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M3GAN producers Jason Blum and James Wan first worked together on 2010’s Insidious, and now, after 12-plus years and at least seven other projects, the producing partners are hoping to take their working relationship to the next level.
In November, THR reported that Blum’s Blumhouse and Wan’s Atomic Monster were in advanced talks to merge as separate labels, with Wan’s company also agreeing to a first-look deal with Universal. While pen hasn’t been put to paper yet, it sounds like Wan’s 2021 cult hit Malignant may have helped spark Blum to join forces.
“[Not losing out on the next James Wan film] is always a motivating factor for me. I get very nervous anytime James does a scary movie without me. I get very upset,” Blum tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Director Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN also reunites Malignant’s brain trust of Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper, as the pair actually started developing the AI doll horror story shortly before Malignant.
“M3GAN started first, and I just love working with Akela. What I love about her is just how brave she is. She’s not afraid to just go out there, lean into the absurd and make it work,” Wan shares.
In the meantime, Blum and Wan also have the fifth installment of the Insidious franchise, Insidious: Fear the Dark, in postproduction, as franchise star Patrick Wilson slid into the director’s chair for the first time. However, if their merger goes through, Blum is hoping that Wan can also help him revive talks for a sequel to Leigh Whannell’s critical and commercial hit The Invisible Man.
“Hopefully, should our dreams come true and our two companies get to work together, maybe James will help me solve that problem,” Blum says of a potential Invisible Man sequel.
Wan adds: “I’d be more than happy to.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Blum also discusses reuniting with Get Out’s Allison Williams on M3GAN, something he’s been trying to do for a little while now. He also pours cold water on a potential Christopher Landon crossover, Freaky Death Day, despite his recent photos with Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe and Freaky’s Kathryn Newton.
Well, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Can the two of you confirm that you’ve sat down and done a bunch of paperwork recently?
Jason Blum: We are in advanced conversations, and we are hoping to put the two companies together. That has not happened yet, but we have high hopes that it will happen.
Last year, James and screenwriter Akela Cooper released a cult classic called Malignant. Was not losing out on their next project a motivating factor for you?
Blum: It’s always a motivating factor for me. I get very nervous anytime James does a scary movie without me. I get very upset.
James Wan: (Laughs.) That’s funny.
James, once you and Akela finished Malignant, did the two of you start talking M3GAN right after that?
Wan: M3GAN actually started before Malignant. We were working on them roughly about the same time, if memory serves me right. But M3GAN started first, and I just love working with Akela. What I love about her is just how brave she is. She’s not afraid to just go out there, lean into the absurd and make it work. That’s the craziest thing. She can take an idea that’s really outside of the box and bring a human element to it. That’s what I do, and that’s what Jason does, so it’s worked very well for us. I don’t want to say it’s a formula, but it’s a pattern that we truly believe in across all the horror films that we do. We’ve discovered that our successful horror movies that people love are the ones with human qualities that people can relate to, and that was definitely the mission statement going into M3GAN as well.
The goal of this movie is to obviously be a cool piece of entertainment, but with real companies actively trying to make their own AI robots a la M3GAN, do you consider this story a forewarning that we should pump the brakes on such innovation?
Blum: Pumping the brakes is impossible, but I do think M3GAN is a cautionary tale. You see both sides of AI in the movie and the good and the bad that it can do. So it’s about being very wary of how we use our AI and to realize the power of it to do good and to do bad.
Wan: Obviously, a lot of past movies speak to the danger of what happens if AI gets too intelligent and sees humanity as a threat. That kind of story usually makes for a fun horror film, and so that’s the angle that we are leaning into here. But I agree with Jason that there are positive things to AI as well. We just need to know where that boundary is, which means we should set boundaries as to where we should and shouldn’t go.
As far as the film industry, we’re now at a point where scripts can be generated by AI. AI postproduction tools exist as well. How concerned are the two of you?
Blum: I may regret these words, but I think I have bigger concerns than a script created by AI. I definitely have concerns about AI, but I don’t know. Maybe I do have concerns [about AI and filmmaking]. James, do you think AI is going to make movies?
Wan: (Laughs.) I guess I’m more intrigued than anything. The curiosity of it is intriguing. We’ve seen all this AI artwork that’s been popping up recently, and it’s incredible how amazing some of this artwork can be. But it still needs to be programmed by humans and given parameters by humans. So you’d still need a driver in there to tell the AI how to write the script and what to write and all of that. So in some ways, you still need that human touch.
Blum: Maybe eventually, the distributors will get what they always wanted. They won’t need artists anymore at all.
Blum & Wan: (Laugh.)
Blum: They’ll just say, “We want a show about police in Montana,” and they’ll get it. I don’t think I’ll live to see that day, but my kids will.
Someone is definitely going to try it soon just to sell the novelty of it.
Blum: I agree.
Wan: Oh yes! AI is infiltrating every aspect of our life, and it’s only going to go deeper into our culture and our arts. But there’s still a part of me that is cautiously optimistic about it. What makes us human is what makes us human, and I don’t think that’s replaceable. At least I hope it isn’t.
So I saw some bellyaching about M3GAN not being R-rated, but I don’t think you needed it since you pushed PG-13 to the brink. How do you guys feel about it?
Blum: Some of the scariest movies of all time are PG-13, so I don’t put too much stock in the bellyaching. Go see the movie, and then tell me about it. (Laughs.)
