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Swan Song - Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey Saved The Best For Last

Posted By Michael Ventre, Thursday, January 24, 2019

Los Angeles contains a handful of enclaves especially renowned as dream incubators to those with the entertainment industry in their career crosshairs. Beachwood Canyon arguably is principal among them. Nestled in the hills beneath the Hollywood sign, Beachwood is where Nathanael West set a good chunk of his nightmarish Tinseltown classic The Day of the Locust. It is where Harry Bosch occasionally roams in the Michael Connelly detective novels. Don Siegel shot parts of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers near Beachwood Market. It is where scores of writers, actors, directors, musicians and other artists migrate to in search of a creative community.

It is where Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen began Temple Hill Entertainment, the film and television generator behind the Twilight franchise, current releases First Man and The Hate U Give, and much more. Godfrey and Bowen have ended their 10-year partnership, but this is one of the rare occasions when the happy ending belongs in the lead: Godfrey is now president of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, and Bowen plans to move with Temple Hill to Paramount to make pictures there when the company’s deal with Fox runs out.

“The shorthand of knowing how he does his job and how people at that company do their jobs will give me great confidence that, when they’re producing movies for us, I’ll know what I’m getting,” Godfrey explains. “I have a feeling we’ll still be working together.”

The company began as a dream, the result of four ambitious young dudes—Godfrey, Bowen and two roommates also entering the business—sharing a house on Temple Hill, working their way up the industry ladder and hoping the seductive glow of the Hollywood sign would brighten their respective futures.

“The work days were exciting,” Godfrey recalls of the mid-1990s. “We’d come home, sit over a glass of bourbon or a beer and talk about what we did that day. We’d trade stories. There was such excitement about being in the business and figuring out how to help each other get ahead.

Marty Bowen (right) on the set of First Man with fellow producer
Isaac Klausner. Photo credit Daniel McFadden

“Certainly those conversations,” he continues, “and our wondering ‘Where are we going to be in five years? Where are we going to be in 10 years?’ were origins of Marty and I thinking out loud that maybe someday we could have our own company.”

That day came more quickly than they perhaps expected. Bowen had been an agent at UTA and wanted to move into producing. Ordinarily the traditional path toward that goal moves slowly. Bowen opted for the express version: lunch with one New Line executive; the impassioned pitch from Bowen about the company and a partnership with Godfrey; immediate interest; quickly scheduled dinner with Toby Emmerich, then a top New Line executive; shortly thereafter, plans for the first project.

“The script I talked about in the pitch, I hadn’t even spoken to the writer yet, and I hadn’t talked to Wyck,” Bowen remembers. “I just kind of did a ‘ready, fire, aim,’ as they say.”

Next tiny detail: letting Godfrey in on the plan. “In wonderful Marty Bowen form,” says Godfrey, who was producing for John Davis at the time, “he called me while I was shooting a movie in Hungary (2006’s Eragon), nights, in the middle of the winter, in a frozen quarry. I had just gotten off work and put my head on the pillow at 5:00 in the morning. He called. I said, ‘Marty, I’m going to bed.’“

Undaunted, Bowen filled him in on New Line and their new partnership. “That was the first time I heard that we were starting a company together,” Godfrey laughs. “He agented me. He basically sold me externally before he sold me internally.”

Their first film, greenlit from the formation of the New Line deal, was The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Since then, under the stewardship of Godfrey-Bowen, Temple Hill has churned out five installments of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga; the sleeper smash The Fault in Our Stars; three editions of The Maze Runner; The Longest Ride; the TV series Revenge, Rosewood and Mr. Mercedes; and earlier this year, the groundbreaking gay teen romantic comedy Love, Simon and Dan Fogelman’s intricate family saga Life Itself.

The book on Temple Hill is literature. The guys love a good book, and they especially love one that makes you cry. “I was an English major. I loved reading growing up,” Godfrey says, “so for me the natural inclination was taking books I loved and figuring out how to do the best adaptation of those books. We’re both from the South, we always wanted to make movies that were fundamentally from the heart and not from the head. That was a guiding principle. We’d rather be corny than cynical.”

From left, producers Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Robert Teitel and executive producer/UPM Tim Bourne take a moment to relax
on the set of
The Hate U Give. Photo credit Erika Doss.

A prime and current example of the written word transformed into wondrous cinema is First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle, adapted by Josh Singer and starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. To give you an idea of how long a journey it took from book to screen, Isaac Klausner was Godfrey’s assistant 10 years ago when Temple Hill first acquired the rights to the James R. Hansen bestseller about astronaut Neil Armstrong. Now Klausner is Temple Hill’s film president.

“They’ve been incredibly supportive to those eager and ready to take on responsibilities,” Klausner says of the Temple Hill culture. “Everybody participates in staff meetings and has a creative voice.”

Selling Oscar-winner Chazelle on a project is not easy these days, given that since his success with both Whiplash and La La Land, he can typically be found chased by unruly mobs of producers waving scripts in his face. But Temple Hill managed to turn his head.

“When I first met Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, they asked me if I was interested in Neil Armstrong,” Chazelle recalls. “I told them honestly, ‘Not really.’ But because of their persistence and their passion I agreed to review some documentaries and other materials they sent me about this story. Within days I was obsessed.

