Interview with Ryan Turek
Ryan Turek has been diligently working in the horror industry and spreading the love for years and all of his hard work has paid off in the form of becoming Director of Development at Blumhouse. Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing a cup of coffee with him on the rooftop patio at the Blumhouse offices and I think you’ll find him to be just as charming as I did. His love of the genre is contagious and his humbleness keeps him relatable. Enjoy.
I’m excited! This is fun because you’ve done the unthinkable. You were writing about horror and now you have a “proper” job.
It is a real job. (laughing) I think I told my girlfriend today, “I’m officially in Hollywood.” It’s been a year, but it’s been pretty cool.
But you came out here to do writing and directing.
I came out here, initially, in 1999 to be a writer and director. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City and I was going to try to find my way into the world of horror and movie making by writing and directing, but I realized that I am a….what’s the word…I’m a instant gratification kind of guy, so if I write something, I want people to read it and I realized that when you write a spec script, people might not read it. Or might not get to it at all. So, while I was toiling with this kind of inner argument with myself about whether or not I should be a screenwriter, I just started going online and talking about my favorite horror movies on message boards and stuff like that.
There was this website called creaturecorner.com , that was an affiliate of CHUD.com , and they were looking for a writer. Because I lived in Los Angeles, that meant greater opportunities for going to see movies early and meeting some of the people in the horror field. I took a job with them and started writing with them and then it took off from there and for the next 14, 15 years, I was an online journalist. During that time, I went from Creature Corner to working with Johnny Butane. We wrote under pen names and I wrote under Ryan Rotten. We would go to Fangoria conventions to promote our website; we were basically, a cool online horror destination. We wrote about news and reviews and that kind of stuff. Then these guys from a place called the Horror Channel, based on the east coast, they gave us promises of being part of a larger thing. They were going to try to launch this horror channel and they needed a website to get it going, so Johnny and I left Creature Corner to work with the Horror Channel and then we all jumped ship and we all co-founded dreadcentral.com . Dread Central is now run by Creepy and his team.
Somewhere along the way, I just realized that I loved writing, but I wanted to do some stuff in print, so I asked Tony Timpone of Fangoria, “Hey I’d love to write for you if you’re paying because the online world doesn’t pay, if anything. And then Tony says, why don’t you come on board as our west coast guy. So, for about two years, I was a Fangoria writer and I went back to the online world and founded shocktillyoudrop.com . I worked at Shock Till You Drop for seven years and after that, I went to Blumhouse.
Shock Till You Drop is owned by Crave Media which touts itself as being for male interests. It’s unavoidable that horror is perceived as only for men, but we all know that’s not actually the demographics, so..
Well, I can’t speak to all of that. Yeah, Crave was the parent company, but I did notice that they were a male centric kind of thing.
They pride themselves on it.
Do they still? Huh. I remember comingsoon.net, which is their big movie site. You know, Shock Till You Drop got founded around 2007 and at that time, horror was really big again. You had Hostel, you had the Saw movies, you had The Hills Have Eyes, you just had all of this stuff coming out from 2003 on up. Even the J-horror stuff. There was just a glut, more than ever, of horror stuff coming out and that pricked up the ears of a lot of big companies who were like, “Well, we should probably start a horror site.” Now, at the time, you had Arrow In the Head, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central…those were the big guns. So, jumping ship from Fangoria to start another horror site, it was like, “What the fuck? Why? Why do we need another horror site?” but the thing that I saw it as was, “This is my horror site. I get to run it the way I want to run it. I get to write about things I want to write about as opposed to dealing with partners or whatever.” Crave online, was like, do whatever you like. As far as any creative control, I didn’t have to deal with anything. I only had to deal with them when I had to ask them for money for projects. They paid me quite well, but it was a matter of, if I wanted to do a cool video project, then they would give me money for that.
This is the time period when you did the Scream documentary?
