Horror Honcho Behind The Purge and Get Out Is Hacking the Streaming Upheaval

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Jason Blum is a nervous wreck. His company,Blumhouse Productions, is busier than ever, with a slew of TV projects in development and three feature films hitting theaters in early 2020, includinga remake of The Invisible Man, starring Elisabeth Moss, which is set to open in the U.S. on Feb. 28. “In an ideal world, you would never release three movies in four weeks,” Blum says. “But it’s also thrilling.”

Blum, 50, hasmade a fortune by going against Hollywood conventions. At a time when the film industry was growing increasingly dependent on vastly expensive movies based on superheroes and graphic novels, Blum made a barrage of microbudget horror films based on original ideas, including The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Get Out, and Us. Over the past 15 years, his movies have collectively grossed more than $3 billion at the global box office.

Recently, rival producers have rushed in to copy Blum’s model. In 2019, American studios released 257 horror movies, an increase of more than 400% since 2009, according to box office website TheNumbers.com.

Now, Blum is having to cope with not only the stepped-up competition but also the rise of streaming TV networks, which rely on a much different economic model than the one Blum only recently mastered at the multiplex. Blum spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek about how he’s reinventing his business for the streaming age, his rise to Hollywood acclaim, and his distaste for people who leave the lights on.

 
How would you describe a Blumhouse movie?
We pursue material that is not obvious and, oftentimes, that not a lot of other people are chasing. I never look back and say, “Well, this formula is working.” The creative business isn’t a formula. That’s why, to me, the emphasis on putting data into movies and TV really rubs me the wrong way.
 
Are you nervous about your trio of new movies?
I haven’t slept for weeks.

The movies feel very different. The Invisible Man is a thriller. Fantasy Island is a horror movie. The Hunt is a satire.
 
You are best known for horror. Are you making a concerted effort to do other types of movies?
It’s not interesting to me—“what is and isn’t horror?” And, by the way, everyone has a different opinion. Every single one of my parents’ friends say, “I hate horror movies, but I love Get Out. That wasn’t a horror movie.” Of course it was a horror movie.
 
You are known for making movies on a low budget. Has the model changed as you have become more successful?
It’s always changing, but the fundamental model is the same. Above-the-line talent works for a low upfront amount in exchange for creative freedom. That is the same whether the low budget is $1 million like Insidious, or $2.5 million for The Purge, or $7 million for The Invisible Man. By normal studio standards, those budgets are tiny.
 
Do you ever want to take on more risk?
I’m not interested in making expensive movies. It pulls too many levers for it to be fun.

TV is another story altogether. In the movie business, artists are financially incentivized to keep budgets low. The lower the budget, the bigger the pie of profit and whatever percentage you have is bigger. Right now, because the world is upside down and backwards, what the streamers are telling us, in the way they pay us, is to make TV series and movies as expensively as possible.

And that’s what everybody does. If you have a movie for $15 million and make it for streaming, you make it for $40 million. Why wouldn’t you? You get no percentage of the profit, and your fee is based on a percentage of the budget.

So my caveat is: For streaming, I’d like all our movies to be $350 million, which is insanity. But it’s how the world works at the moment.
 
Which part of your business is bigger, TV or movies?
In revenue, TV. In profit, movies.
 
You describe yourself as an entrepreneur. Is there an exit strategy?
No, because I love what I do.
 
People love what they do and still sell their companies.
I hate the notion that I’m building to sell. I’m building to make it the best producer of TV and movies there is. The bigger we get, the more independence we have, the more autonomous our decision-making can be. I wish I could greenlight my own Devil’s Bargain TV show. I can’t do it yet. I gotta beg for money.
 
How do you get there?
Keep doing what I’m doing. I’m a lot closer than I used to be. We are in a totally different place from where we were five years ago. The company has grown. We have much more capital to play with. But I’m very cautious with it. We can make more decisions on our own without a partner. We co-financed Halloween. That was a big deal for us.
 
Did you always want to make movies?
From a very, very early age I wanted to be a producer. But I also really didn’t know what that meant until I was 35 years old.
 
Why producing ?
I don’t love sitting on the set. I don’t love sitting in an editing room for eight hours. What I found over the course of my career is that what I really love doing is identifying material, putting people together to make things, and troubleshooting along the way. I really only get involved in the nitty-gritty if things are going wrong.

When you’re a kid, you think the set is where the action is.
 
It seems like the number of movies you release has gone up.
Because our ratio is better. We’re not making more movies, but we are getting more wide releases.
 
How much of that is because the movies are better, and how much is because you are more powerful?
I don’t think it’s either one. Maybe it’s both. We’re better at what we do. We’re more experienced.
 
Three of your recent movies, Black Christmas, Ma, and Happy Death Day 2U underperformed. None earned a sequel. What did you learn from that?
You learn more from movies that don’t work than from movies that do. We learned our company is not built to rush. You can’t do “no money” and fast. You gotta do “no money” and “no release date.” To back into a release date with a low budget is a recipe for disaster.
 
How has your deal with Universal changed since you firstsigned up in 2011?
Half of the movies we do now are sequels or movies based on preexisting intellectual property. They are slightly more expensive. On our originals, we are only making three to five at most. Universal has a first look, and Universal almost always makes them. When we finish them, they decide if we want a wider or smaller release—or go straight to streaming. If I disagree with Universal, then I go and shop that movie outside the studio.
 
There is a perception that almost everything you touch has worked.
Having a TV company has made me stray less. If I have something that feels like it’s not a low-budget horror, then it becomes a big-budget streaming movie. We’re not trying to make them theatrically. I’m not sure that if BlacKkKlansman came in today, it wouldn’t have been a streaming movie.
 
If The Invisible Man succeeds, would you want to make another monster movie?
I would love to.
 
Have you thought about what that might be?
I’ve had some version of this conversation. Not a serious one. I would say to Universal, “What monsters are available that I could play around with?” I would send those things to our seven favorite filmmakers. But I’m not going to talk to Universal until The Invisible Man comes out.
 
What have you seen recently that made you envious?
So much. The movies that drive me crazy are The Conjuring universe. I’d love to have produced those.
 
What did we miss?
You’re not going to ask me about my greatest disappointment? It was when welost Best Picture for Get Out.
 
How much time are you spending on TV these days?
It’s half of my time.

I want to talk to an artist and facilitate that idea. A podcast, something forCrypt TV, a TV show, a movie. We dida book;a play. I love the idea of being on the frontlines, hearing an artist’s idea, and saying, “Hey, I love that idea. You should do it this way.” And being able to deliver that for the artist. The most important thing about having a TV company is being able to have another weapon in the arsenal.
 
Will the business model for TV change?
“The more we spend the more we pay you”—it’s very hard to get used to. I hate being wasteful. I scream about turning off water and lights. I am the efficient person. The cheap person. The person who hates waste. I irk at the current way TV is done. One of my goals for our TV company is to attack it. I tried to do low-budget TV. It didn’t work. I would like to reexamine how TV is made. I’d like to bring similar thinking. I haven’t done it yet.
 
Why do you hate waste so much?
That’s a question for my therapist. Or my parents.
 
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