Exclusive Horror Discussion with SAW 3's Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell
by Alex Billington
October 24, 2006
FirstShowing.net caught up with the legendary filmmakers behind the Saw series and upcoming Saw 3, director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer Leigh Whannell. In connection with one of our podcasts previously and October being the month of horror, we talked with these two guys at length about their interests in the horror genre and Saw 3. Check out this awesome chat with the Saw masterminds!
Length: 15:34 | File Size: 10.7MB | Format: MP3
Read on for the timeline of questions asked.
This is part 1 of 2 in our horror discussion with the Saw filmmakers and crew! Stay tuned for part 2 with the cast soon.
Saw 3 comes out in theaters this Friday, October 27th! If you live in Colorado, don't miss out on the FirstShowing.net events!
FirstShowing: Hey guys, this is Josh from FirstShowing.net and I am here with the director and writer of Saw 3, if you guys could introduce yourself for me.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Hey this is Darren Lynn Bousman, director.
Leigh Whannell: And I'm Leigh Whannell, the writer.
FS: And we are with these guys to do a basic discussion about the horror genre. First off, I want to ask you guys, what got you into the genre and is this your favorite genre?
DLB: I got into it because I like being disgusted, and I like the envelope being pushed. More so than any other genre, horror continues to push the envelope. You really don't see dramas pushing the envelope, or comedies pushing the envelope. And horror seems to be one that [is] constantly showing people things they haven't experience before. So I would say, yea, it is my favorite genre.
LW: I like all types of films. I wouldn't call myself a horror film fan, so much as I would call myself a film fan. But horror films in particular I do love. And I don't really know why. I can't really analyze it, it's almost like trying to explain to someone why you love rock music - who knows?! I just love to rock out, I don't know why I like it, there's something primal buried inside me that loves it, and I think the same goes for horror. I just love being scared, I love being grossed out, and having that fun. And essentially when you want to be involved in filmmaking you gravitate towards what you love. When it came time for James [Wan] and I to write a film when we finished film school, our natural love of horror films lead us down that path. Rather than us sitting down and having a business meeting with a pie chart and a graph and examining what was popular with audiences. That's not how we became horror filmmakers, we became it by accident just through our love of that.
FS: You guys both mentioned that you both like being scared. Do you think that's a major factor in what draw's audiences to go see these films, or what is it do you think the audience connects with the most?
DLB: We go through a variety of emotions every day, we go through happiness, sorrow, we feel drama. But I think when you actually feel scared, it's few and fare between. When you're actually terrified of something, or disgusted by something. I can't tell you the last time that I laughed at something, but I can tell you the last time that I was disgusted or scared at something. And I think when a movie can emote that kind of feeling in an audience member, it's memorable. I always use this joke, I can never tell you where I was when I saw Weekend at Bernie's, but I can tell you 100% where I was when I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
LW: Yea, I think people want to go and see horror films for the same reason they want to line-up for 2 hours at a theme park and then get on a rollercoaster that's going to take them 300 feet in the air and spin them around. I mean, I'm not a big fan of rollercoaster's, I see the ground as being perfectly fine. I see no reason to strap yourself into a harness and get rid of your lunch on one of these rides. But I think that the reasons for doing them [is] the same - humans love to feel that adrenaline. Within a safe context, you get on a rollercoaster, your mind tells you that it's safe. You're going to be in a harness, many people have done this before, the people who built this rollercoaster know what they're doing. So you can feel terror and fear, you can feel the feeling of what it would be like to plummet 200 feet to the earth without having to worry that it's going to result in your death. The same goes for horror films, you can sit in a theater, the lights go down. You can dip your toes into that pool of fear that you would fear if somebody was inside your house with a knife. Knowing that-
DLB: Or a saw.
LW: Yea, or a saw. Knowing that there's no one actually in there. That when the lights come up, you're going to be in a theater and you're safe. Having said that though, I've met a lot of people, since we made Saw, who cannot watch horror films, they just can't deal with it. I'm really surprised by the number of people who said 'I'm sorry I didn't see Saw, I don't watch horror films.' It amazes me, because I've been able to watch horror films since I was young. I think that's the reason, people are attracted to what they fear. I just think stuff in the darker side of life is cool. I've always loved ghost stories, stories of the occult. Because it's mysterious, I'm attracted to it. It's just cool to hear ghost stories, it's cool even to watch programs like "Unsolved Mysteries." Anything that scares you is cool to me.
FS: There are a lot of different types of horror obviously like slasher flicks, zombie flicks, gore-fests, are there any that you think have become more dominate over recent years?