During that, yeah. The Scream documentary wasn’t anything that was a part of that. Basically, Anthony Massi, he did “His Name Was Jason” with Dan Farrands and those guys. Anthony and I were developing a Hellraiser documentary that was going to be, basically, about the whole series. We had Clive Barker involved, we had this kind of underground clothing designer create a new wardrobe for a cenobite and design it. It was really cool; it had the puzzle box on this cape and stuff like that. It was amazing and he displayed it at a Clive Barker exhibit. It was going really well, but we discovered it was just a hard sell. Unlike, His Name Was Jason or the Nightmare Legacy, which are easy sells for a distributor, Hellraiser doesn’t do that well. Hellraiser isn’t a wanted property when it comes to, “Hey, let’s do a documentary and let’s sell it to Walmart customers.” No one wants that. So, we were going to make it anyway. We had some interviews, which are now, if you pick up the Arrow Videos Hellraiser collection 1-3, our interviews are on there. We sold them. It was a side project for me to make more money. Scream 4 had been announced and I said to Anthony, “Scream means a lot to me. You know, my dad used to take me to horror movies when I was eight years old. My earliest memories are of going to see The Fly and Aliens and Fright Night in the theatre opening night, but Scream came at a time where, I don’t know, it was more adult and it became one of those movies I just latched onto. I was in college, so to read about Kevin Williamson selling a script and it becoming a hit and I think Scream 2 is a fantastic sequel and in some ways, a little bit better than the first one. Although, the first one is always going to be THE movie for me. Scream 3, at the time I did the documentary, I was like, “I’ve seen it once or twice, whatever.” So, he (Anthony) said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I had to fly out to New York to meet Bob and Harvey Weinstein to get their blessing, tell them what I was doing and all this kind of shit. So, all through 2010, the Scream documentary was a side project for me while I was at Shock. I was, basically, pulling double duty. But Crave and Shock didn’t have anything to do with it, it was just a side project for me to see if I could do something like that. Try to accomplish something other than just writing online and so something that I can have on Blu-ray. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted something that I made on Blu-ray.
So, did it come out the way you hoped it would?
It did, yeah. We didn’t have a budget. We didn’t have any money. It all came out of our own, mostly Anthony’s, pocket, but we self financed that thing. We shot it out of, Anthony lived out of his condo and we turned his first floor into a studio. We designed the backdrops ourselves and we did all of the stuff and we invited all of this talent over to this condo in North Hollywood which is really funny because I remember Scott Foley came and he was like, “This is an interesting neighborhood.” I was like, “Sorry, Scott Foley if we didn’t have a car driven to you and all of that stuff,” but it turned out good. I wanted to do something different with it. I did the little, silly thing at the beginning of it where the girl is watching the documentary on Scream, making it self referential. I played Ghostface, so it was fun. It was a much bigger thing because there was supposed to be recreations of some of the best kills through all three movies, but that was too ambitious. But it turned out good! I just, recently, re-watched it over the holiday break and it turned out good. It’s informative and that’s all I wanted, was for something to be informative about the Scream franchise. And we got to be part of the box set!
That’s real cool. And it’s cheap! You can buy it for 9.99, but I don’t make a dime. We didn’t make any money. I mean, we made some money, but we’re talking, hundreds, but that’s a whole different story.
You’re kind of a Cinderella story, in the sense that everybody, especially now, it’s a lot more pervasive and I’m certainly guilty of it, but now everybody has a blog, everybody writes, everybody is a critic and everybody has something to say. You actually made it into a career.
Yes, but the funny thing is, it was initially my plan, but I had kind of accepted my fate at a certain point. At one point, I was like, “You know what? I was always that kid that was reading Fangoria, I was always writing about movies, I was always drawing cool monsters and stuff like that and I had always wanted to work for Fangoria and write about movies and interview people. I was always good at that. There was a point in that fourteen years as a blogger that I was like, you know what? I’m just going to own it. I want to be the best I can be, being a journalist, I want to be the best I can be at being on camera and being called a douche for being someone who gets on camera and talks about horror movies and that’s fine. I just wanted to show my fandom in the best way possible. That’s all I wanted to do and that was the way to do it. Running a website, working for Fangoria, going on camera and doing on camera things, that was my way of showing how big of a fan I was. And also co-creating Dead Right Horror Trivia night here in Los Angeles with Rebekah McKendry. That was just another way. I just love getting horror fans together to do cool horror fan shit. I accepted that fate, so the Blumhouse gig coming along sideswiped me.
