Think your hangover is bad today? When Jason Blum took the stage this morning at Film Independent Forum 2015 for an in depth discussion – moderated by Daily Beast editor and former Deadline colleague Jen Yamato – of the incredible success of Blumhouse Productions, the irony of the topic was, to put it mildly, obvious as hell. Blumhouse had the unhappy distinction of debuting two box office disappointments over the weekend – Jem and the Holgrams which truly, truly, truly flopped with only $1.3 million earned, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension raking in a franchise-low with $8.2 million domestic.
International (Ghost Dimension grossed an estimated $18M overseas this weekend) and VOD will make up for some of the domestic reaction to the latest Paranormal Activity, but as Blum put it during the discussion, Jem “is crashing and burning at the box office.” So it was that, while the panel was stuffed full of the usual details about Blumhouse’s famously bare bones and famously profitable method of making movies, the conversation was defined by Blum’s willingness to own the fact that Jem flopped hard. Still wearing nail polish from the Halloween party he threw last night at which he dressed as Jem, Blum was frank. “It is kind of ironic to be here imparting wisdom having released this movie that is just crashing and burning at the box office,” he said. “It’s why I love the movie business and why I’m tortured by the movie business.”
Jem, he contends, was a good film but one that completely defied Blumhouse’s expectations. “At the beginning of the year we had 10 wide releases [planned]. This time last year I’d had the 10 movies categorized as ‘sure thing’, ‘I’m a little nervous,’ ‘I’m a lot nervous.’ And of course,” says Blum, “I remember thinking “Jem is definitely a sure thing,” like I don’t have to worry about that one, it’s going to take care of itself. And in fact it did the worst of all of them. So, it’s very torturous and it also should [tell you] that anything any of us say should be taken with a big grain of salt.”
Discussing the fact that Jem flopped hard is, however, something that Blum and the Blumhouse colleagues joining him onstage – head of casting Terri Taylor, and head of Motion Pictures Cooper Samuelson – think sets the studio apart. “The low budget has to do with that,” Samuelson said, mentioning as an example calling a friend at Fox after The A-Team underperformed. “I really like the movie and I called my friend on Monday and said ‘so, the movie didn’t work that well commercially,’ so I asked what was the postmortem, what [did they] think about why it didn’t work that well. And [my friend] was like ‘What are you talking about, a postmortem? You mean wallow in it?’ ”
“I think part of the challenge,” Samuelson continued, “is that it’s so expensive that jobs are on the line. When you have a commercial failure and it could cost people their jobs, no one’s gonna be like ‘hey can we just bring up The A-Team again?’ When you have low budget, we don’t have to worry we’re going to get fired if one of them fails, so we can talk about failures [openly].”
Blum agreed that it’s important because you want to “try and do better next time.”
“It particularly irks me when something that’s good fails. So what happened? I do think we talk about that a lot, and it sounds like we’re running like this uptopian company. We have a ton of people who are unhappy, who don’t like this or don’t like that. And there’s no way to work with hundreds of people every week and none of them are unhappy. But we try and listen… and improve. I feel like people are very scared to do that [in Hollywood] and it’s very important to do it.”
As for Jem, Blum insists he loves the final product. “People in Hollywood I feel like have a tendency to retreat from financial failure and I think it is important to separate financial failure – and by the way, Jem I feel like the movie came out terrifically well. It was just a financial failure, but I still stand by the movie, I’m proud of the movie. I’m obviously sorry it didn’t do better.”