Over the last few years Jason Blum has developed his company, Blumhouse, into one of Hollywood’s foremost horror production companies and franchise-building powerhouse (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge), and just landed their first Academy Awards for Whiplash. Blumhouse’s latest film, The Lazarus Effect, is now open in theaters.
The film follows a team of scientific researchers attempting to extend life in dying patients. When one of the team members (Olivia Wilde) is killed tragically during an experiment, the rest of the group does the unthinkable and brings her back to from the dead. As in all Frankenstein-inspired stories, the act of playing god bears punishing consequences, and the woman who comes back is not the woman they knew. Directed by David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi), the film also stars Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Sarah Bolger.
I recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Jason Blum. He talked about The Lazarus Effect, why he liked the script, how documentarian David Gelb won him over and landed the directing gig, when and why he breaks the rules of his model, and keeping horror at the forefront of Blumhouse. He also talked about some upcoming pictures including Stephanie, In a Valley of Violence, Viral and Unfriended.
What sold you on this script?
BLUM: This particular script we did because when we read it, it reminded me of Flatliners, it reminds people of Flatliners, and that’s a movie that I loved. And that kind of movie has kind of gone out of fashion so I thought it would be fun to try and bring that back into vogue in some way. So, I really felt like Lazarus does that. The short answer to your question is because it felt different, but the longer answer is because it felt like a genre we haven’t seen for a while and hopefully will make that genre cool again.
How hard of a sell was it for you to get on board with David Gelb as director given that he’s known for documentary work?
BLUM: It was a hard sell for me to want to do the movie with him. The movie came with David, so we didn’t hire him, the script came to us attached with David. I was very skeptical about it, but what put me over the edge from developing it with David to deciding to make it with David is we set him up with Mark [Duplass] and Olivia [Wilde] in separate meetings, and both of those actors came out the meetings and said they wanted to do the movie. That made me think that this guy could direct the movie. Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve had that experience and then the person can’t direct the movie, so that’s not a foolproof method, but it was a good indication, and in this one it worked out and David did an awesome job. It’s always hard on your first movie, and he did a great job, so I was really pleased with that, but it was a big risk.
BLUM: Yeah, we do. We very rarely work with first time directors, but this one we broke our rule.
Have you found yourself having to break more of your rules as your enterprise grows and evolves?
BLUM: I think it’s important as someone who – when I think about running my business, I think one thing that’s important is not to sit back on the successes you’ve had, so one thing I’m conscious of doing is not saying, “Get me the next Insidious, get me the next script like Sinister, get me the next big idea like The Purge.” I think that kind of thinking is very anti-creative, so I try and say “get me the next script that feels like none of those movies,” like Lazarus.
But one of the rules I don’t like to break is we still do – 95% of our movies are low budget. We’re offered bigger, larger budget movies to produce a lot, and we don’t do them. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions, there are a few exceptions, but I try and stick by the rules that produce what I think is the highest quality, most innovative work and try and let the rules go that make us feel like we’re retreading.
What have the last few years been like for you? Because a few years ago it was kind of, “Blumhouse has a cool model, let’s see how that works out.” Then it was a success.
BLUM: “They might be on to something.”
BLUM: I don’t know, you don’t think of it from the other side of it like that. I guess every day there’s a little something happening so it seems like I’ve been working – I’m 45 years old, I’ve been working for 25 years [laughs], so it doesn’t seem quick, but it’s deeply satisfying. It’s still really thrilling, what I do. I still get a huge kick out of what I do, so that makes me really happy, and I really enjoy the process actually as much or more than the kind of outward things. So I feel lucky about that too. That’s the long answer, but obviously it feels great.
I’m sure it’s not horrible.
BLUM: I don’t want to stop doing scary movies though. Because of Whiplash and The Normal Heart, people ask. The focus of the company is to continue to do scary TV shows and movies, and that’s what we’re going to primarily do. If something slips through the cracks that’s Jem and the Holograms or In a Valley of Violence, we’ll do that too, or Whiplash or Normal Heart, but when I go into an agency or a meeting with a director and they say “What are you looking for?” We’re really primarily looking for scary stuff.
Well you know that makes me happy, horror is my favorite.
BLUM: [Laughs] Me too, me too. It’s my favorite too.
It’s always amusing to me to look at your IMDB page.
Yeah, you’ve got about 25 right now.
BLUM: In development?
Yeah, does that feel accurate to you?
BLUM: [Laughs] No. We have about six movies that are in active development. There’s one project on there The Bev Kearney Story – I looked at it a few days ago, it’s the one at the top – I haven’t touched The Bev Kearney Story in like six years. In fact, another producer called me and said “You’re doing The Bev Kearney Story? We just optioned the rights.” I said, “We were doing that story years ago and I’m very happy for you. I’d love to see the movie, but we have nothing to do with it.” So, there’s a little more on there than we’re tackling. I’m very flattered by the number.
One of those upcoming movies that I’m very excited about – how much have you seen and what’s the status of In a Valley of Violence?
BLUM: I’ve seen the movie. We’re in post-production. Ti [West] directed an episode of South of Hell for us, which is a TV show that we did with Eli Roth, so he took a little hiatus to direct that and he’s back into it. I’m seeing a new cut of the movie hopefully next week. It is coming together. I’m cautiously optimistic.
I think the last time I spoke to you was for The Purge: Anarchy and you said that you guys had been pitching a lot of ideas to Frank Grillo to get him on another film, and now you finally found one that stuck. Tell me about Stephanie and why that was the one he came back on board for.
BLUM: I think it’s a really good script, but I think that coupled with – Akiva Goldman is a real creative powerhouse. I think if I were an actor and I had a chance to be in a movie with Akiva, I really wouldn’t even read the script, I would just say “I’m in”. I’m sure Frank did read the script [laughs], but I’m sure Akiva was a big draw.
What’s the status of that one?
What about Viral? That sounds really interesting.
BLUM: Viral is finished. Viral is great. And hopefully we’re going to date it soon. It was with Henry and Ariel who did Paranormal 3 and Paranormal 4 and Catfish. They’re really great directors and that movie came out awesome and we’re going to date it soon. It’s about a virus and an outbreak in a suburban town in the United States, and it’s scary.
For a long time in your interviews you were saying that Whiplash was the movie you couldn’t wait for people to see. You were always excited for Whiplash, and holy shit-
BLUM: Was I right?
Dude, it took the #1 spot on my best-of list for last year!
BLUM: Thank you.
I’m in love with it. So, yeah, you were totally right about Whiplash, and obviously nothing’s going to be “the next Whiplash“, but what’s coming up for you guys that you’re really excited about now? What’s that one movie you can’t wait for people to see?
BLUM: Unfriended. It’s a super cool movie. It’s really innovative and different, and I think people are going to be very into it. I love it. I love it. I think it’s an awesome movie.