Jason Blum, founder and CEO of indie label Blumhouse Productions, woke up Sunday morning to some awkward news. As he put it at the outset of Film Independent Forum’s Executive Conversation (video above), he was meant to be “imparting wisdom, having released this movie that is just crashing and burning at the box office.” That movie, “Jem and the Holograms,” landed in 15th place on its opening weekend, earning just $1.3 million from 2,413 theaters—or a disastrous $547 per-theater average. “We’re eating humble pie today,” Blum said.
Preceded by “Jem” director John M. Chu’s Film Independent Forum keynote the day before (video below), Blum’s conversation with Blumhouse colleagues Couper Samuelson and Terri Taylor and moderator Jen Yamato (The Daily Beast) offered an impressively frank assessment of the challenges facing indie producers and filmmakers in a fast-changing industry landscape. Blum admitted that while his high expectations for both “Jem” and Blumhouse’s “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” had been dashed, a film defying expectations is not the exception, but the rule.
“At this time last year, I’d had [our] 10 movies [in 2015] categorized as ‘Sure Thing,’ ‘I’m a Little Nervous,’ ‘I’m a Lot Nervous,’ and of course the results of the 10 movies, nothing was in that category. ‘Jem’ was definitely in ‘Sure Thing’… and in fact it did the worst of all of them.” By keeping budgets low (around $5 million), casts small, and mixing in arthouse favorites (“Whiplash”) with genre fare, however, Blumhouse protects itself against any one box-office failure—and retains the ability to take risks the studios wouldn’t.
Though the weekend’s news has been sobering for both Blum and Chu, the latter captured the pleasure and pain of the film business in his keynote. “I do have to to tell you, from the bottom of my heart and wounded soul, that I am so lucky—we all are—because we have the best job in the world. We get to tell stories.”