Jason Blum, the producer behind Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Purge, has found a way to turn low-budget horror into mainstream success.
Shelley Hennig in Unfriended.
Rich Polk / Getty
Jason Blum is producing some of Hollywood's riskiest films, even though he doesn't see it that way. As the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, he's found a unique niche by producing low-budget horror that often has mainstream appeal.
"I think the lower the budget is, the more you charge forward with new ideas, as opposed to modeling movies on prior successes," Blum told BuzzFeed News in an interview at The Redbury, a boutique hotel in the heart of Hollywood.
Several of his films — including Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and Insidious — have launched successful multimillion-dollar franchises, and his latest production could do the same. Unfriended, which is now in theaters, is a found footage ghost story set entirely inside a computer. The film follows a group of high school friends being terrorized on Skype and Facebook by their dead friend, Laura (Heather Sossaman), who killed herself after an embarrassing video of her drunken escapades went viral.
"The low budget is a crucial part of our business," Blum said. "If Unfriended were a $20 million movie it never would get made."
Blumhouse caps films at around $4 million. (Sequels tend to be higher budget, given the proven success of the first and the need to draw back the original talent.) Even if a film only gets a limited release, Blumhouse will almost always at least make back their investment. It's a tactic that allows Blum and his colleagues to bet on more innovative projects.
"Hollywood has a real tendency of, Oh, this movie worked. Let's make a movie like it. And I like to push our company to do the opposite, which is, You know what? Let's try new stuff," Blum said. "I'm able to give filmmakers final cut and say, 'Do what you wanna do,' because we don't actually have that much risk. I couldn't be as loose if we were making movies for $10 million."
The fact that Blumhouse films embrace high-concept ideas has given them an edge with horror fans and, to some extent, critics: The original Paranormal Activity earned an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, while Insidious has a respectable 66%. And Unfriended looks to be on a similar track.
"The two things that draw me to movies, these days anyway, are: Is it unique and is it scary? I think those things are linked," he said. "Does it feel like something we haven't seen before, or are there aspects that feel like aspects we haven't seen before? Does it really get under your skin? And I feel like those boxes were very checked with Unfriended."
To better understand the Blumhouse strategy, BuzzFeed News asked Blum for insight into some of his biggest successes and failures, and what he's learned from each.