From Jason Blum (Insidious, Sinister) and Josh Gates (Destination Truth), Stranded is the new Syfy reality series that uses the same stripped-down first-person method from Paranormal Activity to document an unconventional and terrifying paranormal and psychological experiment, in which participants are stranded at haunted location for a week and must record the entire experience themselves. Each of the six hour-long episodes features the self-recorded footage of a group of everyday paranormal enthusiasts, combined with strategically-placed security cameras at each location.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, executive producer Jason Blum talked about how Stranded came about and why he thought it was a great fit for what he’d already done on the narrative side, the process of selecting the individuals and locations for the show, how he got some fun ideas for future movies while they were scouting possible haunted locations, and where his love for genre and horror started. He also talked about how he expects Paranormal Activity 5 to go into production in middle to late Spring for an October release, why he and the film’s partners thought there was further story to be explored for Insidious 2, what made him want to collaborate with Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Glee) on a modern-day remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, that he hopes Area 51 will be released soon, and that he’s not currently juggling quite as many projects as IMDB would lead you to believe. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JASON BLUM: I had done a bunch of movies, and I did a scripted show on ABC, called The River, a couple years ago, and I really wanted to do more on television, particularly unscripted. The show was actually pitched to me, and I thought it was great. I thought, if there was an unscripted version of the kind of movies and the little bit of TV I’d done, this was it. This was a great fit for what we’ve done on the narrative side, so we jumped in. It’s the first reality show I’ve ever done, and I thought it was super fun. We’ve got others in development and I’m hoping to do more of them. Definitely, it was a great first fit. I think it’s unique and scary, which is hard to figure out.
Are you surprised that you actually were able to get people willing to be a part of a show like this?
BLUM: I wish I was surprised, but no. People love being scared, even for long periods of time. In some of the episodes, there’s someone very cynical who maybe doesn’t get turned, but definitely gets scared. Those are my favorite moments on the show.
How did you actually select the people for the episodes?
BLUM: We put out the word, and then we interviewed a lot more people than you see. We talked to them and made sure that they were gonna stick through the whole thing and that they understood exactly what they were getting into. It was a pretty involved interview process to narrow down to the people that we finally chose.
How were the people paired with the locations?
BLUM: We picked the locations before we assigned the people to the locations. They didn’t get to choose where they went. There is a shocking amount of haunted places in the United States, so it was fun to narrow it down and pick the locations that we did. That was another long, involved process.
BLUM: I got ideas for movies, when we would look at locations. There were a lot of odd little places in the woods or in a certain corner. We didn’t use them in the show, but there were odd locations that you wouldn’t necessarily associated with being haunted but they were. That gave me fun ideas for some future movies.
Were there ever any people who came close to not making it through the full five days?
BLUM: Yeah, there were a few. No one didn’t make it, but there were a few times that people definitely got scared. Someone asked me once, “How stranded were they?” Well, if they needed medical attention, we would go in there. Luckily, that did not happen. Otherwise, they were left on their own.
Obviously, the idea with this show is to get a first-person documentation from the individuals participating, but there’s also strategically placed security cameras in each location. Was that combination something you had to do to ensure that things wouldn’t get missed?
BLUM: Yes. The notion was always that people would film themselves, but we’d have security cameras so that we could have a different view on them. That was always the conceit of the show. I think it’s a little much to rely only on handheld cameras. We don’t do that with any of our movies. There’s always a security camera shot to cut to. And it’s always nice to see the geography of the room, which you can do from those security cameras.
Did you ever feel bad at all, watching the footage back and seeing just how scared these people got sometimes, or did it make you feel like you were on the right track when you saw some of the people screaming and crying?
BLUM: No, I like to see that. That’s my job! We did the Blumhouse of Horrors out in L.A. last fall, to scare people. I spent time there, so I got to actually see the people being scared. And with our movies, we know we have a successful movie, if people are really scared. That’s one of the things I love about making scary movies. So, I see that as my life’s work.
BLUM: I took a Hitchcock seminar in college. We literally watched every Hitchcock movie and analyzed it for four months. That’s all we did. That’s all the course was. And I loved it and really fell in love with it. Not all of them, but most of our movies are not particularly graphic. They’re scares that you imagine off screen. Obviously, there was no one better at that than Hitchcock, and that’s something I loved. That’s where it started, really. We studied the art of the scare and the art of the creep with Hitchcock, and that was where it all started.
When you started Blumhouse Productions, could you ever have imagined that it would be as successful as it has been?
BLUM: I hoped to be successful, but I was always worried about it. I still worry about it. I think the minute you stop worrying about it, the minute you stop being successful. That’s what Bob Dylan said, anyway. But no, I did not anticipate it. Certainly, when I saw Paranormal Activity, I did not anticipate that it would turn into the success that it turned into.
Do you know when Paranormal Activity 5 will go into production?
BLUM: Well, it’s coming out in October, so not too far from now. Usually, it’s sometime in the middle to late Spring that we start. We don’t have a date yet, but that’s when we begin. That’s when we’ve begun all of the rest of them.
Do you see that as a franchise that could just go on indefinitely?
BLUM: I hope so! But, I don’t know. As long as they can keep making it fun and new.
Aside from those films, Insidious 2 is the first sequel you’ve produced. What was it about that, that led you to believe it leant itself to further story and exploration?
BLUM: Yeah. Blair Witch tried to do a sequel and it didn’t work out. I really thought there’s gotta be a way to make a sequel to a found footage movie. We had a bunch of partners in the movie, but thanks to them and the director and everyone else, we all figured it out. That was a challenge that was fun and hard, but I enjoyed it.
Ryan Murphy seems very excited about the possibility of collaborating with you on a modern-day remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directing. What made you want to work with him, and what is about that project that you think could appeal to audiences?
BLUM: I think he’s one of the most talented creators out there, today. Anything he wants to do is super-compelling to me. The fact that he’s interested in a micro-budget horror movie, which is mostly what we do and the business model I’m passionate about, was awesome. And then, I watched the movie, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, and I loved it. I think it’s a really different kind of horror movie than the generation that’s grown up with Paranormal Activity and Insidious and Sinister. It’s a very different feeling movie, and I thought that was very compelling. I love the story that we’re about to tell and, needless to say, I think that he is one of the world’s creative geniuses, at the moment. That’s a super-exciting thing for me.
Do you have a status update on the release for Area 51?
BLUM: I do not. Hopefully, it will open someday soon.
If someone were to look at IMDB, they would be under the impression that you had about 100 projects in development and that you must never get any sleep. Do you really juggle that many projects going, at one time?
BLUM: I would say the first thing is don’t believe all of what you see on IMDB. I don’t want my friends at IMDB getting angry at me, but there’s not nearly as many projects as are on there. And I’m not one guy. For a production company, we have a relatively good size operation. There are a lot of people here. If you notice, on all the movies we do, we have producing partners. We’re almost never a sole producer. We’re more like a hybrid between a production company and a financier, and that’s how the company operates. That’s how we’re able to touch a lot of things, but not nearly as many as are on IMDB. I wish!
Stranded airs on Wednesday nights on Syfy.