Insidious: Chapter 2 Producer Jason Blum Admits Horror Haters Fuel His Drive
Jason Blum is a fascinating figure in filmmaking. His career as a producer began in theater working for Ethan Hawkeís New York City theater company Malaparte. By the mid-1990s, he moved into movie production, producing indies like Noah Baumbachís Kicking and Screaming, Mira Nairís Hysterical Blindness, and the Hawke-vehicle Hamlet, which re-imagined the Shakespeare play in contemporary NYC. But in 2000, Blum made the bold move to delve into his love of the horror genre by founding Blumhouse Productions.
The production company has dedicated itself to making low-budget horror features with reputable actors and a strong focus on story. Its model has paid off big. The Paranormal Activity franchise renewed the fervor for the found footage genre and has gone on to rake in more than $714 million worldwide off four films that cost between $15,000 and $5 million to make. Last fall saw the release of Sinister, which starred Blumís long-time friend Hawke. The cryptic pic won critical praise, cost just $3 million, and made $77 mil worldwide. Similarly, the Blumhouse production The Purge also cost $3 mil, and was declared a big winner this summer, netting more than $85 million at the box office.
Clearly, with all this success Blum has become a tastemaker in horror. And as an avid fan of the genre and the movies he has produced, I was eager to sit down with him to discuss his latest Insidious: Chapter 2. The sequel to the 2011 hit that won over critics and took in more than $97 million worldwide continues the story of the haunted Lambert clan. Reteaming with a cast that boasts Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Barbara Hershey, screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan crafted a creepy second chapter that not only takes audiences deeper into the Further, but also forces them to reconsider the events from the first film.
I wasnít sure what to expect from Blum as I approached the swanky hotel suite where the press junket had placed him for interviews. But I was delighted to find he his love of horror runs deep and sincere, and his ambition for the genre extends to Oscar gold. And, no, he won't be deterred by the genre's detractors.
So first off, Iím excited to speak with you because Iíve enjoyed a lot of your movies.
Jason Blum: Oh good! Iím glad to hear that.
And then not enjoyed them because I canít sleep.
I was hoping you could talk about what you feel your role as a producer is because youíve said before you think whatís key to making these small budget movies work is giving a lot of the creative control to the writer and director. So, what do you think your role as a producer is?
I think already thatís a big role because a lot of people donít do that. So I think letting creative people do what they doóas weird as it soundsótakes a lot of creative deal making to allow that to occur. Once it does happen, when you give a director total creative control over his work, he is much more likely to solicit advice from us, because heóor sheóknows he doesnít have to take it. And we (Blumhouse Productions) have a ton of data because all we do are these low budget scary movies. And weíve learned a lot from the directors weíve worked with, from Scott Derrickson or from James (Wan), Rob Zombie. And so we have a lot of data.
So when we get a script we give a HUGE document which says essentially Ďthis is what we doí (to a filmmaker). The document is given with the spirit of ĎDo anything you think will make the movie better, do it. And if it doesnít, donít.í We donít argue about it for seven years. And truth be told, we actually have a lot more creative involvement in the movies than Iíve experienced working at companies where itís the other way around. And that goes all the way through, with script, with casting. We actually have a list of actors that we are friendly with who understand our business model. We give that to the directors and try to pick actors from that list. Then tthe production runs through the company, and we shoot most of our movies in LA. So, all the department heads people are usually people who have done our other movies before, and then same thing with editing. We look at cuts and we give a lot of input, but we donít force the creative people to take it.
They are not mandates you give; they are actual notes?
They are actual notes, yeah. Every time we give a note its like, ďIf you think it makes it better, great. If you donít, donít do it.Ē
Itís interesting. This sounds less like typical film production and more like a theater company.
It is a lot like a theater company. I used to have a theater company here in New York. And thereís a lot about (making Blumhouse movies) thatís like a troupe. When weíre shooting our movies itís that way too. Like no one has a trailer on our movies, weíre all kind of hanging out together. They are very short. The shoot is very short. Itís very actor-friendly in that. Itís not very actor-friendly in terms of perks because the actors donít get any perks. But itís very actor friendly in terms of we go fast, and I think actorsówhen you do a half a page a day (as some bigger productions do)óit drives you crazy as an actor. So there is a lot about that feels like a theater company. Our old school kind of we have a big building in downtown LA where everyone is (lends to that as well). Itís our production office, our editorial suiteóeveryoneís there and it feels like an old school kind of Hollywood system.
Now in Insidious: Chapter 2 you guys shot entirely on location?
Yeah, all on location.
Now how do you feel that affects the final product?
We donít have the money to build sets, so we donít build them. We very rarely will do a build. There are few exceptions, but very rarely will de do a build. And I think thatís great. Itís better for the actors; it makes it feel more real. I think the restraints that shooting practically puts on production makes the movie better, even though it makes it harder to shoot.
I was actually shocked to find that in Insidious Chapter 2 you did so much on location because the houses you picked are so extraordinary. And not just in the look of them, but in their layouts. Like in Insidious and the Paranormal Activity series, such a major aspect of them is geographical awareness of where we are within the house.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
How does that inform for you choosing locations?
I think the location is almost as important as casting the leads of the movie. The location on The Purge was crucial to that movie working. And there was actually another location that we almost used, which I saw. The director hated it, and he was being told by the line producer he had to do this because we couldnít afford the house we actually shot in. And I said, ďNo, we canít. We got to find the money somewhere else,Ē and shoot it in the house we shot it in. It wouldnít have been nearly as good of a movie if weíd shot in this other place. And most of our movies donít take place in a lot of big locations, you know? So we have to kind of pick one or two and thatís where we live while we shoot Ďem. But I do think itís a very, very important choice in scary movies, where they take place. Whether itís spooky looking or very normal looking, obviously the Paranormal houses are very mundane. But I think thatís important too.
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