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Oscars 2015: How 'Paranormal Activity' got Jason Blum to the Academy Awards

Jason Blum, producer on
Jason Blum, producer on "Whiplash" and director on "Paranormal Activity"

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Jason Blum spent his formative years in the film business working under Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. In recent years he's made a name for himself and his company, Blumhouse Productions, with successful, low-budget genre films such as “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious” and “The Purge.” Now, Blum is heading to the Academy Awards as a nominee for having been a producer on the Best Picture hopeful, "Whiplash."

Blum recently visited The Frame's studio to chat with host John Horn.

Interview Highlights:

How did "Whiplash" come to be, given your background and history? 

It was a complete aberration. In fact, initially I was very skeptical. We have a great executive who runs production for us, his name is Couper Samuelson. He gave me the "Whiplash" script and I read it and I said, "Buddy, what are you doing? We make scary genre movies." He said, "I know, but I really love it and I wanted you to do it." And I said I was really on the fence about it. He very cleverly knew that one of my favorite filmmakers is Jason Reitman, and he was friends with Helen Esther Brooke, who works with Jason. And I think he secretly gave the script to them and said, "Would you guys come on to produce this, too?" They read it and loved it and they agreed to come on to produce. He came back to me and said, "What if you were able to produce this with Jason Reitman?" And I said, "I'm in."

Having worked with Harvey Weinstein on high-quality art films and then making your own low-budget horror films, did one prepare you better for the actual physical production of "Whiplash" than the other? 

The low-budget production workhouse that we have prepared us for the production of the movie. We used a lot of our people — our production designer, our sound mixers. We really used all our crew and our system. We make all our movies for $3 million-to-$5 million and we shoot them all in L.A. And because we have such volume doing that, it was relatively easy to insert "Whiplash" into that system.

Why do you shoot in L.A. when "Whiplash" is set in New York?

We shoot in L.A. for a few reasons. First of all, when you make movies with the budgets we work with, there aren't very big incentives. It barely pays for the people that you have to travel to that state. More importantly, we do it because one of the ways we keep movie costs inexpensive is everyone works for scale or free. We take no producing fee and all the actors work for scale. And I think that it's one thing to ask an actor to work for scale and invest in the success of the movie if they get to say goodnight to their kids, but if they have to go to Vancouver or Louisiana and they're not making any money, it's a lot tougher sale. So I think we get a level of talent that is much, much higher because we keep most of our productions in Los Angeles. 

You have made a film that is nominated for Best Picture. J.K Simmons is a favorite to win the best supporting actor Oscar. At the same time, you have your genre films that sometimes open with $20 million-to-$40 million at the box office. Which one is more satisfying; The awards attention or the box office results? 

I have an answer to that question, but I'm not going to tell you what it is [laughs]. 

I know you. And it's the money not the hardware. 

It's nothing to do with the money, for sure, but I get a lot of satisfaction. To me, the money represents winning a game or winning a puzzle. What motivates me is looking at a puzzle and putting the pieces together and making them all fit. There's a deep amount of satisfaction that comes with being the underdog and winning. Part of the fun of opening movies big is that our budgets are so small, there's a real thrill in that. Obviously, there's a real thrill in being nominated for an Academy Award, I would say that they're very, very close — one is not a clear favorite in my mind. 

How did it feel to be at the Academy Awards nominations luncheon? 

It felt great. It felt really exciting. The funny thing was [that] "Paranormal Activity" led to "Whiplash" in a very long circuitous way. It makes me smile to think that little movie could lead to sitting in a room with Clint Eastwood. I think it's kind of terrific. 

What's the short version of how "Paranormal Activity" got you to "Whiplash"?

When you make successful movies people return your calls and listen to what you have to say. Before "Paranormal Activity," if I said I had a movie about a drummer, people would laugh at me. After "Paranormal Activity," people still laughed but a few didn't. So, when you have success in one thing, you get a little traction in something else. 

How does the critical and award success of "Whiplash" benefit the genre films? 

It definitely turns around because I don't make genre films to make money. I love genre movies ... To me, what's really important — whether you're making "Sinister" or "Whiplash" — is if the movies are great. That doesn't mean I only make great movies. I've made plenty of movies that haven't been great, but we strive to make great ones and different ones. I think "Whiplash," to a large degree, says to our genre filmmakers: Look, we're trying to make quality across all labels

 You've made sequels to "Insidious," "Paranormal Activity," "Purge," "Sinister," "Ouija." How about a "Whiplash" sequel? Is it impossible? Have you guys even discussed it vaguely? 

It's definitively not possible. I am here to say: We are not doing a sequel to "Whiplash." [laughs] I'm looking forward to working with [writer/director] Damien Chazelle again on a new idea. 

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