Jason Blum: "The success of a film is 50% its quality, 50% the marketing"

Jason Blum: “The success of a film is 50% its quality, 50% the marketing”

From Paranormal Activity to BlacKkKlansman, the producer retraces his filmography.

In October 2018, when the reboot ofHalloween, First met Jason Blum. We share his words on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of American Nightmare, one of the producer’s emblematic hits, released in the middle of summer 2013.

With very small budgets and very big boxes, he dominated the industrial horror of the 2010s, put M. Night Shyamalan back in the saddle, reaffirmed the political and satirical dimension of the genre… The producer with the carnivorous smile retraces the irresistible rise of Blumhouse Productions.

Paranormal Activity by Oren Peli (2009)
A couple suspects their house of being haunted by a demonic spirit and leaves their camera running overnight. Ultra-profitable, the film imposes the Blumhouse model.

“At the beginning of my career, I worked at Miramax and we refused The Blair Witch Project. Like most producers at the time! It was infuriating, but it taught me to trust your instincts. So when discovered Paranormal Activity ten years later, it was out of the question to miss the boat. I listened to my gut, even though everyone thought I was crazy. I didn’t imagine it was going to be such a hit, but I was sure it would work. The film was about to be released in direct-to-dvd, and I told the director that we had to work together so that I could get it out in theaters. It took three years to get there, it was very long and painful. But I had a feeling it would be seen by as many people as possible. After the success of the first, I understood that there was a great business to be built around films high concept on a low budget. All of Blumhouse’s subsequent feature films were born thanks to Paranormal Activity. It is our matrix. »

Insidious by James Wan (2011)
A child mysteriously falls into a coma and his father must save his soul, lost in an astral plane full of demons. The meeting with the wonderboy James Wan.

“I realized for the first time that you could give a voice to directors who don’t thrive in the traditional Hollywood system. James Wan had done Saw then two films for Universal, Dead Silence And Death Sentence, which had failed at the box office. It had plastered him! One day he came into my office with screenwriter Leigh Whannell to pitch me Insidious. I was super excited, and James assured me he could shoot it for a million dollars. He knew he was good and he needed to prove it. We finally made it for 998,000 dollars and the film made more than 100 million across the planet! It was a real turning point for Blumhouse, because until then everyone thought that Paranormal Activity was a magic trick. We were entering the big leagues. I even think that we could have made a little more money in the United States, because the marketing was not up to par. The success of a film is 50% its quality, 50% the marketing. »

American Nightmare by James DeMonaco (2013)
In a dystopian America, all crimes are allowed one night a year. A potential blockbuster reimagined as a horror thriller low-costwith Ethan Hawke headlining. Another box.

“Basically, it was a much bigger film, a project that had been dragging on for a while with Luc Besson. He had to produce it on a budget of 8 or 10 million dollars. He didn’t do anything about it and in his defense, it didn’t hold up in this configuration. With hindsight, we say that it is obvious. But there were 99 ways to screw up with such a scenario, and only one to succeed: it had to be done for very little money. Fortunately, director and screenwriter James DeMonaco had the same vision as me. I gave him my agreement for 2.5 million, no more. Well, we ended up at 2.9 million but that’s not so bad (Laughs.) The first film was a kind of feasibility study that immediately resonated with viewers. But more than a claustrophobic camera, people wanted to see what happens in town on Purge night, outside of the house. What we did with the second and the third, and the TV series is in the same vein. »

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The Mirror by Mike Flanagan (2013)
A superb and terrifying pocket Shining, where a brother and a sister wander in a house in the shape of a mental labyrinth. Big shock, and revelation of the unknown Mike Flanagan.

” I discovered The Mirror (Oculus in VO) at the Toronto festival. I loved it and I was struck by the quality of the realization. I spoke with distribution company Relativity Media to help with promotion in the United States. It’s actually a pretty common process for us, that’s what happened with Paranormal Activity, The Visit, Unfriended…Films finished or nearly finished that no one seems to want, for reasons that escape me. We signed a deal with Relativity and released the film. The box office results were OK, nothing more, but it allowed me to meet Mike Flanagan with whom we then Ouija Board: The Origins And not a sound. »

Whiplash by Damien Chazelle (2014)
Change of registry. Miles Teller is harassed by JK Simmons, his drums teacher, in front of Damien Chazelle’s camera. Result: three Oscars and five nominations.

