Opening in theaters this weekend is James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2. The follow-up to the 2011 surprise hit picks up exactly where the first left off with the Lambert family thrust into a world of psychics, demons and ghosts. Insidious put an entirely original spin on the haunted house subgenre with its unique third act, and Chapter 2 digs deeper into that universe traveling further into the, well, Further and answering any last lingering fan questions. Insidious: Chapter 2 stars Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Ty Simpkins.
A few weeks ago at a Los Angeles press day I got to sit down with producer Jason Blum for an exclusive interview. He talked about bringing back the entire cast from the first film, the creative freedom of low-budget films, going where he’s needed as a producer, attracting name actors to small genre projects, and more. He also gave updates on Stretch and Mockingbird. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
The first thing I wondered when I saw the film was how difficult it was for you to get everybody back? Because you guys brought literally everybody back and that is unique in a horror sequel. How did you pull that off?
JASON BLUM: Yeah, it was hard. It was very hard. I really wanted James and Leigh back the most and the reason the movie took so long between the first one and this was that every time they said “no” I didn’t want to make the movie. So as long as they were saying that they might or might not do it I said let’s wait to see if they decide that they want to. Then I said to James and Leigh, when they asked if they could use the original characters or not, I really wanted them to do the movie so I said, “Do whatever you want. If you want to make a movie with all the original characters, do it and I’ll try to make all their deals and if you don’t, don’t. Just write the movie you want to make.” And it had everybody in it. So then I had to get everybody back and it was…it was….it was very- It was not easy [laughs]. But we succeeded and I think everyone had a great time and it worked out. But it was definitely tricky because we didn’t have options on everybody. You know usually at studios they have options and they didn’t have that.
I imagine it was very difficult to get everybody’s schedules lined up again.
BLUM: Scheduling, and their deals, and all that stuff. But we worked it out.
I’m glad you did. I think it makes it kind of a special sequel. On the flipside of that, when you rolled into production did having everybody back make things run easier?
BLUM: Way easier, yeah.
I would imagine you would have a sort of shorthand together at that point.
BLUM: Yeah, it was still- we were trying to make, like every movie, a 30-day movie in 25 days and it was tight. The one thing I am very strict about is that I don’t like spending a lot of money on movies because the more money you spend I think the worse that they get. So we didn’t have a lot of money to make the movie so- and James will tell you, the schedule was tough. But putting everyone back, the DP and everything it was all the same people so that was much easier. It was much easier not to wonder who’s going to shoot it, who’s going to cut it, who’s going to light it. It was all the same crew too so that part was a lot easier.
When you say that you let them write whatever they wanted, did you put any limits on them at all?
BLUM: Just budget, that’s it. No, I didn’t. They own the whole thing. On the first Insidious I remember when James pitched the further he was like, “It’s going to be like David Lynch.” And I think if I was running a company and we were making a movie for 20 million dollars we would have said, “What do you mean? We need to see tests of that. No, I don’t like that.” And the great thing about making movies for not a lot of money is that you can take creative risks so I’m like, “Do whatever you want. James Wan/David Lynch sounds good to me.” I want to try new stuff so really I really let the filmmakers that I work with- except for money, they can’t like, shoot crowd scenes in Time’s Square, but besides that they really get to do what they want. That’s the bargain. They work for free, but they get to do what they want. [Laughs]
BLUM: Oh, cool. Thank you.
I think it’s really cool to have this regular output of enjoyable, creative low-budget horror. Now that you’ve been at this for a few years have you made alterations to the way that you’re doing it in any significant way, or have you found that your original plan is paying off the way you wanted?
BLUM: There have been alterations. We started off at one million dollars. The movies are a little more expensive now. They’re still under 5, but they’re a little more expensive, which I suppose is normal. But I really do not ever want to make movies over 5, so hopefully we won’t go there. The union rate switches at 5. How else? We mostly make them in LA so the agents are more used to our deals for actors, writers or directors. The system is refined. We have a building now in downtown LA so we do all the stuff on our own. We have our own editorial, in six months we’re going to have our own mixing stage. All that’s going to be in-house, which makes it a lot better than working on movies all over town. So that’s nice to have that. It’s just day to day there are a lot less problems. The company’s bigger. There are a lot more people working at the company now so we have a lot more staff to cover problems. There’s one woman, Jeanette Brill, who I’ve worked with for like five years. She was a line producer for us on a bunch of movies and now she’s the head of physical production. She’s made things a lot better. She has all the secrets of how we do these movies with such a low budget, which is great.
So I’m not going to ask you about Insidious 3-
BLUM: [Laughs] Oh, good. I always say we hope we make one. If a lot of people go to see this we’ll try to make one.
Well there’s my question, because if this one does well and you head down that path- back on the set visit James said that he might be quitting horror films. Have you been actively trying to dissuade him from that?
BLUM: Did he say that?
BLUM: God, I can’t believe I don’t remember him saying that. Would I try to talk him out of that?
