Get Out Producer Jason Blum on Jordan Peele’s Directorial Debut

– by Edward Douglas

There are few producers who have had the overwhelming success of Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions from their early days turning Oren Peli’s low-budget Paranormal Activity into a hugely profitable franchise, followed by the equally successful Insidious and The Purge movies. Jason Blum also has an Oscar nomination notched onto his career belt for his involvement in getting Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-nominated Whiplash made, and Blumhouse were involved with bringing Jem and the Holograms to movie theaters. (Sorry, but I actually kind of liked it, even though it bombed… big time.)

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out will be the third time Blumhouse has worked with an actor making their transition into directing, as Jason Blum handled the same duties on Joel Edgerton’s The Gift and Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3 a few years back.

Get Out is a very different movie in which Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington and his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) go to meet her parents at their house out in the country. Once there, Chris gets caught up in a strange situation as her parents’ friends, who have also come to visit that weekend, all seem very pleased to see him. The more Chris digs into what is happening, the darker and more dangerous his journey gets, as Peele creates a thriller that deals with race in the same way that the ‘70s film The Stepford Wives dealt with gender. (Note: Those are Peele’s words, not mine.)

LRM got on the phone with Blum a few days before our interview with Jordan Peele to chat about Get Out and other upcoming Blumhouse plans…

LRM: Congratulations on “Split”... that was a nice surprise. 

Jason Blum: Oh, thank you. That was a good one.

LRM: I’ve been a fan of Night’s for quite some time, so it’s always nice when something he does connects with an audience and does well.

Jason Blum: Me, too.

LRM: I think the last time we spoke may have been for the third “Insidious” movie, and we talked about you working with Night, but let’s get into “Get Out,” which is such an interesting movie as well as Jordan Peele’s first as a director. For some reason, I thought he directed “Keanu.” How did you end up connecting with him to do this movie together? 

Jason Blum: A young producer I know, who actually we have a deal with, named Scoop Washerstein called me and said, “I read this great script.” He actually had nothing to do with it, but I always respond to tips like that, so everyone at the company read it really fast and we all fell in love with the script, because it felt so original. I think we look for a lot of things, but the thing we look for most of all is something that feels new, and it definitely felt new to everyone who read it.

LRM: Were there any kind of expectations since Jordan had written it and was involved with it and obviously has a pretty extensive background in comedy, obviously?

Jason Blum: Well, we were, I would say, happily surprised that he wrote a horror movie. I was thrilled. There’s a lot of connection between horror and comedy, and I didn’t hesitate for a second when he wanted to direct it. I thought he would be a terrific director for the material, but yeah, I was happily surprised I would say.

LRM: You also produced Joel Edgerton’s first movie as a director, so how do you know these actors can handle what it takes to be a director? Is it mainly because they know the material and can convey it?

Jason Blum:  We shy away from first-time directors mostly--I kind of have a rule about that--but if it’s someone who has a ton of experience. I think Jordan did every job imaginable on Key and Peele, and Joel’s been on fifty movie sets, so if it’s someone who has got a ton of experience around sets, it’s kind of unfair to put them in the first-time director category. First-time director to me means the 24-year-old who made a great short at Sundance who often gets hired by studios and they’re a real first-time director, but people who have real experience around a movie set, ten or 15 years around a movie or television set, I’m less hesitant about working with, even though technically they’re still first-time directors. 

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LRM: As you were reading the script the first time, was it obvious this wasn’t going to be a comedic horror film and the subject would be handled in a serious and realistic way, like a true horror movie?

Jason Blum: Well, Jordan loves horror movies, and we met about it, and he said he didn’t want to make a horror-comedy--he wanted to make a straight horror movie, which I was very relieved about. I think horror-comedy is a very tough genre, and we shy away from it on the feature side. The TV side is easier, but on the features side, horror-comedy is very tough. He was very clear from the start that he wanted to make a straight-up scary movie, and happily that’s what he did.

LRM: Why do you feel horror-comedy is tough?  

Jason Blum: It’s impossible to market a horror-comedy, impossible to market, impossible. The only person who can do it is Edgar Wright, and a lot of other people try and no one else seems to have figured it out, but if Edgar Wright ever wants to make a low budget horror comedy, we’re in. Otherwise, I’ll never do it.

LRM: Chris does have his friend Rod, played by “Lil Rel,” who adds a lot of humor to the movie.

Jason Blum: Yeah, well there’s a ton of comedy in the Insidious movies. There’s a ton of comedy in the Paranormal movies, especially Paranormal Activity 3, there’s as many laughs in that as there are scares, so to make a good scary movie, you have to give the audience a break, and a good way to do that is make them laugh.

LRM: Did Jordan have some ideas about who he wanted to work with as far as a DP or composer or was that something you contributed to?

Jason Blum: I forget if he had a DP picked out beforehand or not, but he had a group of people and we had a group of people, and we talked about them. Ultimately, I always leave those decisions up to the director. We put people in front of them, but we go with what the director decides, and Jordan was really responsible for assembling the team around him, and I think he did a really great job on that.

LRM: He really pulls off a great Hitchcock slow build feel like “Rear Window” and that includes the music, so I wondered if you helped him find the right people to do that. 

Jason Blum: I think he met a lot people, and we put a lot of people under his nose, but that was really all Jordan. He put a great team around him.

LRM: Were there any concerns about the subject matter potentially being controversial with how it deals with race? Obviously, Jordan’s done comedy before but this is serious and you never know how people might react to it. Any concerns about that? 

Jason Blum: No, I think it was more like that was a big motivating reason why I wanted to do this movie is I really liked there was an underlying comment about race in the movie, and I was attracted to that. I’m not scared of shaking things up a little bit, so I was really attracted to that part of the script.

LRM: You generally come on board as a producer on projects that a studio might be too scared of doing, and this might be one of those movies, so is that also a motivator for you?

Jason Blum: Yeah, yeah, I like to do movies that people don’t want to do. Those are my favorite kinds of movies. The Purge was like that. The Gift was like that. Whiplash was like that. Nobody wanted to do those movies, and those, to me--I don’t know about the most fun, but some of the best experiences I’ve had. Paranormal Activity was the ultimate. No one in the world… everybody thought that was a straight-to-video movie. No one would release the movie. That’s always really fun for me is to instead of fighting for something everybody wants to do, I like fighting for something that no one wants to do. (laughs) 

LRM: And you have good relationships with Universal and Paramount, so these studios trust you, and they know the movies are being made at a reasonable price.

Jason Blum: Yeah, well that’s why I like doing low budget is you can take risks. That’s the whole key of low budget. It’s great that it’s profitable and everything, but I don’t do it to make more profit--I do it to make movies that no one wants to make. The way that we can do that is by doing them inexpensively.

LRM: Even “Insidious” was like that, which is surprising in hindsight…

Jason Blum: Yeah, totally. Nobody wanted to make Insidious either. By the way, when we screened the finished movie of Insidious, nobody wanted to buy it. We made a terrible distribution deal on that first movie, because no one else wanted to buy the film. Meanwhile, they’ve made like $300 million bucks on those movies.

LRM: I remember seeing it during “Midnight Madness” in Toronto. 

Jason Blum: Yeah, it screened there, and everybody passed after that screening. Everyone passed.

LRM: Except Sony. It’s interesting having this movie coming out now. I’m not sure if you’ve seen Gore Verbinski’s new movie, “A Cure for Wellness,” but it’s another movie that deals with real world issues using genre.

Jason Blum: Oh, right, yeah, I haven’t seen it yet.

LRM: I haven’t seen “The Belko Experiment” yet…

Jason Blum: Belko is crazy--you’ll like that one. We’re distributing that movie--that’s kind of great. 

LRM: I know James has had that idea forever. Why do you think that seems to be the trend these days? The genre films are dealing with these serious issues, and it’s not new obviously, because that was the case in the ‘70s.

Jason Blum:
I don’t know. Dark times. (laughs) I don’t know why, but it does seem to be people flocking to them, and maybe they’re moving towards the direction of the role they played in the ‘70s. I don’t think it’s fair to say that quite yet, but maybe it’ll happen with The Purge and this movie. Maybe that’s beginning to happen. 

LRM: Man, last year with “The Purge: Election Year”... that couldn’t be more perfect timing. Those commercials during the debates was absolutely genius.

Jason Blum:
Yeah, yeah…(laughs)

LRM:  I spoke with Night a few weeks back, and obviously, no one had any idea how well it would do, but I know he has ideas to move forward with a sequel, and without spoiling things, what are the issues with him moving forward in the way we assume he wants to move forward with the different studios that would be involved? Is that something that needs to be worked out?

Jason Blum:
We haven’t even… I’m enjoying the international roll-out of Split and the domestic holds, so we haven’t even started… I know he tweeted that thing, but we haven’t had a single conversation about that.

LRM: Do you find that a lot of the movies you make like “Split” do well overseas? I don’t know how the “Paranormal Activity” movies have done internationally, but I assume the movies travel pretty well?

Jason Blum: Paranormal
as it went on, it started doing more internationally than domestically. Usually with our movies, the ratio should be about 1 to 1. It isn’t always. The Purge is less than that. The Visit is less than that, but hopefully, Split should be about 1 to 1. 

LRM: Which international markets do you feel do better with horror?

Jason Blum:
Our strongest markets are UK, Mexico, Germany, those are our strongest markets. 

LRM: I know you’re developing and maybe they’re even shooting “Insidious 4” and I assume you’re working on a “Purge 4” so are there any dangers of running out of ideas or going to the well too many times as has happened with horror franchises in the past?

Jason Blum:
Always. I think that happened with Paranormal Activity. I wish we didn’t make the last Paranormal Activity. I wish we left it at five instead of making six of them, so yeah, I’m always careful about that. I think The Purge is a really rich concept, so I think there’s a lot of different ways to use that concept. Insidious is definitely more limited. Leigh (Whannell) came up with a great idea for the fourth movie--I don’t know how much more he’s got in him, but I’m happy he came up with one more for the fourth, for sure. 

LRM: Are you doing another movie with him directing as well?

Jason Blum:
He’s directing, yeah, he’s directing a movie called Stem in Australia for us right now.

LRM: You and Universal have jumped on the amusing trend of grabbing release dates for “Untitled Blumhouse” movies. If you look at 2023, there’s already a release date for an “Untitled Universal Animation” movie…

Jason Blum:
(laughs) Yeah, I’m not as far out there as Chris Meledandri (of Illumination Entertainment)…

LRM: No, but it’s still an amusing thing to me. You obviously have a lot of movies in production, so is it just a matter of when they’re completed? How do you decide that?

Jason Blum:
Well, some of them we wide release, some of them we go through BH Tilt, some of them we go digital, so not all of the movies we do end up with Universal as wide releases, but I know I have the volume to fill the place holders that they’re kind of to put in for us, so it’s a great asset for the company to have.

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LRM: I have to ask… you’re making a “Benji” movie and that’s the DOG Benji?

Jason Blum:
We are. (laughs)

LRM: That’s something different, so were you a big fan of the movies when you were a kid?

Jason Blum:
Yeah, I was. More the reason we’re doing the movie… of course, I’m a big fan of the movie, but the reason why I’m doing the movie is really. If we’re branching out, I’m definitely pushing the genre boundary. What I’m not pushing is the budget boundary. We’re keeping our budgets in the same place, but one of the ways I’m interested in throwing the company is not making more expensive movies, but making wide appeal movies that can be made at a low budget and letting the creator have creative control. The guy who directed Benji is the son of the guy who created Benji in the ‘70s, so it’s all in the family. He wanted to kind of reboot it, and the reason we came together--even though it seems like an odd match--is I’m really into this idea of giving a lot more control than Hollywood traditionally gives to the director, so that he can really control the destiny of the way the movie looked and the way the movie felt, in exchange for doing it for a low number. So that’s how it kind of fits into the Blumhouse moniker, even thought it is certainly not a scary version of Benji.

LRM:  That’s good to know. I have to ask: Is “Amityville: The Awakening” ever coming out? I’ve been assigned to review it twice now and it keeps getting moved.

Jason Blum:
I know, I know. We did date it again. It’s dated for June 30, so if your question is “Is it coming out June 30?” I’m not making any promises, but we’re hoping…

And that was the end of our time, though 10 minutes later, they announced the directors for Blumhouse’s Halloween reboot…Sigh.

Get Out opens in many theaters tonight, Thursday, February 23, before expanding nationwide tomorrow. You can also read our interview with the film’s writer/director, Jordan Peele, below.

The LRM Interview with Jordan Peele

Film, Featured, Interviews, LRM Exclusives Jason Blum, Get Out, Jordan Peele, Insidious, The Purge, Blumhouse, Benji, Split, M. Night Shyamalan