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INT: Gregg Hoffman

01.23.2007by: The Arrow

JoBlo.com/AITH interviews Gregg Hoffman


Back again from the DEAD SILENCE set for JoBlo.com/AITH. This time around we got to exchange words with the late Twisted Pictures front man, SAW champion and Producer Gregg Hoffman. Gregg was in his usual no-BS kind of mood on this day and here's what he gave up for us about the film and the genre. 

It is difficult to talk to people about this movie without talking about the twists and things like that, which you donít have to give away, but it is, uhÖÖan obstacle.

Itís something weíll dance around tactfully, so. I mean, you know obviously I can speak because you guys know some of it. Fortunately not all of it. I think thatís that hardest thing; the biggest thing when youíre making movies that rely on twists are keeping those things a secret..

Thatís what happened with The Village. Whatís your take on that, I mean that, the trend in, I donít know, in the past 4 or 5 years that if you make a thriller it has to have a twist. And you just hit on something that I wanted to ask about. Do you think about that as kind of the standard now? You don't like the idea of a straightforward movie, no twist, because itís not what people are expecting?

Well, let me throw it back to you. Are you satisfied if the ending is what youíd expect? If Saw ended and it really was Zep, right? Everybody would have gone, ďOh that was frigginí lameĒ, right? Itís like itís a Catch 22. All of a sudden everybody goes, ďOK, they going to, like, twist or surprise us?Ē But I think people will be disappointed if what you think is the way itís supposed to end it is the way it ends, you know. I donít know what the solution is to it, you know?

The twist is thereís no twist?

Yeah, but then they go Ok, it was a bad ending. So how do you win?

What are your expectations in terms of Silence and the market, actually? What kind of picture do you think itís going to be; what kind of audience is going to receive it?

I think itís gonna be different, and thatís gonna stand out in and of itself. I mean if you look this onslaught thatís like coming down the pike, the Prom Nights and the When A Stranger Calls and that sort of slew of teen remakes. Ok, well, weíre not that, you know? Itís certainly not a gore-fest, itís not a grindhouse movie. Itís not a 70ís era kind ofÖ.that thing, you know? It exists in its own bizarro world. Itís a contemporary Hammer film. Itís lightning and fog and graveyards...it's mannered and itís not cut like an action movie and it doesnít pound you into submission, and I think by virtue of that itís a very different organism.

Itís not about giant music ďBONGSĒ and that sort of thing and not about bludgeoning you to death. Itís the reverse and thereís something cool about that, and hopefully people can kinda capture on to that and settle into the rhythm of what it is and itís sort of, like, groovy retroness. In a weird sort of way I think it will be, itíll be cool, you know? I mean obviously thereís a group of people out there going, ďWell whatís James Wan gonna do next?Ē I think thatís a hardcore audience. I wouldnít say thatís enough to open a movie. On the other hand I think this one may broaden out because itís I think youíll get the horror audience but I think itís gonna play a little older too. I think itís gonna skew a little more female, than some of these other films might.

Whatís the rating for it?

Itís gonna be what itís gonna be. Weíre not really concerned about it.

But in terms of the script, you look at the script and say, ĒAh itís a PG-13 or itís an R". You must have an assumption.

Itís borderline. Itís one or the other, I mean, James is making conscious decisions not to shoot gratuitous. This is more a movie about being creeped out than being grossed out, and I think thereís a big difference. Itís sort of like dread and slow build and, like I said, itís not like some of these other films that are cut like action movies; paced like action movies; scored like action movies. They, like, bludgeon you to death. This is a lot more subtle. So by virtue of that, the MPAA may say, ďYou know what? Itís a more delicate flower, therefore it a PG-13,Ē or they may go, ďShit, this is the most twisted thing Iíve ever seen with macabre endings and  ventriloquists ripping tongues out and bizarre curses,Ē and they may go, ďWell thatís R.Ē 

I canít presuppose because based on my own experiences with them I think it shifts from day to day, moment to moment, hour to hour and, you know, someoneís nipple comes out in the Superbowl youíll get an R because of that and 6 months later theyíll relax and things that you would never expect to slide through on the first pass will slide through. If you looked at Devilís Rejects would you say that was a movie that was gonna get an R on basically itís first go around? Thereís no way, but it did. Itís not like weíre conscientiously saying weíre gonna make a movie because we want kids to go see it. If it turns out to be a PG-13, itís a PG-13. If it turns out to be an R, itís R. You know, itís by studio standards itís priced at a point where it doesnít have to be 4 quadrants to succeed. If it does, fantastic, but it doesnít have to be. So theyíre sort of going, ďWhatever itís gonna be itís gonna be.Ē

How many days is the shoot?