DLB: I think that the realistic horror has become much more of a mainstream - if you look at movies recently that have been successful…
LW: Films like Hostel and Hills Have Eyes
DLB: I think the monster movies have kind of gone away for right now. I don't remember the last time I actually saw a really good monster movie that worked and maintained that kind of following. But if you look at movies like Wolf Creek, Hostel, The Devil's Rejects, the Saw films, they're real people, and it's about human nature gone awry, human nature gone wrong. I think that's scarier because it comes from a place of believability. I can believe that some guy could kidnap me and do horrible things to me, I don't know if I can believe Freddy Krueger's going to come in my dreams and kill me.
FS: How do you feel about the horror remakes that have taking place over the last few years? And if Saw were to be remade, what aspects of the film would you want to stay intact?
LW: Well, I would want to remain the actor. Actually, I would play Dr. Gordon. By the time they remake it I would be old enough to play Dr. Gordon. In terms of my feelings for the horror remakes, I'm not really into them. It's an interesting question because a lot of my favorite horror films are remakes: The Thing and The Fly. By John Carpenter and David Cronenberg respectively - are such great films. But I think they're very distinctly different from the remakes we're seeing today. They were made years after the original. The originals were these creaky black and white films that took an idea and couldn't really do justice to it. And these new directors just breathed new life into them. I think a lot of the remakes we're seeing now aren't doing that. I don't want to name names because I don't want to seem like a vindictive prick [coughs] The Omen. These films that are basically shot for shot remakes of 70s horror films, they're not doing anything new, I just think it's really unoriginal.
DLB: That's the problem. You look at these movies that are being remade, and there's no new statement to be made with them. You're remaking the same statement they made 20 years ago, when they made it better than you did. So unless you have something completely new to bring to the table, get away from it. I also think that if the original film was flawed, if I found some obscure, crazy grind house film that was shown in 4 theaters - ah that's a cool idea. Then that's ok. But to remake The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
FS: Aren't they going to do that now?
DLB: Yea, Naomi Watts just signed on for it. If they movie was done right the first time, don't fuck it up and do it again. However that being said, I read that kind of a trend happening is a lot of Japanese filmmakers, or even this German filmmaker, is remaking his own film in America. I feel that's OK, if he wants to reach a bigger audience and it's the same creative force behind it coming back. I don't know how I feel about Clive Barker redoing Hellraiser, which I just read today.
FS: We found that out last night and I was really heartbroken.
LW: Yea, it's just not creative. This is an art form, at the end of the day, sure a large part of it's business, but some of it's show, too. Everybody says 'hey, the word is show business, don't forget the business part.' My response to that is, well don't forget the show part either. There is some artistry to these films, even Hollywood films. There has to be artists involved and there has to be some creativity. I just don't think it's creative to take something that's already been done and just remake it shot for shot.
FS: I know Saw 3 had to be submitted to the ratings board like 7 or 8 times. Is it difficult to film a movie in the idea you envision yet still come within the ratings boundaries?
DLB: You know what the hardest thing as a director is. So Leigh [Whannell] and I sit down and we have an idea that's a 10, and we're like 'yea we got a 10!' And then you show it to everyone and the producers are like 'no you're not going to do that.' So now you have a 9, but you got a 9, and you're like 'yea we got a 9!' And then you go on set, and you realize that you don't have the budget to do it. But it's ok, you got an 8, and a strong 8 is better. So you got an 8. Then you try shooting it and you run out of time to shoot it - then you got a 7. And you're like, 'alright, I got a 7.' Then you go to the ratings board and you give it to them-
LW: Great, we have a 3!
DLB: Then you get it back in sound design and you're back up to an 8. You know what, I think, that whole speech was actually for nothing. Because the ratings board, I've got to say this, we're very cool, and I don't believe they allowed the stuff they let through that they did. The best piece of advice that I've gotten thus far in the ratings process was from Rob Zombie who did Devil's Rejects. I called him once we got the NC-17 and after I submitted it 3 times, and I was like 'Rob, I know Devil's Rejects had an NC-17, what did you do?' And he said, what you need to do is get Lionsgate to allow you to directly talk to the MPAA. And I got on the phone with the head of the MPAA, and spoke to them as a filmmaker not as a producer about why these certain scenes were important to the movie. Obviously they want to remove sexual torture, and things like that. But in a lot of respects they're important plot points, and you can't just erase them. They actually tell a message. In a lot of respects, deleting something does the opposite of what they want. For example, if let's say the villain in a horror movie, they say his death is too violent. Well he's wreaked havoc on people for the last 10 years and now it's his time for come-uppance and you're wanting to lessen that. And you're like, OK, keep it. As long as you have an impassioned statement about it, they're really cool with it. I think we probably won 80% of the battles and lost 20%.