Basically, the way it happened was, it was around Halloween, which is always the busiest time for anyone when you’re in this business, so I was doing some stuff for STYD and I got a call from an assistant I know here and she said, “Jason needs someone to be director of development, would you want to do it?” I said yes, and I had to go through the process. I had to go and do the interviews and I had to do a few trial run things. In the back of my mind, though, I never thought I would get this job. I’ve had opportunities where I’ve come close to taking side jobs that are really promising and they didn’t necessarily pan out, so I was just kind of like, ok, but by the time I got to my third interview, I was like, Holy Shit, I think this is gonna happen. This. Might. Happen. And then when I got the job, I was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do with myself? It was a lot. People who are in this position or people who get into these kinds of companies, they go through a different route. I felt like I skipped a bunch of steps to get there, but at the same time, I didn’t because I’ve been in this industry, but just from a different perspective. I’ve seen it from a different angle, but at the core of it all, I love fucking horror movies, I love talking about horror movies, I have this nerd fucking brain about it and I can use that. Hopefully, for good. You work from the inside out, to make and help guide filmmakers into making great movies and help find great movies. So, it’s worked out, so far, pretty well and I can tell you, I definitely don’t miss the other side, though, because I’m seeing where it’s going and I don’t like it. I don’t like the kind of, the struggle that a lot of my friends are going through because it’s this need for hits and hits and hits and traffic, traffic, traffic and it bums me out. God, if I had to worry about that, I might have quit if I had gotten this far, you know? Found a new way to channel my love for the genre into something else.
Does anybody give you a hard time for kind of skipping steps to get where you are?
No, they don’t give me a hard time. They think it’s pretty cool and a lot of the producers and other people that I run into, they think it’s really interesting that Jason had pulled someone from the dark side, as they call it. They call that side the dark side.
Well, it can be very dark. It can be very negative.
The interesting this is, meeting talent, filmmakers and writers who I might have negatively spoken about.
Oh, that’s probably fun.
Yeah, so if I had given a negative review for a filmmaker who’s coming in to meet with us, I’d say, more times than not, they remember. They’re like, “Are you Ryan? Yeah. Oh yeah, you gave me a pretty shitty review.”
They’re cool about it, mostly?
Well, that’s all you can ask for. Mostly cool.
Yeah, yeah, they’re mostly cool and if not, at first, if they’re a little cold, they’ll warm up to me because they’ll realize that it’s just my nature to tell it like it is when it comes to horror. But that’s a whole different game right now, giving creative criticism and working with filmmakers, nurturing projects. It’s a whole new learning curve for me, but a year and a couple months into the job, I think I’ve got the hang of it.
So, is there a broad mistake that you see bloggers making? As someone who’s now been on either side of it.
What do you mean?
Is there something that you see people doing and it just makes you cringe and you think, that’s not a great idea?
No, I mean, well, it’s interesting now. No, I don’t. I just see, it’s what kind of angle are you coming at the material now instead of the little minutia stories I don’t give a shit about. You know, “Which machete is Jason going to use in the new Friday the 13th?” I’m like, I don’t really care because it’s probably going to change by the time we see the movie, you know? What I care about is, tell me about some themes in Lifeforce that I’ve never picked up on before or how is The Funhouse the best teenage rebellion movie I could ever see? All sorts of different angels, give me something like that. We have blumhouse.com now which has been cool because we were able to pull some cool people. We were able to pull Rebekah McKendry, Rob Galluzzo and they’re doing some listicle stuff, but it’s meaningful listicle stuff. It’s actual stuff that if you’re looking at Dawn of the Dead, here are a couple of factoids and some of them are good, you know? I just want horror sites to just get out of the gutter of just, you know, typical click bait. It drives me crazy, but the problem is, they cant help it.
