“When you have a movie that doesn’t have to make $100 million, you can take chances in the marketing,” he said at the keynote address at Variety’s Massive Entertainment Marketing Summit at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Blum was enthusiastic about Universal’s marketing capabilites, saying the work of making a movie is 50% percent done when you make a good movie and 100% done when it’s marketed right.
M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split,” starring James McAvoy and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” starring Daniel Kaluuya, were both made for under $10 million. They have each grossed $136 million domestically with plenty more yet to be banked by Universal. “Split” has also taken in another $120 million overseas.
Blum — who signed a 10-year deal with Universal in 2014 — appeared at Wednesday’s event with Universal’s marketing chiefs Josh Goldstine and Michael Moses. Variety Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller interviewed the trio about the surprise success of the two movies and the appeal of the horror genre, to which Blum has contributed the “Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge,” “Insidious” and “Ouija” franchises. (He was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar for “Whiplash”).
“People really like to be scared with other people,” Blum explained. “It’s a pretty inexpensive thrill ride compared to Magic Mountain or Disneyland.”
Goldstine echoed Blum’s contention that keeping production costs down carries big benefits for Universal.
“By making movies at a micro-budget price point, there’s a lot more freedom in your marketing,” he added. “What’s exciting for us is that nothing is cookie cutter from Jason.”
That was particularly true with Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” which has been nearly universally praised for its depiction of the lingering racism in a supposedly post-racial world using the horror genre. Goldstine and Moses admitted that they had an unspecified disagreement with Peele over a marketing approach — and ultimately deferred to the filmmaker in recognition of the film’s nuanced sensibility.
“He made a very thoughtful argument,” Goldstine recalled. “Instead of making a movie that was overtly political, ‘Get Out’ was covert.”
As for “Split,” it represented a career revival for Shyamalan. The studio gambled in several key areas such as persuading Shyamalan to premiere the film at the fan-oriented Fantastic Fest in Texas and then opting for a January opening. “Everyone thought January was a dumping ground,” Moses noted.
Instead, “Split” stunned the business with a $40 million opening weekend on Jan. 20-22.