Producer Jason Blum is the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, which is a multi-media production company that has pioneered the model of making high-quality, low-budget films, and now does everything from movies and TV shows to books and live events. He currently has the chilling thriller The Gift in theaters, from writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton, which is about a man named Simon (Jason Bateman) who has a chance encounter with Gordo (Edgerton), an acquaintance from his high school who he doesn’t initially recognize, but when a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts uncover a past between the two men, it shows why bygones might never truly just be bygones.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Jason Blum talked about how he got involved with The Gift, why the story really spoke to him, his initial concerns about Joel Edgerton wanting to wear so many hats on the film, how the low budget of the film allowed them to tell this story in an unexpected way, and that the film reminds him of his own high school experience. He also talked about the evolution of his approach to filmmaking, that The Purge 3 is likely their next film to go into production, their latest TV series Hellevator, Jem and the Holograms, The Visit, their recently released book, and BH-Tilt.
JASON BLUM: Someone at my company read the script and gave it to me, and I read it and loved it. Then, I’d heard it had been kicking around for a bunch of years and no one made it. That always makes me like it more, not less. I always like the challenge of that. I really thought the story was creepy, unique, odd, weird and different. That’s how it all started.
Were there specific aspects of the story that really spoke to you?
BLUM: I thought that it was very subtle. That dinner scene where they go to Gordo’s house was always very striking to me. I thought that would be such an unsettling scene. There are genre tropes in the movie that you have seen before, but they way that they were done and written was really good and really subtle. I also felt like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie like that. It wasn’t that I felt like I had never seen this story before, but I had never seen this story told the way that Joel [Edgerton] told it before.
You’ve said that you were initially concerned that Joel Edgerton was taking on too much with this, directing his first feature and being in the film with a pretty sizable role. Did you ever express that concern to him, and what finally reassured you that he’d be able to pull it all off?
BLUM: I did express it to him, but it was non-negotiable for him. He said, “If you want to do this, I’m playing this part.” Joel is such a great actor. It never escalated to a huge level because there was a voice in me saying, “God, Joel playing this part would be so cool.” So, I was concerned about it, but on a scale of 1 to 10, my concern was at a 3.5. Part of me was like, “I don’t want to push too hard. Maybe he won’t do it, and then the movie won’t be as good.” He really felt that was the right thing to do, and he assured me his brother would be around. And he was totally right. It was the right thing to do. It was totally right for him to play that part, and his brother was around. It worked out great. It turned out that I didn’t have anything to be concerned about, which is always a good thing.
Did you give Joel Edgerton any advice, either on the script or during the shoot, that he took?
BLUM: There was a lot of advice that I gave him, and he took most of it. We worked a lot on the ending of the movie, for sure. The DNA of what I read is there, but it did change a lot. It changed a lot before we shot the movie. The script changed quite a bit. And then, it definitely changed in editorial. I wouldn’t say it was exactly what I read, but the feeling of the script I read and the feeling of the movie you saw are very much the same.
How tricky is it to take your protagonist and antagonist and successfully flip flop their roles throughout the film?
BLUM: That’s why I like to make low-budget movies. I think if you were making this at the normal budget level of a studio thriller, which is $40 or $50 million, I know that you couldn’t do that. No one would be allowed to do that because it’s too unusual, but it’s why I really am passionate about making low-budget movies. You can try things like that. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t work, but you can try new stuff and unusual stuff, and you can break the rules. We totally broke the rules, and Joel pulled it off this time, but there are 99 other ways we could have done it and not pulled it off. He deserves the credit, 100%, for pulling it off, but it was not traditional. If you had tried to make this movie in a traditional way, it wouldn’t have gotten made, as a result of exactly that.
What do you think Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Joel Edgerton brought to these characters that makes this film work in a way that it might not have otherwise?
BLUM: I think it’s writing, performance and direction. I really think it’s a combination of those three things, and editorial, too. Joel gives you just enough information to scratch your head, but not too much to roll your eyes. That’s editorial. But then, we started with three super talented actors. I think all three of them are great at what they do, which is always the make-or-break of a movie. And then, they had good writing to hold onto. It’s impossible to separate those things from each other. All of those things have to work for a movie to work.
The Gift makes a statement about how you’re done with the past, but the past is not done with you, which could really be positive or negative. Have you had anything from your own past come back to you in an unexpected way?
BLUM: I was a loser in high school, and I was taunted by a guy named Gene Grace. Every time I see The Gift, I think about Gene Grace and how much he tortured me. Someone asked me if I was more the Simon or the Gordo, and I’m definitely much more the Gordo. I’m going to hunt down my Gene Grace. I do think about that. His actual name was Eugene. He was one of the cool kids, and I was a loser.
Has the way you approach movie-making and telling stories changed, at all, since you started doing this, or is it more of an evolution of the same approach you’ve always had?
BLUM: I think it’s an evolution of the approach. It’s definitely changed, but it’s evolved. It hasn’t made a sharp turn. I’m less reluctant to do movies that aren’t straight horror movies. The Gift is not a straight horror movie. It’s much more of a thriller, so that’s an evolution, in a way. But I think that the principles that made Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The Purge are still really the guiding principles of the company. They’ve evolved, but they haven’t changed.
Has success changed things with the company? Do you feel like you’re being left alone more by the studios, or have you always had that creative freedom?
BLUM: We have creative freedom because of budgets. If we were making expensive movies, I don’t know what that would be like. Maybe I’d be more left alone now. The reason that we do low budgets is so that we have creative freedom. Ever since I have been doing low budget movies, we’ve really had creative freedom. It’s a big reason why we do low budget movies.
Where are you at with The Purge 3? Is there anything you can tease about the story?