Wyck Godfrey confers with cast member Ryan Gosling
on the set of
First Man. Photo credit Daniel McFadden.

“Working with this team of producers has been an incredible experience,” he adds. “They supported my vision for the film and added to it with their wealth of research and knowledge of the subject matter. They fought for the movie, championed it, worked on both the macro and the micro, put out fires left and right. They were there every step of the way.”

Obviously the Twilight series represents a very different set of characters and ideas from First Man. But again, it’s a penchant for adapting books that move people that brought the Temple Hill team to the popular collection.

“Despite the fact that neither of us is a 16-year-old girl, I think doing a movie and a series of characters as beloved as the ones from Stephenie Meyer brings with it a responsibility for making sure they came out well and making sure the girls love the movies and continue to love them,” Bowen observes. “That’s a responsibility we took very, very seriously. That was a special time in our lives.”

The Hate U Give, released this year, is a different kind of young adult title that drew the interest of the Temple Hill collective. Written by Angie Thomas, the novel tells the story of a young African-American woman and how she deals with the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Adapted by screenwriter Audrey Wells and directed by George Tillman Jr., it opened to glowing reviews.

“Getting to work with authors like Angie Thomas, with first-time authors who have never had a book turned into a movie, to be the kind of conduit that allows them to take that journey, is incredibly gratifying,” professes Godfrey. “To me the baseline is that if the author loves the movie, then we’ve done a great job. And, even better, if that movie represents a different experience for them of the story they’ve created … my goal is to take the movie beyond the book audience to a whole new audience.”

The Temple Hill catalogue is lengthy and impressive. But the Temple Hill story continues to be told, despite the partnership split.

“I’m a psychiatric cliché,” admits Bowen. “I literally went through all the emotions after you lose somebody. All of them, from nostalgia to sadness to anger to relief. I did them all. At the end of the day, Temple Hill is not about two people. It’s really not. There are still 10 or 11 of us doing the same thing. We probably just don’t laugh as much."

While Bowen finishes his Fox deal and prepares for the long traipse in cross-town traffic from the Fox lot to Paramount, Godfrey settles in as a studio honcho. “It’s exhilarating,” he says. “I’m probably too dumb to be scared, although I probably should be. As a producer you just focused on the movie that you wanted to make and you let your passion and creative energy push the project up the hill. You didn’t have to worry about an entire slate of films in every genre, across multiple years, that you’re mapping for the future. That’s been a great challenge but a really exciting one, and I feel blessed to be able to tackle a new job at my age.”

Says Bowen: “I told him I don’t mind him dating other people for a while, but if you ever want to come back here, your office is available.”

And to think it all started with a dream in a town famous for them, in a neighborhood steeped in them, in a house that realized at least a couple.

“That house,” Godfrey says of the one he once shared with Bowen on Temple Hill, which then begat Temple Hill, “provided the platform for us to become friends.”


- Lead photo and last photo by Monica Orozco

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Results: 30th Annual Producers Guild Awards presented by Cadillac

Posted By Administration, Sunday, January 20, 2019
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2019

Photo by John Salangsang/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images

The Producers Guild Awards celebrates the finest producing work of the year, and gives the Guild an opportunity to honor some of the living legends who have shaped our profession.

- To see all nominees for Theatrical Motion Pictures and Television, click here.
- To see all of the 2018 honorees, click here.

And the winners are...

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures: 

  • “Green Book”
    Producers: Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Pictures:

  • “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
    Producers: Morgan Neville, Nicholas Ma, Caryn Capotosto


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

  • “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
    Producers: Avi Arad, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal, Christina Steinberg


The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television - Drama:

  • “The Americans” (Season 6)
    Producers: Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields, Chris Long, Graham Yost, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Stephen Schiff, Mary Rae Thewlis, Tracey Scott Wilson, Peter Ackerman, Joshua Brand

The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television - Comedy:

  • “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season 2)
    Producers: Amy Sherman
    Palladino, Daniel Palladino, Dhana Rivera Gilbert, Sheila Lawrence


The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Limited Series Television:

  • “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (Season 2)
    Producers: Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Alexis Martin Woodall, Tom Rob Smith, Daniel Minahan, Brad Falchuk, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Chip Vucelich, Maggie Cohn, Eric Kovtun, Lou Eyrich, Eryn Krueger Mekash


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Streamed or Televised Motion Pictures:

  • “Fahrenheit 451”
    Producers: Sarah Green, Ramin Bahrani, Michael B. Jordan, Alan Gasmer, Peter Jaysen, David Coatsworth
     


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:

  • “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (Season 11, Season 12)
    Producers: Anthony Bourdain, Christopher Collins, Lydia Tenaglia, Sandra Zweig


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television:

  • “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (Season 5)
    Producers: *Eligibility Determination Pending*


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Game & Competition Television:

  • “RuPaul's Drag Race” (Season 10)
    Producers: *Eligibility Determination Pending*
     


The PGA does not vet the individual producers of short-form programs, sports programs, or children’s programs. The winning productions will be recognized at the official ceremony on January 19th.

