With … Jason Blum: In the Time of Trump, a Horror-Movie Maker Rules Hollywood

Mr. Blum, a 48-year-old Hollywood producer, takes this stand even though he thinks that goose bumps about Donald J. Trump have buoyed Blumhouse, his hit factory that has made “Get Out,” “Sinister,” “Insidious,” “The Purge,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Split,” “The Gift” and “The Visit.”

Blumhouse also produced the Oscar-winning “Whiplash” and won Emmys for “The Normal Heart” and “The Jinx,” the eerie six-part documentary about Robert Durst that ended with him caught on a hot microphone whispering to himself in a bathroom about his dead wife and dead best friend: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course.”

Mr. Blum is now teaming with John Carpenter for the final “Halloween” with Ms. Curtis returning as Laurie Strode.

In the time Mr. Blum and I were having dinner, his latest, “Happy Death Day,” a ghoulish twist on “Groundhog Day,” leapt to No. 1 at the weekend box office.

“I think when people are scared, they like to see movies where the scares are not real,” Mr. Blum says. “The current administration’s been terrific for the scary-movie business. It’s been our best year ever. I think ‘Get Out’ did four times the business it would have done if Hillary had been president.”

Mr. Blum frets about the White House swallowing his former communications chief, Josh Raffel, who left him to become Jared Kushner’s lieutenant, much like the hero of “Get Out” is swallowed by “the sunken place.” He jokes that he wants to rescue Mr. Raffel from the “cult” because “I’m scared Jared is drinking his blood.”

Christopher Landon, the director of “Happy Death Day,” agrees that President Trump “has stirred up all these dark places and dark corners and old shadows of our culture, and horror is so well suited to address these things.”

While Hollywood is in atrophy, endlessly and tediously replicating comic-book franchises, Mr. Blum is able to be original and risky by staying fast and cheap. And once he got successful, he did not jump to blockbusters.

“He has created a business model that works, making films for $5 million or less with clear commerciality and marketability,” says Donna Langley, chairwoman of Universal Pictures, who signed Mr. Blum to a 10-year, first-look film deal. “He’s excitable and exciting to be around.”

Ethan Hawke, an old Blum friend who starred in “Sinister,” says that when you think of a horror impresario you think of a “dour, terrifying person,” but “the big surprise about being Jason’s friend is how much joy he has.”

In a fear-based business, Mr. Blum sprinkles pixie dust, making filmmakers’ dreams come true — on a budget. Mr. Landon calls Mr. Blum “a cross between Willy Wonka and Robert Evans. He has this sort of mad-professor vibe but an old-school charm as well, an energy fluttering about him that is hard to contain.”

Photo

Mr. Blum is the 48-year-old Hollywood producer behind the hit “Get Out.” Credit Universal Pictures, via Associated Press

Dressed in khaki pants and a blue vest from Zara and wearing a 1987 Rolex, Mr. Blum pulls out his phone to show me some of his old Halloween costumes where he is dressed as a female character.

“My mother always said I should have been born a woman,” he says, laughing. “I have good legs.”

Last year, he was a convincing Wicked Witch of the West and his wife, Lauren Schuker, was Dorothy. Ms. Schuker is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who is co-writing a movie about Gamergate for Amy Pascal’s production company. They have a 2-year-old daughter.

This year, Mr. Blum was Ivanka, in her famous pink sheath dress, and Ms. Schuker was Iraq Jared in his flak jacket. They accessorized with buttons reading: “America’s Scariest Couple.”

Mr. Blum loves to troll Ivanka and her “daddy.” When Ivanka tweeted a FEMA update about the California wildfires, Mr. Blum retweeted her, noting dryly: “It’s fun to play government.” When she tweeted on empowering and investing in women, Mr. Blum retweeted with this acidic comment: “But don’t give them birth control. You are a gross opportunist.”

I ask him about the PC crackdown on costumes. Universities now issue guidelines and hold “social justice” workshops about how to avoid “cultural appropriation.”

A list of instructions circulating on Twitter read: “How to Not Be a Jerk This Halloween: No problematic historical figures; Don’t glorify violence against women; Cultures are not costumes (absolutely no blackface, brownface, yellowface; absolutely no religious garb (i.e. hijabs, bindis, etc.); absolutely no native headdresses; absolutely no gypsy-related costumes); Gender identity is not a costume (don’t dress trans if you’re not trans); Sexual identity is not a costume (don’t dress as a gay figure if you’re not gay.)”

Mr. Blum observes simply: “Halloween is woke, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Over a mango lassi at the Bombay Club, he explains how he drove his customized van that doubles as an office down the road to inheriting the mantle of Val Lewton and Roger Corman as a master of shadows.

“My favorite thing about horror is that it attracts this great group of nuts, of which I include myself in,” Mr. Blum says. “I was always kind of an oddball. I collected my fingernails, for instance.

“Halloween was definitely the biggest holiday when I was a kid. We started making our Halloween costumes in August. Me and my mom. My mom was a single mom, it was just her and I.”

He grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He was 4 years old when his parents got divorced. His mother, Shirley, was an art history professor at SUNY Purchase, and his father was Irving Blum, an art dealer in Los Angeles who was the first to show Warhol’s soup cans.

At Vassar College, Mr. Blum took a course on Hitchcock, which hooked him. His roommate was the future director Noah Baumbach.