No, they have to because that’s what we’re in right now and that’s what I hate.
Yeah, they have to. You know what I’m doing now? Because I’m always reading; I’m always either glued to my iPad or my computer because I’m always reading scripts now. You know what I’ve done and I’ve been doing it for the last two weeks? I have been going through my entire Fangoria collection from issue 1 on up and reading every article that interests me and just getting back to the analog nature of horror journalism and the shit I’m picking up… like I was reading something about Phantasm and I was like, “That’s amazing!” It’s going back to the basics and checking out old articles. There was this great article about John Landis and it was just before he had done Blues Brothers and American Werewolf in London and he was talking to Fangoria about speaking with Universal to resurrect the Universal Monsters. He was going to produce the Mummy, The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Yeah, he was going to do all of these remakes and on the werewolf side, he was doing American Werewolf in London. And I didn’t know this, but he said that the script (American Werewolf) had been optioned seven times. Seven times! He wrote it when he was 19 and American Werewolf in London had been optioned seven times before it finally got made. I was like, “Holy shit. I didn’t know that.”
Yeah, so it’s like, while the internet is concerning itself with, lets talk about hairstyles in horror and what’s your favorite sweater in a horror movie, I’m like, let me just go back in and dig in to some old articles and I’m enjoying it. I’m loving it.
That’s probably really interesting. I would think it would be really beneficial now to look back at what people did.
There is a great article that I flagged to read; State of the Union of Horror in 1991. Some journalist just dug in and looked at the horror landscape versus what was profiting and what was going on at that time. Yeah, we can always learn. We can always learn from the past. I still look at all of the sites, you know, Bloody Disgusting, Shock Till You Drop, Dread Central, Fangoria…every morning I have it all flagged and I just go through. Although, it’s funny because I noticed that Chris Alexander who now runs Shock, he did a new skin on it. It’s like an old movie theater and I was like, “I never would have thought of that at all. It’s cool!”
I did see that. It’s very cool.
So, listen. You’re at Blumhouse now. They’re super polarizing in the horror world. You know that, right?
O.K. You can’t answer that question.
Listen, when I came in here, when they did the press release announcement that they were hiring me and that we ran on Shock, I said, “I like some movies, I don’t like some movies.” (Referring to Blumhouse films.)
I did read that. I thought that was really refreshing of you.
I do hair and it’s been interesting to see the Blumhouse affect on my clients. Now, anytime a horror movie comes out, they assume that I’ve seen it and they assume that it’s from Blumhouse. I think that’s really great, but there is this facet of people who are really upset about it and they really demonize Blumhouse in general. How do you view that?
Speaking personally, people are going to think what they think, but ultimately, they need to understand that to me, Jason has found a great model to make horror movies. Making movies! We’re making movies! We’re making horror movies. We make horror movies regularly, we do it with care, we do it with a lot of heart. I’m in development: I’m in there, in the room, talking and giving notes about how to make these movies better and better. But also Jason, to me, is the showman. He’s a little bit of the William Castle. He’s showing is ingenuity on a budget and that’s a little Roger Corman. I don’t know if that answers your question, but people are always going to think what they’re going to think and if you don't like it, you don’t like. Go watch something else, I guess.
I guess that’s what I’m fascinated by. I feel like some people spend time…
Talking about it?
Yeah. How when Howard Stern had his heyday in the 90’s and the average Howard Stern hater listened more than the average Howard Stern fan. I feel like that’s you guys right now.
Nah. No, I don’t think so. Flip that negativity. Here’s the thing I’ve learned now that I’m out of that game: negativity sucks. Negativity doesn’t help anybody, it doesn’t help anybody grow. You can be critical, but it can still be positive criticism. Positive criticism being, “Hey, I take issue with this and here’s why,” and be able to eloquently discuss that. Why linger on the negativity? Focus on the fact that there are a handful of great companies making horror on the regular with great talent.