The Award for Outstanding Short-Form Program:

  • “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” (Season 5)


The Award for Outstanding Sports Program:

  • “Being Serena” (Season 1)
     

The Award for Outstanding Children’s Program:

  • “Sesame Street” (Season 48)

 

ABOUT THE PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA (PGA)

The Producers Guild of America is a non-profit trade organization which protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. Representing more than 8,000 producers, the PGA works to safeguard the careers of its members and improve the producing community at large by encouraging the enforcement of workplace labor laws and sustainable production practices, creating fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits, facilitating health benefits for its membership, and hosting educational opportunities for new and experienced producers alike. For more information and the latest updates, please visit the Producers Guild of America website and follow on social media:

 

www.ProducersGuild.org

Twitter / Instagram: @ProducersGuild

www.Facebook.com/PGA

www.YouTube.com/ProducersGuild

 www.LinkedIn.com/company/Producers-Guild-of-America/

#PGAwards


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2019 Producers Guild Awards Honorees

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 15, 2019

One of the awards season’s marquee events, the Producers Guild Awards celebrates the finest producing work of the year, and gives the Guild an opportunity to honor some of the living legends who have shaped our profession. 

Held in January, the Producers Guild Awards is a must-attend event for the industry, and represents a unique chance for PGA members to extend their network, support their Guild, and pay tribute to the best of their profession.  The 30th Annual Producers Guild Awards will be held January, 19th at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles.  The 2019 Producers Guild Awards is presented by Cadillac.

- To see all nominees for Theatrical Motion Pictures and Television, click here.


MILESTONE AWARD
Toby Emmerich

The Milestone Award is the PGA’s most prestigious honor, recognizing an individual or team who has made historic contributions to the entertainment industry.  In the past, the Guild has paid tribute to such industry leaders as Clint Eastwood, Jim Gianopulos, Alan Horn, Bob Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Steven Spielberg, Tom Rothman, and 2018 recipient Donna Langley, among others.

“The Producers Guild knows better than most that studio filmmaking is an intensely collaborative art-form, and more often than not it is the producer who initiates, enables and protects great Hollywood movies,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.  “I've been lucky to work with and learn from many great producers throughout my career and want to thank the members of PGA for recognizing me, and the contributions of our teams at Warner Bros. and New Line, with this honor.”


DAVID O. SELZNICK ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN MOTION PICTURES
Kevin Feige

The 2018 recipient of the David O. Selznick Award was Charles Roven. Previous recipients include David Heyman, Stanley Kramer, Billy Wilder, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, Laura Ziskin, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall, Scott Rudin, and Steven Spielberg.

To join so many of my heroes and mentors in receiving the David O. Selznick Award is one of the most meaningful experiences of my career, and I’m truly thankful to my colleagues in the Producers Guild of America for this recognition,” said Feige. “I want to also thank my Marvel Studios family, who have been with me every step of the way and without whom I would never have had this amazing journey.”


NORMAN LEAR ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN TELEVISION
Amy Sherman-Palladino

Ryan Murphy was the 2018 recipient of the PGA’s Norman Lear Award. Previous honorees include James L. Brooks, Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Chuck Lorre, J.J. Abrams, Dick Wolf, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lorne Michaels, David L. Wolper, Aaron Spelling, Carsey/Werner/Mandabach, Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley, Mark Burnett, and Norman Lear, himself.

“Amy Sherman-Palladino is everything you want a TV producer to be. She’s smart, she’s tenacious, she knows the story she wants to tell and how to put together the right team to tell it,” said PGA Presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher. “Her characters and stories may span different eras, but her sensibility is unique and unmistakable.  Watch any episode from one of her series for just five minutes, and you’ll instantly understand why she’s built such a wide and passionate following.”


VISIONARY AWARD
Kenya Barris

The Producers Guild Visionary Award recognizes television, film, or new media producers for inspiring storytelling of unique and uplifting vision or quality to our culture. The Producers Guild 2019 Visionary Award is sponsored by Delta Air Lines. Previous honorees include: producer and director Ava DuVernay; Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner’s Plan B Entertainment; producer and founder of Illumination Entertainment Chis Meledandri; producer Laura Ziskin; and Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll.

“Kenya Barris is simply a fearless producer,” said PGA Presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher.  “Time and again, Kenya has stepped up to tackle the difficult conversations, from the ones we have as families at the kitchen table to the ones we have as colleagues in company boardrooms and network offices.  These are challenging days for many of us, but Kenya’s unique voice—honest, passionate and so very funny—has been one of our industry’s strongest antidotes to ignorance and intolerance.  We are gratified to recognize his inspiring work with the Visionary Award.”


STANLEY KRAMER AWARD
Jane Fonda

The Stanley Kramer Award was established in 2002 to honor a production, producer or other individuals whose achievement or contribution illuminates and raises public awareness of important social issues. Previous recipients of the Stanley Kramer Award include: “Get Out,” “The Hunting Ground,” “The Normal Heart,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Precious,” "An Inconvenient Truth,” and “Hotel Rwanda.”

“Jane Fonda has built an extraordinary legacy as an outspoken advocate for the vulnerable in our society. Throughout her remarkable life, she has made and continues to make a significant impact on the lives of people through her work both on and off the screen. Fonda exemplifies the spirit of Stanley Kramer, and we are proud to honor her.” - PGA Presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher.


 

- You can view all of the full Awards press releases here.

