Starburst: Can you tell us about your system at Blumhouse for producing low budget films that started with Paranormal Activity?
Jason Blum: It’s actually a very European system. It’s auteur filmmaking except that we set out to produce very commercial material, usually horror movies; but we get a very limited amount of money for the movies and in exchange for not spending too much I get total creative freedom and I pass it to the director. So the directors really have complete creative control over their movies. Whether it’s Scott Derrickson or Scott Stewart, they choose who’s in the movie, they have final cut, and they make all the decisions themselves. We advise them along the way and give them ideas but it’s their choice whether to take the ideas or not, and it’s a really fun way to make movies and we get to take risks. I always tell the directors to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. There are certain limitations but a lot of advantages to working inexpensively and one is that you can do different things.
How did you hook up with Scott Stewart for Dark Skies?
I’d admired his movies, so we had a meeting in our offices and I asked him what he was thinking about next, and he pitched me the movie, but as a found footage movie like Paranormal Activity, and I really responded to it: I thought it was a great story – there’s a great tradition of scary alien movies but I thought we hadn’t seen one in a while, so I thought that would be a fun movie to work on. The one suggestion I made to him was that we shoot it in a traditional way like Insidious and Sinister and not do it found footage. He thought that was a good idea so he made that change, but basically he wrote a script very close to what he pitched us and we were shooting it very soon - within 6 - 8 months. Again we supported him along the way. Josh Hamilton, who stars in the movie, is an old friend of mine. I produced theatre in New York twenty years ago and he was in my theatre company. So I introduced Josh to Scott. But ultimately, obviously, it was Scott’s choice. We shot the movie in the late summer and here it is. When there’s just one person at the helm, making the decision, the process goes a little more quickly.
Do you think the found footage cycle has run its course?
I think there’ll always be a place for found footage movies but my feeling about it is that unless you really can’t tell the story in any other way it’s better not to do it as a found footage. I think found footage causes more problems than it solves, and I think the audience generally prefers not to look at found footage movies. If you can tell the story one way or the other I encourage film makers to do it more traditionally.
Your horror films often involve haunted houses and the anxieties of everyday life. Is there anything that draws you personally to these themes?
What I love about these movies is the emotional stories. Every movie that we do I hope there is a theme. In Sinister it’s choosing your profession over your family, over your wife and kids, which is a struggle that the main character goes through. I think Dark Skies is about isolation in suburbia. I’m very attracted to telling stories about families with those underlying themes in them, where the scares work their way organically into the stories. The place where you talk most intimately and most truthfully is your house, so that why we end up a lot of the time in the house in these films, because that’s where people are truest to themselves and truest to their own feelings, and that’s where those conversations, more often than not, take place.
Do you see yourself following in the footsteps of a Carl Laemmle Jnr. or a Val Lewton – producers in old Hollywood who created important horror cycles in the 1930s and 1940s?
I should hope to even begin to touch either one of those guys’ careers, but I do really admire what they’ve done. The world is a different place now but I definitely have those people and a couple of others in mind, and as I go forward here I try to make the right choices - even if I could get a little bit of what they did I would be very proud of that.
Even though the films are, as you say, director-led, do you have an input in the casting and the final edit?
We have a loud voice all through it but I just don’t force the directors to do anything. I find that when it’s a dialogue instead of mandates, more often than not the directors will listen. Again, this isn’t a big deal to you guys because that’s how movies are made in Europe for the most part, but it’s not how movies are made in Hollywood. So it’s a new thing to make commercial movies but to let the directors be in charge. We are very active: I suggested Josh Hamilton, I suggested not found-footage, I suggested a bunch of cuts to the movie to shorten it – which I always do and I joke about it with the directors! – but we don’t force then to do it. I make my case as to why I think it’s a good idea but ultimately the movies that the company makes belong to the directors and I don’t lose sleep at night if the directors don’t do something that I want them to do.
So what have you got coming up next after Dark Skies?
After Dark Skies, the movie I’m really excited about is The Purge, which comes out the end of May. The trailer just went online a couple of days ago. It’s everything I just described. It’s a great, scary home invasion movie but it works on a lot of other levels, about what if the US government made murder legal for twelve hours a year? From seven at night until seven in the morning murder is legal. So this is the story of one family that night. We also made the sequel to Insidious. James Wan and Leigh Whannell came back to do that. We’re cutting that now. That comes out in September so I’m excited about that. Needless to say we have another Paranormal instalment. Paranormal Activity 5 comes out in October. We’ve tried to do something original and unique with it, and I think people will be surprised.
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