This job has a lot of perks. One of those perks is getting to interview some really awesome people. Case in point, I had the privledge of getting to talk with founder of Blumhouse Productions; producer of the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, Sinister, and most recently The Purge (along with many, many others); and all-around awesome dude Jason Blum.
We talk about The Purge, what producers do and what led to his becoming one, the nature of found footage, how awesome Ethan Hawke is in real life (spoiler alert: as awesome as you think!), Blumhouse’s forthcoming movies, what it’s like working with a comedian on a horror film, and lots more.
Check out the interview below!
Sean – So how are you doing today?
Jason Blum – Very good, very good, lot’s of chatting.
Yes, I imagine so, hopefully I’ll ask you some questions you haven’t heard a dozen, two dozen times today.
Oh good, I’m ready for that.
Alright, so, we’ll get right to it. What was it that drew you to The Purge?
We really, you know Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Insidious, if you’re a director sitting in my office, you’re saying what are we looking for? We’re looking for movies that can be told inexpensively so we hold on to creative control and that are high concept movies. So The Purge is the perfect, you know, the perfect Blum House movie in my mind because it’s a big huge concept that’s made up of this idea of this going on only 12 hours out of the year. And it’s told, instead of trying to tell a lot of stories that are out in the world, it’s told from one family’s very specific perspective so it’s very intimate. That allows you to do it for a price. So it really, it’s my dream movie. They don’t happen often, but when I heard it I was like ‘Oh my God we have to make that movie.’
So having, you know obviously spent a lot of time with The Purge, have you given any thought to what you would do during the Purge, given the chance?
I would lock my door and put my head under my pillow.
(laughs) That’s a fair answer. So what led to you becoming a Producer? You know, producers are one of those kind of amorphous blobs when people think about roles in film-making and obviously you’ve produced a lot of stuff, so could you give us some insight into kind of that whole process of becoming a producer and what a Producer does besides throw money at things?
I’ve always kind of grew up with creative people and in college my friends were mostly actors so I’ve always liked them. What a Producer does really is takes ideas and tries to convert them into whatever you’re producing, you know in my case being movies and TV shows. And so in the case of The Purge, we identified the script and put the budget and schedule together, worked on getting the right actors, work on giving our story advice along the way and then, obviously raising the money first and then spending the money second. Making sure that with each movie we spend the amount that we’ve raised and then that’s kind of the first half of the job. And the second half of the job is what I’m doing with you now, kind of getting the finished movie out there in the world. That’s what a producer does. And I got into it because I’ve always wanted to do it, I majored in film and economics in school and I’ve always loved movies and TV shows and never had any desire to write or direct so this was a way I could get involved with the medium I loved using the skill set that I think I have as opposed to what I don’t which would be directing.
So, looking at your IMDb page, you’ve worked with Ethan Hawke on a small handful of movies now, is he as awesome in real life as I imagine he is?
He really is, he’s one of my best friends and he’s great actor. It’s so fun to work with someone, you know, we’ve had a twenty year friendship and it’s so fun to work with someone who I’m so close to. We have such a short hand and we have great you know, creative conversations about the movies and what we’re doing and what we’re doing with our lives and the decisions we make career wise and everything else. It’s just really fun to have a collaborator like that.
I can definitely see the perks to that.
Now, Insidious and Sinister. To me, Insidious was kind of the rebirth of true horror films and, you know, its a PG-13 movie that scared the bejesus out of me and you know, and then Sinister came along and it was a very hard R and it got right under my skin. Out of all of these movies you’ve produced, out of all of these horror films, does any one particularly stand above the others as your favorite?
Oh my God, I can never pick favorites. They’re like my children! You know, you never think of it that way. I remember different things, different aspects, and Sinister was so fun because Ethan did it, Insidious was fun because it was like ‘What are you going to do after Paranormal Activity?’. But I definitely can’t pick favorites.
That’s fair, I’m sure you get that question a lot. Now, speaking of Paranormal Activity, can you give us any insight into the fifth installment of this franchise?