 

 

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JASON BLUM - The Reigning King Of Horror Is Coming Up With New Stuff To Be Scared Of

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jason Blum is not a sit-still-for-the-interview type of guy. He’ll hang out on his couch for a bit, but it’s never too long before he’s up again, grabbing a glass of water, playing with some of the eclectically macabre knickknacks (e.g. a giant glass eye; a prop severed leg) scattered around his office, even just absently stalking around, as though being on his feet makes it easier to answer questions. There’s nothing jittery or frenetic about him, more like a steady slow burn, some kind of internal furnace that never quite shuts off.

That energy has plenty of outlets. At the time of this interview, the producer was preparing for the release of Halloween—at a rough count the seventh theatrically released feature film of 2018 to carry his “Produced By” credit. Add to that his six TV series or mini-series, three true docu-series, a 10-part scripted podcast and two documentary features, and you can see why the guy might be inclined to stay on his feet. From this vantage, it looks fair to call 2018 Blum’s busiest year as a producer—but not by a lot. Ever since his 2009 breakout hit Paranormal Activity, a furious pace of production has been the norm for the producer and his eponymous production company Blumhouse.

Blumhouse itself, a labyrinthine warren of offices situated on a decidedly non-gentrified stretch of Beverly Blvd, suggests some explanation for how the company is able to churn out so much product. Making one’s way through the building means passing through room after room teeming with young staffers, each space bigger and busier than the last; the layout is a disorienting puzzle box that wouldn’t be out of place in the company’s own eerie cinematic output. The other essential element is scale; Blum has a model that works, powered by the twin engines of low budgets and creative freedom. In his ability to crank out low-cost genre pictures beloved by young audiences, he recalls no one so much as 20th century impresario Roger Corman.

Unlike that progenitor, Blum has developed what one might call a modest sideline in producing Oscar-level independent films. Tucked into Blumhouse’s scare-heavy slates of the last few years, you’ll find contemporary indie landmarks like Whiplash, Get Out and this year’s BlackkKlansman. Imagine if Corman took a moment out from producing movies like The Wild Angels and Blood Bath to release The Graduate and Five Easy Pieces, and you get some idea of what Jason Blum has managed to pull off. The final product of all that work has been the emergence of that rarity of rarities: a legitimate name-brand producer. Only a handful of producers can claim a true popular following, and Blum is part of that select group. The man may have built Blumhouse for himself, but it turns out there’s room for a few million other movie freaks inside. Maybe you’re one of them.


So, how did you find your way into the industry?

My parents were both in the art world. I was always interested in art and drawn towards art. But even when I was very young, I always thought the art world was kind of … elitist. And it is. To fully appreciate art—certainly modern and contemporary art—you have to be somewhat versed in the history of art. That always bothered me a little.

Movies are art for the masses. So I wanted to be in movies. I didn’t know what aspect, but I was interested in movies and TV, from a young age. The first movie I did, when I was right out of college, was Noah Baumbach’s first movie, Kicking and Screaming.

 

How did you come across Noah’s script?

We were roommates at Vassar and then we were roommates again in Chicago. Initially it was called Fifth Year. We had always made jokes about how we could either fail or come up with some other scheme so we could put off adulthood an extra year. It was about trying to squeeze another year out of college.

 

So how did you put together the money for that? Did Noah just give you the script, like, “here, you do it”?

We didn’t know what we were doing. Linklater had just done Slacker and Spike Lee had just done She’s Gotta Have It. Metropolitan had just come out. It was this rebirth of these low-budget independent movies. And we were naïve enough to think, “If they made theirs, why can’t we make ours?” We had a list on the wall of basically every single person we’d ever come in contact with who was in entertainment. Over the course of two or three years, we sent them the script in an envelope. We’d get a little traction, here or there, and three years later, Trimark Pictures gave us the money for the movie.

 

Clearly, Kicking and Screaming was satisfying enough for you to keep trying to make movies. But the types of movies that you’ve gone on to do are not a whole lot like Kicking and Screaming. Noah’s trajectory is a little clearer from that origin point.

It makes sense, yeah. [laughs]

 

But you took a pretty sharp left turn.

A very sharp left turn. I never really found my place in entertainment until I was about 35, until we did Paranormal Activity. I was very unsure. I was unsure if I should be an executive or a producer. I was unsure if I should produce big movies or little movies. I felt very confident I had found the right field but much less confident in what my job would be in that field. So I did Noah’s movie, and then I was a distributor. I worked for this little company called Arrow. I worked for Miramax. I didn’t ever want to be an executive, long-term. Then I produced movies on my own. I produced eight indie-type movies. The best known was Hysterical Blindness, which Uma Thurman won a Golden Globe for. But the other ones were small and not very good.

I wasn’t satisfied. I couldn’t find the right job for me. What Paranormal Activity did was kind of coalesce 15 years of experience, half in the studio world and half in the independent world—because what I ultimately came to realize over the course of 15 years was I wanted to make independent movies and have studios release them. I didn’t like making studio movies, and I didn’t like independent film distribution.

 

Right.

I wanted to make movies that a lot of people saw, but I wanted to make the movies my way. Blumhouse is a lot more today, but it was all built off this idea of making independent movies that studios would release. That’s still the core of our movie business.

