Black Friday: Horror With Maria Lewis

August 18, 2017
Jason Blum on the business of scaring the shit out of people

Horror movies are a passion for some. For others, they’re a hobby on the side. Some might consider them a love and there are those who have them as a career. Jason Blum is all four and his name has become somewhat of a safe harbour for lovers of horror movies. Blumhouse Productions, the company which he formed 17-years ago, has been routinely pumping out some of the most consistently excellent and original horror movies of the last decade. There’s the franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Insidious. Then there’s one and done gems that surprise you like Unfriended, Oculus, The Green Inferno and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The 48-year old is in the business of scaring the shit out of people and business right now? Business is good.

“I like to define what we do as things that scare us,” says Blum. “So everything from Get Out to The Jinx, and to an eight part series we’re doing on Roger Ailes who I find to be a very threatening, terrifying figure. That’s the kind of filter we use: it’s a pretty broad filter because there’s a lot of scary things in the world. Hopefully from what we’re doing it will make them a little bit less scarier or even get rid of them.” It’s an interesting strategy and one that has worked so far, with Blumhouse Productions being able to spin enough profit off moderately budgeted fare to expand the company further with Blumhouse horror novels, horror houses and even an indie TV production arm which will see The Purge envisioned as a series. Not keen to stay within his lane, Blum has produced narrative horror features and shorts as well as documentary series like The Jinx, which was not only a critically sensation but will likely end up sending a real-life serial killer to jail. “We have a big team at Blumhouse, so there’s a lot of people focused on these projects,” says Blum, who estimates that his staff is around 60 people. “On the film side we provide a lot of ideas and a lot of information all the way through the process, from script to casting to production heads to editorial and marketing.”

There’s hardly a studio in Hollywood not happy to affiliate themselves with what was once ‘just’ a horror brand. Universal signed a first look deal with Blumhouse that spans several years and even Oscar-nominee M. Night Shyamalan found a home there with first The Visit, then Split and now upcoming sequels within the Unbreakable world including Glass. To fully grasp the scope of their ingenuity, one only needs to look at Hush – a horror movie which they made as a Netflix Original last year. With a main cast of just two people and budget of $1M, the central protagonist was a deaf woman being stalked by a killer. Just like Blumhouse’s first film, Paranormal Activity, it was a single location scarefest. “Using one location is two fold,” says Blum. “First of all, it’s practical because most of the movies we do are very inexpensive and the less locations you have, the cheaper it is. The other part is the home is where you feel most safe and least vulnerable: like your bedroom late at night. That’s where the scariest things can happen and that’s why a lot of our movies take place in houses.”

Like a lot of die hard movie lovers, Blum says the first film he saw that made him want to get into the film business was Star Wars. Watching it in the cinema at age nine with his dad, it was the start of something special for him and became the moment when he first realised that he “got the bug”. It’s one there really isn’t any cure for, with Blum throwing himself into directing theatre when he was starting out before producing at Warner Brothers and alongside the Weinstein Brothers. Nearly two decades after he founded his company of micro-budget horror films, Blum is now an Emmy winner (The Normal Heart) and an Oscar nominee (Best Picture – Whiplash). He has nearly 100 production credits to his name, with another 21 films in stages varying from production to development. It seems he and Blumhouse Productions are not going away anytime soon. “I’m very grateful to be here,” he laughs. “Still.”

Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz

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