I feel like it’s a benefit that horror has become more ubiquitous. You guys also have the Blumhouse Tilt label: is that a kind of backdoor way of getting to the naysayers?
No. It’s just a unique, new way to put out more unconventional films that couldn’t normally go through our system on a wider release. For movies like The Green Inferno. We just picked up a film at Sundance called Slight which will also be a Blumhouse Tilt release. Those are movies that are unconventional horror films that we’re giving love to through the Tilt label. The Tilt label is 1500 screen release, low P&A costs, more targeted for online, word of mouth and stuff like that.
I like it. I didn’t think I was ever going to get to see The Green Inferno. I was waiting for years.
Yes, exactly! The more support Blumhouse Tilt gets, the more we can do crazy movies like that. That’s just the way it is. We have the Bulmhouse label, Blumhouse Tilt, Blumhouse Publishing and blumhouse.com and these are all avenues for us to explore the horror field and the more support they get, the more we can do more of that and explore with more filmmakers.
Well, on the other side of that, some people think that, maybe, you’re going too quickly and spreading yourself thin.
You know what? Don’t worry about the pacing. Don’t worry about us. I mean, Paranormal Activity came out in 2008. It’s 2016.
Has it been that long?
And now there’s twenty thousand of them.
Um, yes, haha.
I don’t mean to harp on it, but it’s the pervasive negativity towards Jason Blum and the Blumhouse label that made me aware of who he is. I kept hearing about how he was ruining horror, but after looking into it, all I could see was that there was all of this horror that was more available to me and I wasn’t quite sure what the problem was. And then when I listened to him on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast and I found that really enlightening.
Yeah, that was a great interview.
He seems like a really cool guy who’s just trying to bring stuff to people.
Jason is fantastic and I’m not just saying that. I respected him before I got here. I really respected him just because of what he was doing and my interviews with him, they were always, we always got along. Like Sam Raimi, like the guys at Platinum Dunes and like some of the guys that have their own horror companies, the Spectre Vision guys, we all have our own different methods and our own voices in how we’re approaching the horror genre. The more the merrier. Do your own thing.
Spectre Vision is interesting.
Yes, they’re doing some crazy stuff and it’s wildly different than what we do and what we do is wildly different than what Sam Raimi does at Ghost House. The more people realize, that the more people making horror films at our level and contributing to the genre, the more it keeps it alive. For better or worse, yes, the quality matters, but everybody loves everything. I took my girlfriend’s daughter to see The Forest and she was like, “Two thumbs up, I loved it.” I was like, there’s a Forest fan who is going to grow up thinking The Forest is great and that’s fine. Everybody has their own love of something.
I haven’t seen The Forest, but I haven’ heard anything good about it. It’s like the kids growing up in the 90’s had Urban Legend and they think it’s rad. I’m not saying that it’s not, but we all have our thing.
Yeah, we all have our things. I love Maximum Overdrive and Lifeforce and other weirdo shit. Things that my dad looked at and frowned upon. My dad was a horror fan, but when I’m like, “I like Maximum Overdrive”, he’s like, “That’s garbage.” Well, I like it. Horror fans need to realize that as we get older, there is going to be a generation behind us that is going to love some of the stuff that we hated. It’s Simba up on a mountain top, circle of life shit.
I still love Full Moon movies.
I just re-watched Castle Freak. It’s a really interesting movie. Last time I had seen it, I was in college and working at Blockbuster. I recently saw it was on Hulu and I thought, I’m going to re-watch this to see. When was the last time you saw it?
Probably the last time you were working at Blockbuster.
The movies is literally about Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton moving into a giant castle and then the last twenty minutes is about them fighting off a freak. The first hour is just them moving into a spooky, old castle with a blind daughter who is blind because of Jeffrey Combs, but there’s no other reason for her to be blind other than the “sins of the father” representation and then Jeffery Combs eating out a hooker and then a freak killing people and then that’s it. I was like, O.K. So, the Full Moon guys were probably like, we’ve got a castle. Let’s make a movie!
They’re awesome. I still think Subspecies is one of the best movies ever.