So were you always a horror fan from way back?

No I wasn’t. Growing up I really loved all kinds of movies. I didn’t specifically love horror, but I have the traits of a horror fan. I was always weird. I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up. I’m kind of an odd guy. [laughs] But I have an enormous amount in common with horror fans and horror filmmakers, despite the fact that I wasn’t a horror film fanatic. So when we did Paranormal, I discovered this whole world I didn’t know much about. And I loved it and I’ve never wanted to leave it.

 

So what was the nature of your introduction into that world?

My introduction into that world was a producer named Steven Schneider. My first deal after I became an independent producer was at HBO, and my second deal was at Paramount. A year into that Paramount deal, I met this producer, Steven Schneider, who had written a couple of books about horror and attacked the genre from an intellectual point of view. He’s an executive producer of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies with me, he’s an executive producer on Glass. And he’s the one who really taught me about horror and got me to appreciate it in a very different way.

 

Could you distill that in any way for me? Like, what are the intellectual underpinnings of that approach?

Well you think about what constitutes a scare. There’s an enormous amount of art that goes into it. I mean, there’s a certain amount of good horror movies and there are a lot of bad horror movies. I think people who don’t understand horror tend to think, “Aw, it’s just a quick way to make money.” And it isn’t. I could name 15 horror movies over the last 12 months that fell flat on their faces. It’s just as hard to make a good horror movie as it is to make a good comedy, as it is to make a good drama. It’s hard to make a good movie, period. Steven really helped me appreciate that. The horror community is very close. It’s a tight-knit group of people, and Steven was very tapped into it. He knew all the writers and the directors of horror movies at the time, and he opened up that world for me.

 

What, for you, creates the distinction between a good horror movie and a bad horror movie? Or a good scare and a …? Is there such thing as a bad scare?

There’s a lot of bad scares.

 

Yeah, like, break that down for me.

John Carpenter always talks about this. A good horror movie is not about the scares. It’s about the storytelling in between the scares. People who don’t know that much about horror tend to focus on scares. They say, “I need 10 good scares.” The truth is, there are only really about 30 basic kinds of scares—like a deer hitting the windshield. You’ve seen that a million times. But it’s super effective in Get Out, because of the conversation that Daniel and Allison are having before the deer hits the window. They’re having this very charged conversation about race. Watching it, you’re getting tense. Then when the deer hits the window, you jump. What I always tell our filmmakers is, “If you take out all the scares, would it work as a great drama?” That’s one of the ways that we look at our movies.

Jason Blum (right) with (from left) Get Out cast members Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya, and
writer/director Jordan Peele. Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

 

That’s really interesting. So Paranormal Activity is the movie that really launched the company, where everything came together in a way that felt satisfying and productive.

Yeah. But it took three years for Paranormal Activity to be released. And as I went through that process, it occurred to me even before we made Insidious, “Hey this makes sense. This is what I want to do.” Now after Paranormal, there was a lot of—I wouldn’t say “pressure”—but a lot of people gave me the advice that I should now go produce a big movie, I should try and make World War Z or something like that. Not that I had the opportunity to make World War Z, but you get the idea.

 

Right.

And I resisted that. Now I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. But one of the smarter things I did was I resisted that advice and said, “You know what? I finally got this movie that worked. I’m going to do another low-budget scary movie. Let’s see if I can turn this one movie into a business.” And so, rather than succumbing to ego and being tempted to do more expensive movies—which I think is one of the pitfalls of Hollywood—I was disciplined to stay the course and continue. We did Paranormal. We did Insidious. We did Sinister. We did The Purge. All very low-budget movies.

By the time we’d done The Purge, people began to suspect, “Maybe there’s something to this. Maybe he didn’t get lucky four times in a row.” But it wasn’t really until The Purge that people thought it was a real business and not just some sequence of magic tricks.

 

Blum shares a moment with cast member and horror icon
Lin Shaye at a special screening of
Insidious: The Last Key.
Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

So today, as a producer, as a guy who’s putting together a team to make this kind of movie, what are you looking for? What kind of script is going to work for you at what level? What kind of personnel are you looking for? What are the ingredients of the recipe?

One of the many advantages of doing low-budget movies is that we have the luxury of picking movies the opposite way studios pick movies. Studios have to look for comps. They have to look for three movies that feel like the movie that they’re greenlighting, that were released in the last five years, and that were successful. And then people ask, “Why do movies these days feel the same?” Blumhouse movies aren’t different because we’re smarter than everyone else. It’s just by the nature of taking smaller bets on movies, we can choose movies the opposite way.

First, obviously: Do we like it? Of course. I think that’s the same as at a studio. Everyone has got to like it. Second: Does it feel new? Does it feel nothing like any movie we’ve ever seen? We get to do that because it’s little. The budget is low. Get Out is the perfect example. No one had ever read anything like it. We like it. We greenlight it. That’s how we choose our movies. If I was working at a studio, I could never do that. I’d have to have comps. That’s why I’m not tempted by doing bigger-budget movies. I really love doing low-budget movies because of the risk-taking and the creative freedom it allows us.

 

And so in terms of executing a quality low-budget movie, when you’re looking for collaborators, who or what are you looking for?

