Show business is changing–traditional audiences are shrinking, viewing patterns are shifting, new technology is disrupting old industry rhythms. It follows that what it takes to be successful in entertainment is changing too.
At the Fast Company Innovation Festival, industry veterans Jennifer Salke and Jason Blum sat before a packed crowd and discussed this transformation. Salke is the former NBC Entertainment president who’s now head of Amazon Studios, and Blum is a producer and the founder of Blumhouse Productions. The two chatted with Fast Company senior writer Nicole Laporte.
Blum took the time to clarify a quote of his that stirred up controversy last week. In an interview, he lamented that there are “not a lot of female directors, period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” This caused considerable backlash, and Blum took to Twitter to apologize. At the festival, he acknowledged the mistake and said he misspoke. “What I meant to say,” he explained, “is I would like to work with more [women directors].” He went on to say that he is actively focused on signing more women directors. “We’re going to make it happen,” he said.
Salke interjected to explain that she understood what Blum had been trying to say in that previous interview because while she was at NBC, she regularly balked at lists of proposed directors that included at best two women’s names. “I found myself saying, many times, ‘Where are [the women directors]? What is happening here?'”
The conversation took place following the stellar opening weekend of Blum’s latest hit, Halloween. Made for a reported $10 million, the movie grossed $76 million over three days. Keeping costs low—being stingy—is the secret, according to Blum. “I really love low-budget movies,” he said. Not overspending is a plus for any producer, but Blum pointed out that it also encourages the studios releasing his films to take bigger risks. If you have a crazy idea that costs only a few million dollars to make, it’ll be easier to convince executives to greenlight it than a $100 million film. That’s how Blumhouse’s Get Out came to be. “It was the weirdest thing we ever read,” Blum said.
Salke agreed and added that at Amazon, she and the various creative teams are allowed to think in more fluid terms that push the boundaries of what streaming programming can be. If someone has an idea for new project, Salke usually asks, “Should this be a movie? Six episodes?” The deciding factor in making those decisions, she said, is story.
So what’s preventing the rest of Hollywood from understanding—and jumping into—the changing tide? According to Blum, it’s greed. “Hollywood is just addicted to money,” he said. Studio executives want to spend big in the hopes of landing a blockbuster, rather than focusing on smaller projects that could move the needle in surprising ways. This thirst for money, said Blum, is “so built into the system.” He noted that the accepted model of success for a filmmaker—break out with a low-budget Sundance indie, score a $10 million feature, then pursue studio projects with increasingly hefty price tags until they land a tentpole—makes no sense. “That, to me, is just so silly,” he said. “The bigger the budget is, the more compromises you have to make. The less it really is yours.”
“It’s such a smart strategy,” Salke agreed. “You have to have restraint.”