How much of an introduction does a producer like Jason Blum really need? We all know the name Blumhouse Productions, the production company Blum founded 20 years ago. It was in 2009 the company exploded and discovered a winning formula in modestly budgeted horror movies with low risks and potentially high rewards. Now, Blumhouse is a company whose name attracts as many moviegoers, if not more so, than most name actors.
The latest Blumhouse Production is You Should Have Left, which is writer-director David Koepp returning to Stir of Echoes territory with his leading man, Kevin Bacon. The story is set almost entirely in a house where Bacon can’t escape the past. Based on a german novella by writer Daniel Kehlmann, it’s a modern spin on “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Recently, we talked to Jason Blum about the atmospheric horror movie, daily operations at Blumhouse, reopening theaters, VOD, and more.
David Koepp has such a long history in Hollywood working at such a high level. How did all of his experience make him unique as a collaborator?
Well, our kind of system or method to make movies works best with people who have had a lot of experience. I think it’s counterintuitive and it’s not the way, sadly, the world works. Sadly filmmakers, at the beginning of their career, get a little bit of money and the more experience they get, the more money they get. I think that’s backwards, because I think when you have a very, very experienced filmmaker, they know how to spend money and make it much more efficient. They’re not insecure, they don’t need to do 500 takes. They’re just very competent. That’s what it was like working with David. It was really a joy working with him from start to finish.
What are some other benefits of working with someone with his resume?
There are a million things. There’s no argument about getting the script to 98 pages or 96 pages because when the scripts are longer than that… Every time there’s a script that’s 105 pages, there are 10 pages that we shoot that we don’t use. So a director, an experienced director really can get his or her script down to a point where we’re going to use every scene that we shoot.
They shoot much more quickly because they know what angles they’re going to use, they know how they’re going to tell a story. I mean, David Gordon Green or David Koepp or the experienced filmmakers that we work with, shoot much, much more efficiently. As a result, they’re focused, they have more time to focus on performance and the things that make a movie good. Especially on the movie side. On the TV side, we work with first and second-time filmmakers more often, but on the movie side, because our budgets are low, we rarely work with a first-time filmmaker.
Is it always a minute a page?
Yeah. It’s about a minute a page. I mean, everyone says it isn’t and it always is. The truth is, if you want a 90-minute movie, your script should be 90 pages.
Had you and David Koepp been talking for a while about making a movie together or was You Should’ve Left the first project you discussed?
I don’t think we’d ever met before, but I obviously knew who he was. I don’t think we’d ever met before I read his script. That’s where our relationship started, on this movie.
How do you usually connect with a director and know if they’ll fit Blumhouse?
I have a meeting with them in my office either before or after they submit a project to us and I don’t hold back. I explain what the process is going to be like. I explain the good things and the bad things. I really get it all on the table as much as possible because it does me no good to surprise people. I see how the director reacts to that and some of them say, “This isn’t for me.” I don’t blame them. Some of them say, “That sounds great.” More often than not, the directors who really respond positively, usually the experience works out pretty well.
So you know pretty quickly if it won’t work?
They just can’t imagine working with so little money. You can feel them saying, “I need this for this. I need this for this. I need this for this.” Then, a handful of times I’ll say… Before we start, I’ll say, “You’re trying to do low budget, but you don’t really want to do low budget.” There’s no point in going forward here because we are going to do low budget. You’re not going to get more money from me. So, you’ll be happier doing this somewhere else, and that’s fine..
When David Koepp was shooting in New Jersey, would you be on set a lot?
No, I’m not. We have executives from the company who are on set, but I don’t go to set. I go to set maybe one day unless there are problems. I always tell the director, if you see me on set for more than a day or two, then things are not going well.
When there is a problem, what’s the best way to resolve it?
The best way is to get as much information as you can from everyone involved with the problem. Then talk directly to the person, usually the director and spell it out and say, “Here’s what’s going wrong. Here’s how I think how to make it go right. How do you think we should fix it and sort it out?” I think the best way to tackle problems is just being very, very direct with people, which in Hollywood, a lot of people have a hard time with, but I don’t.
How’d you get to that place of feeling completely comfortable having those conversations?
Therapy. A lot of therapy.
Part of it. I mean, it’s how I was raised and I’m sure part of it is therapy for sure.
Do you and David Koepp talk much when he’s filming, though? Phone calls or emails updating each other at all?
