Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions has made a successful business of turning low-budget horror films into box office gold. But his latest project pairs him up with M. Night Shyamalan. The Visit marks the first time that the two have collaborated on the project, with a couple more projects to come. In the film, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) say goodbye to their mother as they board a train and head deep into Pennsylvania farm country to meet their maternal grandparents for the first time. While everything appears to be comfy and cozy, when night falls, strange things happen to their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), and they discover a terrifying secret that may end up killing them.
We had the chance to talk to Blum about the movie, the Blumhouse business model, and working with Shyamalan for the first time. Check out the interview below.
Geeks of Doom: Did having the found footage format give you all new cinematic tools in keeping us guessing?
Jason Blum: We do a lot of found footage movies, and I really feel like this is very different. It’s a mock documentary, and I almost feel like they are opposite. Found footage is purposefully sloppy, and the person documenting found footage has nothing to do with being a filmmaker, and they’re amateurs and they are catching it by accident. The lead of this movie is the opposite, she loves cinema, and she making a documentary to bring her family together. So I feel like one of my favorite things about the movie are the shots are very composed, and it’s not a shaky camera, and it is very far away from found footage. Mock-Documentaries for sure, and shot by someone who loves cinema and is concerned with how it looks.
You can’t have very recognizable people in found footage because it is like: “How did Brad Pitt end up in this footage that was captured by accident?” So you really have to find great actors who aren’t recognizable, which is hard, because most people get recognized because of what they do. So you have to find people who are great but haven’t been discovered yet.
Geeks of Doom: So was there any ad-libbing in this film?
Jason Blum: On Paranormal Activity movies there is no script, just an outline, and then it is all improvised, and so this is really much more. It’s a totally different way to approach this kind of filmmaking.
Geeks of Doom: Can you talk to us about the humor in the film?
Jason Blum: I always think that the best scary movies or genre movies have a release. In Insidious there is a lot of funny stuff, and Paranormal Activity 3. I always think it makes the movies scarier or more thrilling because it gives the audience the chance to relax, and sit back and laugh, and the genre aspect sneaks up on you. So probably my favorite thing about this movie is that it has all the great aspects you hope for in a genre movie, but it is also really fun.
Geeks of Doom: The pairing of you two is a creative match made in heaven, and I hope you guys get to work together again, can you tell us what most surprised you about working with each other for the first time.
Jason Blum: I’ve always been a fan of Night’s movies, and three or four years ago I started calling him saying “we have this little budget system, we make low-budget movies.” So he was really polite, and he listened, and always played his cards close to chest.
I think one of my favorite things about making low-budget movies, when you get into expensive movie making territories, it’s almost impossible not to reverse engineer them. It’s irresponsible not to think about the result, and the financial result. But when you make low-budget movies, you can put that out of your head. I always encourage directors, and Night said this before, if you start thinking about “This is what happened in my last four movies,” it’s suffocating. One of the reasons I really love about low-budget films is that you don’t have to think about that as much, you can have more fun, be more playful, and be freer creatively.
So I pitched our process to Night, or a longer version of what I said to Night, a bunch of times. Then I didn’t hear from him for a while, and then I got a call – this is about a year ago – and he tells me “I heard everything that you said, and I did it,” and I said “what do you mean?” and he said “I made the movie,” and I said “but you didn’t call me, we didn’t talk,” and he said “I know, I did it all by myself,” which to me is terrific. I said, “That is so cool,” he said “I’m calling you to show it to you, I want you to see the movie.” So I saw a rough cut version, but to answer your question specifically, we obviously had met a bunch of times, but we hadn’t worked together until we started working on the movie together. I had always heard that “I was intimidated by Night,” or “he has a very specific point of view.” There has been a lot of terrific things that have come out of relationship from these last 12 to 13 movies, but the best one is it’s been so collaborative. Night won’t always agree, but every time we have a conversation he’s like “Tell me more. Tell me more.” And it’s really fun. Some directors we’ve worked with are like that, and some aren’t, but it’s really fun when someone is as collaborative, and they really want to hear your ideas, and see your point of view. And we’ve had a really healthy dialogue, and as a producer that is very satisfying fun thing, so that has been the best thing for me.
The Visit opens in theaters on September 11.