Obviously it’s different with each project. We put enormous amount of emphasis on the directors. I know that sounds obvious, but I honestly don’t think that’s typical of Hollywood. Meaning, I think there’s a certain kind of studio movie where the directors feel … I wouldn’t go so far as to say “interchangeable,” but close. The practice of plucking a director from the great movie at Sundance and hiring them to steer an $80 million movie speaks to that a little bit. We almost never work with first-time directors. And we give our directors more creative control. I mean you can’t not pay someone upfront and then tell them what to do. We’re telling them, “Look, you’re going to bet on yourself.” But when I say “bet on yourself” I mean it. You get final cut. You get creative control. So I always say, “I can’t promise you a hit, but I can promise you’re going to live or die on your own work.”

I think one of the most frustrating things as a filmmaker is working for a studio and kind of having to do what the studio tells you to do. Then when the movie doesn’t work, you get blamed. Blumhouse is kind of an antidote to that.

So that’s one answer. We choose our directors … I wouldn’t say “carefully,” because I think everyone chooses their directors carefully. We choose our directors differently. We’re not as focused on the director’s last movie as the rest of Hollywood is. If your last movie wasn’t so good, I don’t care—if the one before that was great. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on your last movie in Hollywood. That’s never made a lot of sense to me. In fact if the director’s last movie wasn’t financially or critically as successful as he or she hoped it would be, they’re usually more open, they’re more collaborative, they’re hungrier.

 

They’ve got something
to prove.

Yeah, that’s a very attractive trait for me, personally. It also helps when your financial interests are aligned from the get-go. We don’t have a producing fee on our movies. The directors make scale. The actors make scale. It’s fully transparent. If the movie works, you’re participating in the profit of the movie, and you’re going to get paid or even paid very well. If the movie doesn’t work, you’re not. Or if the movie doesn’t get a wide release, you’re not going to. That’s a great asset in the collaborative process, to be able to tell the director, “Hey, you could make this creative choice. We think that’s going to make the movie less commercial. And if you want the movie to be less commercial, it can be. But we think the choice is less commercial, and here’s why.” If the director isn’t getting a big check up front, their ears perk up. That doesn’t always mean that they want to make it more commercial or want to make it less commercial. But it’s a very different thought process when you only get paid if it works commercially as opposed to getting paid up front.

I always thought that was a really tricky thing. It’s another one of the reasons why I’m uneasy with big-budget movies. I always feel like a hypocrite if I disagree with the studio, but we’ve already been paid “x amount” of millions of dollars and they’re already in the hole “x amount” of tens of millions of dollars. By its very nature, that financial situation sets up a weird dynamic in making creative decisions, since one person has already been paid and the other hasn’t. It really drives a wedge into the process, because if you’ve already been paid, all that’s at stake for you is critical success.

 

Right.

As a studio, if you’re $60 million, $80 million in the hole, you’re not thinking about critical success. You’re thinking about getting your $80 million back, first and foremost, and then making a profit. If you don’t keep doing that, you don’t stay in business. So that, again, is something I appreciate about doing low-budget movies, how it aligns financial interests.

 

Yeah. I never thought of it quite that way.

I mean, how can you feel good about collecting a check for $2 million if the movie didn’t work? I don’t have the hubris to say, “I think the movie should make this potentially controversial choice,” when I’ve been paid a million dollars. If we haven’t been paid, I’m much more comfortable saying, “Hey I really think this is the way to go.” That way if I’m wrong, I’m not getting paid either. So I’m aligned with my filmmaker, and I’m aligned with my financier. I think it leads to a healthier kind of conversation.

When the filmmakers know that they have greater control, the process becomes infinitely more collaborative. Because they’re not scared to ask for advice, or ask an opinion, or ask who we think they should cast, or what we think of the script, or what we think of the cut … because they don’t feel obligated to take our advice. So what I find is we have much, much more creative input into all of our movies, more than most companies, because the director isn’t scrambling for control or fighting for his or her way. The director knows they’re going to get their way. When you know you’re going to get your way, then the best idea really does win, because control is never at stake in the nature of the decision.

 

So thinking on the other side of the equation, in terms of navigating the studio system and being a good partner to your studio, how did that relationship evolve for you? It feels like between you and Universal, you have a very tight understanding. But that doesn’t just happen on its own. How did you nurture that?

Well Donna [Langley] really believed in us. She doesn’t like horror movies, but she really understood our business, and she allowed me early on to do my thing. That’s much easier said than done. It took an enormous amount of faith on her part. In the early days, it was just her. I remember when we were doing The Purge … it was before we even shot the movie, and Universal bought a script kind of like it. I was very nervous about it, and I called up Donna and she said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got my eye on you.” She set the tone and I guess she made me feel safe. She treated me like I treat our filmmakers.

 

Blum with cast member Anya Taylor-Joy at the screening of
Split at AFI Fest. Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages. 

That’s a great analogy.

Yeah she made me feel free and safe. Once, about a year into the relationship, she called me up and she said, “I can tell you’re having trouble navigating the studio. You’re hearing different things from different people.” And she said, “I don’t want you to worry about it. You’re doing a great job. I’m aware that it’s a different situation than you’ve had before. But I’ve got my eye on you. Don’t worry. Keep doing your thing.”

