If you pay any kind of attention to the horror movie genre, then the name Jason Blum means something to you - quite a bit, actually. The micro-budget specialist and founder of Blumhouse has been in the business for over twenty years, but began making waves in the genre scene after helping to bring PARANORMAL ACTIVITY to the masses. Soon after, his name became attached to a string of low-budget, highly-acclaimed hits, like INSIDIOUS, SINISTER and THE PURGE. (Not to mention every PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel.) This year he has approximately ten films due to be released, including OCULUS, a supernatural thriller from director Mike Flanagan; Blum discovered the film at least year's Toronto Film Festival and, in conjunction with Relativity Media and WWE Studios, will give it a wide release April 11th.
It's taken me a long time to actually speak to Jason Blum, but I was finally afforded a small window late last week. Admittedly, it was difficult to squeeze every question I had for him through that window, but there will likely be other opportunities; I doubt he's going anywhere. Here Blum speaks about the unusual appeal of OCULUS, what his actual involvement in the filmmaking process is, his approach to sequels, his sudden rise to fame, and when we can expect follow-ups to some of his more popular titles.
How did your involvement with OCULUS begin, was it a film that was brought to your attention or did you seek it out?
My relationship to OCULUS is pretty much identical to how my relationship with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY began. Both of those movies I saw almost finished, and we worked with the distributors to get them out to a bigger audience. In the case of OCULUS, I saw it at Toronto, and we teamed up with Relativity and WWE to get it out there in a big way.
It's such an interesting combination, because obviously you all have distinct personalities as companies. What's the collaboration like when you're working with two other big entities?
It takes an army to get a movie released, but the collaboration has been terrific between the three companies, even though you're absolutely right, the three of us do very different things. Every so often the interest of three companies overlap, and I thought this was one of those examples. Mike Luisi [Head of WWE Studios] is an old-time colleague of mine, we worked for the Weinstein brothers together 20 years ago, and we were at the same screening and both really loved the movie. Relativity was there too and we all started talking, and that's how it came together.
When you climb aboard a film as in this case, how involved are you in developing the final cut?
We're really involved in that, although this case was completely different than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. With PARANORMAL we reshot and recut a ton of times, in this case we didn't do that nearly as much. The movie that's coming out is very close to the cut that screened in Toronto, so the heavy lifting had really been done. Our job was much more getting the word out through marketing as opposed to futzing with the movie Mike made.
What does Mike Flanagan bring to the table in terms of his vision?
He brings more to the table than anybody movie, I think he made a great movie. It's not traditional; one of the reasons I like the movie is the way it's told, intercutting flashbacks and flashforwards and the way it comes together. The performances he has in the movie... The chomping on a lightbulb, the pulling out of a fingernail - those ware very, very arresting images. It's very original, and when something's made that isn't derivative of other things, it takes an extra oomph to get it out there. But I think the proof is in the pudding, when people see the movie they're really blown away by it, and that's because of Mike Flanagan.
It's funny, you're basically one of the only producers in Hollywood who is the selling point for his movies; it's you the ads are touting more often than the actors or director. Does that make you feel even more responsible for the final product?
I don't know if that's the right word, but I've been working really hard for the past six months along with Relativity to make this movie a big success, so yeah I guess I do. I feel really passionate about it - I guess responsible is the right word. I want people to have the same experience that I had when I watched it, which is wow! This is new, this is different, and obviously I want people to agree with me.
Is this a franchise in the making?
I try not to think about that. I don't mean to be coy to answer that question. If the movie is a big hit and Mike wants to make a sequel, I'll be the first one saying let's make a sequel. But we only do micro-budget movies, movies that are $5 million or less. We're competing with the average price is $50 million, and that's super difficult. I really try to encourage when we start to think, "Hey, we've got enough of a hard time trying to compete with the big boys. Let's just try to make a great movie. If the movie is great and people love it, then we'll worry about the sequel." Like with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - if there was ever a movie that existed where it wasn't obvious there wasn't going to be a sequel, it was that one. There was no storytelling in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY that indicated there was going to be a sequel, and we're on number six now. I think the sequel takes care of itself if you have a great movie that people like.
