Producer Jason Blum — the king of low-budget horror — on his greatest hits
BLUMHOUSE PRODUCTIONS, RUN
by the indefatigable Jason Blum, has become one of the biggest success stories in Hollywood by sticking to one simple rule: making a succession of horror movies with the emphasis on low budgets and big profits. We asked Blum to talk us through its standouts.
Oren Peli’s micro-budget (it cost just $15,000), supernatural home-invasion story was looking for a distributor when Blum first saw it. “I didn’t think it was the greatest movie ever made, but I definitely thought it was effective.” Blum hooked up with Peli and screened the film at his house multiple times before he sold it to Paramount. “It took three years,” he laughs. “It was a wild ride.” But one that led to five sequels and a total gross of $887 million, before bowing out with Paranormal
Activity: The Ghost Dimension in 2015. Was Blum quitting while he was ahead? “That’s generous,” he laughs. “We might have quit one earlier!”
Still thrumming from the success of Paranormal
Activity, Blum recalls getting a pitch in his “little office” from the guys who had made Saw, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell. Their idea: a haunted-house movie that goes full-on berserk by the end. “James said the third act was going to be very David Lynch, which scared a lot of people,” recalls Blum. “Most executives don’t like scary movies. Happily, I love them.” Blum said yes to Wan, as long as he could make it for $1 million. He did. And so far the series — three and counting, with Whannell now directing — has made over $350 million worldwide.
Blum went to college with Ethan Hawke, so when he was looking for a name to anchor Scott Derrickson’s demonic thriller, he knew just the guy to call. “Ethan doesn’t like horror movies!” laughs Blum. “One of the reasons he didn’t want to do one was that he thought acting in a horror movie would be scary. But he loved this idea that it was about a guy choosing his career over his family, and that we could use genre as a way to deliver drama.”
Hawke enjoyed his first dalliance with the horror genre so much, he immediately signed on to star in dystopian home-invasion movie
The Purge. And, with Blumhouse aiming to bring all original movies in for $5 million, Hawke agreed to help keep costs down in an unorthodox fashion. “He stayed on our sofa,” laughs Blum. “He actually did.” Blum is proud of the success of his formula, with big-name actors working for scale in the hope of big percentages coming their way further down the line. “We’ve paid out a lot of money to people,” admits the producer. “I put the cheque in the mail and film myself putting it through the post office.”
WHIPLASH __ (2014)
At first glance, Damien Chazelle’s drama about the battle between a young jazz drummer and his tyrannical teacher is the outlier in the producer’s recent output. Not just because it won three Oscars, but it’s not a scary movie. Blum disagrees. “It’s a Sundance version of a horror movie,” he says. “Especially in terms of its themes and tone.” Blum also produced the original short that was a proof of concept for the movie, which cost around $3 million to make, but then struggled to sell the full-length feature. “We did a pretty crummy deal with Sony Classics, but it’s a great reminder: keep your head down and do your thing. If you listen to the noise, you won’t do anything.”
Another Blumhouse maxim: the director is in control. And that extends to first-time directors and actors-turned-directors. In the case of Joel Edgerton, he was both when he pitched the dark psychological thriller (initially called Weirdo) that is now recognised as one of Blumhouse’s very best. “I feel a movie either works or doesn’t work because of performance,” says Blum. “Who better to deal with that than actors? I’ll hopefully do another movie with Joel.”
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
When it comes to sequels, Blum loosens the purse strings a bit. “If you have a movie that works, the risk goes down exponentially,” he explains. “The Purge: Election Year was $10 million. That’s still incredibly cheap by Hollywood standards, but by Blumhouse standards it wasn’t.” The Purge series bloomed — or Blumed — from that first house-bound horror, with writer-director James Demonaco introducing more characters, bigger action, and a political streak a mile wide. Releasing a movie about a dystopian America in 2016, and calling it
Election Year, takes some cojones. “We were very cognisant that it was an election year, and we wanted to make the third one more political for sure,” says Blum. “I think James has a crystal ball. He saw into the future.”
Clockwise from main: The Purge: Election Year; Whiplash; Insidious; Sinister. Inset: Jason Blum.