Q&A: Producer Jason Blum on “INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2”
There are few producers who’ve had a hot streak in the modern horror business as long and as solid as Jason Blum—one that continued this past weekend with the $41-million-grossing INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. After establishing himself with 2007’s sleeper smash PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, Blum and his company Blumhouse Productions have been responsible for financing and developing low-budget hits such as SINISTER, THE PURGE and the initial INSIDIOUS.
By finding creative voices within the genre landscape and offering them creative freedom on films with affordable practical effects, Blum has enticed audiences into seeing horror films that tap into fears they can relate to. Furthermore, Blum has also changed the way audiences look at horror sequels, indulging in simultaneous and previous timelines to reveal more about the villainous entities that inhabit his films. Such is the case with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, the second entry in the hit franchise which brings back director James Wan, writer/actor Leigh Whannell and the entire cast of the first film, including Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Lin Shaye. Developing new projects at a rabid pace, the always busy Blum sat down with FANGORIA and discussed INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, his independent mindset and the subgenre he won’t produce…
FANGORIA: After the first INSIDIOUS debuted three years ago to great box-office returns and critical acclaim, CHAPTER 2 came together very quickly, and essentially came right on the heels of James Wan finishing THE CONJURING. Was continuing this story something that was discussed during the making of the first INSIDIOUS?
JASON BLUM: Only in my own head. The first film was kind of a low-budget movie we made off the grid, so no one was thinking about a sequel too much. We were just hoping the first film would get a release.
FANG: As one of the more prolific producers working today, especially within the horror genre, you’ve taken a rather unique stance with your approach to sequels, in that when you continue the story, you also look back and establish a mythology to the timeline, instead of just a traditional chronological follow-up. What attracts you to this method of mixing prequel and sequel elements?
BLUM: When you’re creating a sequel, you’re balancing on a very fine line between making a film that feels original enough that people don’t say, “I already saw this in the first movie,” and making a movie that feels connected enough to the first one that people don’t go, “Why is this a sequel? Why isn’t this a stand-alone movie?” Employing prequel elements is one useful technique to bridge both of those concerns: to attach it to the previous movie while also making it feel original.
FANG: This new chapter of INSIDIOUS is really satisfying for fans, because every character is given their due and expanded upon as the universe becomes more defined. Was there anything specifically that you wanted to see developed further from the first film, either in the characters or in the world James Wan and Leigh Whannell crafted?
BLUM: I wanted everyone back. I wanted James directing, Leigh writing and all of our actors. I didn’t want to have a new family or a new mythology.
FANG: Personally speaking, I think one of the scariest aspects of CHAPTER 2’s story is that the terror haunting the family is born from human evil rather than supernatural influence, which separates it significantly from the first film’s villain. Was this something you were particularly interested in exploring?
BLUM: I was! Leigh came up with that, and I definitely encouraged him to push it a little bit. I was happy about where he took that. It’s very important when you’re doing a sequel, like on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, that you move the mythology of the bad force forward. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is very similar, because we had to grow the bad guys as much as the good guys.
FANG: A recurring aspect that runs through your genre films is that we watch these horrific disturbances happening to families, as opposed to singular characters. This is true of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and its sequels, SINISTER, THE PURGE and INSIDIOUS. Why do you choose to have families at the center of your horror films?
BLUM: I don’t think we choose to, but I believe the scariest things to people are what can happen in their house to their family. That’s what people are most protective of, and that’s where they’re most vulnerable, especially with the relationships between children and parents and what can go on in your house, which is supposed to be your most secret and safe place. When you threaten either of those things, whether it be a family member or people where they live, that’s inherently frightening. There are other ways to make scary movies, and we don’t have a rule that we’ll only do movies with families in houses, but I think most scary movies deal with families in houses for that reason.
FANG: With INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, was there anything you were consciously trying to avoid that may be atypical of other horror sequels, or would fall in line with audience expectations?
BLUM: Yeah. You know, there were a lot of things I wanted to avoid, but it’s more complicated than plot. There were a lot of investment partners we had on the movie who would have liked to have made it sooner, maybe without James and Leigh or with different actors. But what I fought for as a producer was to hold onto the original group of people for the second movie. That’s what I fought hardest for. As far as the plot specifics, the reason I held on to that [notion] was that I am very proud of INSIDIOUS, and I love CHAPTER 2; James and Leigh were so creative and inventive with how they turned the story into a second chapter. So I provided a framework for them to do so; that’s basically all I’m trying to say.
