Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Coming Soon dot Net Interview Darren Bousman and Leigh Whannel

from here

Last year, ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk to Aussie filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell a few days before their first movie Saw would hit American theatres. The horror movie was about a serial killer known as Jigsaw and the horrific death traps he uses to test his victims. At that time, there was a lot of buzz, but no one knew what an enormous hit it would become in comparison to its modest production budget of just over a million dollars.

After it made $18 million its opening weekend, Lions Gate and production company Twisted Pictures wisely decided to greenlight a sequel to be released this Halloween, and to get things rolling, they approached Darren Lynn Bousman, who had written a script for a horror movie called "The Departed" to turn that idea into a sequel to the popular horror flick. In this case, Jigsaw would have an entire house of horrors and eight victims with which to play games.

Since James Wan had moved on to other things, Bousman was also hired to direct Saw II, and many fans of the original are probably wondering how this sequel will compare and whether it will meet their expectations. To help answer the question, ComingSoon.net sat down with Whannell, a year after the success of his film, and this time, he was joined by the sequel's director Darren Lynn Bousman.

CS: Leigh, we interviewed you and James last year, and some of us expected you to walk in here wearing a nice suit or gold chains. How has the success of "Saw" changed you at all?

Whannell: I don't know. Maybe I should be dressing better or something. You guys know as well as anyone that there's a lot of creative accounting in Hollywood. It takes a long time for money to trickle down the pipe. It's not like on the Monday after the film came out, somebody handed James and I an oversized check and said "Here! You've earned it!" You get it in dribs and drabs. I'm not quite doing "Cribs" yet, but I was telling Darren on the plane that maybe I should act more like someone who has a successful film.

Bousman: That was the funniest thing. I went to his place, and I was expecting him to be sitting at the coffee table with like stacks of hundreds, just sitting there.

Whannell: You get to the point where you feel like you should be advertising success. You've gotta buy the manual called "Stuff to Buy When You've Had a Successful Film". Ah, that's the car I'm supposed to drive, but I'm like driving around in this crappy rental car, living in this little apartment…

CS: For those just joining us, how did you originally get involved with "Saw"?

Whannell: It just came out of James and I. We were friends, and we went to film school in Melbourne, Australia. We graduated film school, and five years later, we kinda just looked at each other, and I said, "You know what? We graduated film school five years ago. If we keep meeting up and talking about it, five years from now, we're still not going to have a film. The only way we're going to be able to make a film is if we actually pay for it out of our own pockets." At that time, that was an unthinkable prospect because we had zero cash, so we just sat down and asked ourselves what is the absolute cheapest film we could come up with? We were using films like "Blair Witch" as a template. We were like if we shoot it on video, if we have two cast members and it's all in one room, that I think we can do. And then we spent another month coming up with all these bad ideas like "Okay, it's two guys, and they're stuck in an elevator for the entire movie, and the whole movie is seen through the security camera!" All these sort of lame, gimmicky ideas about how we could do something super-cheap and one day, the idea for "Saw" popped out. It's like two guys wake up chained up in this bathroom. When I went off and wrote it, I wrote all these other scenes and James is reading it going "This isn't set in one room! You've got torture scenes…you've got cops…you've got car chases…what are you doing? We'll never afford this!" And I was like "We'll be fine," and two years later, it finally got made.

CS: What types of horror movies were you a fan of at that time?

Whannell: I guess it runs the spectrum. Horror's weird, because it has all these little sub-genres. You can be a fan of zombie films, but not slasher films, or you can be a fan of monster films, but not this. It's almost like heavy metal in that respect. It's like once you start dissecting it, you realize that there's 80 subgenres. There's not just heavy metal, there's Norwegian black metal, there's speed metal thrash metal, and with James and I, we were into a lot of them. We loved zombie films, we loved the old school Hammer stuff, we love European stuff like Mario Bava. "Saw" was kind of like a piece of all these different things we liked thrown into the pot.

CS: Once you achieve the success with it, did it create this flood of opportunities that you didn't know what the hell to do?

Whannell: Yeah, it really did. "Saw" was sort of planned that way. It was us saying "Okay, let's make a feature film on video at home in Australia. We'll then take that finished film, and it'll be like this really expensive business card that we'll show people and from that film, we'll get other jobs." What ended up happening was instead of "Saw" leading to a film that comes out in America and makes money. "Saw" was the film that came out! So all of a sudden, we're kind of like getting all these offers, and we hadn't really planned any next step, so it was a weird situation to be in to have all these people going "What's next? What's next?" I think you gotta slow down a bit in Hollywood for the lack of a better word, because that worker bee mentality really kicks in. People want things yesterday and if you're not careful, you can get caught up in that and try to provide them with something by yesterday.