That set a very, very strong foundation for the relationship, and here we are, 30 movies later. It’s the best example of what a business partnership can be. It really works. It doesn’t mean we don’t have arguments, but they’re very healthy. I see where they’re coming from, and they see where I’m coming from, and they always resolve them in the right way. A big part of the success of our business is based on Universal not just looking at one movie at a time from us, but looking at a longer corporate relationship between Blumhouse and the studio.

Think about The Purge. The Purge is now on TV. The franchise has grown with every movie. That could never happen unless there was a very long, trusting partnership between the two companies.

 

Can we talk a little bit about franchises? On some level, “the franchise” is kind of the brass ring that everyone is looking to grab. Blumhouse has developed a pretty enviable record for generating franchises. I want to ask, “How have you engineered that?” but I don’t even know if “engineered” is the right word.

Well I think one of the things I’m very specific about is not engineering it. Again I go back to low budgets. If you’re making a $100 million movie and it’s based on a book, you’d be fired if you weren’t thinking about what movies two and three were going to be. But at our level, when a filmmaker comes in and pitches and says, “I’ve got a great idea for a franchise,” I almost shut down. Because what I’m thinking is, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a $5 million movie that competes with $65 million movies head-to-head?” The constraints that the budget is going to put on you, that’s enough constraints. Don’t put storytelling constraints on top of that. Don’t think about the second movie. Make the first movie great. If the first one resonates, we’ll figure out a second one.

It’s a mistake people will make, particularly in horror, because again, people think horror movies are easy to make. The reason there are so many bad horror sequels is because people always fire the folks who wrote and directed the first movie. They hire cheaper people to do the next movie, and then they wonder why the franchise goes downhill.

The way that we attack a sequel, any movie with a “2” or more after it, is totally different than how we approach the original. We spend a little bit more money, because it’s proven IP. I’m adamant that you must involve the people who were involved in the original movie. We just did Halloween. This was the 11th Halloween, but it was the first Blumhouse Halloween. When we went out with Halloween, we went everywhere. We shopped everywhere, and we heard “Why do you want to make another movie out of this? This is the 11th one.” I mean people couldn’t have been less interested in it.

But I really wanted to see if we could impose our very unique system on IP that’s been around for 40 years and has churned out 10 movies. On Rotten Tomatoes, the only “fresh” rated Halloween is the first one. So in a funny way, that was the challenge: Can we make not only a commercial sequel, but can we make one that fans love, that critics like, that captures the uniqueness of the first movie? The only reason this franchise has gone on for so long is because of how resonant that first movie was. So I chased the rights. And when I finally made an agreement with Miramax to co-produce the movie with them, the one caveat I had is that I wasn’t going to do it without John Carpenter. Look, at some point, the 11th Halloween movie would have gotten made without us or John Carpenter. But I think the reason the movie did work with critics is because John was involved from the very beginning. That doesn’t mean he was involved in every decision day-to-day. But his presence loomed very large. David Gordon Green is not going to make a move that John Carpenter doesn’t think is good. So the premise of the sequel, everything about it, John blessed. And if he didn’t bless it, we weren’t going to do it.

 

so how do you balance giving the audience enough of what they’re expecting or find familiar, versus giving them something new, something extra, something different?

Well that’s the key question with every creative decision in a sequel: Are you retreading? Are you copying yourself? You don’t want to make it so similar that it feels like a rip-off. And you don’t want to make it so different that it feels like it has nothing to do with the previous movies. So you have to really walk a fine line there. Honestly I think the biggest way you do it is by keeping the first people involved so the sequels have their flavor. I mean the great creative concoction of Halloween was taking, as EPs, John and Jamie [Lee Curtis], who were the voice of the original Halloween and combining them with David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, who are the voice of something else, a younger generation.

The way that we were able to walk the line in Halloween was combining those four people. When you put those four people together, you’re going to get exactly what you described. You’re going to get something that feels totally new and something that feels like Halloween.

At the same time, you’ve developed a bit of a sideline in non-horror indie movies. Whiplash is maybe the prime example that comes to mind. How do those projects fit into the Blumhouse picture?

Yeah. Whiplash is one. For sure BlacKkKlansman for this year. With our TV company, we’re doing a show about Roger Ailes. We’re doing a show on Steve Bannon. The future of Blumhouse, to me, is expanding the process by which we determine what we’re going to do beyond just doing horror, but doing things that scare us or things that scare me. Roger Ailes is scary to me. Steve Bannon is scary to me. If you ask, “What’s the scariest thing to you?” as a guy making horror movies in the world right now, I would say Donald Trump. After all when you look at Whiplash, there’s an argument to be made that JK Simmons is a lot scarier than Michael Myers, right?

 

Yeah.

And there’s nothing scarier in the United States, I don’t think, than the Ku Klux Klan. That’s where BlacKkKlansman comes from. So it’s a matter of broadening that lens through which we look at material. Right now about 80% to 90% of what we do on the movie side is straight horror, but only about 20% of what we do on the television side is horror.

 

What’s behind that distinction?

There’s only so much real estate with horror movies. The market can only take 12 to 15 horror movies a year ... period, by everybody. I’m interested in doing other low-budget movies. I’m not particularly interested in doing bigger-budget movies. So if I want to expand, then clearly the way to expand is television. We started doing TV about seven years ago. I made a ton of mistakes. I was doing it all wrong. But I’ve learned an enormous amount. We started our in-house TV studio 18 months ago. Ever since we took that step, it’s felt like it’s been working much better. It’s been a lot more fun.

