Jason Blum must be feeling pretty good about himself right now. This year he has been behind two major box-office hits with The Purge and Insidious: Chapter II (and a minor one with Dark Skies). All three films were made for nickels compared to their grosses. In a time where people are worried about the future prospects of summer blockbusters, Blum has been producing blockbuster results without a 200 million price tag attached.
To make Insidious: Chapter II a hit, Blum brought back the original creative team and characters along to expand on the mythology created by the first movie. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) returns as a man dealing with some side effects from the first film, while director James Wan is back for more as well. Blum believes Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell are key ingredients to the series, and the results speak for themselves.
In addition to discussing their involvement in the film, we spoke with Jason Blum about his lucrative business model and how to properly make a sequel:
You said there was a lot of skepticism over making The Purge. Why was that?
People thought before we were making it that the idea was too far fetched.
Were there any questioning over Insidious 2?
No, not for the second, but there was for the first one. The second Insidious was about having James and Leigh come up with something they’d be excited about. The challenge on Insidious 2 — and this is something I’ve learned from Paranormal Activity — is that people want as many answers as possible with sequels. The next Paranormal does that, but we didn’t wait for four movies to do that with Insidious. I think that’s the challenge I posed to James and Leigh when they were working on the script: explain the mythology as much as possible. I don’t know if we succeeded, but that’s what we tried to do.
Do you think you should always respond to what people want out of a sequel?
I definitely do not believe in reverse-engineering movies, like, “Put this person in because people like this person.” I don’t think that’s good. I always think it’s interesting to read comments online and see what people say. I think the specifics of the ideas people have is not right, but there’s a sentiment there. Like I was saying before, whenever you start with the first one, there are questions they want more answers to. Now, when we do sequels, that’s what I hope the writer and director will focus on. I think a lot of the movies I’ve produced work because the writers and directors have a lot of freedom. We don’t try to mandate, but we encourage.
Having made a few horror sequels, what do you think does and doesn’t generally work for a sequel?
I think when you’re making a horror sequel there’s a fine line where you can lean on each side of pretty easily, which is: you don’t want to repeat the first movie, but you also don’t want to totally start over. I think we’re making sequels looking at those two problems and walk through the middle of them.
After the success of the first movie, how did that affect the way you, James, and Leigh worked?
James, Leigh, and I had a pretty great experience on the first movie. It’s a creative process, so we didn’t always agree, but we certainly agreed more than we didn’t. The result was something we were really happy with. We definitely are professionally very close and have a shorthand. James was on the fence about directing this or not, but Leigh and I were cheerleading him to do it. I think those guys are incredibly talented. James is really firing on all cylinders. I think he’s been doing great work lately.
How did you both convince him?
I think directors in the beginning of their career…if you have a hit movie early on, they seem easier to come by than they are. It’s probably not fair to say “convincing”, because it didn’t take that much to convince him. Now the movie business is in a much different place than it was 15 or 20 years ago. When you have created a successful movie, a sequel can be very creatively fulfilling. Obviously they could’ve just produced the movie, but it’d be a shame to do all that work and then give it to somebody else. I think more often than not people feel that about franchises.
What do you usually look for in a filmmaker?
That’s a good question. I look for the impossible combination of someone with a real strong vision and, at the same time, the ability to listen and take the best ideas even if they aren’t his or her own. That’s a tough combo. I would never want to direct [Laughs]. You usually get one or the other. Sometimes a director can listen too much or not allow someone to have have a better idea.
Lately there’s been a lot of talk over the implosion of big summer movies. With your business model currently thriving, do you think we will see that implosion and perhaps micro-budget tentpole films?
No, I don’t. I think there will be more lower budget summer movies. I definitely think there will be more micro-budget movies released year round, actually. There will be less 200 million dollar movies year round, as well. I don’t think the market for those movies are going away by any means. In my mind, this summer just had simply too many. Every weekend there was another 200 million dollar movie. The market is saturated. I think there will be a little pullback on movies that size. I love my business, but I’m not in that business. I only do micro-budget movies. Happily, that’s something people are doing more of now.
The reason I love them so much is because they allow you take creative risks. When I was told the third act of the first Insidious was going to go to “the further” and be like a David Lynch movie, it’d be irresponsible to make that movie for 20 million dollars. You can’t have a horror movie where the third act turns into a David Lynch movie. That doesn’t work. When you’re working with very little amount of money, you can try weird stuff.
You’d never get 20 million dollars for The Purge either. Again, the concept is just…I wasn’t right or wrong about it. I was just right about doing it at a lower budget. If I was working at a studio and you pitched me The Purge as a 20 million dollar movie, I’d say, “You’re out of your mind. That concept is too weird. It might work, but it might not work. If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to be 20 million dollars in the hole. If you make the movie for three million, and it works, then it’s a win for everybody. If it doesn’t work, then nobody loses.” That’s kind of my…well, not kind of, that is my business model.
Insidious: Chapter II is now in theaters.