CS: And yet, you managed to make a sequel in a year.

Whannell: I know. It's just insane. As soon as "Saw" was done, it was like "What's next? What's next? What's next?" and I was going "Woah woah…let's slow down." I just think it was like we had to release it next Halloween. At first I was worried, but it's turned out great.

CS: Okay, Darren, so you basically had this script for a movie you wanted to make. How did it get turned into Saw II?

Darren Lynn Bousman: It was a crazy process. Two year years ago, before "Saw" came out, I wrote this script called "The Desperate" and I'd been trying to get it made all around town, and I kept getting doors shut saying that it was too violent, it was too dark, it was too disturbing, it was too everything. Finally, I started getting some interest from a German company, and around the same time, "Saw" was going to Sundance, and people kept comparing my film saying "Dude, we can't make this. It's too Saw-like." Great, now people are going to compare it to Saw, and it'll never get made. I was about to go to Germany to make it, and I was meeting with DP's, and I met David Armstrong who DP'ed "Saw" and "Saw II." He was like "Dude, I love your script. I want to make this movie, but I don't want to go to Germany. What about if I got it made here?" Within ten hours of him saying that, I got a call from Greg Hoffman, who was one of the producers and Greg goes "Do not sign anything. Come to our offices immediately." Originally, they were just going to pick it up to make it its own movie. They were going to make "The Desperate" because they knew that "Saw" was coming out and they wanted to find other films such as. We worked on making "The Desperate" then "Saw" was released October last year, and then two days after that, they called me up and go "Darren, how about if we adapt your script into Saw II?" And so that's how everything happened, and then they saw a short film that I had done, so that's how I got to become director. It was funny. We'd been talking about the script has changed so much. It's a completely different movie now.

Whannell: Yeah, it's weird. Darren and I did so much work on the script that really if you were to read them…

Bousman: You would see similarities. The structure and skeleton was there from the original idea, but then we just went in there and tore it out. We tore the guts out and left the frame.

Whannell: Yeah, it's just the bones left. To me, it's a completely different script. We did so much work on it over seven months, that it really doesn't resemble that anymore. Just that core idea, as he's saying, and I think the finished film really feels like a sequel to "Saw". It doesn't feel to me like a script that's been twisted and pushed around to become the sequel to "Saw". It feels like an organic sequel.

CS: How was it for you working off someone else's script, Leigh, rather than writing from scratch?

Whannell: It was really interesting. Darren had been working on the script, "Saw-ifiing" it and changing things around. I think what happened was the producers were like "Great! We just have to change the names of the characters, and it's Saw II! Voila!" Darren quickly found out, sitting at his laptop over many late nights, it wasn't as easy as changing some character names and it becoming "Saw."It was a bit like putting the square peg in the round hole. The notes he kept getting was like "It needs to have the spirit and themes of "Saw", and eventually, it got to the point where…

Bousman: We kept pulling, stripping things out. It was easy to change one thing, but it was a domino effect. It was a house of cards. You take one thing out and everything falls.

Whannell: We would talk so much on the phone. He would be asking me for advice on stuff. Eventually, it got to the point where Greg, the producer, just called me and "Look, just get involved. Why don't you just come on board and cowrite it?"

Bousman: My phone bill from Australia, where he was at the time, was ridiculous. I was at my parents house during Christmas, and I remember a lot of the stuff was happening, and the phone bill came to over $1,000, so that was a nice Christmas present to my parents.

Whannell: By the time I got involved and Greg called me and said "Listen, come onboard and write this", by that point, I was really interested. At first, I was sort of working on something with James, and this was something going on the side, but as time went by, I started getting really into it and having more and more input to the point where eventually, I just said "I want to come onboard." I think against all odds, it's a really worthy sequel.

CS: Darren, can you talk about the short film you did before doing this?

Bousman: It was a small thing. There was a couple on the reel. They had seen two, and the main one was called "Zombie." It was a two-minute short film, and it wasn't even horror. It's called "Zombie" but it was about depression, and it was very dark and very much in the style of the editing that was in "Saw II," cut like a music video. I had a clear vision what I wanted this film to look like when I went in there, and I think that helped as well. I wasn't originally attached to direct, but I went in the office and was like "You guys are idiots if you don't have me direct. Here's what I would do" I think it's become a new staple of the 'Saw' franchise to have a first-time director…James was 26, too, right?