The fifth, no that’s top secret but it’s going to be fun and different for sure but that is very top secret you know that’s in a vault underneath Paramount.
You gotta ask.
Of course, of course! Of course, I appreciate the question.
Now as far as the other, hopefully, less top-secret films like Ghosts [now known as Jessabelle – ed] and Not Safe for Work, are there any of the other movies coming out, and you’ve got a slew coming out in the next year or two, that you can talk about?
Well we have Insidious 2 next and then Paranormal 5 and then Ghosts, those are the next kind of big releases coming up and you know, I’m psyched. I’m psyched about all of these movies for different reasons. I mean, I really feel like The Purge, I mean obviously I’m excited because it’s the next one but also because it’s like, it’s original and it’s based on an original idea by James and kind of like I said before it really kind of fits. Like, it’s exactly the kind of movie we’re looking for so you know I’m really proud of it.
Awesome. I work at a movie theater so I’ve seen all the trailers and the poster came in for The Purge and I said, ‘What is this?’. And since I work at the theater, I try not to see the trailers on the small screen, I like to see them for the first time on the big screen and Evil Dead had The Purge… I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this. You know that’s why my Editor and Chief said, ‘Sean you’ve got to do this phone interview’.
You’ve produced a lot of movies over a lot of different genres but is there anything in particular about horror that really draws you to it?
You know, it’s so fun to see people, to see an actual reaction to a movie. When you make horror movies, you really know when they work and you really know when they don’t work. You don’t have to wonder and ask people what they thought after the screening and that’s like a big thrill to actually get a physical reaction when the movie’s working. I suppose that happens in comedies too. We don’t do comedies, but that’s really fun. And I think there’s a real art to scaring people. I’ve learned a lot from the directors I’ve worked with. I’ve learned a lot from James and the actual scare is kind of the easier part and the hard part is kind of what happens in between the scare and that’s really what makes the scares work or not. And I think there’s a real craft to getting that right as opposed to making them, you know, just gratuitous in which case they don’t work, and that’s a real thrill too. It’s fun to watch. I’ve had a great time working with directors who really know the genre better then I do and watch them do it and learn from them and that’s been cool.
I would imagine, especially in a producer’s stand point, seeing these films come to life must be a real treat for you.
Yeah, it’s really fun. We kind of make them off the grid, you know we make them outside the system. We work in the system to get them out, to get them released and for me that’s the ideal way to make movies. No one can make movies better then the studios. But it’s very hard to make lower budget movies with the studios, but we have a great arrangement with Universal where they allow us to do what we want and then they, as soon as there’s something to look at, they really kind of get behind it and that’s very cool.
As far as the Paranormal Activity series goes, I love the third one because I was like, ‘How are they going to pull this off in the 80s?’ you know, things were so bulky and expensive, and they did, they pulled it off and it was amazing. And, the forth one, I had a few issues with the forth one but as far as-
The forth one went off the rails a little bit, we’re trying to get it back for the fifth.
Well, that I’m looking forward to! Do you know anything about the Hispanic-centric spin-off?
Yeah I’m producing that too.
Is it going to be good?
Yeah, well, it’s very different and I think it’s going to be really cool. Chris [Landon] directed it and he was a writer on the second, third and fourth movies so he really knows the franchise really well. I think he really did some cool stuff with it.
That’s awesome, because I saw the after credit scene of the fourth one numerous times because I had to usher around the weekend it came out, so we’d always walk in and catch it and I’d always tell people ‘Make sure you sit through and watch until the end!’ and people would always ask me, ‘What the heck is this?’ and I’d tell them, ‘Hey, there’s gonna be a spin off!’ so I’ve been pounding the pavement for you.
Nice, nice I like it, I like it.
Now, I’m looking at your IMDB page, and there’s so many awesome movies coming out now. And I asked some of my friends if they had any questions for you and one friend wanted to know, what could you tell us about Area 51?
Area 51…we’re still working on it. That was Oren’s second effort as a director and it’s a found footage movie. And, you know, Paranormal Activity took three years from the time the first cut of it was finished when I got involved, it was three years from that point to getting it out. So when you work on found footage movies they, you know they really cause more problems then they solve, I generally think that’s true. People come to me and say ‘Should I do this found footage or regular?’ and I say to them, if you can tell it traditionally I always encourage people to do that because I think, it’s easier production-wise but it’s harder story-telling wise. So that’s a really long winded way of saying we’re still working on the movie. But one of these days we’ll get it out there into the big bad world.
That’s awesome. A lot of these are just kind of little bullets on the page on IMDB, and I didn’t even know it (Area 51) was found footage. I’m a sucker for found footage and a lot of people were critical for The Devil Inside for not having an ending, it just ends suddenly and it’s like, ‘It’s found footage! Didn’t you guys see The Blair Witch? Didn’t you see Cannibal Holocaust?” These movies, you know they’re going to end abruptly. It’s found footage for a reason, it’s not ‘Hey we produced this film, watch it’ footage!
That’s right, you’re right about that and people don’t like that.
They usually end up in a bad place by the end of the movie, and I’m sure Area 51 is not going to end with a bunch of shiny, happy people singing Kumbaya. But, I looked at Ghosts and I thought, “Hmm, that writer’s name sounds really familiar…” and it’s Robert Ben Garant of The State and Reno 911! What was it like working with a comedy writer on a horror film?
It was funny, it was weird…we’re developing something else with him. He loves horror movies, he writes great scary movies, I think he’s got a long career of it. And when that movie comes out, I think we have a great date on that movie and I think Ben’s going to do a lot more. It’s funny, there’s actually a lot more similarities between horror and comedy than most people think. You know, a scare and a joke are both about timing and set up and being emotionally invested in the characters. There’s more similarities than one would imagine between the two genres. I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s probably good at it, and he loves horror movies too. He directed a kind of horror/comedy that was at Sundance this year, I don’t know if you saw it, called Ghost Town [listed on IMDb as Hell Baby – ed]?
I have not heard of that one but I’ll have to track it down. So, outside of the movies you’ve produced, are there any movies you’ve seen recently that you really thought ‘Wow, that was an awesome movie!’?
I just saw a documentary called Buck about a horse whisperer and it was amazing. It’s so offbeat and bizarre. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was a spectacular documentary. I liked Oblivion a lot, I thought Oblivion was cool.
Did you see it in IMAX?
I did not see it in IMAX, I did see it in the theater where they have the Academy Awards and the sound was amazing, so that was really cool.
We got the IMAX in our theater just as the Prometheus run came to an end and I didn’t see that in IMAX (having seen it twice before the IMAX opened) but seeing Oblivion in IMAX with that IMAX sound, is just really cool.
That’s cool, where is your theater?
Oh, Danbury! I went to school in Watertown.
How about that?!
Yeah, very close.
Small world. So I guess we’ll wrap it up with one last question.
What would you like our readers to take away from this interview about The Purge?
I’d like them to take away two things. That I’m really proud of it, I stand behind it, you know we’re showing it well in advance of it’s release because I’m proud of the work that James did on the movie so I think that’s really important and that’s why I’m having these conversations now and everything else. I just think that James pulled off the second thing, which I think they should know is, a great, scary, entertaining movie with a lot more to it than what you know. There’s some politics smuggled into the movie as well which I think is also kind of cool.
Awesome. I’ll sneak one more question in, I meant to ask it earlier: Since you said it’s obviously very contained, it’s one family’s story in this world, is there a possibility of there being other installments, expanded universe stories, set in the Purge universe?
I’d never say never but my mind is very focused on this current movie right now.
Fair enough! I’m sure it’ll be a hit, we’re all looking forward to it!
Cool, cool, cool. Well, are you seeing the movie soon?
Oh, I’ll be seeing it as soon as humanly possible. I’m on pins and needles.
Good, good, good. I’m psyched, it’s a good one.
Well, thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to talk with me. It was an absolute pleasure and hopefully we’ll be talking again soon.
My pleasure, I look forward to it.
Alright, thanks a lot!
Thanks a lot, bye.
The Purge comes out this Friday, June 7th.