Abhijay Prakash left Universal Filmed Entertainment Group in June to become president of Jason Blum’s prolific Blumhouse Productions, where he’s focusing on growing the company’s already thriving brand.
The two companies already had a mutually beneficial working relationship, so the transition was a “no-brainer,” Prakash told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View.
“It was a very natural conversation to transition from Universal to Blumhouse,” he said. “For me, the idea of being at a place as entrepreneurial as Blumhouse was an exciting change, and the fact that it was still in the family with Universal made it a no-brainer.”
Blumhouse was founded on using low budgets to deliver quality movies and killer box office, and Prakash agrees that keeping costs low is one of the company’s key tenets: “There’s a skill set and a discipline that we employ: Our production teams, casting teams, physical production, post, creative, business affairs, everybody. Those have evolved over time, but they’re still dramatically lower than what anybody else does.”
How do they do it? There’s no “special formula,” he said: “It’s philosophical, more than anything else. It’s a mindset and approach: If we can embrace lower budgets, that allows us creative freedom. Everybody who walks in the door here gets that.”
After the success of their own horror IP, including “The Conjuring,” “Insidious” and “The Purge” franchises, iconic third-party horror franchises “Halloween” and “The Exorcist” came to them, said Prakash.
They have also built lasting relationships with filmmakers, including James Wan, Scott Derrickson and Leigh Whannell. “We’ve picked up more and more talent relationships and people that we consider part of the family,” Prakash explained.
“It really feels like there are endless possibilities here. We’re excited about where we can take Blumhouse the company and Blumhouse the brand. We know we’ve got great engagement with consumers. And there’s a lot more possibilities with what we do best, which is storytelling in the horror/thriller space,” said Prakash.
Blumhouse’s final “Halloween” movie, “Halloween Ends,” premieres in 2023, as does “Insidious 5,” “The Nun 2” and Wan’s latest, “Megan.”
Prakash spoke with TheWrap about his vision for the company and its approach to movies, TV and moving more into the nonfiction space with documentaries like the chilling “Our Father.”
This interview has been edited for style and length.
What’s your vision for the company?
Of course, it all starts with Jason, but it radiates out to the whole team. That philosophy existed before I got here. What has changed, and the thing I’m focused on, is growing. I’m an enabler, is what I’d say. What I do here is help sustain and grow what has worked so well already. It’s less about a philosophical change and more about growth and evolution, where we can do more when it comes to our output and growth and working with big IP and extending further to new areas on TV. I help make things happen for the creative partners, the filmmakers, writers, the directors we work with, and the buyers on the other end, whether it’s studios on the movie side or TV buyers and streamers on the other side.
What would you say is the secret to the success of the Blumhouse brand?
The company’s evolved a lot since it was founded, but consistent throughout that time has been three things. Firstly, a love and passion for genre storytelling. If you walked around our offices here, [you’d see] how much we embrace that. Secondly, lower budgets. And third is an embrace of those two things, which puts us in a little bit of an outsider position in Hollywood. It’s rare to tell people, “I want less money up front.”
What’s the trick to keeping budgets low?
I wouldn’t underestimate this, we’ve gotten good at it. If you polled our physical production and post production, and casting people, they could give you the options about how to spend less and still put up real production value on screen. We’ve had a lot of experience and made a lot of movies and content employing that philosophy, and we’ve gotten good at it.
It comes down to who you’re casting, how much they’re getting paid, and what locations you’re choosing. Maybe there’s some creative choices in there, as well, but it really starts with the mindset more than any special formula we’ve gotten under lock and key in a drawer.
Sounds like you’re in a good position for a recession.
I don’t know if anybody’s in a good position, but relatively speaking, if you’re a purveyor of lower budgeted content with commercial appeal, that’s a pretty good spot to be in when people’s purse strings get tight. I’m not looking forward to some economic calamity, but we are bracing ourselves, because there’s a lot of uncertainty out there about how bad things could be.
But you’re maybe in a better position than some other companies.
That’s an open question, more broadly speaking, because moviegoing has always been heralded as a recession-proof form of entertainment, just because it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other things like travel or concerts. But, knock on wood, we haven’t had to experience a serious [recession] in quite some time.
And now, in the streaming age where there’s so much content available, it’s a question mark about how consumers want to spend their time. We’re in a little bit of uncharted territory because we haven’t experienced something like this in the age of so many entertainment choices available.
Horror definitely drives people to the theater because it’s always better when you watch with a group of people.
Exactly. The pandemic proved that. You have this environment where it’s actually dangerous to leave your house and then when it got a little less dangerous, but there was still some danger, folks came out to see horror movies. It’s a great testament to how strong our genre is when it comes to the theatrical experience and how well it plays there.
And we also have seen it works great in the home, too. “Halloween Kills” was a real watershed moment where you can see how films like that, that were real cultural events, can work in both the theatrical environment as well as in the home environment. “Halloween Ends” and “Megan” are two real cinematic experiences coming up, but you’ll also be able to watch “Halloween Ends” at home right away on Peacock.
You’ve got “The Exorcist” coming up next, which is another huge franchise. What takeaways have you learned from making the three “Halloween” films that you’re going to apply to “The Exorcist” trilogy?
First, it’s such a privilege to work on such an iconic horror IP. When you walk the halls here, folks are just giddy that we’re working on an “Exorcist” movie with such incredible talent. Having David Gordon Green at the helm of these is just awesome. And then having the creative talent that we’ve got, Ellen Burstyn, as well as Leslie Odom, Jr., who we brought on.
It’s such a vote of confidence that Burstyn is returning to the franchise for the first time.
To have Ellen Burstyn back into this franchise is incredible. There’s great pride in being able to be on a movie like that. There’s real possibilities of reinvention that we’ve demonstrated with “Halloween” with our creative partners that we hope that we can do justice to “The Exorcist” in the same way. It’s like, “Gosh, where else could we go from this moment?”
You’ve also done a number of TV shows, which aren’t always strictly horror, like “The Thing about Pam” and “Sharp Objects.”
Our guiding principle when it comes to TV is a little different from film. I know Jason talks about it as, what we do in the theatrical movie space is 80% horror and 20% not horror, and for TV, it’s the reverse.
Even if it’s not strictly defined as horror/thriller, there still is that element of darkness. “Sharp Objects” falls into that, as does “The Jinx,” “Our Father,” and “The Thing About Pam.” I think of the brand as having elasticity. It can accommodate stories like “The Thing About Pam” that tap into these darker themes, but still reinforce the brand with consumers.
You’ve also branched out into the reality space.
I didn’t even fully realize how much reality we had until I got here. It’s a pretty impressive array of content. We do scripted and unscripted. We have docuseries like “The Anarchists” on HBO and HBO Max right now, and “Worst Roommate Ever” on Netflix. And we have documentaries like “Our Father.” We cover the range and we’re trying to grow in that area, as well.
Would you ever want to bring the Blumhouse approach to other genres?
We get that question all the time like, “Why don’t you ‘Blumhouse’ the action genre or drama?” We’re quite happy being in the space that we’re in.