After such recent big screen horror success with Insidious and Sinister, we were excited to speak to Jason Blum, film producer and owner of Blumhouse Productions, on his new film, supernatural alien horror thriller, DARK SKIES…
Dark Skies has just been released in cinemas in the UK. Is there a link between the film and 1990’s TV series of the same name, which is also about aliens?
No link, they’re totally different.
Have any films or books been used as inspiration for Dark Skies?
Any inspiration? I think it’s kind of a combination of a long tradition of alien movies and scary horror movies and we’ve kind of put them together
From the trailer and clips, it appears the film is less about seeing the aliens actually inflict harm, but controlling the family remotely. Do you think the “less is more” approach by witnessing the actual effects of the aliens, proves scarier than seeing the aliens themselves?
I definitely do. I think what you can imagine is [scarier]. Unless you have a couple of hundred million dollars, what you imagine is much scarier than what you can see through special effects and CGI, so I always encourage the filmmakers who I work with to keep the scary stuff off-screen, and the conversations and reactions to it on-screen. I always think that makes for more effective scary movies.
We’ve seen glimpses of the grey aliens in the trailers and clips. Have practical effects been used or CGI?
There’s a tiny bit. Scott Stewart, who directed the movie, came out of a special FX background, so he did a very small amount of CGI so we get very quick glimpses of the aliens, but we keep them very quick.
What do you think Dark Skies offers that other alien movies lack?
I think a much more real and grounded emotional relationship between mom and dad and their two kids and their family, and also between the family and the whole neighbourhood around them. It feels to me like all that is much more grounded than a normal alien movie. If I don’t say so myself, I’d say that Scott Stewart did a really good job with that.
Horror can appear in many guises, not necessarily blood, guts and gore, with psychological horror, etc. The family in Dark Skies seem to have their own problems. Is there a sense of horror there before the aliens are introduced?
Before the aliens are introduced, the family is a very, very normal family and I think that Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, that play the parents, do a really good job at portraying an ordinary family with ordinary problems. Then, things start to go wrong and I think, the fun for me when I watched the movie, was that you get to see how that affects a very traditional life. That’s kind of what happens over the course of the movie.
The kids seem to be as much a part of the action as the adults. Are they used differently to the adults in terms of alien control?
Yeah, everyone has their own kind of reaction to them and the aliens have a different use for everyone. They have a specific need for the kids, one or the other of them and the portal into the family for the aliens is the children.
In Sinster, the sound effects alone were enough to terrify. Is sound used to great effect in Dark Skies?
Yeah, sound is really important to all our movies. I think sound really sparks your imagination which I think is so important. Sound, in a lot of ways, is much scarier than picture, ‘cos it affects you more viscerally. We really pay a lot of attention to sound in movies and the person who did the sound on Sinister was terrific, for sure.
The last hit mainstream movie that took on the story of grey aliens was Signs. Do you hope that Dark Skies will reignite the classic alien genre?
Yeah, we talked a lot about Signs when we were doing the movie and to answer one of your previous questions, that was certainly one of the movies that served as inspiraton for this. Yes, you’re exactly right, there hasn’t been a grey alien movie in a while. We’re hoping to re-energise the genre, just as you said.
I see that you are producing Oren Peli’s AREA 51. Is that going to be another take on the grey aliens?
[Laughs] It’s a very different take on it. It’s different in that it’s a found footage movie. Hopefully this movie (Dark Skies) will start it and that movie will continue it
In Dark Skies, did you have much input into the movie and the story?
Yeah, we have a lot of input in that though all the movies that our company makes the director has much more control than they usual have in the American system. Our system is much more akin to the European system, except we make commercial movies as opposed to arthouse movies. So really the movies belong to the directors but we give them input along the way and sometimes they take our thoughts, sometimes they don’t. When Scott first pitched the movie to me, he pitched it as a found footage movie, like Paranormal Activity, and I suggested otherwise. Unless you really can’t tell the story any other way, I always prefer more traditionally shot movies like Sinister and Insidious, so we encouraged him to do that. He listened and thought it was a good idea, so did it instead.
How did you get into producing films?
My roommate at college was called Noah Baumbach who directed Squid and the Whale and a bunch of other movies. Right after school, we were roommates in Chicago and he wrote a script. I said, “let’s try and make it”, and three years later somehow it happened and that’s how it started.
What do you look for in a script?
I look for a lot of things we’ve talked about. I look for real relationships between the characters, great emotional story, sometimes mystery. The scary parts are secondary to that and I think as a result, they’re scarier. We don’t talk about jump scares first, we talk about story, character, mystery and plot, then we talk about scares. I think that often, not always, leads to scary movies.
You have produced many horrors including Paranormal Activity 4, The Bay, Lords of Salem, Insidious, Sinister and now Dark Skies. What appeals to you about the horror genre and do you intend to continue producing horror films in the future?
I hope so, I love horror movies! I like them because they’re a way to tell stories to a very broad audience, where we get total creative freedom, we get to try new things and work in different ways and that genre allows us that. I know that’s a suprising answer but that’s what I really like about it. We get to touch on all different kinds of human themes but instead of making a movie that three people see, we get to make a movie that a lot more than that see. That’s fun for me.
What other projects have you got lined up?
Our next movie is called The Purge and the trailer went online yesterday. That comes out at the end of May. The film stars Ethan Hawke. He had such a good time on Sinister, we did another one right away. I’m very excited about that. We have Insidious 2 coming out in September, I’m looking foward to that one. And of course, in October we have the next installment of Paranormal Activity, which is going down a very different road, so I’m psyched for that too.
Is Paranormal Activity a franchise you see continuing for quite a while?
As long as people will come, we’ll keep making it. That’s our hope.
Thank you for answering our questions, Jason.
We’d like to thank Jason Blum, Blumhouse Productions and Momentum for taking the time out and arranging the interview
You can catch DARK SKIES in cinemas across the UK now!