We got the opportunity to participate in a round table interview and chat with horror film producer extraordinaire, Jason Blum. As the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, he has a prolific and colorful resume under his belt as producer, including HBO Emmy winner The Normal Heart and Oscar nominated film Whiplash. However, what Jason Blum is best known for is his work in the horror genre. In the past decade, he’s produced some of the scariest and bone-chilling films, including Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, and The Paranormal Activity series.
The sixth and final installment of the series comes out in theaters today, so before you watch the movie and have nightmares for the next few days, take a glimpse at the man who made this cult classic possible in the first place.
This is the last movie in the Paranormal Activity series. Is this a bittersweet moment for you and everyone else involved?
It is! I think it is bittersweet. Paranormal Activity was the movie that started our company the way it exists now, and so I’m very indebted to it, and it’s been really fun getting to work on the movies over the last seven years. But it’s also sad that it’s the last one. You know, it’s bittersweet. It’s sad that it’s the last one, but there are a lot of other things that we’re doing that I’m excited about, and those things wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Paranormal Activity, so it’s a happy and sad moment, but bittersweet is your word, and that’s the right way to describe it.
In this movie audiences will finally be able to see the activity. What made you guys want to finally reveal it?
I felt like after the fifth movie, it’s just a feeling I had that audiences seemed a little tired of getting a little bit of information. When I would talk to them after the movie, it was like “All right, enough of that.” So, it was just a judgment call of trying something different with this movie, but it was a result of sensing how audiences felt after the fifth movie.
In this movie, it’s kind of everyone’s worst nightmare for their child to be affected by something evil. Is that a prevalent theme in this movie: Evil vs. Youthful Innocence?
I think that’s a theme in most horror movies. There are a lot of evil children in horror movies for sure, and the reason there are so many kids in horror movies is because I think the most sacred human relationship is between a parent and a child. So when that is threatened, it’s scary and it feels like it’s your most vulnerable moment. So I think the reason why there are so many kids in horror movies is because that’s kind of the scariest thing you can imagine. People always want movies to be scarier, so we often have kids in them to make them scarier. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite scary movie?
I think my favorite scary movie is The Shining. I really love that movie. I think it’s a great scary movie.
Is that the one movie that has scared you the most? Is that the movie that inspired you to produce these types of films?
No, the movie that scared me the most was Friday the 13th, which I saw when I was too young. I was 10 or 11. When I saw it, I was at my aunt and uncle’s house in California, and I was alone, and I was too young, and I was really scared. I didn’t see a scary movie after that for like 3 years. [Laughs] So that was the scariest one.
And I think what inspired me to do scary movies wasn’t a movie as much as it was my kind of liking strange stuff and weird stuff. Halloween was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. My mom and I used to make our costume in August, work on it for two months. [Laughs] So it wasn’t a movie that inspired me to make other movies. It’s really liking scary and weird stuff that inspires me to make scary movies.
Do you believe in the paranormal, or have you ever been affected with anything like that?
I saw a ghost once. I was in my early 20s and I was living in an apartment in New York. I was living in the basement, and I woke up in the middle of the night, and there was a ghost on the end of my bed. It wasn’t a nice ghost and it wasn’t a mean ghost. It was just there. It’s the only time I ever saw a ghost. I don’t want to see ghosts and I don’t tempt fate to try and see them, and I don’t really believe in them, but I did see this one ghost, this one time. I know it was a ghost. It wasn’t a dream, but I hope I don’t see anymore.
Did it have specific qualities?
It was actually holding a child. I don’t even know if it was a man or a woman, but it was a figure holding a child, staring at me at the end of my bed. It was really weird.
What’s scarier: ghosts or demons? And which is easier for you to portray on film?
I think ghosts are scarier than demons. Demons wear their evil on their sleeve. You see a demon, and you run. A ghost, you don’t know. They could be good or they could be bad. For me, a ghost is scarier than a demon, and a demon is much easier to portray in a movie.
This whole franchise started with one small, low budget indie film petitioning to get played in cities across the country, and now this is the sixth installment of the series. Did you ever think it would amount to the success that it is today?
No, we didn’t. Maybe the director of the original movie did. He had a lot of ideas about how successful it could be, but no one else involved ever thought it could turn into this. We all thought the first movie could be a fun culty success, but not what it turned into. But then, no one thought we’d make five more. And when we were making the second movie, everyone thought it was going to be like Blair Witch Project, which very intuitively, it doesn’t make any sense to make a found footage movie and have sequels that work because it’s like “What do they do? Just find more found footage?” You know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So we didn’t even think that the sequel would work, so it’s been a very happy surprise as we’ve continued going on.
