Jason Blum is one seriously busy guy. Over the last few years Blum has established himself as a force in the horror genre, turning out high quality microbudget films and setting up franchises with impressive constancy. So far his major releases of 2014 include Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Oculus – he even had a hand in HBO’s The Normal Heart. Next up is The Purge: Anarchy, which hits theaters this Friday.
While speaking with Blum about The Purge: Anarchy earlier this week I had a chance to catch up with him about a number of projects he has on the docket. We talked about how Leigh Whannell is faring as a first time director on Insidious: Chapter 3, Scott Derrickson‘s involvement in Sinister 2, what he saw on the set of Ti West‘s In a Valley of Violence, bringing a new approach to Amityville, why he wanted to make Jem and the Holograms, and more. He also talked about getting into the world of television with Ascension and what attracted him to the television format. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
JASON BLUM: Well it’s hard not to always be excited about what we’re doing. If I weren’t excited about what we’re doing, I really wouldn’t do it and I’m excited about different aspects of it. I’m really excited that Leigh Whannell is getting a chance to direct for the first time. That’s the most exciting thing about Insidious 3 to me. I’ve been on set with him a couple times since we started and he’s doing a great job. He fell into the job of directing really great. He said to me on the set, “I love directing, people actually listen to what I say when I’m on the set.” Which I thought coming from a writer was hilarious and awesome [laughs]. It’s great to see people flourish and come back and get a chance to work with people again in a new role. So that’s really, really exciting for those reasons.
And yesterday I was in Santa Fe on the set of a Western and never in a million years did I think I was going to produce a Western. After Ethan [Hawke] and I did Sinister and The Purge he really really wanted to do a Western. He said, “I think together we could make it.” My barrier to entry is, of course, the price and he said “I really think we could do one inexpensively if we found the right script and found the right story. There’s no reason it should be expensive to make.” It took about a year to find In a Valley of Violence, which we’re shooting right now, which is Ti West’s movie. But I was there with [Ethan] and John Travolta, they had guns on their hips shooting at each other in an old crazy western town and it would be impossible not to be excited about that. I would not be – no human being should be in this business if you don’t get excited to be on a set with those two guys. I took a picture and put it on my private little Instagram page. I was like a little kid yesterday.
I am so excited for In a Valley of Violence. I’m such an admirer of Ti’s filmmaking, I’m curious what was exciting to you about his approach to the Western?
BLUM: His approach to filmmaking, I love. He pitched me this idea and I thought it was really cool and I said, “I’m flying you to New York. You’re going to go sit with Ethan and see if he likes the idea.” He pitched Ethan the idea and Ethan called me and said, “This is our Western.” We read about eight scripts, one of which we liked but couldn’t get our hands on, the other seven we didn’t really like. He just said, “This is it.” So I called up Ti and said, “Ti if we can have a script in six weeks-” And Ti said to me, this was November right before Christmas time I think, Ti said to me, “If you guarantee that I start this movie at the end of June, I will get you a finished script by January 15th.” [Laughs] I said, “Well, if I like the script I guarantee we’ll make the movie, you have to write the script first, but if I like it I guarantee you we’ll do it.” There are many of those deals made like that in Hollywood and they very rarely happen, but this one happened.
I’m curious about the approach to Insidious 3, especially since you’ve had Leigh Whannell as writer for all three. Is it being approached more as a third act to a trilogy or another installment in a series?
BLUM: I hope an installment in a series. I love Insidious I want to keep going. Hopefully people like the movie. Again, I hope to make a chapter four, but I guess the answer is it doesn’t end the possibility of a fourth chapter.
So narratively it is not conceived to be a third and final act?
BLUM: No, it’s not.
I definitely want to ask about Sinister 2. Obviously Scott Derrickson is going to be very busy with Doctor Strange on his plate, so what is his involvement going to look like for the sequel?
BLUM: He is hyper-involved with it. We actually had breakfast this morning. We’re about to announce our lead actress in the movie and he was very involved in that decision. Hopefully we’ll close a deal on our DP, but we chose one and he was very involved in that. He’s going to on the set the entire first week of production and then on and off again after that. He’s been happily super super hands on. I really feel like Sinister belongs to Scott and [C. Robert] Cargill. Obviously they wrote the script to the sequel. Their hands are going to be creatively all over the movie and I’m really happy about that.
Obviously the first Sinister has such a unique format. How are you guys going to reinvent that for part 2?
BLUM: Obviously I can’t give away our secret story, but I will say Buguul makes a – we’ll see more of Bughuul.
Jem and the Holograms kind of came out of nowhere in terms of the type of projects you’re known for doing. Talk a little bit about what made you decide to go in that direction.
