'Get Out' Producer on the Film's Biggest Challenge: "The System Is Built to Resist It"
Prolific horror movie producer Jason Blum stumbled on to Jordan Peele's racial genre script and jumped to work on it: "It was wholly and entirely like nothing else anyone had ever read."
Get Out was the come-out-of-nowhere contender that launched in February 2017, after its secret Sundance premiere, and continued to surprise over and over again, transcending its horror roots to become a cultural phenomenon that spurred conversations about race relations. But its momentum continued beyond that as it stealthily became an Oscar frontrunner, generating nominations not only for best original screenplay but also for best picture, best actor for Daniel Kaluuya and best director for Jordan Peele, helming his first-ever feature.
The low-budget film (it cost $5 million to make) about a young African-American man (Kaluuya) who goes to visit the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) and discovers troubling motives for their actions, was produced by Sean McKittrick, Peele, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Jason Blum. Blum, 48, is best known for such microbudget horror movies as Insidious and Sinister, but he has been to the Academy Awards once before, as producer of the 2014 Damien Chazelle drama Whiplash.
How did you get involved with Get Out?
You came in later in the process, correct? I did. Someone in my office heard Jordan talk about doing a horror movie on a radio show, and at the same time a young producer tipped me off about this great script he read. We got our hands on the script, and it just checked every box for what we looked for. It was wholly and entirely like nothing else anyone had ever read and would turn into a movie like nothing else we ever saw. And it could be done inexpensively. Rarely does a script check those three boxes for us. But when it does, we act fast.
What was going through your head the first time you read the script?
What was really going through my head was that it’s just really, really unusual to read something that you can’t compare to something else. What went through my head is I had never read anything like this in my life, and that’s just something that happens a handful of times in your career.
Making a race-centric movie can be a minefield. What kind of conversations did you have with Jordan, and what were your fears?
My concerns were whether he would be prepared to talk about what the movie was saying about race, his personal feelings about race. One of the conversations we had specifically — I said to him: “Can I ask you a question? When you’re at a party and there’s only one other black person in the party of white people, would you acknowledge that specifically? Is that a real thing? Because that happens in the script.” And he said, “Yeah, it totally happens.” And I said, “But if I was the only white person in a party of black people, I would never acknowledge it.” And he said, “Yes, because you’re never at a party with all black people and another white person.” And it wasn’t the information he was giving as much as that he was very easy to talk to about race. That gave me the confidence that no matter what was thrown at us, it would be a very honest and truthful conversation around a very, very hard topic. The only other concern I would have was that Jordan would be a first-time director, although that’s not a fair label to put on him because he had so much experience with his TV show.
What was the biggest challenge for you as a producer?
The biggest challenge with something as original as Get Out is that the system is built to resist it. The biggest challenge is to push it through the system — I can’t be more specific than that. The more original something is, the harder it is to get made. And this is extremely original. We had the normal production challenges: We didn’t have enough money, we had to change locations from California to Alabama. We changed locations a number of days before we started to shoot the movie. I had to call Jordan the night of Dec. 25. And said to him, “I got bad news … we lost the rebate in California, which is my fault, so we have to move to Alabama.” He handled it extraordinarily well, which I felt grateful to him for. I don’t want to say that he didn’t have a very strong point of view, but what you hope for in a director is what Jordan had, which is an incredibly strong point of view and an openness to collaborate. Those two things rarely ever go together.
Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Almost every movie I’ve done, I regret something. But as for this movie, I have no regrets.
What awards movies did you like this past year?
My second favorite film was The Florida Project.
What was your first favorite movie?
Can’t believe I fell for that. OK, apart from Get Out, The Florida Project is your favorite movie.
Yes. I love the performances, I love what it was about. It felt incredibly authentic and does what a movie is supposed to do, which is to lead you into a world that you don’t see or aren’t familiar with and give you a real feeling of what it is and what goes on there. I don’t know if it’s accurate or not. I don’t have any experience in that world, but it seems accurate.
What are you looking forward to about attending the Academy Awards?
I’m looking forward to taking my mom and my wife. And I guess doing what we all do, which is forgetting the cynicism about the business. That’s what I like the best about the Oscars. For two to three hours, the layer of cynicism is pulled off, and we celebrate not the box office but the power of movies.
This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.