Wan: Listen, I’ve done PG-13 films and I’ve done R-rated films. So I think it’s about whatever is most suitable for the film, and even though M3GAN is a scary movie, teenagers will really dig this. They’ll really like it, and I think it will speak to them in a big way.
Blum: Yes, that’s right. We wanted teenagers to be able to see the movie, ultimately.
Jason, you and Allison Williams are forever linked by the phenomenon of Get Out, and while she’s great in the role of Gemma, was it also important to maintain a relationship with someone who was a key part of that past success?
Blum: Yes, it really was. She’s a great actress. She’s also a terrific production partner. She was really helpful behind the scenes, and of course, she was also great in front of the camera. We’ve actually offered her a couple things after Get Out, and this is the first one she’s said yes to. So hopefully, we’ll do a lot more with her in the future.
James, is it true that Universal wants a M3GAN sequel already?
Wan: Well, my answer to that is I am very superstitious, and I don’t like to talk about sequels before the first film is even out. But like any of the movies I make, I always think of a bigger world. I don’t just think of that one story; I think of the bigger world. So if we’re fortunate enough to tell any other stories, we can pull from the bigger world.
When Madeleine McGraw stole the show on the Black Phone set, is that when everyone became aware of her sister, Violet McGraw? She’s also great in M3GAN.
Wan: I think it was independent of each other.
Blum: Yeah, exactly.
For the most part, horror is one of only a couple of genres that are bulletproof at the box office right now. People like to be scared in a communal setting. Conversely, the studio comedy is struggling more than ever. So why is communal laughter not faring as well as communal fear?
Blum: There are a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is that it’s very hard to duplicate horror on television, while comedy is less hard. There are a lot of series that really scratch the itch that the consumer has for wanting to see something funny, but horror is just much more complicated to do on television.
Wan: It’s a really interesting one. With horror movies, you tend to want to see it in a dark setting, whereas comedy can be seen at home in a brighter setting with family. Generally, comedies tend to be more family oriented, while horror films are a great date movie. So, if the young people are the ones that go out to the theaters, that’s the kind of stuff they want to go see with their friends. They want to be able to scream and get scared by a film, and then laugh at the funny bits to break the tension. Horror films really give you that roller-coaster experience, and the theater is really where you get the best experience.
Whether it’s M3GAN or The Invisible Man, the dollar seems to stretch further when filming Down Under. Is there some truth to that, James?
Wan: When we make these movies, we obviously don’t have unlimited funds, so we have to make our dollars stretch. And so we always try to find great locations that have really good tax infrastructure in place that can help us out, but at the same time, Australia and New Zealand also have great filmmaking crews. And the cool thing about New Zealand is that if they run out of crews, they can just go next door to Australia and fly them over. So we’re very filmmaker friendly [Down Under], and between Australia and New Zealand, they also make for great doubles of American cities. We can easily make any Australian city or New Zealand suburb look like the U.S.
The two of you have a lot of plates spinning at the same time, so how do you pick your spots with a project like M3GAN?
Blum: Well, we do it throughout the whole process. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is when the director asks, which is often. James and I really empower directors, and the directors ultimately know that when they’re working with us, they’re going to get what they want. So when the director isn’t worried about their vision being taken away from them, they’re much more likely to reach out and ask for our advice. So that would be the first thing. And the second thing, obviously, is if we see something that we think is not working as well as it potentially could be, we’re not shy about bringing that up. Sometimes, it gets addressed, sometimes, it doesn’t, but we will certainly bring that up.
Wan: To add to what Jason said, if we are working with first-time directors or with directors that haven’t made that many projects, we want to guide them. That’s the bottom line. We want to put all the best stuff in place for them, support them and give them a strong fighting chance. That’s our philosophy, and that’s always been my philosophy. That’s also what I look for as a director myself. When I was starting out, I wanted my producers to help me out in areas that I didn’t understand, and that’s what would ultimately help me bring my vision to life. So that’s what we try to do for upcoming filmmakers.
Blum: Freaky Death Day. I hate to say it, but your dreams of Freaky Death Day are a little further removed than they were even a few months ago. So I wouldn’t have very high hopes, but I would also say that anything is possible.
James, what can you tell me about the recent work of director Patrick Wilson on Insidious: Fear the Dark?
Wan: Well, we all love Patrick. I’ve done one or two films with that guy. (Laughs.) But I’m super excited for what Patrick’s doing with Insidious. One of the things I love best about working with Patrick Wilson is that we don’t actually talk about the movie that we are making on set. We geek out about all the movies that we loved growing up, because Patrick and I are roughly of the same generation. We’re just constantly geeking out about John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and all these movies. Patrick reminds me a little bit of Leigh Whannell in that they are not just actors slash whatever; they are filmmakers as well. They’re film buffs, and being film buffs, they look at acting from the point of view of what the final film will be like. And so that actually helps inform them as filmmakers. So I’m always very excited when people like Leigh Whannell and Patrick Wilson want to jump behind the camera.
Speaking of Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man set up an ideal way into an Invisible Woman sequel, but nothing’s come of it despite strong reviews and box office. So who do we hold accountable for this injustice?
Blum: Well, it’s a great question. (Laughs.) I think we mostly hold me accountable, but hopefully, should our dreams come true and our two companies get to work together, maybe James will help me solve that problem.
Wan: I’d be more than happy to.
M3GAN opens in theaters on Jan. 6th. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival