Producer Jason Blum is singlehandedly shaping modern horror, thanks to his smart, efficient (both economically and creatively) thrillers that range from “Paranormal Activity” to “Get Out” (and, really, everything in between). Both his output and his impact on the culture at large is simply mind-boggling. And his latest production, “Happy Death Day 2U” is posed to be another smash. It’s the follow-up to the deeply brilliant “Happy Death Day,” once again helmed by director Christopher Landon, and this time, the time loop shenanigans take on an entirely different dimension (literally). But we don’t want to say anymore, for fear of spoiling anything.
So let’s jump into the conversation with Blum, who talks about the decision to make a sequel, how he decides which movies are theatrical and which are streaming, and how many “Halloween” sequels he’d like to make (if only he could secure the rights).
Moviefone: Did you have a feeling that the original “Happy Death Day” was going to be a hit?
Jason Blum: Yes, I did. I didn’t think it was going to do as well as it did, but I did think it was going to be successful based on early screenings and early press reactions. I did think it was going to do well, yes.
So how early did you start thinking about a follow-up?
I started thinking about a follow-up two weeks after the movie opened but Chris had a follow-up in his head from when we were shooting the first movie. He just never shared it with me.
You have referenced “Back to the Future, Part II” back when you were making “Insidious: Chapter 2” and it’s obviously been referenced a lot in relation to “Happy Death Day 2U.” What makes that movie such a touchstone for you?
I don’t know. It’s a great movie. It’s a cool movie to tip your hat to. One thing, when it comes to “Happy Death Day,” and I love the first movie but I think I like “Happy Death Day 2U” even better, which doesn’t happen all the time … but what I loved about it was trying to have a franchise where each installment in the franchise is a different genre. The first one is kind of like “Groundhog Day” and the second one is kind of like “Back to the Future” and Chris has a great idea for a third one which is kind of a third genre. If we could do a trilogy where each movie is a different genre, I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, but that’d be really fun.
This movie will probably surprise people will how sweet it is. Did you ever have to defend that direction?
I did. I had to defend the movie a lot. I don’t think that it was obvious that there could even be a sequel to the first “Happy Death Day.” You had a lot to overcome just on that alone. But I’ve worked with Chris seven times and he’s a filmmaker I love and trust and think he’s one of the most talented filmmakers that we work with. I have a different job on every movie and my job on this movie was getting it done and getting it out in the world.
Was that a challenge?
It was a challenge. It was much harder than I would have anticipated, because it’s like, well, the first movie is a hit, it seems obvious to make a second movie. But it wasn’t because of the concept of it. There is a real belief now in Hollywood, which I subscribe to, that there has to be a reason for a sequel not just the first movie made money. I felt there definitely was. But not everybody did. So it was a challenge to get it done.
The script for the first movie had kicked around Hollywood for almost a decade before it went into production. Was there anything that you changed or brought to it that made it finally work?
Well yeah what we brought to it was Chris Landon. Most of the biggest successes at the company are not the new hot shiny object. But they’re scripts that had been kicking around town. “Get Out” had been kicking around, the first “Purge” had been kicking around, “Insidious” had been kicking around. “The Gift” was also something that had been kicking around for quite some time. Most of the movies we’ve had success with have been around for a while.
So how does it go from a script nobody could figure out how to make to something that is actually being produced?
We do different things. Sometimes it’s creative, when a new filmmaker will put a different spin on it like Chris Landon, sometimes it’s budgetary also. There’s a movie called “Boy Next Door” we did with Jennifer Lopez and it was budgeted at $25 million and we said, “Hey what if we made the same movie for $4 million?” Sometimes it’s budget-related. We do different things to switch up the alchemy a little bit and then we release it out there into the world.
How has the streaming service changed things for you? And what is the difference between what makes a theatrical release and what goes straight to streaming?
I think it changes every five minutes. So there’s no hard and fast rule there. I think streaming generally has provided much more opportunity to filmmakers and production companies, so streaming is a great thing for us. People are making more TV shows and movies and people are watching more, which is good for our business. And we have the good fortune, with the budget level that we work at, to not make the decision of whether it’s streaming or limited theatrical or wide theatrical until the movie is finished. That’s a real advantage that we have. A lot of it has to do with marketing. If there’s a real single hook, then that skewers towards theatrical release. If the movies are trickier to market, then that more often than not will tend towards streaming.
Was “Happy Death Day” ever in jeopardy of debuting on streaming?
Well I wouldn’t use the word “in jeopardy” because every movie we make could wind up on streaming and “Happy Death Day” was no exception. But there was a very strong marketing hook and the movie clearly played for a theatrical audience. Oftentimes we’ll screen our movie for an audience and we watch that too in terms of determining whether it’ll be theatrical or not. And the screenings were very strong. But really it had a very strong marketing hook. As soon as the movie was finished, it was never going to be a movie that was a streaming movie. I don’t want to use the words “in jeopardy.” And here’s why I don’t want to use that word. These movies are not one size and shape fits all. We did a movie with Mike Flanagan called “Hush.” The quality of “Hush” is no higher or lower than the quality of a theatrical movie. I think it found a broader audience on streaming. I don’t think streaming works on all movies, as a premiere. Clearly, eventually, all movies will end up on streaming. For a premiere, streaming works for some movies and theatrical works for some movies. But they don’t all work for everything.
I would have loved to have seen “Hush” on the big screen!
Well you should have come to Toronto. [laughs]
On that note, you just had a very rapturously received movie at Sundance called “Sweetheart.” Do you know where that is going?
That’s a great question. We’re trying to figure it out right now. Could be streaming, could be theatrical, and we’re trying to figure that out.
You’ve had a lot of success recently, whether it’s continuing M. Night Shyamalan’s story that started with “Unbreakable” or the “Halloween” reboot. How do you make the decision about what properties to go into or resurrect? And is that something you’ll be more focused on going forward?
It is. We’re working on “Spawn.” We’re working on “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” There are a couple other well-known IP that we’re trying to work on. It’s something that we have the opportunity to do more of since “Halloween” and we’re trying to pursue those opportunities.
Do those properties have to fit a certain criteria for you to tackle it?
It has to touch someone, emotionally, at the company. “Halloween” really touched Ryan Turek. He was really passionate about it. He had a really clear idea of what fans would want to see in the 11th “Halloween” movie and what they wouldn’t want to see. And that passion drove our decision to do it. So that’s what we need.
You were initially going to shoot two “Halloween” movies at the same time, right?
Well, we had talked about it but right now we’re not shooting any “Halloween” movies right now because we don’t have deal rights to the sequels. But I certainly hope to make 10 more but I’ll start with one more.
“Happy Death Day 2U” is in theaters now and is totally amazing.