Quantcast James Wan interview - SAW, DEAD SILENCE, DEATH SENTENCE

James Wan!!!
Icons Of Fright were lucky enough to get a few words with SAW director/creator James Wan!!! His first film has already gone on to spawn 2 sequels (with SAW 3 scheduled for Oct. 06) and introduce the world to our latest beloved movie maniac, Jigsaw. (Not bad for a first flick!) He's currently finishing up his latest film, formally titled 'SILENCE' and is gearing up for 'DEATH SENTENCE'. Read on!!! - by Robg., Adam Barnick & Bunni Speigelman. - 6/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first film that really scared you or had an impact on you?
The horror film that has had the most impact on me, because I saw it at an early age, is Poltergeist. I think I was six or seven when my parents took me to see it. The cool thing was, my mum was a big fan of horror movies and she didn't have a problem with me seeing scary movies. The down side was, ever since then, I have had a strange fixation and fear of all things doll/clown-like.  

Can you tell us a bit about how you first got into filmmaking as a career? Did you pursue film school, or did it start even before that with a camera in the backyard?
Ever since I was eleven years old, I had wanted to be a film-maker. I think even as a kid, I appreciated and loved the medium of cinema because it allowed me to utilize every aspect of art to tell a story. I went to an art college where I focused on film-making. Which in my opinion was better than film-school, because as an art institution, they foster creative freedom and expression. It was here that I met Leigh.

When did your working relationship with Leigh begin? How do you write together & what’s an average day writing with Leigh like in terms of process, hours, etc.?

Leigh and I didn't really start collaborating until we left college. We have a great working relationship- one that is very collaborative. Our working method is very simple. I would come up with a thought or an idea, pitch it to him and then he would take my idea and expand on it. We would just bounce ideas back and forth.

How’d you raise the money for the SAW short? And who are some of the people that you were able to turn to and depend on when you were trying to get "Saw" off the ground? How did they help you out?

Leigh and I spent a year hashing out the SAW script and then another year shopping it around in Australia. There were interest in the project, but we couldn't find anyone who was willing to put up the money for it. Our manager then took the script to an agent in LA, who ended up loving the script and wanted to meet with Leigh and myself. At this stage in my life, my day job had just ran out and I was flat broke.

But we thought if we were gonna go all the way to LA we may as well shoot a little short to accompany the script. We scraped together whatever money we had saved (roughly 4 grand USD) and shot the short in two days and edited in three. We had very little hope for it (and the script), as we touched down in LA. Two days later, we got the film off the ground.

You & Leigh are filmmakers from Melbourne, Australia. How’d you get the management/representation necessary to get his script/short seen in the states?

Leigh had been acting since he was a child and has had the same representation since then.

There are some name actors in ‘SAW’ not typically found in horror films (Danny Glover, Cary Elwes). Were these actors you specifically sought out for ‘SAW’ or did they come on board based on the material? Was anyone ever put off by some of the material in ‘SAW’?
SAW does have an unusual cast for a horror movie. Because the producers themselves put in their own money, they wanted a certain pedigree of name to help sell the product. Even if the material was a bit gruesome for some, there was always respect for the script and the ingenuity of the story telling.

A lot of times some directors in the horror genre have said when working with a small budget, it can sometimes work toward the advantage of the final film. Besides the fact that you had such a short schedule AND a tight budget on ‘SAW’, was this an obstacle for you at all? What was an average day like on Saw?

SAW was a tough, tough film to shoot. I wished I had a bigger budget to do the script justice. My vision for the film was a lot more than the $700,000 price tag allowed. What this meant, was that everyday became a struggle for me to not lose my spirit over the things I wasn't getting.

What was the initial expectation for "Saw" in regards to how it would perform financially? Was there a shock factor for you when it became a huge hit? How did you spend the opening weekend and what was your reaction when you saw the first weekend’s performance?

At that point, I was so green to the process of 'opening weekends', I had no idea what a good opening weekend entailed. I remember the Friday it opened, it started out a bit slow and it wasn't until the late showings that the number spiked dramatically upwards. Even then I still had no idea what it all meant, until I caught up with the producers at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly and they explained to me how well it was doing. It went on to become one of Lionsgate's highest grossing films. And to think that at one stage, there was talk about releasing it straight to video.
When watching ‘SAW’ with an audience, where you surprised by the strong audience reaction? What’s that like for you as the director?

It's an incredible feeling. Especially for a first film experience. I feel really blessed.

You had mentioned at a Fango panel how you were disappointed with the color transfer on the original ‘SAW’ release on DVD, hence the director’s cut came out recently. What exactly were the differences that you supervised between the original DVD release and the “unrated director’s cut”?

I was back in Australia when the first transfer was made, so I wasn't around to supervise it. It's a lot more normal looking than the theatrical coloring, where the hues were a lot deeper and more saturated. I went back and corrected this for the director's cut. Overall, the director's cut has the gore shots reinstated, color and contrast corrected, put back Charlie's music that were replaced by the songs, and tightened one or two scenes at the end of the movie (because I had to rush to get it ready for Sundance, there were a few editorial things that I didn't get the chance to do, so I addressed them in the director's cut). I think for the first time the director's cut is a bit shorter than the theatrical release.

Speaking of, you’ve made a few convention appearances as of now. What has the convention experience been like from your perspective?

Really amazing. I've always wanted to go a horror convention and I finally got the chance to, thanks to SAW.  

What can you tell us about your latest film SILENCE? Where are you at with it production-wise? When’s the potential release date and what’s it about!?
(firstly, the title is changing because of another project with a similar title.) It's a story about a young couple receiving a mysterious package with a ventriloquist dummy in it, and death is brought with it. Our protagonist then heads back to his home town, where he believes, is where the doll is from. There's an old legend here about the ghost of a ventriloquist who takes your tongue if you scream in its presence. It's not a gore movie. It's a creepy doll movie. It's in the spirit of those old Twilight Zone episodes or Hammer Horror Films. Very old school. The only thing missing is Vincent Price or Christopher Lee!
Now, my producer Gregg Hoffman, whom was a close friend, passed away unexpectedly at the start of the year. It was a very difficult time for me. The studio was kind enough to allow me some time off, and we halted production out of respect for Gregg. In doing so, I think we might have missed a window we were hoping for. Which is fine with me, 'cos I'm still working on it, but close to finishing it off. I realized not every film is made at the maniacal pace of the SAW films.

Has there been a drastic difference working with Twisted Pictures as opposed to Universal? Being a financially successful filmmaker, are you able to do what you want to do on SILENCE?

Haha. No comment.    

Can you tell us anything about your recently announced project ‘Death Sentence’? And how’s ‘SAW 3’ coming along?

Saw 3 is coming along really well. We're in the midst of production right now. It's pretty crazy how efficiently the SAW films are all put together. Trickiest part is always the script and story, and how much thought and effort are put into them. It's so much easier to do a sequel to one of those slasher-killer on the lose type movies. Death Sentence is the next project I'm working on. It's a raw and gritty, 70s styled revenge thriller. After the more subdued and atmospheric Silence, I'm going back to the kind of intensity that SAW was and more character driven. It's my arthouse movie with guns. I see this film as a natural progression to doing movies outside of the horror genre. I love horror films, but I think it's also good to try something different.

Well, we wish you the best James. Thanks for talking to us!

Thanks to Tim Sullivan!
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