It has to be tricky when you decide to make a sequel, though. Like with THE PURGE or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - they turned out to be big hits, then you have about a year to make the follow-up. What are the challenges to making that quick turnaround?
First of all, you never have to make a sequel. I wanted to make sequels to those movies. But I believe giving artists parameters and a box to work in makes for better work. So I really believe if you keep budgets of movies down you'll get better movies. With a sequel there's a different set of parameters, the sequel has to feel enough like the first one, but also they have to feel different enough so that people aren't saying, "Oh god, I just saw the first movie all over again."
But also you have INSIDIOUS 2 being written and directed by the same guys who made the first movie. With SINISTER 2, Scott [Derrickson] and Robert [Cargill] wrote it. I think it's important that the writer and director carries on, for me that's the most important thing. The case with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was, we had this great Halloween release date, so we wanted to make it an annual thing. With THE PURGE, we thought it was a concept that really lent itself to sequels. James [DeMonaco] wrote and directed the first one, and then he wrote and directed the second because that idea just really makes sense for additional movies.
Are you a little more flexible when you move onto the second film? That is to say, once you've made THE PURGE 2 can you start immediately planning for the third one and so on?
So everything I just said about the time between part one and two is the exact opposite with two and three. With the first movie, I always tell the filmmakers don't worry about the sequel. With the sequel, once you have a successful thing that's out there in the world, my thinking is the exact opposite. So on the second movie - whether it's PURGE 2 or INSIDIOUS 2 or SINISTER 2 - I always say if it's possible don't put yourself in a box, allow for a third movie. And that thing I said about how it's difficult for a low-budget movie to compete with a big-budget movie? It becomes much easier once you have a brand, with the sequels you have the equivalent of a huge movie star, which is the title of the movie. The playing field is a little more level with the sequel.
You mentioned SINISTER 2 a couple of times, and I know Scott and Robert already wrote it, what's the status of that movie? Feels like a long time since we've heard much about it.
We're moving forward on it, there will be some fun announcements on it very soon…
You're such a busy guy, I assume, how much time do you devote to any particular film on a day-to-day basis? Are you able to give one movie all of your attention while it's being made, or are you juggling four or five movies on the same day?
Well, we have producing partners on all of our movies, and we have a big company with lots of Blumhousers running around, that certainly helps. Most of the time, anyone in my position is a problem solver. If there's nothing going wrong, you don't have much to do, when there are things going wrong, you have much to do. I work a little bit on all of the things we're making every day, as opposed to a day for one, a day for another.
Of course you have a new PARANORMAL ACTIVITY coming out in October - is this the finale for the series?
(Laughs) For PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I would never say never, my friend. I don't know, I really don't know the answer to that question. I wouldn't want to say anything and then be wrong. I don't think anyone really knows the answer to that.
There have been so many profiles and articles written about you in the last year or so, now you're basically a celebrity in your own right. What has that experience been like?
It's been really satisfying, really fun. The best part about it is, I'm trying to lean on it as much as I can to put new things out there in the world. OCULUS is one example; WHIPLASH, which won big at Sundance and is coming out in October, that's another example. I think the sequel to THE PURGE feels… I think people are going to be shocked by that movie. They're going to love it, it's a very different genre movie than we've seen in a long time. The more I can lean on position to get different work out into the world, the more fun I have.
Can you tell me what the status of INSIDIOUS 3 is?
It's very near, it's on the horizon. We'll have some announcements about that in the coming weeks. Both SINISTER 2 and INSIDIOUS 3 are on the fast track at our company.
And both of those are coming out in 2015?
Well, INSIDIOUS already has a release date in 2015. And SINISTER, I do believe that will be coming out in 2015.
Thank you very much for your time, Jason! Appreciate it.
Thanks so much!
OCULUS Theatrical Trailer