From Paranormal Activity to Jem and the Holograms, how do you set your mind to produce one from the other?
Well, they come out on the same day. And there’s a funny thing about Jem and the Holograms. It’s different audiences. This movie is really for young girls, and Paranormal Activity is for older people, but there’s a lot of crossover in the fans of the TV show, who watched it when it was on in the 80s. There’s actually a lot of crossover between them and a lot of those people really love scary movies and Jem and the Holograms is really about celebrating being different and weird and odd and most horror fans, like myself, are weird and different and odd. So there’s actually, in my mind, a lot of crossover even though on the outside, it would seem very strange.
What specific qualities do you look for in a project before you decide to produce it?
We look for two things: Is it unique/scary? And does it feel new/original? I think those things are connected. Does it feel new, have we not seen it before, and is it scary? Those are the things that we look for.
And I think what makes the projects feel new and scary are three things: One, I think a good story. You always look for a story that works even if the scares weren’t in the movie, so that if you take out everything scary, there’s still a story that works without them. Then, we always look for—this is not in the script—but as part of putting the movie together, having really good actors. Obviously that’s really important. Finally, if you have a great story and great actors then we talk about what the scares are going to be, but those are the ingredients, I think, for a great scary movie.
What inspired you to start the Paranormal Activity movies?
You know, I was doing all different kinds of movies before I did Paranormal Activity. I was doing little indie, art movies that no one saw. I was kind of tired of making movies that no one ever saw, so I wanted to try something new. I think that’s kind of what inspired me. I thought it was more commercial than what I had been doing, and so I wanted to try something where there was actually an audience. I was making movies that had more people in the crew than people watching the movie. It was fun to make a movie that people were actually going to go see. [Laughs]
We’ve been on this scary journey with Katie. Are there going to be some revelations about her character in this movie?
Yes, there are going to be revelations about Katie, but there are going to be many more revelations about Toby.
How did you go about choosing a name for the scary demon [Toby] in this series?
You know, I was thinking of that today. I was talking about Toby. I don’t know who came up with Toby. It wasn’t me. It’s a funny name, but I don’t know who came up with it so I can’t answer that question. I had the same question this morning. [Laughs]
Is it ever scary for you on set while filming?
When you film a horror movie, it’s not scary. In fact, the set of a horror movie is actually a lot more fun than the set of a comedy. People who make horror movies are kind of like the fans. We don’t take ourselves that seriously, so it’s actually a lot of fun.
Ethan Hawke was in Sinister, and he doesn’t like horror movies and he didn’t want to do a horror film, his biggest reason being that he thought the set would be scary. Then he found out what I’m telling you, and he had such a good time that we did The Purge right after. He was like, “This is fun!” [Laughs] Sets of horror movies are not scary at all. Never.
When you’re casting actors for scary movies, is there a particular skill set they need to have that’s different to other actors?
Yes. When you cast actors for scary movies, they need to be good actors. And I know that sounds obvious, but a lot of people who make scary movies don’t love scary movies. They make them because they’re commercial, and they don’t appreciate them. A lot of times they’ll put actors in who have done a lot of other scary movies before, and the truth is, a great scary movie actor is a great actor period. It’s very hard to act in a scary movie because you have to be totally petrified of nothing. I mean, the sets aren’t scary. The scary movie that you’re watching isn’t scary unless you really believe that the character is scared and the quality of actors in a scary movie is such a crucial thing for these movies, and most people in Hollywood don’t understand that, so that’s a great question. [Laughs]
This is your last movie of the Paranormal Activity series. Which one has been your favorite?
Three. That was my favorite one. Yeah, I really like my three.
Since you’re promising fans that all the questions will be answered in this final film, what does that mean for the franchise? Will there be a sort of reboot in the story?
We don’t have any plans of a reboot, and we’re not going to continue the Paranormal franchise. All these characters are done. In 5 years, if some amazing filmmaker that I love comes and says, “Here’s a whole new way to approach Paranormal Activity” it might happen, but we have no plans. We’re not going out to pursue that, and I think what’s special about this movie is that it’s the end of this. We’re not deciding it’s the end afterwards, but we’re deciding it’s the end before it comes out. Even if it’s a huge hit, and it does a ton of business, it’s still going to be the last one.
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