No, not during the filming. We maybe talked two or three times. We talk a lot when we’re getting the movie ready. Casting, prepping, budgeting, we talk more often then. Then we talk more often during the post-production process. The day to day that he has is with executives at the company. We have a physical production person, a creative production person, our casting person. So he talks to people at the company every day, but not me every day.
I imagine you have far from a typical Monday-Friday, nine to five. What’s a typical day for you usually look like?
No, I would say it’s not a nine to five. I would say about 50% of my day is focused on talking to the executives internally in the company and 50% of my day is focused on people externally, outside the company. Half of my time is in the TV half, half my time is in movies. At night, after my kids are in bed, I watch a lot of our stuff and a lot of other people’s stuff as well.
How far off do you usually think into the future about what you want to make and release?
Try not to think too far into the future. We try and feel the world today and then read stories that are responding in some way or another or are irrelevant to what’s going on now. I try not to think too far in the future because I think you can get tripped up by that. So, we try and stay kind of in the present. We look to the past for things that we’ve made mistakes on and we take learnings from the past, but we try not to go too far into the future and think in two years, audiences will like that. I think you could get into a lot of trouble doing that.
Like you said, you want to respond to what’s happening now. Given everything that is happening in the world at the moment, how is it influencing the stories you want to produce and the storytellers you want to work with?
I think that, anything happening in the world is related, not in… It’s definitely in our choices, but the artists who are writing stories are affected by what’s happening around them, whether it’s quarantine or black lives matter or Trump or whatever it is. I don’t think that means necessarily everything that they’re writing are about those things, but the current events inform storytelling, even if it’s a haunted house movie. I think that the first line of people that get informed by that are artists. We often gravitate towards material, like, Get Out or BlacKkKlansman or many of… We have a show on Showtime coming out called Good Lord Bird with Ethan Hawke, that plays John Brown that comes out in a month and a half. Really, what we’re doing is, reacting to the artists who are reacting to current events.
I’m looking forward to that John Brown show. He was such a badass, but he’s sometimes distorted or villainized by some in history. How’s he depicted in the show?
Well, it’s based on James McBride‘s book. So we depicted him as he was written by James McBride and the show is historical fiction. So, they’re real characters. There’s real character. There are other real characters from history in the book, but the actual events in the book are fictitious.
You and Ethan Hawke go way back. Do actors such as himself and Kevin Bacon, who probably can nail a scene in a take or two, work well with Blumhouse for that reason?
I think that they do. Ethan and I have collaborated a bunch of times and Kevin and I have worked together two or three times together. I think actors like working on our stuff because it’s really just about the work. It’s not about a trailer with a gym in it or spending three days on a car chase. Our movies work, they’re kind of made or break because of performances. I think actors respond to that. I think actors like that.
When do you know if a movie is a right fit for VOD? When did you decide on VOD for You Should Have Left?
I think at the end of a finished movie, I just think it’s a good thing to do, to make it available to people. I mean, you can’t go to a movie theater. Universal and I are very much on the same page of, if we have something ready to go, we should put it on VOD, so people get to see it and not wait. Obviously, I love going to the movie theater and there’s no better way to experience a movie than in a movie theater, but if the choice is no movie or a movie, I would choose VOD over nothing.
Do you think it’ll have any impact on mid-budget movies?
I think it could. I think it’s too soon to say because there’s no alternative right now. So the data we’re getting about VOD is not really relevant because there is no other alternative, but I think it could.
What are your thoughts on theaters reopening in July?
I hope that they open. I think it’s great that they open if they practice social distancing or whatever the government is recommending. I think, before we all know it, we will be totally through this. There’ll be a vaccine and they’ll go back, very close to where we were before in terms of attendance. We’re ways away from that, but I do believe that will happen.
One of my favorite Blumhouse movies from the last few years is Sweetheart. Say for a movie like that, how does the decision get made figuring out the best medium to present it?
We screened the movie with our partners, and in that case, it was Universal and we all collectively decided what lane the movie is going to take. We always tell our filmmakers when we start, I don’t promise how they’re going to be released. I just say, unlike a pilot, I can promise you it’ll definitely come out. I can’t tell you how, but I can say, unlike making a pilot, it’ll definitely be seen. So, that one came out digital only, and that’s how it happened.
You Should Have Left is now available to rent on VOD.
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