Move over JJ Abrams. Take a hike, Judd Apatow. There's a new golden boy in Tinseltown. Three months into 2017 and producer Jason Blum – the founder and chief executive of Blumhouse Productions – has two $100 million (€94m) US hits under his belt. Following hot on the heels on M Night Shyamalan's hit thriller Split, Jordan Peele's Get Out – the most talked about horror-comedy since Scream bludgeoned its way into cinemas back in 1996 – has grossed $111,054,445 in just 16 days.
"You never know that anything is going to be as big as Split and Get Out," says Blum. "But when you work with film-makers as original as Night and Jordan, you can definitely feel that you have something with huge potential on your hands."
The fiendishly clever Get Out starts out looking like a squirming comic reprise of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, swerves into Stepford Wives territory and then makes for undiscovered country. It's an exemplary, socially-hip, barbed horror-of-manners from the same imprint that gave us The Purge sequence.
“Horror is a great medium to do two things,” says Blum. “Scare the crap out of people but also tell interesting, serious stories that shine a light on our culture. So if you can do that effectively and mirror your storytelling with what’s going on in the culture, a film can really resonate.”
Jason Ferus Blum has crept up on the movieverse. Blum was born in LA in 1969 to Shirley Neilsen, an art professor, and Irving Blum, an art dealer, a heritage, he says, that gave him "a real appreciation for artists". Acting on a tip from family friend Steve Martin, Blum earned his first production credit with Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming (1995), before going to work with Miramax and Ethan Hawke's Malaparte Theatre Company.
These days, Blum is an awards season regular. In 2014, he won an Emmy for producing TV movie, The Normal Heart, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture for Damien Chazelle's much-admired Whiplash. But micro-budgeted horror remains his bread and butter.
His wildly successful business model is simple. Make movies quickly for between $3-5 million (€2.8m-€4.7m). Keep production costs down by shooting (mostly) in Los Angeles and by hiring above-the-line talent that will work for scale. Work with experienced directors that long for creative control. To date, many industry veterans, including Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) and Joe Johnson (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji), have been happy to oblige.
“Directors are the lifeblood of Blumhouse,” insists Blum. “So we try and support them in every way we can. Our approach really is to give directors creative freedom so what winds up on screen is their movie and their vision.”
If the finished product has little or no commercial prospects at the multiplex, Blumhouse releases the movie straight to VOD to cover its costs: say hello to BH Tilt, a subdivision dedicated to generating movies from Blumhouse and other film-makers for multi-platform release. But when the Blumhouse alchemy works theatrically, it makes for a whole lot of gold.
Released in 2007, Paranormal Activity made $193.4 million back from a production budget of $15,000 and spawned dozens of found footage clones, none of which made anything like the $889.7 million drummed up by the Paranormal Activity sequence.
“The medium doesn’t just work as an end in and of itself,” says Blum. “The medium has to be matched with the right story. So I think probably a lot of people said: oh, let’s just make a bunch of found footage movies without really trying to understand what stories can only be told that way.”
The 48-year-old has subsequently repeated the trick with three crazily profitable, cheap-as-chips franchises, as kick-started by The Purge ($319.8 million in ticket sales), Sinister ($130.6 million) and Insidious ($371.9 million).
Does he ever call it wrong, I wonder? Are there Ones That Got Away?
"If I could tell, I would never be involved in a bad movie," he says. "At the end of the day, what you look for in a script is something new that you have never seen before and a story that would work on a real human level even if you stripped out all of the scares. I wish I produced The Conjuring and La La Land. We were originally going to, as we produced Whiplash. But to answer your specific question: definitely Jem and the Holograms."
Despite that misstep, the hits keep on coming for Blumhouse: The Gift cost $5million and made $53 million; Unfriended cost $1million and made $64.1 million; Ouija cost $5million and made $103.6 million. Perhaps more impressively, Blumhouse's sequels and reboots are generally fresher than big budgeted studio rivals.
Last month, John Carpenter intriguingly announced that the new Blumhouse produced Halloween film – a sequel to Halloween I and II – will be written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride.
"We really try and keep the original creators involved – whether its James DeMonaco on The Purge, James Wan and Leigh Whannell on Insidious or John Carpenter who is executive producing and might score Halloween," says Blum. "So even if it's not a slavishly faithful adaptation, it will have the DNA of what makes the franchise so special."
Blum did not, he notes, “grow up a die-hard horror fan boy like an Eli Roth”. But he loved movies: Hitchcock was his favourite director. I wonder which of his own films has scared him the most.
“I can’t pick my favourite child!”
- Get Out opens March 17th