Jason Blum’s Advice To Burgeoning Producers At Sundance: “Don’t Worry About Your Movie Getting A Theatrical Release”

by Anthony D'Alessandro | January 21, 2018

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What a year it’s been for producer and Blumhouse boss Jason Blum.

A year ago during Sundance, he had the top grossing title at the weekend box office, M. Night Shyamalan’s Split which with $40M marked the fifth best ever opening for January. And Blum also sneaked the world premiere of Get Out here at Sundance, which off a $4.5M production cost reaped close to $255M and stands on the precipice of potential Oscar noms this Tuesday.

This morning Blum was the keynote speaker at the Sundance Film Festival’s Producers Brunch and shared 10 pieces of wisdom with attendees.

One of the standouts was “Don’t worry about your movie getting a theatrical release. A theatrical release is not the be all and end all. There are so many ways to release and consume films these days that do not have the inherent pressure of a theatrical release. Blumhouse is making movies for streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, which have huge audiences, can be very profitable and have none of the pressure that comes with a theatrical release.”

Blum used the example of how he helped Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice with their movie Creep, back when it was called Peach Fuzz. “I thought it could maybe get a theatrical release – it was like a found-footage version of Single White Male. It premiered at SXSW and Netflix ended up making an offer. Creep 2 is on Netflix now and it’s incredible. And now Mark and Patrick are going to make one Creep movie a year for the next twenty years.”

“We intentionally make all our movies without a release strategy – which removes the pressure on a filmmaker that goes along with making a wide-release film. We finish the film, screen it and then decide what lane the movie will take,” said the Oscar-nominated producer of Whiplash. 

Other worthy pointers: “Don’t force creative decisions on a filmmaker. Essentially, when you clear a path for them, get them all the materials they need, and leave the creative driving to them, they’ll listen to you more closely.”

“I’ve used the example of Get Out quite a few times over the past year. Jordan Peele is an incredibly accomplished first-time director who had a very clear vision for the story he wanted to tell. When a test screening for the film showed the audience reacting negatively to the film’s downbeat ending, he was much more open to changing it because he knew that he was in charge.”

Blum also encouraged producers in the room to collaborate, and to not be afraid of sharing supervision with other bigger producers who might be able to help.

He told the 600-packed room at The Shop in Park City about how he partnered with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and their producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller on The Purge. It was Blumhouse’s first film at Universal under its new deal.

“Although it was cheap, it had a lot of action in it. So, I sent it to Brad and Drew and Michael Bay at Platinum Dunes. And we ended up giving them half our deal. At the time, it was a hugely unpopular decision. Everyone at CAA and the lawyers were all saying, ‘Why are you giving all this backend to Platinum Dunes!?’ I just knew the collaboration would pay off for us in some way.” During production, Form heavily advised that the house in which Ethan Hawke’s character live should be a rather nice one, since the character profited off The Purge. Blum told Form to find a new house within their budget parameters. Form’s input paid off.

“He found this house that was enormous. In fact, every room in this house was so big that you could actually build walls inside of the rooms and shoot up this enormous beautiful house. The truth was, if Drew had not done that, the movie wouldn’t have been as good. And Universal might not have released it wide, and I might not have a successful movie and TV franchise, and I might have a less successful company. So, the moral is two-fold: Don’t be afraid of making an unpopular decision. And don’t be afraid of seeking out collaborators if it makes for a better film.”

In full, Blum’s 1o pieces of advice to young producers:

1) Don’t force creative decisions on a filmmaker

2) Don’t be overly passionate about one project

3) Don’t take it to heart when you get a pass

4) Don’t make your movie too expensively

5) Don’t think there’s just one definition of a producer

6) Don’t worry about your movie getting a theatrical release

7) Don’t worry about taking a backseat to director or writer

8) Don’t just judge a project by the script

9) Don’t look for the negative when reading material

10) Don’t subscribe to the notion of high art vs. low art

Expanding on that last point, Blum said, “Genre movies are sometimes given similar treatment — seen as inconsequential and not real ‘art.’  I have never believed that and I think we’re experiencing a horror renaissance right now because films like Get Out and IT are delivering deep messages about the times we’re living in that happen to be packaged in the horror genre. The bottom line is film history will reward quality without regard to genre. Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford were, in their day, genre filmmakers. No one remembers Wings (the first film to win best picture). But everyone remembers three other non-prestige releases from that year — The General, and The Jazz Singer, and Metropolis.”

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