I love Subspecies! I think it’s great.
O.K. What’s the most challenging aspect of this job?
The negativity you’re talking about! Nah, that’s life. No, negativity is nothing.
You’re good at brushing it off, though, which I think is really important.
I didn’t used to be able to brush if off. I would fight back. You just can’t do it anymore. You know what, I also learned that from meeting other writers and the producers and directors. How they do it. The most difficult part of the job is fighting self doubt because sometimes you can find a project or develop a project and be like, I really like this and now I have to run it up the ladder to the team and what if they hate it? What if they laugh? That is a scary prospect. I did that today. I’ve been working on a treatment with a new writer, no director attached and it’s pure, uncut, me and this writer, just hashing out ideas. He came up with this cool treatment and I just sent it up to the big boys today. Finger crossed, they don’t go, “Turek, what is this?” So, that’s a big challenge, but also just finding great material in general. And also, the challenge is always confidence stuff. I found, always speak up, especially if you have a strong opinion about something and also, be outgoing. I feel like, the more people you talk to and the more outgoing you are, the more opportunities arise. You wouldn’t know about some projects unless you went over and started talking to somebody about something. Self doubt is the big thing, but I’m getting to a point where they know my tastes and I know what we’re doing, so every now and then I’ll throw something into the mix just to get a reaction and see what they say. “Here’s this crazy script that I read” and they’ll go, “Turek, come on.” Or on the flip side of that, they'll go, that’s cool. I’m trying. The stuff that I’m pushing through Blumhouse, I don’t know that you’ll necessarily see it this year, but some of the stuff this year, I have a few touches on. My own projects that I’m pushing through probably won’t get going until this summer. I’ve had friends asking when are we going to see the Turek touch on Blumhouse movies? It takes a while to get a movie off of the ground, even in the Blumhouse system: we go through all of the trials and tribulations.
That’s awesome. So, is there something really, really cool about this job that you didn’t expect?
All of it.
Oh, that’s sweet.
No, there’s something that happened that I can’t talk about that was followed up by a meeting that I didn’t expect that was a kind of reward and I was like, “Holy Shit. I am in Hollywood. I am making movies.” It’s a pinch yourself kind of moment. Something I did offset this, we got this and because of that, great stuff is going to happen now. I couldn’t believe it. In some weird way, I became that person who I always read about in the pages of Fangoria and I wanted to be. I work for a great producer and I’m constantly learning from him. Hopefully, at some point in my life, I’ll get to his level, but for now, I know I’ve got a lot to learn, so I’m soaking it up as much as I can and maybe get some of my weirdo horror movies through. We’ll see.
That’s awesome. I think it’s cool that you’re so happy and you’re always positive. Your humbleness shines through and that’s always good.
I believe in that. I believe in trying to be humble. You know, it took a while to get here. From the time I graduated in ‘98 to now at 2014. That’s a long time and people don’t realize that. I remember my dad told me, and I didn’t believe him, “It’s gonna take a bit. It’s gonna take a while. Just hang in there.” I’m like, nope, I’ve read about successes stories and I’ll be that guy and now, 16,17 years later and I’m finally paying off my student loans.
Dare to dream! Paying off your student loan? No way.
Yeah, I got it done last year. That was my holiday gift.
That’s why I wanted to speak to you. You put in the work to get where you are. I’m sure you were discouraged when you realized that you weren’t going to be an executive a year later, but you kept going.
Yeah, and that was the thing, too. When I was at Shock Till You Drop, I would go in waves. There would be points where I’m like, this site’s not going anywhere and we’re just treading water. There’s nothing new under the sun, I’m constantly bickering with some rival sites and it’s like, what is this all worth? What am I doing this for? Then I would kind of retreat into my inner shell and reason with why I liked horror and find a way to reinvigorate the site and do something cool. That became cyclical and this job came at the right time and I was ready to make the leap. We’ll see where things go next, but I’m really loving being here.
I really appreciate you taking the time.
Image courtesy of Lisa Fremont