One of Hollywood's most prolific and profitable producers, Jason Blum first got into the horror genre with "Parnormal Activity" (2007), a film produced for roughly $15,000 that went on to earn over $194 million in worldwide box office. Since then, Blum has conjured several horrific and highly successful cinematic visions under his Blumhouse Productions banner, including "Insidious" (2011), "Sinister" (2012), the recently released "The Purge" and, of course, the many sequels to "Paranormal Activity."
Following the terrific opening weekend of "The Purge" (which opened at #1 with over $34 million domestically), we spoke with Jason Blum about the secrets to making a good horror movie and what's in store with his next theatrical creature feature, "Insidious: Chapter 2," which will commence with haunting theaters on September 13 (which is a Friday, natch).
Congratulations on a great opening weekend for "The Purge." What do you think this means — are we going to see low-budget horror taking over the summer movie season from the big action films?
JASON BLUM: I hope so, I hope so. [laughs] I think there's room for everybody. For me it proves that ... well, it all comes down to the movie business, but if you put a great, original idea and a great, original concept out there, there's a desire for it. There's room for everyone.
What initially made you a horror fan?
JB: "Paranormal Activity" made me a fan, really. I had studied Hitchcock in college and he's certainly my favorite director in that space and his films are what first got me excited about it, but the first one I worked on was "Paranormal" and that's when I moved from fan to maker. It's become a super-fun tradition for me.
I saw the first "Paranormal Activity" in the theater, and when it was over I thought, "That was well-made and a lot of fun but it wasn't that scary." And then later that night I wake up at like two in the morning and I was terrified — I had this kind of delayed reaction to the movie.
JB: [laughs] Good, that means we did our job!
Absolutely. And the same thing happened a couple of weeks ago; I saw "Dark Skies" on Blu-ray and I woke up in the middle of the night and thought there were aliens in the bathroom.
JB: [Laughs] I love that, I love that!
Whether it's a delayed reaction response or an immediate communal response, which is definitely a big part of seeing a "Paranormal Activity" film in the theater, do you have a set of guidelines or what do you feel are essential elements in engaging an audience and getting them emotionally involved with a story?
JB: One of the things is involving people who have maybe never done horror. I think that's part of the fun is to take actors especially from New York theatre like ["Dark Skies" star] Josh Hamilton and ["Sinister" star] Ethan [Hawke] — not that there aren't also a lot of great actors who do do a lot of scary movies but I think having that unfamiliar element is super important.
And another thing that we've done on every one of these movies is pick directors who just know a ton about the genre, like ["Insidious" director] James Wan and ["Sinister" director] Scott Derrickson and ["Dark Skies" director] Scott Stewart. In the case of "The Purge," we had [director] James DeMonaco and the team at Platinum Dunes working with us. And so I've collaborated a bunch of times with people who've had a certain amount of great success with the space and that's made for a good combo.
In regards to "Insidious Chapter 2," which comes out this fall — was there always a second chapter planned or did the sequel not come about until audiences responded so strongly to the first film?
JB: You can plan for a sequel, sure, but to start figuring out the sequel before you have the first success I think is to go in the wrong direction. So no, with "Insidious" we weren't planning on a sequel, but once it struck a nerve, I really wanted to do a sequel and do a sequel in a different way. And I didn't want to do it unless James [Wan] wanted to, too — I worked on him for a while and started batting around some different ideas.
One of the things I've learned while working on all the sequels to "Paranormal" is that with sequels people look for answers — I think the first movie brings up a lot of questions, and with "Paranormal" a lot of those questions are answered very specifically in the second movie. So with "Insidious 2," besides the fact that it's super, super scary, I think it's also very satisfying in terms of addressing the lore in the first movie.
James Wan has such a theatrical, almost vaudevillian visual style, starting with the original "Saw" and continuing with "Dead Silence" and "Insidious." Is that something that's going to continue aesthetically in "Insidious 2"?
JB: One hundred percent. I think everything people saw in the first movie they're going to see more of in the second, but in a very original way. I think James and [screenwriter] Leigh [Whannell] are brilliant in this space. They were dedicated to not doing what people expect, and I think that's what they did.
James is now shifting genres and directing "Fast & Furious 7." Were you privy to that before that was announced or was it a surprise to you?
JB: [Laughs] I did know about that. One of the things James always talked about even on the first "Insidious" was that one of things he always wanted to do in his career and hadn't done yet was do sort of tentpole movies. James is firing on all cylinders and I think he's a massively talented director, so I was very psyched. I had been talking to some people before it was announced and was gunning for it so I was very, very happy about it.
Horror is a difficult endeavor because it requires so specific a response from the audience. What is the hardest thing about making a horror film?
JB: Making it original. That's the hardest thing. Making it something that people haven't seen before — that's the first, second and third hardest thing. [laughs] A lot of horror is derivative and it doesn't work if it's derivative and the reason that I'm always almost psychotic about insisting on sticking to low budgets is not to make it profitable but to be able to take creative risks.
Keeping it low budget allows us to give filmmakers like James total creative freedom to try anything you want to do. That's the model that "Insidious" came out of and why I keep the budgets low, to be able to go to filmmakers and give them complete creative control and say "Hey listen, go make a scary movie but try new stuff; try something you always wanted but were never allowed to do." That's something I often say when we're developing these movies with filmmakers — I said it to James, I said it to ["Sinister" director] Scott Derrickson, I said, "Try stuff you've never tried before."
The downside is you only get paid if the movie makes money, nobody gets paid up front, but the good part of not getting paid up front is you can try new stuff.
Finally, there's probably very little to say about this but I have to ask: Is there any little tidbit you can give us on "Paranormal Activity 5" coming this October?
JB: [Laughs] It's very scary. How about that?
"Insidious: Chapter 2" opens September 19.