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Why Jason Blum Isn’t Afraid of a Changing Distribution Landscape

Why Jason Blum Isn't Afraid of a Changing Distribution Landscape

READ MORE: Jason Blum’s 5 Tips for Low-Budget Filmmaking Success

Fans of super-producer Jason Blum don’t have to go very far to check out the latest from his micro-budget-minded Blumhouse Productions. This year alone has already seen theatrical releases for “The Lazarus Effect,” “Insidious: Chapter 3” and “The Boy Next Door” (a horror film in its own, very specific way). Blumhouse co-produced HBO’s smash hit documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” Festival favorite “Creep” is available on VOD. Both “The Gift” and “Sinister 2” will arrive in August. Even a visit to the Blumhouse website provides a bevy of opportunities to purchase various Blumhouse productions, either on physical media or via an instant VOD purchase. Jason Blum wants you to see his films and, given his ability to adapt to the continually changing world of distribution, that’s become easier than ever.

Blumhouse’s newest production, “The Gallows,” hits theaters this week. A found footage horror outing that’s reminiscent of the best of the genre (Blum, of course, likens it to the power and punch of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise), the feature follows a group of high school students who (somewhat unwittingly) conjure up a dark spirit when they attempt to put on a play with a decidedly downbeat history. The film is rooted in its own original mythology, as “The Gallows” just so happens to also be the name of the play at hand — a play that, when it was first performed twenty years earlier, resulted in the death (by gallows!) of a phenomenally ill-fated young actor. Although the resurrection of the play is meant to be a respectful nod to a horrifying event, it soon turns into its own horror show, complete with shaky camerawork, an inventive location and a guy in a leather hood. It’s classic Blumhouse, but as Blum explains, that’s not just because of its content.

In the press kit for “The Gallows,” there’s a quote from you that you feel like this is the first movie you’ve done since the “Paranormal Activity” franchise that does the “I can do that” look, and do it well. How does someone do that, and do it well?

If I knew the secret, I would’ve made more of these movies since “Paranormal Activity.” Oren had it, and — I don’t know how to do it, I know what not to do. But it’s really hard to make a found footage movie feel authentic. I think part of it is you have to ask yourself every time you’re shooting the movie, “Who’s holding the camera and why?” I think most found footage movies ask that at the first five minutes, and then they forget to ask anymore. And I think you have to be really, really true to that. As a result, I think it’s harder to do effective found footage movies. It’s easier to make a found footage movie than a traditionally shot movie, but much harder to make a good found footage movie than a good traditionally shot movie. Mostly for that reason. On the flip side, it’s very hard to have actors hold cameras. You learn after you do this a while that there are certain things you cheat and certain things you don’t cheat. It’s hard to get it all right, I really think those guys did. 

The model that you use with your company is high-quality, micro-budget films. Have you been surprised by the success of that model, especially in the last few years?

Whenever a movie performs financially, I’m always surprised. It’s always a small miracle, so yeah. I’m always surprised by it. And on a macro level like you’re asking, yeah, I think anything that works is surprising. So the answer is yes. 

Do you ever feel like you have a film that’s a guaranteed hit?

Well, I thought you were going to ask the second part of that question. But, yes, I’ve definitely felt like I’ve had films that have been guaranteed hits. And, they haven’t been! And actually that’s why I kind of love the movie business. Because no one ever knows for sure, and there are definitely times where I have been very, very, very sure, and I’ve been wrong. And I think that’s why I love what I do. You just can’t predict it. No one can predict it. 

Can you tell me the last one you were wrong about?

No, I cannot. [Laughs]

The way that the market is changing, especially when it comes to distribution models, do you think that new and evolving technologies have made your job easier or harder?

