Continuously revitalizing and reinventing under-served movie troupes, from minority characters to creative twists on sub-genres and unique stunts, in a clever way can be a career-defining experience for many filmmakers. Producer Jason Blum has successfully done just that with his production company, Blumhouse Productions, which is primarily known mainly for producing independent horror movies. The company‘s latest release, the horror comedy ‘Freaky,’ smartly mixes slasher elements with moments of humor as its protagonist, a teenage girl, inadvertently switches bodies with an older male serial killer, which leads her to fight back to reclaim her life.
The thriller, which Universal Pictures is distributing in theaters nationwide today, was directed by Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the script with Michael Kennedy. ‘Freaky’ marks the seventh collaboration between Blumhouse and Landon, who previously worked together on such entries in the horror genre as ‘Happy Death Day,’ ‘Happy Death Day 2U,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 3,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ and ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.’ The producer’s latest collaboration with the scribe-helmer powerfully blended a genuine representation of all high school students, along with distinct elements in the slasher, comedy and body-swap genres.
‘Freaky’ follows 17-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, ‘Blockers,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 4′) is just trying to survive the bloodthirsty halls of Blissfield High and the cruelty of the popular crowd. But when she becomes the newest target of The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), her town’s infamous serial killer, her senior year becomes the least of her worries.
When The Butcher’s mystical ancient dagger causes him and Millie to wake up in each other’s bodies, Millie learns that she has just 24 hours to get her body back before the switch becomes permanent, and she’s trapped in the form of a middle-aged maniac forever.
The only problem is Millie now looks like the towering psychopath who’s the target of a city-wide manhunt. Meanwhile, The Butcher looks like her, and discovers that having a female teen body is the perfect cover for a little Homecoming killing spree. So with some help from her friends, including the ultra-the woke Nyla (Celeste O’Connor,’ ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’) and the ultra-fabulous Joshua (Misha Osherovich, ‘The Goldfinch’), as well as her crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton, ‘Enter the Warriors Gate’), Millie races against the clock to reverse the curse.
Blum generously took the time recently to talk about producing ‘Freaky’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the producer discussed that he was immediately drawn to work with Landon again, especially on another horror comedy, as the writer-director has repeatedly proven that he flourishes in the creative control that Blumhouse offers him, from the humor to the casting and stunts. Blum also noted that including the thriller in his production company’s independent model allowed Landon to take more creative risks on all aspects of filmmaking, including the storytelling, casting and editing, as his main priority wasn’t recouping the film’s budget during its release.
The conversation began with Blum explaining what inspired him to sign on to serve as a producer on ‘Freaky.’ “I (previously) worked with Chris Landon on six movies. Anytime he calls and says he wants to do a new movie, I’m very excited. That’s what happened this time; he said, ‘I have an idea for a new movie.’ We read it on a Friday, and greenlit it on Monday,” he divulged.
“I really loved it, and love Chris; he’s one of the most talented directors that we work with (at Blumhouse). So his talent, coupled with this script, was a home run. We have a meeting on that Monday, and everyone really loved the script. Very rarely is it unanimous, but with ‘Freaky,’ it was unanimous; we all said yes,,” Blum further shared.
The producer further expressed his happiness over reuniting with the co-writer-director on the horror comedy. “The collaboration was great. We give our directors a lot of creative control. As a result of that, there’s a very healthy dialogue about the creative decisions regarding the movie, because the directors ultimately know that they’re going to win. So I think that makes them much more receptive to hearing new ideas,” he revealed.
“So we gave Chris ideas, and helped him cast the movie, including Kathryn Newton, who I previously worked with on ‘Paranormal Activity 4,'” Blum continued. “Vince Vaughn is also someone who I knew and expressed a desire to work with. He wanted to do a movie with Blumhouse. They were Chris and my first two choices, and they both said yes, which was great.
“We then went off and shot the movie, and we had a production executive who was there every day. Then we cut and edited it, and here we are,” the filmmaker added.
Further speaking of the overall casting on ‘Freaky,’ Blum noted that his company “is very involved. We’re one of the few production companies that has our own casting department. Terri Taylor, who’s a senior executive at the company and has been with us for about 10 years, runs the casting department,” he shared.