BLUM: I admire Jon Chu and I was introduced to Jem and the Holograms from Jon Chu. Many of our movies, like Ti West’s movie and Sinister came about this way, Insidious came about this way, actually The Purge came about this way – I’ll sit with the director and they say, “Tell me the parameters. What are you really looking for?” And I say I’m looking for low budget high concept. Low budget means not too many locations, not too many speaking parts, short, not a lot of pages. And high concept means we’re trying to compete with studio movies that get released on 3000 screens. So not movies that would go to film festivals – Cineplex, not Sundance. The reason we mostly do scary movies, besides the fact that I love them, is more often than not they fit those parameters. But if someone comes to us with something else that fits those parameters, we’ll do it. We did it with The Babymakers. It didn’t come out with a wide release, but it was a low budget high concept comedy. So met with Jon and he said, “You’re going to be surprised what it is, but I want to do a movie based on Jem and the Holograms. I think I can do it really inexpensively. It’s a well known brand and it was a really popular show. So that’s the high concept part and I’ll take care of the low budget part.” I did not know Jem and the Holograms very well at all, and I kind of studied up on it and loved it and thought it sounded like a really cool thing to do. We approached Hasbro and that’s how it happened.
Tell me a little bit about how you guys are approaching Amityville.
BLUM: So Amityville – I love being the underdog. It’s one of the reason I like making horror movies, because a lot of people don’t like them or are prejudiced against them. So it’s one of the many reasons I like horror and it’s also the reason I like low budget, because it automatically makes us the underdog. Amityville I was really intrigued by because people are really cynical about it. “Oh, you’re remaking Amityville. I’ve seen it a million times. What more can you possibly do?” So the way we developed Amityville was I sat with Franck Khalfoun. I said, “Everyone is really cynical about this. Here’s the movie I want to do. I want to make a movie that whether it’s good or bad, that’s in the control of the movie gods, but I want to make a movie that no one would expect, that the plot would be so different, that would feel so new and weird and surprise people. And we achieved that! Whether you will like the movie or don’t like the movie, I can’t promise that, but I can guarantee that it’s very different. So that’s the brief version of the Amityville story.
Did you feel a pressure to maintain a certain to respect to the history of the franchise in the process of reinventing it?
BLUM: No, because I think you can get lost – I mean respect is a tricky word, so I think you can’t pretend it didn’t exist, but I wanted to be free of this mythology that everyone has held on to. And we wound up with a movie where the mythology makes sense in this new Amityville story that we did. But to answer your question, specifically about developing, I really wanted to focus on the opposite of what you’re talking about – don’t think about the parameters, open your mind to new ideas about Amityville. lets start with that and then we can kind of put the creative parameters to make it make sense in the line of Amityville movies after that.
How did Franck Khalfoun come to be at the helm of Amityville? Because I am a defender of P2 and I love Maniac, so I’m excited to see him do more.
B;UM: I love Maniac. I mean, I like P2, but I like Maniac a lot better. I just thought it was so weird and so great.
Yeah, it’s wonderful.
BLUM: I thought so too. And I had a great time working with him. It was a challenging shoot. There’s never enough money, and he did a really terrific job. He’s another one we [want to work with again]. We already sent a couple scripts to him. I hope to work with him again.
I’m curious about the style of the film. Frank obviously did some really bold, highly stylized filmmaking on Maniac. What are we going to see for Amityville?
BLUM: It’s different from Maniac, it’s not a first-person movie like that, but there are a lot of clever angles and camera moves in the movie. But it’s more traditionally filmed than Maniac was.
Blumhouse has made a big impression in the world of horror films, but you have just recently started moving in the direction of TV with Sharp Objects, Ascension and Eye Candy. What was the motivation to get into television and what are you hoping to achieve in that medium?
BLUM: We’re shooting Ascension in Montreal. I’m going up there next week to see those guys and I’m really psyched about that. What excites me about TV – a couple things. Like movies, I think TV is too expensive. I think it could be done for less money, so I want to try and do it for less money and see if I can shake it up by doing that. Secondly, I like the idea – I’ve done movies my whole career and you’re very forced into the three act structure, and you spend a lot of time on plot and a lot less time on character. It’s fun. Instead of banging your head against the wall and trying to make ninety minute dramas that are character driven dramas, I really feel like that work is in television now, it’s not in movies. It’s really fun in development to talk about character more than story, which you just don’t get to do in movies any more, so it’s a different part of your brain to exercise, which was fun.
In your films you’ve been able to land some really exceptional talent sort of through the promise of your method, so to speak, and your track record. How has that transition in to television been going?
BLUM: We haven’t made the transition. We haven’t done our movie model in TV yet, which is bring the cost way down and get much bigger back ends to the people involved. So Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne had a much bigger back end, everyone, Ethan, John Travolta – they have a much bigger ownership in the movies that we do than they typically do because they don’t get anything up front. We haven’t brought that part of the model to TV yet, but it’s one of my plans to do so. Ascension we’re working much more traditionally, financially speaking, in television than we are in movies, but I hope to change that soon.