I think it makes it easier because it lowers the cost. The barrier of entry is high because of the cost of making movies. So, the lower the cost is, that’s better, it means more people can do it, more people can experiment. You can try different things. If you’re not chasing a big number to recoup, you can try new things. The reason why people complain about movies doing the same thing is because the cost is so high, that it is very hard to take risks when you’re gambling with such a huge amount of money. So technology has brought costs down. And lower costs are good for movies. 

Blumhouse has always been nimble with different distribution models, and you frequently release films beyond the theatrical release model, like with BH Tilt.

Paramount is doing that with the last “Paranormal Activity” installment. The world is changing around us rapidly, and I think it’s important to adjust to that. Twenty years ago, everyone would’ve thrown up at the notion of watching a movie on your phone. And people still throw up today about it, for better or for worse, I should say, that’s what people wanna do. What a lot of younger people wanna do. You can either reject that, or adapt to it. And I think it’s important to adapt to it. 

How do you feel about your distribution models now? Is this something you’re constantly thinking about?

Yeah, I think about it all the time. I think we think about making movies, and then we think about how to get movies seen. It’s almost about 50/50 at the moment in terms of the time we’ve spent on one or the other. How to do them, and then how to see them.

Paramount just announced that they’re going to be releasing some films — including “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” — onto VOD within days of their theatrical release. Does this new model excite you?

The Paramount thing really had to do with the fact that our movies tend to — scary movies tend to open big and drop off fast. And I think it’s not in anyone’s interest to have a bunch of marketing out there for a product that the consumer legally can’t get their hands on. And that’s what the “Paranormal Activity” model is. It’s not a tandem. It’s not about collapsing the windows, it’s about two weeks after the movie is in 300 screens or less, the movie comes out digitally. So if the movie is not available to the consumer in a theater, there’s another way to get it besides an illegal way to get it. Which I think is a great thing. Assuming that the deal with exhibition is fair, and Paramount has come up with a deal that exhibitors are a part of the digital revenues of the movie, I think that’s a great thing. 

The recent release of “Creep” has been really interesting to see, going from festival to iTunes and then rolling out to Netflix. Is that something that you expect to see more of, and that you want to do more of?

Yeah, it is, it is. And I think there are different shapes and sizes. Different distribution for different movies. And I’m really happy with the distribution plan of “Creep,” the financial result of “Creep.” And yeah, I do, I do. It’s really what Tilt was set up to do. 

You often release your larger films with studios, like with the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and “The Gallows,” what do you think the place of the studio system is in the current Hollywood climate?

I think there’s no one who’s even gotten close to being able to market movies like domestic studios. There’s no one getting to compete with that, still. And ninety per cent, I don’t even know what it is, eighty per cent to ninety per cent, of the movie business is the studio movie business. There’s a lot of talk about independent movies, obviously, but in terms of financially, the business is almost entirely, still, run by studios and, we have a long, long term partnership with Universal, which is great. The idea behind our company is that we make movies independently, and a good portion of those movies are being released by studios, that’s something that we’ll never be able to do, obviously. 

You guys have the ability to sort of save movies that aren’t getting out there. “Stretch” comes to mind, and now “The Green Inferno.” Is that something that you had hoped for or planned for, or is that sort of a happy bi-product?

Well, I think that came from “Paranormal Activity,” having been involved in a movie that everybody said no to, and then I got in involved, and then everyone said no again for three years. Obviously, we had a pretty good result with it. So I saw that there are certain movies that get ignored, that there’s a market for. And one of the things we like to do is help those movies get out there, you know? “The Gallows” is a movie we came to, we didn’t get involved until there was a rough cut of the movie. 

The backstory of “The Gallows,” that it was this very DIY, truly independent feature, is something that you seem to be attracted to.

Yeah, very similar to “Paranormal Activity,” very similar to “Unfriended,” same thing, we see a lot of early cuts for movies, and if we think there’s something there, we’ll jump in and work on making it as great as it can be and then getting it out there. 

You recently told USA Today that the next “Paranormal Activity” is going to be the finale. It’s so refreshing to hear somebody actually say that. It feels like kind of fan service, but in the best way possible. 