Whannell: Yeah, if they do "Saw III", they should bring in some other young guy who has never done anything before, because it seems to be working so far. I mean neither James nor Darren had any real experience. James would be the first person to tell you that he hadn't done anything, and they really took a risk letting James direct a feature film with nothing. All he had to show for it was this scene that we had shot from "Saw", which was like the 8-minute jawtrap scene. That's what they went by.

Bousman: Probably it's a bigger risk the second time because you established a franchise at that point. When "Saw" came out and became so huge, and then hand it to another first-time director.

Whannell: I know and then to do it again and for it to work again, I mean, these guys keep landing on their feet. Eventually, maybe somewhere around "Saw 8", the guy's going to completely f**k up and they're going to be like "We should have got someone with experience!"

CS: Can you talk a bit about the controversy over the poster with the MPAA?

Bousman: I mean, the MPAA is there for a specific reason. We all know that they don't want little kids being able to access things they shouldn't see, hence dismembered fingers. You can argue that for an R-rated film, obviously you have to buy a ticket, they have to go into a theatre, but you can see a poster anywhere, so when they saw the poster, I guess that it wasn't shown them prior.

Whannell: Yeah, I can't remember. I think they put it out on the streets.

Bousman: Yeah, it was a street poster is what the deal was, and then it became a popular street poster and then it got picked up in other places. It was never intended to be the initial campaign for it, so when the MPAA saw these street posters advertising a movie that was not approved, I think that was the issue.

Whannell: Well, they got all these rules for posters. Like you can't have a gun pointing at someone…can't have any blood…

Bousman: No, there was a bunch of things I didn't realize that we realized after that.

CS: Leigh, what's your relationship with James at this point?

Whannell: Um…we're sleeping together. I'm just kidding, man. We're working together. He's working on a film now, at this stage called "Silence" for Universal, which is another film that we wrote together, so I guess that's our second film together.

CS: How's that going and where are you guys shooting that?

Whannell: It's already been shot up in Toronto. They did "Saw II" and "Silence" nearby so the producers could have a hand in both. It's very different. It's a real throwback to the Hammer horror tradition. James and I love that old school—I'm trying to think of the most recent film that captures that spirit, like "Sleepy Hollow—we loved the sort of fog, full moon, Vincent Price, red velvet, Dario Argento type stuff. We didn't want it to be campy, but we wanted to really hark back to that stuff, because we just love the way it looks, and "Silence" is that. It's kind of a tribute to these older style horror films, so it's very different. It's nowhere near as visceral. It's more of a ghostly film.

CS: Does James have any interest in returning to the "Saw" franchise, and in the same respect, Darren, would you want to do another movie if you get a chance?

Bousman: I definitely think that I'll stay involved, in some respect. It's always hard to answer that, so I think it all depends on how people respond to "Saw II." I think that's the big question in determining any sequel is how does the last one do? If fans want another one and they're really keen on this and it does very well, then of course, I'm open to it if we're lucky enough to do a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…

Whannell: I don't know. I think the reason James wanted to move on was that you gotta remember that "Saw" was a finished film in January of 2004, but it wasn't released until October, so you had months and months of the film sitting on a shelf waiting to come out. During that time, James and I started working on another project. By the time "Saw" came out and did well and the producers called up and said "How about a sequel?" we were already well into "Silence" so I think that's why James had to choose between the two films. Does he go with the new film or does he go back to "Saw"? I think that he wanted to try something new.

CS: How do you guys feel about taking on another sequel, "The Legend of Zorro," your opening weekend?

Whannell: (laughs) We're going to kick their asses!

Bousman: Yeah, we're going to kill them. No, the audience that's going to go see "Legend of Zorro", I don't think we're competing with them.

Whannell: We just hope people don't buy tickets for "Zorro" and then sneak into "Saw," man. That's what cost us last time. People would buy tickets for the PG-13 "Grudge" and then sneak into our movie. Man, "The Grudge" took half our box office and it's bullsh*t!

Bousman: It's funny 'cause the kids on the message boards are already talking about it, because a lot of the fans are 12 and 13 years old and they're already talking about it.

Whannell: They'd buy a ticket to "The Grudge" and then sneak into "Saw". Steve Susco, who wrote "The Grudge" is a friend of ours and we're always giving him sh*t like "Man, you only got to #1 because of us, baby."

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