On Saturday at The Film Independent Forum in Los Angeles, director Jon M. Chu gave a brutally honest talk just a day after his latest film, “Jem and the Holograms” was released — and quickly tanked — at the box office. This morning, the film’s producer Jason Blum gave his own talk at Film Independent and like Chu, he didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room.
“We’re very sad,” Blum told the audience. “It is kind of ironic to be here imparting wisdom having released this movie that is crashing and burning at the box office. It is why I really love the movie business and am tortured by the movie business.”
In addition to “Jem,” Blum’s company Blumhouse Productions also released “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” which was also a box office disappointment. “There are no peacock feathers here. We’re eating humble pie today,” said Blum.
Moderated by Daily Beast editor Jen Yamato, the discussion (which you can watch in its entirety in the above video) also featured Blumhouse head of casting Terri Taylor and head of Motion Pictures Couper Samuelson.
Blum pointed out that the failure of “Jem” is a reminder that there’s no such thing as a sure thing. “At this time last year, I had 9 out of 10 movies that I categorized as a sure thing…Of course, none of them worked out the way we thought they would,” he said. “‘Jem’ was a sure thing and in fact, it did the worst of all of them. It’s very tortuous, and it also should say that anything that any of us say today should be taken with a big grain of salt.”
But he took full responsibility for the film and continued to stand by it. “People in Hollywood have a tendency to retreat from financial failure,” said Blum. “There are movies that we have done that haven’t come out very well. That doesn’t feel very good. But ‘Jem’ is in a different category. I’m proud of the movie. I stand by the movie, but I’m obviously sorry it didn’t do any better.”
Samuelson said that one of the upsides of the Blumhouse model is that not as much money is on the line. “When you have low budget, we don’t have to worry we’re going to get fired if one of them fails, so we can talk about failures,” he explained.
Blum said that Blumhouse has had 10 wide releases this year, which, in retrospect he thinks “was too many. I’m exhausted. We’re not going to do as many next year.”
He still stands by the Blumhouse model, which involves keeping locations minimal, filming in L.A., paying above and below-line talent scale and keeping budgets around $5 million.
“At this point, we could make money doing big-budget movies, but we opt not to,” said Blum. “When you have less risk, you have more fun. You can take risks. It’s much easier to take risks when there’s less money on the line. Not all of our movies work, but we take shots and we’re able to do that because we really stick to low budgets.”
One of the marks of the Blumhouse model is hiring experienced directors, paying them scale and giving them creative freedom. “One of the difficult films about studio filmmaking is that very, very often, the studio is making one movie and the director is making one movie. The studio is making a movie for box office and the director is making a movie for critics. A lot of time if you have that conversation before you start, it makes the process much better,” he explained.
Blumhouse alternates between low-budget genre films and arthouse films like “Whiplash” and the new documentary “How to Dance in Ohio” about autistic teens.
“One of the things I’m proudest about, we’re very clear going in — we do some [films] for art and some for commerce, but we’re very much on the same page with filmmakers when we start,” said Blum. “We provide an alternative when you’re trying to tell a commercial story that’s small. It’s a very niche part of the business.”
Taylor said that actors who work scale make around $3,500 a week for around four weeks. At first, explaining the financial model to agents and managers was tricky, but now “everyone is very aware of our model. They know it will probably be an offer for scale for their client. They also know that in success, there’s a real upside,” said Taylor.
Blum said that Blumhouse doesn’t take a producing fee. “I fundamentally believe that your words have so much credibility if you’re not taking money upfront,” explained Blum. “I feel really comfortable pushing actors and pushing executives and pushing marketing people when we’re not going to benefit financially unless the movie works. I feel like that makes the playing field so much more level….it’s more fair if everyone is coming at it from the same place….I don’t think it’s the only way to make movies, but I think it’s a terrific way to make movies.”
His advice for aspiring filmmakers? Don’t wait for financing. “Raise whatever you can and shoot whatever you can for whatever amount,” he said.