Itís about 40+ with some green-screen and that sort of thing.

Can you tell us what the budget is, too?

Iím not gonna tell you what it is. I would say itís close to 20 times what he had to shoot Saw. Somewhere in that zone.

Have you been backing James a lot in terms of shooting? With this being a studio picture, have you been acting like a father figure to him?

I was an executive at Disney for 8 years before I, erÖ, almost 8 years before I did it and so I really know the ins and outs of how to get a movie green lit, how to navigate the, ďOh we want a re-write, oh we wanna do this, oh we wanna cast.Ē I mean the process. It is what it is for better or for worse and so there was a lot of that going on before this movie started and that was where I could really help James because I could understand what was happening on the other side of the conference room and the table. So rather than going, ďWell I donít understand what theyíre doing,Ē I can say, ďOk, hereís whatís happening, hereís why theyíre doing this. Hereís what weíre gonna do...and that sort of thing.

On the set we have more time, heís surrounded by vastly more experienced people, you know, so in a weird way my job is diminished. Where on Saw we were in each otherís ear talking back and forth all the time by virtue of the fact, like, OK, well we have to have that piece. Letís give up this piece. I think weíll be OK here. Here, he's getting pretty much everything he wants. Yeah, occasionally I see some something Iíll go, ďWhy donít you have Amber try it that way,Ē you know just to get an option, but other than that, heís got incredibly experienced DPís, heís surrounded by all the toys he wants, so that part of my job is different and then again once we sort of get into post and preview process and, you know, focus groups and things like that., then Iíll sort of become the father figure again, but you know right now itís, like, fly little robin, fly. Like, go be free, youíre doing great.

So with the scoring of Saw; that was, I think half of the success of the film was how effective the score was. Now working with a bigger studio what direction are you taking with the score? Because as you were saying most horror films have either generic, stick to the formula, letís make the same kind of invisible score that plays out. I mean, what kind of approach is James taking?

I mean you should certainly talk to him about it. Certainly Universal needs to give us the final sign off, but we all want Charlie to come back and work with us again, although it wonít certainly be that kind of score. The movie doesnít call for it. Thereís a certain classicism? Classy? Whatís the word Iím looking for?


No, this movieís an update of sort of a classic format or form of horror movie, so I think thereíll certainly be a lot of  homage to that sort of thing. I think the thing is going to feel contemporary, but I think itís going to feel very inspired by films that have come before it. The one thing I can say about James is I think in some ways, to me, heís almost more talented editorially and on the dub stage and with his composers than he is actually, you know, shooting. Itís really remarkable to watch. Thatís where the vision really takes shape.

How much of the film takes place in the location where we were yesterday, or where does most of the film take place?

Quite a bit. That mansion isÖ..we shot in there for 8 days and itís his parentsí house. Itís the family house that he grew up in, that the fatherís been in so itís, you know,  itís the ďHouse of Usher.Ē

OK, where does the money come from in his family?

Uh, they basically own the town. Itís like a mill town.

A lot of the movie is a mystery, right, like who killed his wife? And he moves back to the town after she has been killed, right? What convinces him that the town holds all the answers to her murder?

Thereís a town crazy woman that says something to him and that tips him off enough to get started. Itís just one of those things, the wife and he are from there. Everythingís kind of driven him back there and then thereís one of those things where heís getting ready to get the hell out of there and somebody says something thatís just enough to let him go, ďHmm, maybe Iíll justÖ..,Ē you know, and then the more he kind of peels the layers, the more he finds.

The cast that youíve assembled are actually very talented, though no really big names stand out. Was that a conscious decision to pull unknowns, or did the studio push for getting a bigger name in there?