“We were best friends,” Mr. Blum says. “When I graduated college, I moved to Chicago and I was roommates with Noah. We lived in this little one-bedroom apartment. I sold cable TV door to door. Noah wrote ‘Kicking and Screaming,’ and we decided together we were going to get that movie made.”

They moved to New York and Mr. Blum got his real-estate license. His father gave the script to one of his clients, Steve Martin, who let the would-be filmmakers use his letter praising it to shop it around. But after Mr. Blum helped get the movie up and running, he says, his friend cut him out. “Noah got what he needed from me and moved on,” he says.

I ask about his five-year stint from 1995 to 2000 working for Harvey Weinstein in Mr. Weinstein’s film acquisition unit.

Looking pained, Mr. Blum says he is “reprogramming” Mr. Weinstein to a different place in his brain and that he knew his boss was dark, just not that dark.

“Before all this, we heard the story, ‘Oh, he was in his hotel room, he was with an actress. He touched her on the leg or did something he shouldn’t have done. He’s a bully. She left. She threatened to sue him and rather than go through litigation, he gave her 100,000 bucks.’ And the settlements were described as ‘People are taking advantage of me because I’m rich.’

“That’s what we all thought, like, ‘Yeah, he’s gross, Harvey’s being a scumbag again’ — not, ‘He was a rapist.’ I was in his hotel room when he was in his robe. He was in his robe all the time when we were traveling at film festivals. He worked 24 hours a day and he was always in his robe.”

When Mr. Blum lost the distribution rights to “Run Lola Run” in a Toronto negotiation, after Mr. Weinstein changed the terms at the last minute, Mr. Weinstein ordered Mr. Blum to run over to the hotel of the rights holders and stay there until they changed their minds.

“I’m 28 years old,” Mr. Blum recalls. “I’m bawling. It’s 3:30 a.m. I’m knocking on the guy’s door, begging him to open the door. And crying. I’m crying, I’m crying. He won’t open the door.” Mr. Weinstein rushed up to Toronto and they went into one of the multiple hotel suites his boss always kept — “there were always endless hotel rooms,” Mr. Blum says — and Mr. Weinstein threw his lit cigarette.

“And the lit cigarette hit me,” Mr. Blum continues. “It bounced off me and bounced on the floor and Harvey knew he shouldn’t have done it and he said, ‘I was going for the garbage can.’ And I was so upset at the other side, and attracted to being abused, that I was fully on Harvey’s side. I was like, ‘Harvey, don’t worry about it. I’m so mad, too. I can’t believe what they did to us.’

“Oh my God, it was total Stockholm syndrome. He bullied me, he threw a lit cigarette at me. And I tried to hide that it happened, trying to protect him. I mean, it was very, very abusive. When he called, you would go into a sweat. Every time he called, I was terrified. And wherever I was, from the time I was under that contract, I was never free. I went into cognitive therapy after I was there 12 months, because I had depression.”

The therapist gave him a self-help book called “The Assertive Option,” which he began using in interactions with the Weinstein brothers, who “were so brutal that everyone else banded together and protected each other against these guys. They weren’t Cain and Abel, because they were both awful. But they also hated each other.”

He said he is struggling “to figure out why I chose to stay in a place for years where I was abused. He didn’t force me to stay there. I could have quit at any time. Why didn’t I quit?”

He agreed with a former colleague at the company who told him recently: “I wish I could go to the hospital and get the part where Harvey existed in my brain taken out of my brain.”

He did learn a lot from Mr. Weinstein, he says, including the frenetic pace and the never-give-up attitude. But in other ways, he has modeled his company to be the reverse of that one. He never micromanages. “Harvey would spend days arguing over a part that was three days long,” Mr. Blum says. “I don’t know who plays those parts. It’s such a waste of time. We give a ton of creative input, but I don’t spend 700 years arguing over something like Nicole Kidman’s nose in ‘The Hours.’

“Harvey would say ‘I’m the best editor in Hollywood.’ He didn’t look at his job as supporting the artists. He looked at himself as an artist. And I look at myself as a curator, blowing a path through to let the artist do their thing. I would be terrible at directing a movie. I don’t have that kind of brain.”

Because of his parents, Mr. Blum understands how to talk to artists, but he also gets the needs of the business side.

He has always made it a practice not to meet with actresses alone. “I just don’t want to be in my office alone with an actress. It might be because of Harvey, because I’m terrified the actress will walk out of the door and say I did something wrong. So there’s no way they can do that if there’s someone else in the room.”

He’s the Mike Pence of Hollywood, I suggest.

“It’s the power dynamic,” he says. “You get a 23-year-old actress sitting in your office, I think they feel like, do they flirt in the meeting, do they not flirt? It’s just uncomfortable. It just lingers in the air. And I don’t want it lingering in the air. And if my head of casting, who is a woman, is sitting there, it’s fine. And I can ask for an actress’s email and it’s not weird. Then I send them a script directly, I don’t go through their agent, and it’s fine.”

Before the Weinstein revelations, Mr. Blum had bought Gabriel Sherman’s book on Roger Ailes to turn into a eight-part series for Showtime, the saga of “the guy who enabled the guy,” the Fox News chief who rolled out the red carpet to the Trump White House.

Mr. Blum says the movie he would most like to do now is a remake of the 1957 Andy Griffith classic, “A Face in the Crowd,” about a wealthy, megalomaniacal television personality who swans about as the voice of the people until he’s exposed as a phony.

Sounds vaguely familiar.

Continue reading the main story

Leave a Response