Jason Blum talks “OCULUS”; Film Closes Scotland’s Dead by Dawn
Now out in wide release stateside, Mike Flanagan’s haunting, destabilizing OCULUS (of which Fango heartily recommends) makes its way to Scotland this week as part of the annual Dead by Dawn International Horror Film Festival. Closing a stellar lineup that includes William Castle greats, CANDYMAN, New Zealand surprise HOUSEBOUND and more, OCULUS is sure to finish the weekend with more than a few hairs raised. Prior to its U.S. bow, Fango spoke to horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum, who’s built a mini-empire of low budget, high earning scare fare. Fairly unusual in his filmography for being completed before Blum came aboard, the always candid filmmaker brought his usual energy and optimism for his upcoming slate—including THE PURGE 2—to our chat.
FANGORIA: You came on this after it was completed. When does OCULUS or Mike Flanagan as a filmmaker get on your radar?
JASON BLUM: I came onto it when it was done, so the way Mike Flanagan came on my radar is, I saw this movie at Toronto, I was blown away by it. The future of its distribution was a little up in the air, and so I kind of threw my hat in the ring to see if we could help market and support it, and get it out there. The movie should be a widely released movie. It’s a very satisfying, innovative horror movie. We got together with Relativity, I brought in WWE and helped make sure the movie was widely released, instead of limited.
FANG: Considering you constantly have so much in production or development, were you concerned about a conflict from hopping on something that was done vs. your “babies?”
BLUM: That doesn’t matter to me. What I’m passionate about is bringing new and different work out there in the world, whether we make it from scratch or like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I saw as a finished movie. Whether it happens that way is irrelevant to me. I’m not like a frustrated director or writer. I’m never going to write or direct. Our business model is built around letting directors do what they want to do. So, I’m not invested in my own ego that way. I get a thrill out of seeing James Wan do INSIDIOUS or seeing [Scott] Derrickson and [C. Robert] Cargill do SINISTER, or see [James] DeMonaco do THE PURGE and now there’s a second PURGE. That, for me, is where I get satisfaction.
FANG: The second PURGE film looks much more open and out in the world of it all. When you started in on THE PURGE, was there an idea of “if we get to a sequel, that’s when we take it out?”
BLUM: No, I discourage that kind of thinking in low budget movies. Big budget movies, if you’re making an 80, 100, 200 million dollar movie, it’s irresponsible not to think about what the sequel is. When you’re making a $3 or 4 million dollar movie, it’s totally destructive to think about what the sequel of the movie is going to be. That’s not true for the second movie. THE PURGE 2, or INISDIOUS 2, or PARANORMAL 2, we definitely thought about the mythology. The first movie you’ve just got to make great.
And I’m not being coy, I hope we get to make OCULUS 15, but I think the minute we start shaping the first movie for a franchise, you’ve got trouble. You’re just putting the cart before the horse. It’s very hard to have a low budget movie make a commercial impact against AVENGERS. So, that’s enough of a trick without thinking “I’m going to make a commercial movie that’s $4 million that’s going to have an impact against AVENGERS and be ready for sequels.” The sequel problem is a good problem to have, and can be figured out later.
FANG: Is that fun, then? You have something like THE PURGE, which does well and then you say-
BLUM: “What should it be?” It’s really fun. And that’s exactly what I said to James. What I’m proudest of on that sequel and on INSIDIOUS is that the same writer-director did the first and second movie, which, especially in horror, doesn’t happen often. INSIDIOUS 2 would not have worked if it was not James and Leigh.
FANG: INSIDIOUS 2 is so interesting because it really becomes a strange movie. Nothing was toned down. It wasn’t interested in being the same thing. Do you think your encouragement of things like that will have an influence? People could go stranger places outside of Blumhouse?
BLUM: I think it’s a product of keeping the budgets low. That’s why I keep the budgets low. The big things I say to directors is, “Take risks. Do weird shit.” If it works and it turns into INSIDIOUS, great. If it doesn’t work and it turns into THE BAY, great. Who cares? If you make the movies inexpensively enough, you don’t lose money on the ones that don’t go wide anyway. We don’t make money on those. You don’t have to make money on every movie. We could make money on the successful ones and not lose any on the other ones. Then, we can keep doing weird stuff. The problem is as soon as you start doing movies for $20 million, you can’t take risks anymore. The first PURGE, you could never make for $20 million, it would be irresponsible. There’s so many ways that the idea of killing people for 12 hours a year could go wrong.
FANG: Now that you’ve come on to OCULUS, are you a part of thinking in the sense of beyond the film?
BLUM: No, my energy in OCULUS is directed towards helping position the movie out there so that people who were fans of our other movies, I think they’ll like this movie; helping get that message out there and helping make this movie a big success. If it’s a big success, will I be thrilled to make a sequel? Absolutely.
FANG: When you’re at a festival, like OCULUS playing SXSW, are you also seeing as much as you can, peering into new talents?
BLUM: Yea, I do. I go to Sundance, I go to Cannes. I was just in Berlin. I watch a ton of movies, but especially scary movies. I try and see every scary movie.
FANG: You quickly brought up THE BAY. Did you mean it didn’t work in a financial way, or you believe it didn’t work as a movie?
BLUM: Financially, it worked, because it wasn’t released wide. We didn’t take in more money than the movie cost, but we didn’t take in less than the movie cost. I think the movie fit for how it was distributed. It worked for some people and didn’t work for others. That fits its distribution. Does that answer…
FANG: Yes, but you’re often transparent saying that if something doesn’t work, you’ll do a limited release. But it also leads me to be curious if you ever mean it in a sense of your taste, or your sensibilities as a viewer?
BLUM: That’s a great question. My ambition with every movie we do is a wide release, so when I say it didn’t work it means it didn’t get a wide release, but I didn’t see THE BAY and try and get a wide release. I saw the movie and said to Barry [Levinson], “You’ve got to do these ten things to get a wide release on this movie.” He said, “I don’t want to do those things.” He’s the filmmaker, so in exchange for working for nothing, he gets to do what he wants to do. I said, “If you’re not going to do these things, it’ll be a limited release,” which is what it was,
About 50 percent of the time, we actually get a wide release. It’s not that I don’t think the movie works as a movie, we just didn’t get the golden ring and half the movies we don’t get the golden ring.
FANG: So what do you look forward to from here?
BLUM: I’m really excited about the sequel to THE PURGE. We have a movie at the end of the summer called JESSABELLE, which I like a lot.
FANG: It’s interesting with a director like Kevin Greutert, because you can’t necessarily judge his work on the SAW movies he did. There was a house style. It makes me curious to see what they do outside of it.
BLUM: I think he did a great job, it’s a voodoo movie. I’m excited about this movie I did with Ryan Murphy called THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN.
FANG: That’s very curious. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon does great stuff on AMERICAN HORROR STORY. What was it that you thought made it ripe for remake?
BLUM: I didn’t, it was Ryan Murphy’s idea. I had a meeting with Ryan. I’d never met him before. He said, “I like what you do. I want to remake THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN.” I said, “I’ll do it if you’re willing to do it for no money. If we make it for no money, then we get to do what we want to do. If we take a bunch of money from a studio, we have to listen.” He agreed and we made it with MGM and they were pretty hands-off. I think it was a great idea. It came out pretty cool.
Mike Flanagan’s OCULUS, about two siblings confronting a cursed mirror which destroyed their family, is out now. If you’re in Edinburgh, the film closes Dead by Dawn, which runs April 24-27 at the Filmhouse (88 Lothian Road). For more on Dead by Dawn, including lineup and ticket info, visit the official site.