LW: It's interesting, cause I think if there's any hypocrisy that exists within the ratings board here it's more to do with sex than violence. You can get away with a lot more violence-wise than you can sexually. I think that needs to be addressed. As Darren just said, they've been pretty good to the Saw films thus far.
DLB: You know the thing that makes me want to vomit is the fact that you make a horror film - it's called horror. It's scary, it's violent, it's disturbing. And you give it to the MPAA, and they're like 'this movie is too violent, too disturbing, too scary.' But you don't see them say that with comedy, it's never too funny, it's never too serious. We've done what we've set out to do. We're not trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes. This is Saw 3. The tag line last year was "oh yes, there will be blood." This year is "suffering: you haven't seen anything yet." We're not trying to trick the audience and say we're going to show them Kramer vs. Kramer or Terms of Endearment and we splatter them with blood. Look at the posters, they're dismembered body parts. If someone walks in this movie not knowing what it is, it's your fault, I really believe that. We are completely out there saying exactly what we are. The trailer only shows the violence. If you look at the trailer, it doesn't show any of the emotional story, it only shows the violence. We are not trying to trick anyone.
FS: Jigsaw tells us that the cure for death itself is immortality. What about the Saw series do you think will be able to live on forever and stand the test of time?
DLB: The hope is it gets passed down from generation to generation and in 20 [to] 30 years, it becomes like I'm talking about, I always reference movies from the 70s.
LW: Yea, that would be awesome to have film school students - I hope that the original trilogy - I really feel ownership over this trilogy, I'm not sure how much I'll have to do with any future Saw films or sequels, if they make them. But I really feel like this trilogy, you could watch these films back to back, 1, 2 and 3, and in a way they would play as one story. That's what I really like about them, is that they are true part-two's and part-three's. I hope that in future, that the Saw trilogy is looked at as a great horror trilogy up there with other remembered horror films, classic horror films, like Nightmare on Elm Street and these other films. I think that's the best thing you can hope for as a filmmaker, in whatever category you fit into: whether you're a director or a writer or an actor. The best you can hope for, is that your work lives on. Otherwise it just goes into this huge landfill.
DLB: There's so many movies out there. I collect horror films, and I've got hundreds and hundreds of horror films that no one has ever heard of. I mean, The Day the Earthworm Attack, and just these horrible movies that no one has ever seen. The one thing I love about the Saw films are we have these memorable scenes. You have the jaw trap scene in the first one, you have the needle pit, you've got the pig scene. I hope these come on to be in like Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 20 years. Like, that time when that girl fell in the needle pit or the jaw trap. That's what you kind of hope for.
LW: People still talk about the opening scene of Jaws. If you can have your films be remembered and sort of become this legacy, that's the best thing to hope for.
FS: Can you tell us what was changed in the NC-17 version to the R version.
DLB: Nope, time to go! Let's go! [joking] No, it's funny, the original cut of the movie was much different. But really nothing changed from the MPAA version. The original cut, I mean was like 3 hours long, it was like an epic of violent proportions. But watching the film - now Leigh's got a phone call, Leigh go ahead and take your phone call. But the original edit, I went into this saying, with 1 and 2 again, like we were talking about the trilogy. We had tons of ideas, and I wanted to put them all on screen. But it is correct, that sometimes shorter is better. We watched the film on its whole, and it didn't work. There were so many scenes that were great scenes standalone, but distracted you from what we wanted the theme of story to be. So I think from the first edit to the second edit, there was a massive change.
LW: Look, the reason the first cut was 3 hours isn't because there was so much more gore, it's because it was bloated with Darren's indulgences: musical numbers, he had a synchronized swimming sequence featuring a bunch of people dressed like the doll, and it was completely over the top and unnecessary. His ego ran out of control, he made us all refer to him as Mr. Copolla on the set.
FS: Did the pigs actually get to do any dancing?
DLB: Yea, we did some animation with them. No, but I think from the MPAA, they were really cool. They had some issues with some scenes. But-
LW: It wasn't until you talked to them personally that they relented, before you talked to them -
DLB: Yea, they were quite animate about the **** and freezer girl scene. I didn't have to cut anything out of the **** or the freezer girl scene. And those were two they were really upset about. We lost things here and there, enough to make a difference in the movie? No. I think that there will hopefully be a really cool cut, because there is a lot more to the Tim sequence.
LW: How long would the full on everything-in-it director's cut go for? 3 hours?
DLB: No, like 2 and a half maybe. That's another 45 minutes.