BLUM: No, I can’t. It’s moving swiftly ahead, and we hope to be shooting it in the fall.
What’s going on for you right now, on the TV front?
BLUM: We got nominated for an Emmy for The Jinx. That was exciting. And then, in terms of new stuff in TV, we have three or four pilots we’re working on. We have a game show, called Hellevator, that we’re doing. We’re doing 10 episodes of that, and it’s a challenge game show where you go down a series of floors. The closer you get to hell, the more difficult it gets. We’re doing more in TV than we ever have before. The pilots that we’re working on haven’t been announced yet, so I’m not allowed to talk about those, but there are three, in particular, that we’re about to get to work on.
For people who are still nervous about Jem, what would you say to reassure them?
BLUM: I would say try to hold back your judgement until you get to see the movie. If you still don’t like it, I will accept all of your angry tweets and comments online. But, try not to judge a book by its cover.
Are you surprised that people have been so vocal about it, every time any little bit comes out?
BLUM: No, I know people are really, really passionate about it. Everyone has their own relationship to it and their own feeling about what it should be. I knew we were dipping our toe into treacherous waters, but I do think the majority of Jem fans are going to be really, really happy to the movie. I’ve said that before. I’ll continue to say it. I really do believe that. I can understand it, though. People have an emotional attachment to something, and if it’s not how they think it should be, they get upset. I totally get that. But they’re looking at 90 seconds, or 120 seconds. I would just say to hold on for a couple more months. After that, if people feel disappointed about it, I want to be the first one to hear about it. It’s hard to address someone’s disappointment about marketing materials. The marketing materials aren’t directed specifically at the fans. The marking materials are directed at a much broader audience. There’s no bigger Jem fan than Jon Chu, and he will not disappoint.
You’re also a producer on The Visit, which has such an interesting history, with M. Night Shyamalan going off on his own to make the movie outside of the studio system, and then bringing back a finished product. Do you think that kind of model can be very rejuvenating for a filmmaker?
BLUM: My whole company is built on the notion of betting on yourself. I think what Night did with The Visit is the ultimate example of that, so I think it’s a great thing. I don’t think one is better than the other, but they compliment each other. Working within the traditional Hollywood system and taking a step out of it makes the work that you do in both places better. It’s very different to work in and out of it. I think that, by going back and forth, the movies and the work compliments each other. It’s a different genre, but Rick Linklater is a great example of that. I think his studio movies are terrific, and his independent movies are terrific, but they’re very different. I bet he’d be the first person to say that they get better because he’s spending time in both places.
What can audiences expect from The Visit?
BLUM: I think it’s like his earlier movies. We’ve screened it quite a bit. I’m a believer in screening movies early, and using the movie itself to help sell the movie. If you can’t do that, I feel like you shouldn’t be releasing the movie. We screened the movie early and people have said it’s like his earlier movies. It’s a really haunting, scary thriller with a pretty big twist.
What’s next into production for you, film wise?
BLUM: The next movie we have going into production will probably be The Purge 3. I think that will probably be the next one up. And then, we have two or three others behind that in the fall. They’re under wraps for the moment, but we have two or three originals that we’re doing before the end of the year.
Do you have anything in the early stages of development that you’re really excited about?
BLUM: Yeah, I’m really excited about our book (The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City). Our book just came out, and it’s a physical object that represents one of the things I’m trying to do with Blumhouse, which is to create a community of people who really love scary stuff. We like to help each other and tell each other what things are working and what aren’t. We have a great community. We do a lot of the work on our movies in our offices, and there are really great writer/directors that I really admire, and editors and actors, walking in and out of the office, all day. I really wanted to do something that represents that, and the book that we have really does that. That’s something that’s just out that I have a special feeling for.
You’ve started the multi-platform arm BH-Tilt. What made you decide to do that, and what are your goals for that company?
BLUM: I didn’t like the notion that the movies that studios release are successes and the other movies are not successes. Part of what we’re doing is experimenting and trying new things. On a financial level, if it winds up breaking even, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s really important that fans get a chance to see what we’re doing, on all fronts. I really didn’t want there to be this idea that we give a lot of attention to The Purge, but not a lot of attention to Creep. I really wanted to showcase the Creeps of the world that we do, in a real way. I feel like with technology and the way distribution is changing, the convergence of that and what I wanted to do worked out very nicely. We didn’t want it to seem like we were ignoring the movies that weren’t released on 3,000 screens. I love them. There are a lot of directors that we’ve worked with, who have done movies that haven’t gotten the big wide releases, that we’ve worked with a second and third time. The great thing about a low-budget movie is that everyone involved with Creep made a little, and some people made a lot. Even though it only came out on Netflix, it was financially a success for everybody, and creatively I think it was a really big success. I want to shine a light on those movies, and not aware from those movies.
Because you do so much, do you ever worry about taking on too much, or do you just want to tell as many stories as possible, as many ways as you can?
BLUM: What I really want to do is scary or creepy stuff because I’m demented in my head. I would be worried if, after Whiplash, we did seven other movies that belonged at Sundance. We’re not doing that. It’s not that we wouldn’t do another Whiplash. I certainly would. But, I’m not looking for that. I’m really focused on scary, and I’m expanding the company to do a book or to do what we’re doing with Green Inferno. I guess I see, on the outside, how it seems like there’s a lot, but for me, as someone who’s guiding the ship, it feels like we’re focusing on one very specific thing. We’re not even branching out into expensive versions of ourselves. It’s not like I’m doing a $50 million horror movie. Those movies get made, but we’re not doing that. I’m keeping it low-budget and scary, whether it’s book, TV, movie or live event. To me, that seems focused. You’d be shocked about the amount of things we actually say no to.
The Gift is now playing in theaters.