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How I Made It: Jason Blum, film producer

The producer who helped bring 'Paranormal Activity' to theaters focuses on making inexpensive movies with mass audience appeal.

November 27, 2011|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times
  • Film producer Jason Blum has advice for aspiring producers: Dont keep your eye on what gets you the most money; keep your eye on what gets your movie made.
Film producer Jason Blum has advice for aspiring producers: Dont keep your… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Jason Blum is a producer whose career took off when the low-budget horror film "Paranormal Activity," which he played a key role bringing to the big screen, became a surprise hit in 2009 and spawned a new Hollywood franchise with annual sequels.

After spending most of his career in the independent film world, the 42-year-old has reshaped his business around the "Paranormal" model, aiming to make inexpensive movies with mass audience appeal. He produced April's hit horror film "Insidious," is working on more "Paranormal" sequels for Paramount Pictures and is developing projects under a newly signed deal with Universal Pictures.

Drawn to the art of film: Blum grew up in New York City, where his father was a prominent contemporary art dealer and his mother an art historian. He wasn't a childhood film fanatic but was drawn to the movie industry as a way to be involved in creative work that was more accessible than the rarefied art world.

"I found that a lot of people ridiculed contemporary art," Blum recalls. "I decided I wanted to be involved in art everybody could understand."

Making connections: Blum's roommate at Vassar College, where he studied economics and film, was the writer and director Noah Baumbach. After graduating in 1991, Blum raised money for, and received his first producer credit on, Baumbach's debut movie, "Kicking and Screaming." A turning point was a supportive letter he solicited from actor and family friend Steve Martin, who liked the screenplay.

That letter helped Blum make a connection at independent studio Arrow Films in New York, where he landed his first industry job as a vice president of acquisitions.

Not taking "no" for an answer: After Arrow, Blum moved to Miramax Films, where he became co-president of acquisitions in 1998. A big part of his job was making sure his bosses, independent movie pioneers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, never heard the word "no."

When a Spanish producer told the Weinstein brothers he didn't want to sell them filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar's horror script called "The Others," Blum flew unannounced to his Madrid office and waited hours for a personal meeting. Impressed, the producer agreed to go to lunch and the two eventually made a deal. The movie that resulted was a big hit in 2001.

Finding his own voice: The toughest period in Blum's career began in 2000, when he left Miramax to become an independent producer and found it difficult to determine what kind of movies he wanted to make.

"I had spent nearly 10 years trying to anticipate what other people would like," he says of his career acquiring movie rights for more senior executives. "If that's all you do, you lose your own voice."

During the next five years he worked on forgettable low-budget comedies including "The Darwin Awards" and a pair of TV movies for HBO before deciding to try his hand at more commercial fare.

Combining the best of both worlds: Blum got only one film made at a major studio, the Dwayne Johnson family comedy "The Tooth Fairy." The producer found himself impressed with the distribution and marketing muscle of the Hollywood studios but was frustrated with their arduous development processes.

In 2007, however, he was sent a copy of "Paranormal," which was then headed for a direct-to-DVD release. Blum believed the movie had greater commercial potential and spent more than two years convincing Paramount to release it in theaters.

"I found a way to combine the best of both worlds: making movies like I had been in the first part of my career but using the studio apparatus to release them," he says of the experience.

Sharing in rewards: For his first jobs out of college, Blum didn't want to become a waiter, as friends had done. Instead he sold real estate and cable TV subscriptions on commission. "I never wanted to get paid by the hour," he recalls. "If I was going to do more work than another guy, I wanted to get paid more."

He's now applying that same mantra to movies. Based on the millions of dollars he has made off of "Paranormal," Blum eschews significant upfront producing fees in exchange for a large share of profit if his films succeed.

He advises aspiring producers to do the same: "Don't keep your eye on what gets you the most money; keep your eye on what gets your movie made."

Personal life: Blum splits his time between Los Angeles and New York and enjoys water-skiing and going to the theater.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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