“There are very few production companies that actually have a big department that does casting at all. Usually, casting directors go from movie to movie, but anytime we produce a movie, our casting department does the movie,” the producer explained. “Five people are led by Terri (in the casting department). We do that because we work with a lot of up-and-coming talent and unknown actors. So we have a real database of who we love. We don’t force the directors to take anyone we like, but we put choices in front of them, who they wouldn’t ordinarily see anywhere else.”
Following up on the fact that his company offers the directors it work with creative freedom on a film’s development, including on casting, Blum further delved into what the experience was like of collaborating with Landon on ‘Freaky’ . “With Chris, we’ve built up a lot of trust, so he has an enormous amount of freedom with us. We don’t always agree, so we have conversations about that. Sometimes he changes his mind because of things that we said, and sometimes he doesn’t. But at the end of the day, I’ll always support my directors, and support what Chris wants to do,” he shared.
One of the ways that the producer encouraged the director’s vision for the thriller was to back the social commentary that’s featured in the story. “There’s an underpinning of gender identity and politics. Chris had something to say, and I love that he did it in this movie, and was very supportive of that,” he noted.
While Blum supports Landon’s vision as a storyteller, the producer then admitted that he doesn’t always like to make projects within the horror comedy sub-genre because they’re generally hard to make. “I’m not much of a fan of horror comedies, except if Chris is doing it, or maybe Edgar Wright. They’re two directors who can do it well, but you don’t generally see it in feature films; you see it more on TV,” he pointed out. “It takes a very specific touch and voice, and Chris has both of those things.”
Another creative element that Blum admired about the director during ‘Freaky’s production was his stuntwork. “Chris got a lot of practice with low-budget stunts on the ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies, which we all did together. We learned from those films, and he’s used that knowledge a lot on his subsequent movies. The stunts he did were great, but that’s unusual for us; we don’t usually have a lot of stunts in our movies,” he noted. “But with Chris, there are always a few stunts, and I’m happy that he does it.”
Besides the expert use of horror comedy in the movie, the filmmaker also cherished the process of shooting the feature on location in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Georgia. “We were set up to shoot in Louisiana and we lost our credit, I think-I forgot what happened. So we moved to Georgia at the very last minute,” he revealed. “We had very good experiences there; we’ve shot a handful of our movies there. They have a great infrastructure and crews there. The great Tyler Perry does all of his movies there, of course. We were very happy to shoot there, and I’d be happy to go back.”
The producer also embraces the fact that Blumhouse primarily known for making independent genre movies. He thinks that making movies on a smaller budget “allows the directors to take more risks with the storytelling, casting and editing, and every other aspect of filmmaking. They don’t have all of this capital hanging over their heads that they have to recoup. I think that makes our movies more interesting, quite frankly.”
Following up on the editing process, Blum noted that his production company “is always involved in the editing process of all of our movies. We edit and test screen them, and then tinker with them again. Our editing process works the same way as our development process; we go through the story and give the directors notes. Sometimes they take our advice, and sometimes they don’t. We always have a lot of ideas, and the longer we’ve been doing this, the more often the directors take our ideas.”
With Universal Pictures releasing ‘Freaky’ in theaters today, the producer respected the studio’s distribution plan during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In July, Universal Pictures made a historic agreement with AMC Theatres, which will allow the studio’s movies to be made available on Premium VOD after just 17 days of release in cinemas, including three weekends.
The deal, which initially covers AMC’s U.S. locations, shatters the traditional theatrical window of nearly three months before studios can release their films On Demand. In the partnership, AMC, which is the world’s largest theater chain, is expected to share in the revenue from PVOD. The news came after AMC announced in April that it would no longer play any Universal Pictures films in any of its theaters worldwide, due to the studio deciding to pull some of its movies, including ‘Trolls World Tour,’ from their scheduled theatrical run and distribute them straight to PVOD during the beginning of the pandemic.
“I was really impressed by the deal that (NBCUniversal CEO) Jeff (Shell) made with AMC to do this reduced window into a Premium VOD release,” Blum divulged. “It was really clever, and I was really happy that they did it. I’m also really happy that this is going to be one of the first movies to go through it. I think the future of the theatrical movie business lies in this shorter theatrical window, with the Premium VOD window added early before the typical rental window takes place.”
The filmmaker then enthusiastically added that he would would love to make a sequel to ‘Freaky,’ as long as this film does well. “I think there are a lot of possibility there, in terms of (continuing) the story. But we have to have a lot of people see this movie first,” he concluded.