Mmm, Ryan was always a really top choice. Universalís really liked Ryan for a long time. They tried to put him in several movies, but because of Summerland, he wasnít ever available. We saw the world of guys in their 20ís, you know? You name him, if he was available, we probably saw him. I remember my partner, Mark Burg, and I were, in the casting session and Ryan came in and we both just kinda went like, ďLetís not go any further.Ē You know, the studio really wanted to see everybody and make a choice. I mean, as we know I donít think that these movies are necessarily star driven. I can point to some high profile movies that havenít done well in the genre in the last few months that both Star directors and actors.

I think itís really more about people who understand it and get it and are willing to embrace it. Ryanís willing to go there, Amber was, Amber, you knowÖ.Amber was an interesting thing. If you start thinking about someone who you could believe as Bob Guntonís trophy wife, so it narrowed the age. It couldnít go really young; couldnít go too old; definitely wanted someone sexy; definitely wanted someone who could play a trophy wife and I had seen her in Hitch and I had thought she was great. And then Donnie and I worked on Saw II and we just had a great time together and he just brings something to everything. And so it was really just, again, more about putting together an ensembleÖI donít think these movies are star driven.

You think in some way that James is actually more of the attraction here, because of Saw?

I think people are curious to see what he wants to do. There was an article here in Canada that ran about 2 weeks ago after The Island tanked and the whole comment about it was, who really thinks that Michael Bay opens a movie, aside from people in boardrooms in Hollywood or people who write about it? I wish I had the answer to that because weíd all be richer and never make bad movies and never make failures, you know. But itís hard to say. I donít know. I certainly think that whatís happened, especially with the DVD release itself of Saw, it expanded the people whoíve seen Saw far beyond the people who saw it in movie theatres. 

I think there was a group of people who wouldnít normally go see it because they thought it was really graphic to have seen it. I've had people come up to me, taxi drivers, our transpo guys, people on the street who said, ďOh, I saw it on DVD but when it first came out I never would have seen it. It looked way too bloody and gruesome and it really cool. Itís a thriller.Ē So I think thereís an audience thatís expanded beyond the hardcore. I think weíre being arrogant to say that James Wan is a household name in horror at this point. But I think thereís a hardcore group of people who would wanna go see his movie, but again I think itís about is this a compelling idea? Is it a cool idea? You know, are people gonna dig the vibe of this movie, and oh, by the way, itís that guy who directed Saw. Itís a long winded way of saying it.

Whatís so scary about these dummies? When you read a script and you see dummies are in the movie, whatís so scary about them?

Theyíre creepy because theyíre like quasi-alive. When we had the ventriloquist on-set and he was manipulating that dummy it was just bizarre, you know? Thereís, something about it, like, if youíre watching it do you watch the guy whoís doing it, or do you watch the dummy? Do you find yourself talking to the dummy? You do you talk to the dummy and youíre like, ďWhy am I talking to the dummy?Ē And these things become, like weirdly supernatural and stuff like that and thatís why I think people think theyíre creepy. I had my 4 year-old on the set and the ventriloquist saw him and came over with the dummy and he was like, ďHi little boy,Ē and heís still traumatized. Heís like, ďDaddy, daddy, please.Ē I was like, ďCome to work with me,Ē and heís like, ďNuh-uh! Billyís there! Billyís there! I donít wanna see Billy.Ē And, um, he still talks about it. It, like really tripped him out. So itís obviously something primal.

How many different dummies do you have?

Well thereís the main dude Ė thereís Billy, and then there's101 dolls, thatís really only a shot that you see though. So thereís 101, but, you know, Billyís the main, the main one.

What sparked you about Silence? I mean, if you didnít know who wrote it, you didnít know who was associated with it and it comes across your desk, what is it, aside from of course Billy, that really grabs you and says this is the movie that Iím interested in?

We were finishing up Saw, if it was a speck I donít know if I wouldíve gone like, ďWow, this is really, just like, whacked out.,Ē you know? I think we have to take the genre in another direction. I mean, if I had to say what compels us to make it, I think it behooves us, especially as this wave isÖ.wherever we actually are in the wave... to try different things and to go outside of this 80ís remake thing  that seems to be going on. I like to take chances. Iím glad Universal did too, because this thing isnít normal, any more than Saw was, so I think itís like you gotta try. You gotta try. You gotta do this as opposed to just dust off a chestnut. You know, put some girls in and have Ďem scream and throw some drums on the soundtrack. So I hope that kind of answers it.





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