FANG: A lot of the supporters of your horror films cite your willingness to use practical FX over CGI, which is especially evident in the INSIDIOUS films. It definitely translates with casual moviegoers, as they’re more likely to be afraid of what they can believe is really there. As a producer, what attracts you to filmmakers who are more old-school in their methods?
BLUM: That’s really more of a practical concern than a creative one, because our films are inexpensive so we can give our directors full creative control. CGI does not [allow that], so when I read a script that has a lot of those effects, we don’t make it because it doesn’t fit into our model. There are a lot of benefits to doing that, as it forces the director to focus on character and story and build slow, practical scares. Those are more effective than big CG scares, because the audiences are now aware of what that feels like.
FANG: You began your career within the field of independent filmmaking, and have brought that aesthetic to many of your high-profile, low-budget studio releases. Is there anything specifically, either in the way you handle yourself as a producer or the way you handle your films, that you’ve applied from lessons you learned starting in independent cinema?
BLUM: A lot. I came from a background where the director makes all of the decisions, and that’s the business model we have now. It’s an auteur model for commercial movies, where the director has the final say on all the creative elements, and that’s from my upbringing in independent cinema. The other thing I love about independent movies is that they’re first and foremost about storytelling more than the effects, or the way they look or the other bells and whistles. That’s what I encourage our directors to do, because for a horror movie to be good, the basic story needs to be compelling, and that comes from me growing up in independent movies.
FANG: Your filmography is rather eclectic, because you’ve produced not only a lot of horror but also produced a number of comedies. However, you haven’t combined the two, although there are comedic moments in your genre films. Have you thought about producing a horror/comedy project?
BLUM: Like SLITHER? No. Horror/comedy is incredibly tricky to sell, and I’ve seen a lot of great ones. There was a great film at Sundance a couple of years ago, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, but those movies are very hard to market to a broad audience. Our model is low budget and wide release, and for some reason, audiences don’t respond to horror/comedies when they’re marketed broadly.
FANG: You’ve produced movies about ghosts, killers, aliens and witches. Is there any specific subgenre you would like to tackle that you have yet to delve into?
BLUM: I love making different horror movies and films that reimagine things, like what Rob Zombie did with THE LORDS OF SALEM, which reconceived the witch movie in a terrific way. There’s a lot left to think about. There are a couple of movies about disease, which famously include OUTBREAK and Steven Soderbergh’s CONTAGION, but I’d love to do a new version of one of those. We’re working on a couple things there. I’d love to do a great horror movie about a cult. There’s one we’re working on, and there’s a lot of fertile ground regarding cults in the United States.
FANG: It’s interesting you say that, because recently, some of the strongest entries in the independent horror field have concerned cults. It’s a lingering sort of horror that people can grasp onto. Is it important to you to produce genre movies that have a basis in reality?
BLUM: Yes. It’s important that the stories are relatable and that it feels like the situation could happen to the viewer. That’s one of the first things we look for in a horror movie: Does it feel like it’s relatable or does it feel like it could happen to you? I think that’s really important.
FANG: Can you speak about any of your future projects in development or slated for release, such as THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN or THE AMITYVILLE HORROR: THE LOST TAPES?
BLUM: Well, the projects we have coming up are PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, which is coming out in January. Then we have [the comedy/thriller] STRETCH, Joe Carnahan’s movie with Patrick Wilson, which comes out in March. Then we have a movie at Lionsgate called JESSABELLE; we don’t have a date for that, but it comes out later in that year. Then we have PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5, so we have a busy year in 2014. Those are the films we have dated for now. We’re still in postproduction on THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN and I haven’t seen a cut of it yet, and we’re still in development on AMITYVILLE.
FANG: Although these projects are still early in development, have you considered taking the prequel/sequel hybrid approach for THE PURGE and SINISTER as well, or do you think those stories are better off taking place further down the road?
BLUM: I don’t know. We’ve been playing around with different ideas, and luckily, James DeMonaco is going to be involved in the sequel to THE PURGE and Scott Derrickson is involved in the sequel to SINISTER. I told them exactly what I told James and Leigh, which is, “Have fun with it and try stuff that hasn’t been done with a sequel before.” We don’t have scripts yet, but we have stories that are original and feel different while being second parts to the first movies.