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Exclusive Interview: Producer Jason Blum

Updates on Lords of Salem, Area 51, Paranormal Activity 3 & more

Jason Blum’s office is far too sunny a place for nightmares to come together. Tucked away on the west side of the Paramount lot, facing a verdant garden, and beyond that, a children’s day care radiating a mix of chaos and happiness, Blumhouse Productions is quietly preparing its upcoming slate of fright films.

Blum – one of the key players behind bringing 2009′s horror hit Paranormal Activity to the screen – is feeling the afterglow of genre success yet again. Insidious, which he produced for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, is presently the most profitable film of 2011. And his production outfit shows no signs of stopping. In addition to a promising series of genre pictures, Blum also has The Wettest County in the World – starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman and Guy Pearce – on the way, demonstrating the producer’s determined need for diversity.

He has struck gold in horror, however, and Shock is here at Blumhouse to talk to him about the ever-changing fright industry and to get updates on Area 51, which re-teams him with filmmaker Oren Peli, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, Paranormal Activity 3, The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes, his untitled collaboration with Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), The Bay and The River, a new “found footage” ABC series created by Peli.

Shock Till You Drop: Did you ever see yourself diving into the genre and finding this level of success?

Jason Blum: Definitely not. I didn’t anticipate it and it was new to me, relative to the movies I worked on. I guess I didn’t anticipate how much fun it is, both in TV and movies, to make genre material. How loyal the fans are. How devoted the filmmakers are. It’s still all about telling stories, no matter what genre it is, it’s about telling stories that resonate with people. Needless to say, when there are genre elements, it’s more commercial stories. But I don’t look at anything different of the drama between Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne than I do between two actors in The Reader. People have to believe what’s happening on the screen are true. If you get that core thing right, you’re ahead of the game.

Shock: How are you seeing the landscape of horror changing? How the audience is changing?

Blum: I think genre audiences are getting more and more sophisticated at sniffing things out that are done more for commercial reasons than going to movies that are made by people who want to do different things in the genre and love it. The success of Insidious and the reason it has worked all over the world is because James and Leigh are great filmmakers and they made a great movie. It was something they conceived a long time ago and had been thinking about it a long time and they had the freedom to do what they wanted to do. Audiences are more savvy about that now, they are gravitating to more stuff that’s pure.

Shock: The first Paranormal Activity is a testament to that as well.

Blum: Yeah, and I think the fun that came out of doing the second one was the challenge of everyone being very cynical about what we could pull off. How could we do this again? Again, we chose a filmmaker who has never made a genre movie before – the same thing in the third movie – and we try and find the heart and voice of Oren, but come up with fun and inventive stories that are surprising to people.

Shock: Well, jumping ahead, you guys have selected two unconventional choices for the third Paranormal film – Catfish‘s Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Can you talk about the decision behind this? And is it always a risky venture when you’re dealing with an unproven filmmaker in the horror field? Can they pull off the scares?

Blum: Scares aren’t scary unless you believe the family relationships. You have to buy into the conceit that the footage is real and that’s why we selected those directors. I think the scares will come. I don’t think you want to reverse engineer a movie. Story first, scares will come out of that.

Shock: Are you feeling any time crunch?

Blum: [laughs] No more than on the last one.

Shock: Like Paranormal, Insidious has proven, again, that you don’t need a high budget to frighten audiences.

Blum: I think horror movies are suited to do inexpensively and budget restraints push writers and directors to make choices they wouldn’t have made on a film with a larger budget. And those choices, I think, make the movie better. The more inexpensive it is, the more freedom the filmmaker gets and they benefit from a single voice or visionary driving the train. Understandably, when you make a movie with more money, more people are going to be involved. If anything, what’s happening now is the middle is just getting bigger. There will always be massive event movies, and part of that will be genre movies, and budgets will continue to keep coming down in all genres. Five or six years ago, people would say the $40 million movie is gone. The $20 – $80 million, there are a few, but there are less of those. Studios are now focusing either on huge or on small movies.

Shock: There’s a feeling that the genre and audiences are once again at a point where they’re departing the old and making way for the new, franchise-wise. Saw is done. Scream‘s sequel didn’t perform as expected opening weekend.

Blum: I was surprised. I loved Scream 4. I thought it was a great movie. The movie business is fickle and I think there is more in the Scream franchise for sure. They could reboot or reinvent that there could be more. I don’t know, I thought it was going to do better. Then again, I didn’t expect the success Paranormal Activity had. You just never know in this business. You brought up Saw and I always say, I hope to be so lucky to produce Paranormal Activity 7 and get a call from a new horror franchise who tells us they beat us on opening weekend. What they did on Saw is extraordinary. We’ve done it twice, they’ve done it seven times.

Shock: Let’s take a look at the projects you have on the way. There have been rumors that Paranormal Activity 3 is going to be a prequel and not a sequel.

Blum: Can’t comment on that one! You will just have to see. [laughs]

Shock: The preview for The River hit the web, that one looks fun.

Blum: I loved doing genre TV. It was a new experience and I hope to do a ton more. I loved working with the studio and the network. I’m shocked and thrilled how it came out given that it’s not an independent movie. It’s a network show and there are a lot of conditions – they know what works and they know what doesn’t work. I was pleasantly surprised that the original vision of the show is intact and it’s a perfect next step for Oren. When you see the show, you’ll see there are a lot of aspects of Paranormal Activity in The River but told in a different format. I love the speed at which it went. We go into production at the beginning of August on the rest of the episodes.

Shock: You used Jaume Collet-Serra for the pilot. Do you have other directors in mind?

Blum: We’ve been talking to a few. Jaume did a great job and we’d love to get him back. Steven Spielberg gave notes on cuts of the pilot, which was the coolest thing ever. We’ll see. But we haven’t made decisions on directors, but that’s happening now.

Shock: When does Lords of Salem shoot?

Blum: He’s going to shoot in the fall. I think it’s fair to say it’s going to feel like a 100% Rob Zombie movie. That’s why I approached him, that’s why I’m lucky to be working with him. We’re encouraging him to do it just like he wants.

Shock: What sold you on it?

Blum: Rob. I bet on filmmakers a lot. Rob and the pitch. There has to be a high concept in these movies somewhere and he’s got one.

Shock: Rob is known for great, visual presentations. Did he do anything special for this film to get you to believe in it?

Blum: No. But he had his last four films and that’s all I needed.

Shock: Where is Area 51 at?

Blum: Area 51 is like Paranormal Activity. The additional photography for Paranormal Activity, we went back 50 times. The great thing about doing extra shooting for inexpensive movies is that the cost is low, so we screen and shoot and screen and shoot. Oren and I were pulled away from Area 51 a lot for the second Paranormal. Once that came out, we ramped up on Area 51 again. I anticipate the movie will be mostly done in about three or four months. They can’t set a release date yet until we do all of that.

Shock: Are you thinking 2012 for release?

Blum: Not for sure. It will depend on the competitive release schedule all the way around. It could be sooner.

Shock: What can you say about this Scott Derrickson project you’re producing?

Blum: He’s got a couple of things in development, but I’m hoping our movie is his next. It’s a character-driven genre movie. There are a lot of moving parts, but if they move the right way, we could be shooting in late summer.

Shock: Are you considering a sequel to Insidious?

Blum: I wouldn’t say we’re not considering it. There’s no plan, no release date, nothing like that. I think James feels the same as Oren [Peli]. Oren was very skeptical about doing a sequel to Paranormal Activity until Michael [Perry] pitched an idea and it made sense. If Leigh comes up with a story that’s inventive and you feel like there’s a story to tell – as opposed to ‘let’s make another movie and make money’ – and he comes up with something James feels is worth making we would do it. And if Leigh doesn’t, we won’t.

Shock: Amityville: The Lost Tapes, how did this come about?

Blum: Dan [Farrands] and Casey [La Scala] came to me and said they wanted to do a found footage version of Amityville and they had the rights to do it. I knew Bob [Weinstein] had the rights to do it. I said, lets take it to Bob and not fight him but join him – I worked for Bob and Harvey for five years – and we pitched it to Bob and he threw it into production.

Shock: There was a project kicking around at MGM earlier called The Amityville Tapes.

Blum: Interesting, that’s news to me.

Shock: And now there’s competition with The Amityville Legacy.

Blum: We’re making our movie and releasing in January. But I’m not super worried about it.

Shock: Is your film a direct sequel to the Ryan Reynolds movie?

Blum: That’s a secret. [laughs]

Shock: What’s the status of The Bay which you did with Barry Levinson?

Blum: We sold it to Lionsgate off of footage we showed to all of the distributors. They haven’t seen the whole movie yet. It’s still too early to talk release. We’ll work with them a while on this. There are certain things Barry might want to do. I think he did something super original and really scary. Pretty hardcore. It’s intense. I think people will be surprised by that.

Shock: Aren’t you going to get burnt out on found footage style?

Blum: I think found footage has established itself in the theatrical marketplace as a form. There is room for certain stories that could be told that way, and I’d be surprised if that totally dies out. I think it will get saturated but I don’t think they’ll ever go away. There may be five to ten percent of films released each year will be told in this style when that style is a better way to tell a story than a traditional style.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor