The Arrow interviews Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules & Mark Burg
Maybe it's just me, but before I started getting involved within the film industry on a deeper level, only actors, directors and screenwriters were my heroes. But the more I delved into this crazy world of show business, the more appreciation I found myself having for the title known as "producer". You can't begin to imagine the amount of crazy shit these dudes have to go through to get a movie off the ground! Well, I recently got the chance to talk shop with the three producers of one of my favorite horror films of the year "Saw"(hitting the screens on October 29, 2004), so give it up for Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules and Mark Burg, the men behind the genre label that is "Twisted Pictures".
ARROW: What are your favorite horror movies, laddies?
GH: My favorites are the American horror films from the late 70’s through the mid- 80’s -- EVIL DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, RE-ANIMATOR, NEAR DARK, PHANTASM, SCANNERS and VIDEODROME are the ones that spring to mind immediately. Although I was never a huge fan of the teen slasher movie, I’d also have to add HALLOWEEN to the list simply because there was a girl in high school that I had been lusting over for a while and she finally agreed to go out with me. We went to see HALLOWEEN and she got so scared she basically spent the whole movie in my lap. I guess I have John Carpenter to thank for the biggest set of blue-balls I’ve ever had!
MB: THE EXORCIST. Scared the crap out of me every time they went down the hallway and opened that door.
OK: I love the horror films from the great Italian directors – Argento, Bava, Fulci. The storytelling is obviously difficult for people used to watching Hollywood movies, but visually, there’s nothing like them.
ARROW: Would you say that the horror genre is your primary focus in terms of producing? If so, why?
OK: Mark, Gregg and I have all worked in “mainstream” films for most of our careers. Mark was President of Island Pictures for 10 years and produced CAN’T BUY ME LOVE and BULL DURHAM among other films. I was an executive at Paramount and as a producer was responsible for SET IT OFF and MRS. WINTERBOURNE. Before Gregg joined our company, Mark and I together produced JOHN Q and LOVE DON’T COST A THING among others.
GH: I was an executive at Disney for 8 years working almost exclusively on live-action family films like INSPECTOR GADGET, 101 and 102 DALMATIANS, etc.., and produced the GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE sequel.
MB: Although we probably have close to 50 credits combined as either producers or executives, none of us had produced a horror film before SAW (although I would categorize SAW as a psychological thriller). We have a number of films in development at the studios outside the horror genre, but on the independent side, we will be focused almost exclusively on horror and psychological thrillers.
ARROW: How did James Wan and Leigh Whannell pitch and sell SAW to you?
GH: Obviously, people weren’t looking to us to produce horror films, so the truth is that finding SAW was really a stroke of good luck. I was waiting in the lobby of a literary agency on other business, when an agent I knew came into the room with a strange look on his face. He saw me and asked if I had a minute because he wanted to show me something “and make sure he wasn’t crazy.” He took me into a conference room and put a DVD into the machine. I started watching and a few minutes in my jaw hit the floor. I hadn’t seen a short that accomplished and so disturbing in as long as I could remember. When I asked for details I was told that two film school graduates from Melbourne, Australia had made the short, which was actually a sequence from a script they were shopping.
MB: Gregg came back into the office and took Oren and I into the conference room, popped the DVD into the machine and told us not to say anything, just to watch. Needless to say, we had the same reaction he did. We all read the script that night. The next morning, we mutually decided that if James and Leigh were remotely sane, we wanted to finance and produce the film.
OK: 24 hours later, fresh off a 14 hour flight across 17 time zones, James and Leigh, along with their manager Stacey Testro, were in our office. Ten minutes after meeting them, I looked at James and asked, “Do you want to direct this script?” James nodded. I looked at Leigh and asked, “Do you want to play the role of Adam?” Leigh nodded. “Okay,” I said, “we’re prepared to greenlight this script right now and we’ll start pre-production as soon as we can get you both work visas.”
GH: I’m sure they walked out of our offices thinking, “What’s the catch?” In the end, although there were other offers on the table, no one but us was prepared to commit to James and start the movie right away. James and Leigh rolled the dice on us and we rolled the dice on them.
ARROW: Taking into account James’ limited on set experience, we’re you at all hesitant to trust him in taking this feature home?
OK: Not at all. The short told us everything we needed to know about James’ vision for the movie, and we made sure to surround him with key crew members who had as much experience as we could afford in order to support that vision.
ARROW: I know you guys were working with limited funds on SAW...how did you manage to cut those corners to keep on budget?
GH: The genius of James and Leigh’s script is that most of it is two guys chained in a room. There’s only 14 speaking roles in the film and it’s almost all interiors. In all honesty, we didn’t have to cut THAT many corners.
MB: We were based in one facility in Los Angeles that was a giant old textile plant that has since been converted into production space. The only set we built was the bathroom. The rest of the locations existed inside or around the facility. We hired experienced people we had worked with in the past to run all the critical on-set operations, and took chances with relative newcomers in the key creative areas (Production Designer, Cinematographer, Editor, etc.).
OK: What we found was that everyone loved the script so much, people were really willing to go the extra mile -- that, and we fed them well, which is the key to a happy crew for all you neophyte producers out there!
ARROW: Was there anything in the screenplay that couldn’t make the final cut due to lack of time/money restraints?
GH: We didn’t have to cut anything, but there were a couple of scenes that had to be reconceived due to time constraints. I don’t think they detract from the final product, so I don’t really want to point them out.
ARROW: The flick is fairly nasty. How did the MPAA treat ya? Was it smooth sailing?
OK: We originally got an NC-17.
GH: You get to appeal ratings if you think the board made an error. I was elected to make the appeal. When I walked into the room after the appeals board had viewed the film, I was tempted to just start singing “Mr. Bojangles” and do a soft-shoe, because looking at their faces, nothing I could have said would have changed the boards mind.
OK: We did have to make some cuts, but at the end of the day, it could have been a lot worse. They asked for a few shots here and there to reduce the overall amount of gore, but it’s not like they de-fanged the movie.
MB: The good news is, we’ll eventually put out the unrated director’s cut on DVD so you can see every last bloody frame James wanted you to see.
ARROW: What’s next for you in terms of producing? Anything you can tell us?
OK: We’ve got a number of interesting things cooking, which we will be announcing a little closer to the films’ release date on October 1st. You can be sure that JoBlo.com will be amongst the first to hear about what we’re up to.
ARROW: I know that you’re very much aware of the genre and its inner structure. Any plans to one day write or direct a horror film yourself?
MB: Right now, we’re really happy doing what we’re doing. We really enjoy working with new talent.
GH: Speaking personally, I’d never say never!
ARROW: How do you hope audiences will react while viewing SAW?
OK: One of our favorite things to do is to watch the audience watch the last reel (20 minutes) of the film. Audiences seem to divide into camps. They’re either yelling at the screen and basically freaking out, or they sit their with their mouths hanging open with an “I can’t believe what I’m f***ing seeing!” look on their faces.
ARROW: Hard liquor, beer or Lemonade? What do you feel like drinking…RIGHT NOW?
OK: Absolut Citroen and Diet Red Bull.
GH: Scotch rocks – but strictly for medicinal purposes.
ARROW: Mojito, a good warm up, Diet Red Bull a good pick me up...Scotch rocks...I RESPECT THAT!
"Arrow" and SAW doll "Jigsaw"
I'd like to thank the SAW boys for dropping by the site and for contributing in delivering one hell of tight genre flick. I am looking forward in seeing what "Twisted Pictures" will offer us next! If SAW is any indication of this company's MO, then we just made some new friends. BRING IT, GUYS! BRING IT!!!!!