s no wonder Blum is one of the busiest men in Hollywood. Just this summer, Blumhouse Productions will release four films: “Insidious: Chapter 3,” “The Gallows,” “The Gift,” and the highly anticipated “Sinister 2.”
In the height of his career in horror, it was an honor to pick the brain of such an impressive producer.

For you personally and as a producer, what elements make a great horror film?

It has to feel real. Even if there are only three scares in it, if it feels real, it's super scary. Especially people who don't really love horror movies, they always talk about what the jump scares are. To me the scares are much less important than what comes between the scares. I think if there is really good filmmaking and acting and storytelling and script in between the scares and it feels real; to me, this is what makes a good horror movie.

Is horror your true passion?

I would say now it's my true passion. But it wasn't always. Guys like Quentin [Tarantino] and Eli Roth grew up on horror. I didn't. I loved Hitchcock movies when I was a kid but I really liked all movies. I wasn't a crazy horror movie fan, which I am now. But I think by working with people who were; working on “Paranormal Activity,” and then working with James Wan and Scott Derrickson… I got turned into an insane horror fan. And I've always liked gross and outrageous things; so I tapped into that.

Is it safe to say that Halloween is your favorite holiday?

Definitely! (Laughter)

With “Unfriended,” This is the first time I’ve felt inside the movie, a part of the Skype phone call. Are we looking at a new type of ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking?

I think it is. If it works, even a little bit; I think it will be a new way to tell stories. I think like found-footage - right in the middle of the Paranormal movies, maybe the second one it was like, "Oh my God is everything going to be found footage?" I didn't think it would but there were a lot. But it's still 3 or 5% of movies. I think this could turn into a few movies a year like this. I don’t think it will overtake traditional movie making. But I think it could be another venue that filmmakers have to tell a story.

What did you think when this script came to you?

It first came to me as a rough-cut, which is also how we got involved in Paranormal Activity. I thought… you know, it’s why I get up in the morning. I see a lot of movies and I read a lot of scripts, waiting for something to be, not just original, but scary and original. If it was just original and not scary - or if it’s scary, but you’ve seen it a hundred times before, then it’s almost not scary because you’ve seen it. But you’re really waiting to get something that feels like nothing you’ve ever seen before and gets under your skin. When I saw it I was really psyched.

Does box office matter to you?

Box office matters to me a ton. Not because - it’s great to make money, and I’m not saying that isn’t a nice benefit. But to me why it’s more important is that the movie business, the content business, the arts in general are so subjective and I do like that there’s one thing that’s absolute. You could say you hated the movie, you didn’t hate the movie… but if the movie bombed and just made no money - no one can argue with that. Or if it was a huge financial success, no one can argue with that. So it’s great to have one absolute. I’m not saying that it indicates whether the movie is good or not. There are a lot of movies that have made a lot of money that I thought were terrible - and there are a lot of great movies that have bombed. But at least it’s one thing to hold onto. I’m very focused on how movies perform, and I’m very focused on the reviews and what the fans say. I read everything online.

That’s what makes you an executive producer.

I care!

You’re the master of the micro-budget. Can you talk about producing small budget films in terms of advice for new filmmakers?

The reason I love micro-budget is because you can take chances. If you don’t spend a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of risk. You can do movies like “Unfriended.” You can do movies that are weird and unique. Generally, the more money that is spent on a movie, the more vanilla the movie. The more money you spend on a movie, the more you have to kind of imitate the successes of the past. But if you keep budgets down, you can do new stuff.

I always suggest, instead of writing a movie with a script that costs money that they can’t afford and waiting for people to give them money… write a script that takes place in your studio apartment about you, your girlfriend and your girlfriend’s friend. And then shoot it on your iPhone. I’m a big fan of not waiting for professionals to tell you it’s OK to go make something. Go do it yourself, even if the story has to be the simplest story ever.

The Paranormal and unseen demons have really taken over as the villains of horror, since the Michael and Freddy Krueger days. Where do you see the evolution of villains going? Will the supernatural stick around for a while?

I think it’s going to shift. It hasn’t shifted, but I think that villains are cyclical and they kind of represent things that are going on in our world. I think there will be another phase of horror movies after supernatural; but we’re still heavily in supernatural.

As opposed to “Paranormal Activity” producer Oren Peli, who I spoke with... have you had a paranormal experience?

I had one. I lived in an apartment in New York on Crosby Street and it was a storefront. There were three of us. There was one of us in the front of the store, one of us in the back and I lived in the basement. I woke up in the middle of the night and I saw a ghost at the foot of my bed. And it was not nice, and it was not mean. It was standing there looking at me. It went away. I will never forget it and it’s the only time it ever happened. It wasn’t anyone I recognized, but it definitely scared the sh** out of me.

So you’re a believer?

I definitely believe there is stuff out there that science can’t explain. I’m more of a believer than Oren, for sure.

You’ve seen great success with other genres, such as Whiplash this past year. Is there something new you’d like to tackle on the producing end?

I’m very psyched about our Western. We did a Western with Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. We’re still working on the cut; it’s not quite done yet. I’ve always wanted to do a Western, so I’m really excited about that.

I’d like to do a micro-budget comedy that’s successful. We’ve done a few of them that just got released on VOD. There’s never really been a comedy made for $4 million that opened up on 3,000 screens. There are a ton of horror movies, but not comedies. Comedies are more dependent on big stars, whereas horror movies are often better with people you don’t recognize.

What can we expect from Blumhouse in the coming year? The Purge, Sinister 2…

“Sinister 2,” Insidious 3. We have this movie called “The Gallows” and this movie called “The Gift” with Jason Bateman. Joel Eckerman directed it. Bateman is married to a woman played by Rebecca Hall. At the very beginning of the movie, Joel shows up and it turns out they had a history in High School. One of them was not nice to one of them and one is here to get his revenge.

Keep up with Blumhouse Productions’ films: