With increasingly ballooning tentpole budgets, producer Jason Blum seeks to create crowd-pleasing horror films on a miniscule scale, whether it be Insidious, Paranormal Activity or The Purge. Luring name actors like Ethan Hawke, Patrick Wilson and Olivia Wilde to his productions with the promise of massive back-end deals, he’s managed to stand equally in the multiplex against the competing Hollywood blockbusters. On the occasion of the home video release of The Lazarus Effect, we spoke to him about his business model and the horror genre itself. Check out the conversation below.
The Film Stage: I heard you recently on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast describe bad producers as frustrated creative types; that being said to what degree do you have creative input?
Jason Blum: No, I didn’t. I described bad producers as frustrated directors. I’m a creative type.
Thank you for correcting me. But to what degree do you have creative input on your films?
Me and my team have a ton of creative input, but we offer it as suggestions and not mandates.
I’ve heard an important part of your process is to shoot in Los Angeles. What do you get from shooting there that you don’t get from being in Vancouver or Louisiana?
Our movies are low-budget enough that the rebate doesn’t quite make it worth travelling, and I’ve found it harder to get top-tier actors and directors and producers to work for scale and back-end when you’re also asking them to live somewhere else. We’ve had more success when being able to stay in L.A. But we don’t shoot in L.A. with all of our movies and TV shows.
You’re producing M. Night Shyamalan’s next film, how did the process go for him after doing a series of large-scale films?
I can’t answer how the physical production went on it, because we didn’t get involved with it until there was a rough cut of the movie. But what he told me was that he really liked working low-budget because there was only one voice in it, it was his. It was much more containable and controllable so he enjoyed it and hopefully we’ll revisit something else as low-budget from the very beginning and I’ll be able to answer that better. But from what he said, he really liked working on something with a smaller budget.
We’re doing this on the occasion of the home-video release of one of your films, and there was this talk about there once being a glory day of DVD, which has changed now with streaming and iTunes, but just how have they affected a film’s second life?
I think eventually streaming and iTunes will make the delivery of films more efficient, and ultimately it will be more profitable but right now we’re at a point where it’s catching up to where DVD was. But it’ll get there and ultimately make the business more efficient and profitable.
Have you looked into doing any projects with esteemed masters of horror like John Carpenter, Wes Craven or George Romero?
We’ve forwarded with all three of those people, haven’t found anything yet but I’d be thrilled to work with any of them. We’ve talked about developing things with all three of them.
There used to be a big emphasis in Hollywood on going through the test screening process, do you do that with your films or do you avoid it altogether?
I’m a big believer in it. Not necessarily scoring and results but I’m a big believer in watching movies with audiences. That’s why we got involved with Paranormal Activity after seeing it with an audience. I think it’s a very helpful exercise to look at movies in a commercial theatre with a full house to get a feeling of the film.
Following that, do you ever do reshoots or would that bloat the budget?
We do reshoots on 90% of our movies. We love to tinker. On Paranormal, I think there were fifty reshoots. We try to save a little bit of money to do that.
With the first Paranormal Activity, maybe you can confirm if this was a rumor or not, but it was Steven Spielberg who actually had suggestions about a new ending?
He did. The ending of the movie that came out was actually his idea. I think we shot three different endings and that was the one we ended up with.
If you look back in the 1980’s, all these franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street churned out one sequel after another, yet it seems strange that those franchises can’t seem to make a comeback. What do you think prevents that from happening and are you wary of making too many sequels?
I like to think that there’s a natural life to sequels where at some point you have to stop. I don’t know if those franchises are doing that bad though, Paramount is releasing Friday the 13th I think in twelve months. And Poltergeist was another remake, and that did well, so I think that IP still has some influence and people are still interested in seeing those movies. And I think people are interested in seeing those IP turned into a mini-series, like there’s Bates Motel and I think a few others like that; it’s a new way to dive into those stories.
What trends in horror do you think are on the way out and what trends are going to be hot again?
I don’t think it’s out yet, but I don’t know how much longer supernatural is going to be very strong. But I think in about eight years or eleven years we’ll be in the third act of supernatural. I think The Purge is very different, The Purge is very much grounded and real. I think real and scary, I don’t think it’s the beginning of a trend, but it’s the movie I have that I think could. A little less supernatural, a little more real-life scary things. I have no idea, it’s just a theory.
The Lazarus Effect is now available on Blu-ray.