The Arrow interviews James Wan
Before "SAW", I had never heard of James Wan. Internet research (i.e. lesbian porn) revealed nothing about James Wan. In addition, calling my shrink in the middle of the night for some cooking advice gave me ZERO meat about the man that is "Wan". All I know is that this duder directed what was one of the more hard-hitting genre film that I've seen so far this year and yes...I'm talking about "SAW"! That alone made it a must for me to chat with the guy. Here's what he had to say.
ARROW: What’s your favorite horror movie?
JAMES: Jaws, Lost Highway, Black Christmas, Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Carnival of Souls, and of course, Argento’s earlier films, are some of them. My two all-time favorite films are Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Spielberg’s Duel.
ARROW: What was it about the SAW screenplay that made you want to tackle it?
JAMES: SAW was spawned out of our desperation to want to make a film. Initially, Leigh and I thought that the only way to do so, was to make it happen ourselves- write and fund a guerilla film out of our own pockets. However, we knew that to stand out from amongst all the other low-budget indie movies, our idea had to be really ass-kicking. Since we weren't going to have any big stars and explosive special-effects to draw audiences in, the script itself needed to be the 'star'.
ARROW: Would you say it was an advantage or disadvantage to have the screenwriter also be one of the stars of the picture?
JAMES: I would definitely say it was advantageous. Leigh and I have known each other for a very long time and we really trust each other’s opinion. He knew that I wasn’t going to mess with his screenplay just for the hell of it, but at the same time, understood what I had to do, to make it work. Plus, it was comforting to not be the only novice on set!!
ARROW: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover. Monica Potter, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith…what a stellar cast! How strenuous was the casting process for the picture?
JAMES: Casting is always a challenge but particularly in my case, because I was stuck in Ottawa getting my visa processed, and this ate into my valuable pre-production time! I had to do half of my casting from Canada, before returning to LA with only one week of pre-production left!!! But nonetheless, I was extremely fortunate to end up with the cast I did. I worked with a really good casting director.
ARROW: Being a big Dina Meyer fan, I have to ask...was her part in the film initially bigger?
JAMES: Well, being a big fan of Dina myself too, when asked by my producers if I wanted to give her a cameo, I leapt at the chance.
ARROW: You have a very electric and aesthetically heavy visual style. What’s your background in terms of directing?
JAMES: I don’t really have a lot, in terms of my directing background. I guess, like most aspiring film geeks out of film-school, I’ve only experimented with shorts and have made a few music videos for my friends’ garage-bands, but that’s pretty much it. However, I’ve always wanted to make movies since I was 11 years old, and everything has been leading up to this first film. SAW is truly the first real thing I have ever made. I’m very grateful to my producers for having faith in the script and taking a gamble on me as the director, based on an 8-minute sample-short I made of the script. Regardless of the tight budget and schedule, my aim with SAW was to make it as good as I possibly could.
During the shoot, some of my concepts had to be rethought to accommodate the shooting pace, but nonetheless, it’s these limitations that forced me to be more creative and come up with new ideas that I never saw before. I worked very hard to try and make the film look more expensive than it actually was. And artistically, this visual style I ended up with, lent itself to the kind of film-making I wanted to tell. I wanted SAW to be a film of ferocious intensity from start to finish. Like a pressure-cooker building up, or a vice tightening. And so I chose an assaulting film-making style that relied heavily on aggressive camera-work, rapid-fire editing, and a harsh industrial soundtrack to convey that feeling.
ARROW: What was the more complex scene to pull off in terms of intricate staging?
JAMES: Well, the rapid shooting pace made some of the more complicated scenes challenging to pull off. But we soldiered through. If it weren’t for the amazingly talented and dedicated cast and crew, I would still be filming right now! Shooting all of Shawnee Smith’s scenes in one day was physically taxing. The scene in Jigsaw’s lair was probably the trickiest to stage due to the amount of things happening on screen at the same time; involving action, gunplay, special-effects, three-way dialogue, and hitting specific marks ( trying to photograph it without revealing the villain’s identity). Also it was crammed into the end of the shooting-schedule, so I had very little rehearsal time to map it all out. To be honest, I was making it up as I went along. In fact, I was making a lot of things up. The trick as a director, is to not let anyone know that you’re winging it half the time!!! LOL
ARROW: Did you stay fully true to the screenplay as you were shooting or were there some re-writes as you moved forward?
JAMES: I knew that the quality of Leigh’s screenplay was one of the main factors in attracting all these great talents (producers, cast, crew) to the project. So I made sure to stay as true to it as I possibly could, despite of the film-making detours that a director inevitably come across during production. It was comforting to know that even if I hadn’t achieved everything I wanted to- ‘directorially’, at least if I had stuck to the script, I should still have something pretty decent.
ARROW: Danny Lohner, and Charlie Clouser, ex-members of “Nine Inch Nails”, did the score for the film. Who’s idea was it to have them be involved?
JAMES: Firstly, I should clarify that it was Charlie Clouser who scored the film. Besides being an ex-member of NIN, he also writes his own stuff, and produces for others such as Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Helmet, etc… One of my producers, Gregg Hoffman, was instrumental from the very start in wanting to marry me with a composer, who had the right sensibility to my style. Even back when we were in Australia, Leigh and I knew we wanted this film to say ‘cool’. ‘Cool’- in the story, in the action, in the violence, in the villain, in the camera-work, in the editing…and especially ‘COOL’ in the music. Based on my very early rough cut of SAW, a handful of high profile composers, and by that I mean rock musicians who wanted to compose for films, were in the running after having seen the film and loved it. I could not believe it!
Charlie stepped out of his screening of SAW (at 10:30 in the morning), looking a bit green and the first thing he said was, “Man, that freaked the shiiiit out of me, I need a cigarette to calm down!” It was then that I thought, “Wow, If I could freak a member from Nine Inch Nails out, I must have done something half right!” He was so enthusiastic about the film, and had so many great ideas, I knew he was the one to go with. I knew Charlie was going to be able to bring me that certain sound that I was after. The first thing he did was went off and recorded all these experimental, industrial-musical instruments, and then got Danny Lohner (fellow NIN member, who was obsessed with SAW also) and Page Hamilton from the band Helmet to play for him. I knew straight away, I had found that ‘cool factor’ I was looking for- and it was in Charlie Clouser.
ARROW: How smooth was your collaboration with the Charlie?
JAMES: I am extremely anal with my sound design and music. I went into SAW having already heard the entire soundtrack in my head before the first frame even rolled. I shoot my films knowing exactly how the shots would work with the edits, and the edits with the soundtrack…so I spewed and downloaded all my thoughts to Charlie, and we ended up working very closely on the score. Charlie was such a great guy and was so easy to collaborate with.
ARROW: What’s next on your plate, directing-wise?
JAMES: I’m not a hundred percent certain yet what my next project will be as director, but I am writing my next screenplay with Leigh, titled Shhh. It’s an old fashion chiller for Universal. I would love to make it in the vein of those late night, black and white creepers. Think Carnival of Souls, or Dead of Night (1945) meets the Drop of Water episode of Black Sabbath.
ARROW: Would you accept to direct a SAW sequel if there was to be one?
Leigh and I are quite superstitious- we don’t like to count our chickens before they’ve hatched. I’ll just have to wait and see... :)
ARROW: What’s your fondest memory of the SAW cast and crew wrap party?
JAMES: Getting to dance and groove with Shawnee!!! :) It was surreal to be there with someone I’ve had a crush on since I was a pre-teen!
I'd like to say "gracias" to James for checking in the site and not checking out before giving us some insight on what will be the more popular genre film of the year, in my humble opinion. Keep it up James and remember The Arrow when your next film comes out. I want to cover it and I have lots of connections with the wonders that are "hookers". Remember that my friend...h-oo-kers! 'Nuff said ; )
"SAW" will own in September 2004, mark your calendars and get ready to get your asses pleasurably kicked!