I don’t think it’s fan service. I think what I really wanted to do, and luckily it wasn’t like I had to push Paramount to do it, we both kind of came to it together, was, instead of taking this great kind of cultural touchstone that “Paranormal Activity” is, and kind of keep making the movies until they stop making money and say, okay this is the end, I feel like it was like a much more productive, forward thinking, anticipatory move. To say, “Hey, listen, we’ve done five of these movies, we’ve teased out this concept a lot, instead of waiting for them to be less relevant, let’s show everyone what’s behind the curtain, and call it a day.” Which I’m really proud of, that we were able to do that. I think it kind of shows that the movie business isn’t just about money. And I think it’s really cool. 

You did say that there’s always a possibility that you would remake the film – what would it take to do that?

What I said, because I just wanted to be careful of saying that, the end the end the end, and in 20 years if someone reboots “Paranormal Activity” in some way or another, that absolutely is a possibility. It’s not like this movie, depending on how much this makes, we’re going to jump into something else. We’re not going to, we’re giving it a rest. And the story of these six is completely done. There’s no plan of doing something else, I just didn’t want someone twenty years from now to say, “You said there would never be another one.” If someone has some brilliant idea on how to reboot it, that may happen. But that’s all I was saying. 

Because you know someone will go back and find that piece and say, “But you said…!”

Yeah, yeah, that’s why I said that. 

Blumhouse is still, however, deep into the franchise world. “Sinister” is now becoming a franchise, “The Purge” has become a huge franchise and you have a new “Amityville” movie. What’s your philosophy on the sequalization of the movie industry?

It’s like using two sides of your brain, I like making originals for all the obvious reasons, I also really like making sequels. Because I think creative work gets better with parameters. On our originals, the parameters are the budget, which are low. On the sequels, you need to make it similar enough to the original movie that it still merits the world “sequel,” but not so similar that it’s a repeat and no one sees it because they’re like, “I just saw this before,” and I think that’s a fun arena to pay in creatively, and I like doing it. I wouldn’t wanna do it only, and I wouldn’t wanna make originals only. I’m glad we kinda get to go back and forth, and I wanna continue going back and forth. I wouldn’t want to do only sequels, as much as I wouldn’t want to do only originals. 

You have the “Jem and the Holograms” movie coming up, and I know there have been some concerns about it from original fans. Is there anything you can say to put this fears at bay?

I understand why people are concerned, but I’d just ask people to reserve judgment until they see the movie, and if then they feel let down, go have at it, and say whatever you want. But I feel very confident that the fans, once they’ve seen the movie, will not be disappointed. On the record! [Laughs]

Blumhouse makes so many horror films, but your resume is peppered with all sort of other offerings. You won an Emmy for “The Normal Heart,” you’re an executive producer for “How To Dance In Ohio.” Do you think you get pigeonholed as a horror guy?

I take that, I hope I do. I take it as a compliment. I’m happy, that’s where I’m most comfortable, that’s mostly what we do. That’s mostly what we’re going to continue to do. I like being a horror fan in the horror community, because I feel like we’re all misfits and oddballs and made fun of, which I celebrate. Even though “Jem and the Holograms” isn’t a horror movie, it’s what I love about “Jem and the Holograms,” it’s kind of about the same thing. I wear it as a badge of honor, and every so often we make things that aren’t scary movies, but I want to be known for scary movies. 

When you got nominated for your Oscar, did you think “my whole world is going to change!” or something similar?

I think if I was a lot younger, I would’ve thought that. I’m glad that my world didn’t change, I didn’t think it would change, and I’m glad it didn’t change, but obviously it was a huge honor, and something I was, and am, incredibly proud of. My obituary will be slightly different [laughs] as a result.

READ MORE: ‘Insidious,’ ‘Paranormal Activity’ Producer Jason Blum On the Secret to His Phenomenal Success

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