Producer Jason Blum has fast carved out a name for himself in the world of American horror cinema and to date has the likes of the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious and Sinister in the last few years.
We took some time to talk with him about Paranormal Activity 4, the found footage critics and his upcoming projects including Area 51 and Insidious 2.
Paranormal Activity 4 is out next week in the UK, did you ever imagine the franchise would get this big and make it to a fourth film?
I certainly did not. I never expected that from when we were working on the first movie.
What is it about the series that has struck a chord with audiences?
I think it’s very relatable so I think that makes people respond to it. It feels very visceral and the houses are the opposite of the way that a typical haunted house looks so I think the experiences that our families have in each one of these movies is very relatable.
Paranormal Activity 4 continues the found footage trend in horror cinema and that subgenre seems to be getting a bit of a critical kicking at the moment. Roger Ebert recently reviewed V/H/S and criticised the film, and found footage, quite heavily.
Really? What did he say?
He listed Paranormal Activity as the best in the recent batch of found footage but said “I’ve grown weary of […] the found-footage horror film. In this genre we are given low-quality home video footage, usually under lit, lacking in pacing and intentionally hard to comprehend. V/H/S is an example of the genre at its least compelling.” I saw it at Frightfest and really liked it.
Yeah I thought it was pretty good too.
What do you think of the view that found footage is coming to the end of its lifecycle?
I definitely disagree with that. I think there are certain stories that are very…I mean most stories do not or should not be told with found footage but there are some where found footage is a better way and a better storytelling device to use. I can’t imagine that it will just go away forever. It might get less but I would be surprised if we didn’t see, every so often, found footage films like Todd Philip’s Project X.
It’s interesting that the genre has started to move away from horror. Chronicle, Project X and even the latest REC film, REC: Genesis, only uses the style for the first 15 minutes before dropping it.
You know what; End of Watch also mixes found footage and regular. It goes back and forth between found footage and regular filmmaking.
Is this move by other genres embracing found footage a sign that it’s moving away from horror or an indication of its success in the genre?
I think it’s a product of the fact that so many people are watching other forms of found footage like on YouTube. I think people are more accustomed to being told stories with found footage so I think that other genres will use it and that will continue to happen. Like I said before, I think when people come pitch me a movie, nine times out of ten making something in found footage causes more problems than it solves. I think that you’ve really got to have the right setup to do it but if you do, I think it’s a cool way to tell a story.
You’ve been behind Insidious, Paranormal Activity and now Sinister, these have all been ‘haunted house’ movies of sorts or at least feature horror in the home. Is this a reflection of what scares you most in horror films?
I’m a fan of great storytelling and scares worked into great stories. I think it’s reverse engineered. Often, a good family drama is a great setting for a scary movie. The most drama in any family generally takes place in their house; it takes place in their private place so it happens that way.
These films also feature very little in the way of gore.
Is that a conscious effort away from blood, guts and gore based horror towards more storytelling and subtle atmospherics?
Yeah, but I don’t mind blood, guts and gore if it fits into the story. I don’t mind that. What I liked about Sinister was that it’s about a guy and his ambition becoming more important than his family and I think that’s an age old concept that a lot of people wrestle with. And with Paranormal Activity, the mythology is really important to us and the storytelling is very important to us. We try to not just make it a series of mindless jump scares.
Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost directed PA3 are back again for PA4. What do you think has made them such a great fit for franchise after doing Catfish which had its own fair share of uncomfortable, creepy moments?
I think they’re a great fit for the franchise because after Catfish there was such deliberation about ‘Is it real? Is it not real?’ I think they’re very good at making found footage feel very authentic and I think that’s part of the journey that the audience likes to go on when they go into these of movies, to think into the idea that it’s real found footage. I think they’re really good at doing that.
You were also an executive producer on Lawless earlier in the year, is it important for you as a producer to branch out into other projects away from the horror genre?
I love horror movies and I’m very happy to stay within horror. I don’t make an active decision to do something other than horror but if something comes along or if one of my directors is interested in something outside of that, then I wouldn’t not do it because it’s not a horror movie. But I’m very happy playing in that horror space.
You’re a strong advocate of independent cinema. What are your thoughts on the state of independent horror at the moment? Is it in a good place right now?
I think if you want to have your movie in theatres, I think horror is a very healthy niche of cinema. In some ways, if you dress your drama up with scares, it’s a way to make your movie theatrical, at least in the United States where most straight drama work has migrated to television. There are very few theatrical independent dramas being released these days. There are very few of them. Horror movies right now are a great place where there is still life in the theatrical market.
Halloween is fast approaching. People will be revisiting their favourite horror movies. Do you have an all time favourite horror film?
It’s constantly changing. You know what, they didn’t scare me but I studied Hitchcock in school and some of his movies are on the edge of horror and I loved his movies when I was in college. I studied his movies a lot and that was kind of the beginning of my love for all things scary.
I rewatched Rear Window the other day and Hitchcock handles point of view in a really interesting way with ideas around what you do see in the frame and what you don’t see in the frame and how that can scare audiences. Those ideas also seem, to an extent, to be in play in the framing devices used in the PA franchise.
Yeah, 100% and there’s no-one better at that than Hitchcock. I love that. I think it’s so cool.
One of the most memorable moments in PA3 was the fan-cam. Can we expect similarly new techniques in PA4?
Yeah, there’s some new cool stuff for sure.
What have you got next in the pipeline?
Next in the pipeline we have a Scott Stewart movie called Dark Skies which will come out next year and then I have a movie we did with Michael Bay’s company called The Purge that Ethan Hawke stars in also. He did that after we did Sinister together. Those are the two movies coming out next.
What can you say about your next collaboration with Oren Peli with Area 51?
Believe it or not, we’re still working on that movie but I do think it will see the light of day in the not so distant future.
Can you reveal anything on Insidious 2?
We’re getting closer on Insidious 2. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting pretty close on that one.