“To be honest, on first reading, I found the script not too bad, but nothing more… And then it went against everything we’ve been doing with horror cinema for years. Were we not deviating too much from what we knew how to do? Except that when you think about it, whiplash is not so far from other Blumhouse productions: it’s the Cannes version of the horror film, all the codes are there! I started to really take an interest in the project when Jason Reitman came into production, because I really wanted to work with him. We asked Damien Chazelle to make a short film with a few pages of his screenplay. And he won the jury prize at Sundance 2013! There, I had to wake up, there was something. Damien has a talent that is impossible to ignore. He went for the long haul and what he managed to do with three million dollars still leaves me speechless. If someone had told me that one day I would produce an Oscar-nominated film…”

The Visit by M. Night Shyamalan (2015)
The resurrection of Shyamalan after the flopafter-earth. Two kids spend a week on the farm of their grandparents, who are hiding a terrible secret. A super effective scare film and the triumphant return of a great filmmaker. Blum maousse.

“I tried to meet M. Night Shyamalan any way I could. I even went to Philadelphia to pitch our production model to him: low budget, great freedom for the director. He listened to me politely… We had several discussions on this subject and then finally, in the summer of 2014, he called me: “ That’s it, I did it. I made a low budget movie “. I was on my ass! He had financed The Visit himself and wanted my opinion on his first cut. At the time, he was coming out ofafter-earth, who had lost money. I think he was seduced by what we offered him, he was coming back to something on a human scale where he could fully express his vision. He needed to go through a small genre film to find himself as a director. It was the first step towards Splitwhich itself logically leads to Glass. I hope that afterwards, he will not want to return to big budgets. Because I don’t think his cinema is suitable for blockbusters. »

Jem and the Holograms by Jon Chu (2016)
The meteoric rise of an all-girl pop rock band. An adaptation of the 80s cartoon and the first flop of the Blumhouse system.

“Blumhouse holds many box office records. For example get-out is the second highest-grossing low-budget film of all time, and Jem and the holograms is the lowest-grossing film ever released on more than 2,000 screens (Laughs). Just kidding, but it was a huge disappointment because I love the movie. I’m very proud of Jon Chu’s work and would happily work with him again. There was a whole succession of dumplings, partly mine… We didn’t take the time to discuss with the creator of jem, who should have been the voice of the film. And then it would have been necessary to hire a woman for the realization. For purely marketing reasons: a film about theempowerment women with only men behind the camera and in production, it was not necessarily very clever. We also had a bad release date, a distribution company that didn’t believe in the film from the start… In short, everything was badly designed. I could be wrong, it happens! But I learn from my mistakes. »

Get Out by Jordan Peele (2017)
Behind the horrifying variation on Guess who’s coming to dinner (a young black man meets his white in-laws), a political rant on post-Obama America. Full box.

“I didn’t know the film would be this good, but I felt Jordan Peele had it under his feet. People think you have to make a good little horror movie before you can make a great horror movie. False: you have to be a good director. And Jordan knew exactly what he wanted to do with the script, he had a real point of view. I immediately trusted him. The script had been dormant for a while with no one willing to fund it. It must be said that it was very unusual, even more bizarre thanAmerican Nightmare. I hadn’t read anything like Get Out. So it had to cost little and I knew that with a few tricks, we were going to stay within our budget. Besides, if a lot of our films mainly take place in one, it’s because it greatly reduces costs! Opening weekend was pretty good but nothing crazy. On the other hand, when the numbers remained constant the following week, we knew that we had something. The film had touched a sensitive nerve in America. We were right in the zeitgeist. »

BlacKkKlansman – I Infiltrated Spike Lee’s Ku Klux Klan (2018)
The great return of Spike Lee, who uses a 70s thriller to tell the story of racism in America, from Birth of a Nation to Charlottesville. Not a horror movie, no. But still a little.

“Yes, it’s a certain idea of ​​horror!” When the world is bad, you would think that people want to see comedies, but in fact no, they are looking for films that echo the chaos of reality. They want to see horrible, tough stories, but in the reassuring environment of a movie theatre. In my eyes, BlacKkKlansman, it’s pure Blumhouse, because it’s very dark thematically. It’s not just the jump scares in life ! I want to make fictions about the things that frighten me. And the Ku Klux Klan scares me. Roger Ailes (former head of Fox News, ex-adviser to Donald Trump and deceased in 2017) also scared me – we are preparing a series on him. I was very proud when BlacKkKlansman received an award at Cannes. We finished second (the film won the Grand Prix). Next time, I want the Palme d’Or! »

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