 

You say you made a lot of mistakes … anything you can bring yourself to share?

It’s easy to share. I was a non-writing EP for hire in TV. That, for me, was not a creatively and professionally satisfying role. I didn’t have any control. On our movies, we control everything. And if we go over budget, we pay for it. It’s our problem.

 

Right.

We have the physical production here. We have post-production. We have communications, business affairs and legal. We’re like a mini studio when it comes to movies.

With TV someone else was doing all that stuff. It felt like we were just kind of cheerleaders. I felt like I was being treated like an adult in movies and like a kid in TV.

 

Interesting.

So I made a choice two and a half years ago to go out and raise a bunch of money—well really a tiny bit of money, but a bunch for a little company like us—to get into TV on our own terms. We have no network affiliation. We have no first-look on TV. The capital we raised allows us to bring all that production activity inside.

So now, in TV, we run the shows ourselves. We run The Purge on USA. We run Into the Dark on Hulu. We run Sacred Lives, which we’re doing on Facebook. And all of these shows have been ordered for a second season. Right now, we’re running production on our Roger Ailes/Russell Crowe limited series for Showtime. I finally feel like I’m doing the same thing in TV that I’ve been doing in movies. I didn’t feel like I was doing that before.

 

Obviously you’re doing a lot of different things. There are very few companies that are as wildly prolific as you and Blumhouse are. Lots of producers would love to release that much content. How do you manage to find the time or the bandwidth to generate all that material?

Well I think one of the big advantages I have is that I’m not a frustrated writer or director, right? [laughs] I think a common stumbling block for younger producers is that they feel like they haven’t played an important role in a project if they’re not directly impacting or changing the creative direction.

I have many shortcomings, but that desire is not one of them. If something is working, I’m very happy to have helped put it together and stay out of the way and say, “You did a great job.” I don’t feel the need to tinker when I’ve got something that’s really working. On the other hand, I tinker a lot if something isn’t going right. But if something is going well, I leave it alone. So I think that helps me get a lot done.

We also have an amazing group of senior executives who’ve been here a long time. Four or five people have been here close to 10 years. And I believe in treating our executives like we treat our filmmakers. If they’re passionate about something, unless I think it’s the biggest mistake in the world, I’m supportive of letting them run with things. That’s how we did Whiplash. Whiplash was totally a passion project of Couper Samuelson. I didn’t get the script. I really didn’t get it. But Couper just believed in it so much. And I really believe in Couper. So I bet on people. I bet on the executives who work here like I bet on our directors. They would have ideas that I would think were outlandish, but I believe in their work, so I’d go along with them. And more often than not, they’re right and I’m wrong. So that helps us. We’re able to make a lot for those reasons.

 

Right. Just to wrap it up and go kind of “big picture”, since you’ve both implicitly and explicitly put politics into your work and you alluded to it here, I’m curious. in this unusual historical moment, what’s the responsibility, if anything, of the entertainment producer as a citizen?

I think that responsibility does exist. A producer has a louder megaphone than most. I think that if you believe in community, it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat or whatever. Republicans think that a certain set of things makes the world a better place. I happen to think that there’s a different set of things that makes the world a better place. I think that you have a role, as a producer, to do what you think makes the world a better place. I personally think Trump is not making the world a better place, so I put a lot of energy into trying to make other people think that too. People might say that’s misguided. But I think that it’s important, if you’re a producer, to not just monetize content or push to win Oscars. I think you owe the world that’s allowing you to have this great, amazing job, to give back in some way. I do that with our storytelling. I do that through serving on boards of institutions I believe in. I’m on the board of The Public. I think that’s a really, really important organization to foster new, young talent. I’m on the board of the Academy Museum, because I think the Academy is the great counter-force to money in moviemaking. The Academy pushed Hollywood to veer towards more artistic, less commercial choices. I’m on the board of Vassar College because I believe in need-blind education. So I don’t think you have to be anti-Trump as a producer, but I think you should look beyond the pure storytelling role to try to use your platform to give back to the world.

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HBO's "Divorce" Goes Green with Help of Green Production Guide

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2018
“As producers, we have opportunities to lead by example in showcasing best practices on set,” said Sarah Jessica Parker and Alison Benson, Pretty Matches Productions. “For Season 2 of Divorce, our production embraced sustainability. PGA’s Green Production Guide gave us the guideposts we needed to identify some obvious areas where we could make a dent in business-as-usual by diverting resources from landfills, recycling and composting. With the support of HBO, we look forward to continuing to make the case that being sustainable is good for the environment and for a production’s bottom line.”

PGA East Green Chairs Claudine Marrotte and Christina Delfico produced the video below showcasing Divorce’s sustainability efforts to green their production, diverting over 350,000 pounds of waste and preventing 76,000 single-use bottles from going to the landfill.  Watch this 3 minute video to get sustainability tips from Divorce cast member Talia Balsam and executive producer Michael Stricks of the HBO hit show.  For more resources visit greenproductionguide.com.


Tags:  green production guide  pga green 

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