Blumhouse Productions, founded by Jason Blum, is a multi-media production company that has pioneered a new model of studio filmmaking- producing high-quality micro-budget films. Blumhouse has a first-look deal with Universal Pictures and has produced the highly-profitable Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, and Sinister franchises which have grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide on combined budgets under $40 million. Blumhouse’s model began with the original Paranormal Activity, which was made for $15,000 and grossed close to $200 million worldwide, making it the most profitable film in Hollywood history.
In television, Jason Blum won an Emmy for his producing role on HBO’s The Normal Heart. Blumhouse is in production on Ascension (Syfy), Eye Candy (MTV), and South of Hell (WEtv) and the division’s development slate includes Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects with eOne and an un-scripted show with Mike Darnell. In addition to The Normal Heart, Blumhouse previously executive produced the Stranded for Syfy and The River for ABC.
Blumhouse also has produced a variety of live-events including The Blumhouse of Horrors, an innovative and frightening haunted house experience in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, The Purge: Fear the Night, a live-event inspired by the backstory to the feature film and The Purge: Breakout, an immersive escape game experience.
We recently caught up with the founder of Blumhouse Production, Jason Blum to chat about the forthcoming UK release of The Town That Dreaded Sundown (which he co-produced alongside American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy) as well as what interested him in working in producing some of the most successful genre films in American film history and where he thinks horror films are going next.
Ollie Charles: How did you originally get into producing and filmmaking?
Jason Blum: I always loved movies and so in college, I majored in film. My roommate was Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young, Frances Ha) and he and I made a bunch of movies together. That’s really how it started. From about high school or college, I knew I wanted to get into films but didn’t realise I would… but I certainly knew that I wanted to.
OC: Having worked with Noah Baumbach (on student films but also on Kicking and Screaming), was it that during the period that you realised that producing was what interested you?
JB: First I worked as an Executive for ten years (half at Arrow and half at Miramax) where I learned all about the business. I felt the best fit for me was the production side. After learning different aspects of the business, I thought producing would be best for what I was good at.
OC: Having looked at your extensive filmography (with production work since early 90s) on such a variety of films, it was really your work within genre and horror films that has gotten you recognition. Did you always want to work within these types of film and do you have any filmmakers that you find particularly influential?
JB: My favourite kind of genre films, perhaps not horror is certainly Hitchcock for sure. I studied him when I was at college and really loved his movies. When I grew up and was working in New York, there isn’t really any culture of horror filmmaking because the culture of these movies within the United States really comes from LA. It didn’t seem like something viable in New York but more so in LA but I didn’t really think about it until the first Paranormal Activity, which I really loved and it really worked and I wanted to do more of it. That is really what started it.
OC: You work in both film & television; do you prefer one over the other and do you find any major differences working across both mediums?
JB: I really love both and if I do both, it makes both better. With television you have to think much more about character and with movies you have to think more about plot. I really think you have to have both of those things really right to make something good and entertaining. I really enjoy going back and forth.
OC: How much did you know about the original film that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on and how did it come about that this ‘meta-remake-sequel’ was to be made?
JB: I really knew nothing about the original movie. Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Scream Queens, Nip/Tuck) and I had a meeting and he said that he’d always wanted to do this remake. I went away and watched the original, thought it was great and said as long as he wanted to do it low budget that I would certainly be up for working on this one. So we went to MGM and asked them to allow us to remake it.
OC: Did you have any worries about remaking the film and upsetting the fans of the original?
JB: I didn’t worry really about making it or not making it as I don’t fundamentally have a problem with remakes. But having made this movie, I wanted to make sure that if you liked the first one, there was enough in this version for you to like this as well. We possibly checked that box too heavily as The Town That Dreaded Sundown wasn’t too much of a commercial success in the USA but I do think the fans really liked it.
JB: We actually did The Town That Dreaded Sundown first, and we had a great time working together and so he approached me with The Normal Heart. Although The Normal Heart came out first, we actually made it second. I definitely think we’d work together again, I don’t know on what but we will find something. (Excited writer here!)
OC: There was a really amazing aesthetic to The Town That Dreaded Sundown with the amazing music, costuming and the overall look of the film, which recalled 70s/80s retro horror. How was creative team put together?
JB: Really Alfonso (Gomez-Rejon, director) gets all the credit; he always wanted to do the film that way and he has worked on a lot of American Horror Story and so Ryan brought him in. But he had a vision, which he followed; he really gets that credit.
OC: You work on amazing lower budgets according to Hollywood standards, but what is Blumhouse doing that is attracting the talent that you work with and the projects?
JB: We give directors a lot more creative control and freedom to work than on typical Hollywood movies, akin to a European system. We do movies inexpensively, which means that we take the risk down. So when you reduce the risk, sometimes the movies have big wide releases and sometimes they don’t. Town was a much smaller movie in the USA, but because of low budget, people don’t lose so much. By doing that we give directors more control than they are used to have and they take a shot that they possibly wouldn’t have taken. Jennifer Lopez won at the MTV Movie Awards for The Boy Next Door, which is one of our movies and in her speech, she spoke about art and style and I think that resonates in Hollywood a lot.
OC: So when you go and release a film like The Purge in the USA, that must be quite a risk. Do you find these riskier titles and find that interesting.
JB: If The Purge was a $20million movie it would have been irresponsible to make it because it could have come out very tonally different but we walked a very fine line with the movie; it’s a good example of where working with a lower budget was a good idea because we were able to take more risks by keeping the budgets down.
OC: You seem to be working in building up a new selection of horror film series with Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity. Why do you want to keep telling these stories and creating these franchises?
JB: I kind of feel the same way about franchises as I do about television; I love having parameters around the creative process. It usually calls for better work and makes our budget work within a box. I love going from a film like Insidious Chapter 3 to an original; we are working on a movie at the moment called Stephanie where Akiva Goldsman (producer of I Am Legend, Hancock and consulting producer on television series Fringe) is directing. I like the discipline it makes you go back and forth. I wouldn’t only want to do sequels but I really, really like doing sequels because they make you use different parts of your brain and I really enjoy that.
OC: Blumhouse Productions pictures have really changed the face of contemporary American horror, do you see the genre taking a new direction?
JB: I don’t really know where they are going next; we have a movie opening in the USA on Friday called Unfriended, which is a very new and different kind of movie. The whole movie takes place within a computer frame, so I wish I could tell where it’s going. It’s certainly taking a new direction but I don’t know where that will be. We are taking a shot with Unfriended and maybe that will allow stories to be told more intimately through social media and where we get all our information. Horror does trend like everything else and there will always be new trends in it and I hope we are lucky enough to spot it first, but I have no idea what that will be.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is released in cinemas from Friday 17th April.