7:38pm PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
Produced By: Jason Blum Won't Shift Horror Focus After 'Whiplash,' 'The Jinx'
Jason Blum said on a panel Saturday at the Produced By conference in Los Angeles not to expect many projects like Whiplash from his horror-focused company.
"I want the company to remain a scary-movie and TV company," said the Blumhouse head, speaking with top Blumhouse execs on a panel moderated by director Eli Roth at the Producers Guild of America's annual conference.
He nevertheless continued that Blumhouse would continue to broaden its reach. "We have to look for things that are new and different and odd. If there’s one cohesive notion to our projects, it’s that there’s newness and a difference to them," he said.
He said originality led him to one of the company’s biggest outlier successes, The Jinx, which he helped sell to a network (it went to HBO) after first watching it through a personal friendship with director Andrew Jarecki. He pointed out its success couldn’t be predicted then: "It was still really weird and different, like Paranormal Activity is weird and different."
With Whiplash, he said the script didn’t impress him — "I thought it was OK, and said, 'We're never making this because it doesn't fit into what we’re going to do here.' " He said he only signed on when Jason Reitman came onto the project, but he had kind words for the Oscar nominated writer-director: “Whiplash is a terrific movie because of Damien Chazelle.”
He said his company takes risks due to the tight budgetary constraints on its films, which often cost $3 million to $5 million. He explained the number isn’t random — it correlates to what a movie would recoup if it never gets a wide release. "Our budget is reverse engineered to say, if this doesn't work, everyone breaks even," he said.
"We're at a place in our lives when we could be doing expensive movies. We choose not to because there’s a real correlation of not spending money and having fun," he added.
Jeanette Volturno-Brill, the company's head of production, said the company draws directors by giving them extensive creative freedom within the budget. "We say, 'You're a MacGyver. You have two Popsicle sticks and a roll of duct tape — what do you want to make?' " Phillip Dawe, head of postproduction, added that the studio could economically and quickly handle post, due to its in-house visual effects department.
The panelists said flexibility with scheduling also draws directors like San Andreas' Brad Peyton, who helmed Blumhouse's upcoming chiller Incarnate, and shooting in the Los Angeles area appeals to actors. So do the lucrative backend profits on the company’s (frequent) hits: "We've been lucky to pay actors a significant amount to be in our movies, so word gets around,” said Blum.
In response to reports of Blumhouse indefinitely shelving movies, Blum asserted the company will release every film it produces. The only questions are when and whether, after a screening with the director, the company's creative team feels the release should be wide or limited with VOD.
"Occasionally, the director and us disagree, and it’s a shit show. But it doesn’t happen too often," said Blum.
The panelists then offered advice to aspiring producers and filmmakers.
Jessica Rhoades, the company’s TV head, said, "I basically gut-check." She said Blumhouse creates a culture of not being beholden to the tastes of buyers or audiences: “We’re really encouraged to trust our instinct, trust our gut and ask what we’re excited about."
Volturno-Brill suggested creating an aspirational "vision board" with pictures or phrases like "Cannes 2017" — "whatever’s going to motivate you in your heart and mind" — and Dawe encouraged producers and other creatives to storyboard their projects and "get the ending right."
Blum said simply, "Don’t wait for the industry to validate you."