BLUM: I will try to talk him out of that for the rest of my life. Yes, definitely, definitely, definitely. He may come back around on that, he’s thinking about Fast and Furious right now [Laughs].
You can’t let this happen.
BLUM: I know, I won’t. Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen.
[Laughs] Good. So when it comes to IMDB you obviously have to take things with a grain of salt.
BLUM: Yeah, there’s more movies than I’ve ever seen on that thing.
Your list is ridiculous.
BLUM: I know. It is ridiculous, I agree.
Are there any of those you would like to dispel your involvement in?
BLUM: I don’t even know what’s on there. I do know that half the movies on there I’ve never heard of; maybe twenty or thirty percent.
Even with thirty percent taken out that’s still so many projects. How many of them are you working day to day and how many do you work from a bit more of a distance?
BLUM: It doesn’t divide up like that. I work the same way on all of them. Usually if they’re running along smoothly, I’m not that involved. If there are problems that come up, I get very involved. That can happen at all different times; either in prep, production, or post. Sometimes a movie I won’t be that involved in prep, and won’t be that involved in production, but I’ll be involved in post every day. Sometimes it’s the other way. Like Town that Dreaded Sundown I was involved in prep every day and it drove me nuts, and then once it started shooting it was fine. I had someone who works for me down there the whole time and I was not that involved during the production of the movie. So it really isn’t like, “I’m going to be involved in this movie, this movie I’m not.” It depends on the life of the movie from the first day of prep to the day the movie comes out. Marketing some of the movies I’m really involved. For The Purge I did a college tour. Some of the movies I’m somewhat involved, some of the movies I’m not that involved in the marketing. So it really depends on the life of the movie as opposed to the movie itself.
BLUM: We do.
It’s kind of incredible.
That on its own is impressive, but then you get actors like Ethan Hawke and Patrick Wilson who want to come back for a second or third time. What is that you think makes them want get involved and then continue to be involved?
BLUM: Well a lot of things. First of all, the schedules are really short. Second of all, we shoot in LA. We don’t shoot in Vancouver, or Louisiana, or Romania so that makes it a lot more attractive. Third of all, we work with directors who have a lot of experience, so that really helps. And it can be super lucrative for them. No one gets paid up front, but if the movies do well they work a very short amount and they can make very good money. That always helps. And I think the most important thing of all of that is that- if we work with another big producer this isn’t the case, like Michael Bay had final cut on The Purge, but if there isn’t someone like that then we give our directors final cut. James has final cut on all these movies; on Insidious, on Insidious 2, and as long as we continue any time I work with him he’ll have final cut. It’s a very singular vision and I think for actors that’s great. There’s no makeup test, there’s no wardrobe test, there’s no “you’ve got to wear a different color shirt”, all of that stuff. Every creative decision is solely the director’s on the movies we do and I think as an actor that’s very satisfying. I think it’s a nightmare to be an actor and have a producer at the monitor saying, “Make him do this, make him do that.” If you’re an actor it’s like, “Is that note from the director? Is that from the producer?” All of that is erased on our movies. It doesn’t exist.
So I think actors are tentative for the reasons you said, it’s no money and they’re genre movies, but I think once they do them, they like them. Ethan doesn’t like horror movies and I offered him Insidious and he turned it down. Then I offered him Sinister and he finally – he met Scott Derrickson, who he really liked, Scott Derrickson really helped close that. He agreed to do it and three weeks into it he was like, “I love this. This is awesome. This is what I thought it would be like to make a movie before I made a movie. Let’s do another one.” So we did The Purge four months later. By the way, all the perks are gone. There’s no trailer, there’s no cook, all that stuff is gone. But I think for an actor the pace is not only good because you only work a short time, but you get into and you go. You do four scenes a day. And I think that feels good an actor as opposed to doing one scene over and over. So I think once I get the actors in there’s a lot that’s appealing about it to do again. Like Patrick Wilson obviously did Insidious and Insidious 2 now he’s doingStretch with us. So we have our little school of actors.
BLUM: We did. We’re shooting now.
How is it going? The Grey was one of my favorites from last year so I’m so excited to see what Joe Carnahan does next.
BLUM: It’s going great. I loved it too. I’m about to go to the set in about a half hour. I’m super psyched to be doing a movie with Joe Carnahan. I think he’s great director and it’s an amazing cast. Hopefully it will be good. We’re halfway through now. We’ve got two and a half weeks left.
What’s the status on Mockingbird?
BLUM: We’re in post. It’s a found-footage movie like Paranormal Activity, which took four years for the first one to come out. It’s screening, shooting, screening, shooting, and we’re totally in that. We’re actually about to go shoot three or four days on it now to try and make it great. It’s not great yet, but hopefully it will get there [laughs].
Do you know when we’ll see anything from that or is it too far in the future?
BLUM: Too far, we’ve got to get the movie right so we don’t have a release date yet.