JoBlo.com/AITH interviews James Wan
I got to visit the DEAD SILENCE set for JoBlo.com/AITH and got to talk shop (along with other journalists) with the film's young Aussie Director/Co-Writer James Wan. As you know, James was the lad behind the excellent SAW and Silence is his second feature (A bigger budgeted for Universal second feature). So will Silence be anything like SAW? What kind of genre animal are we talking about here? READ ON and get the juice!
What's so creepy about dolls?
Well, just take a look! I think the obvious really is the reason why they're creepy. This is not, despite all the dolls you see around us here, it's not a killer doll film. My dolls never get up and walk around and you know. It's not a Chucky movie. That's the first thing I want to say.
What do they do?
That's for you to find out! [laughs]
Do you have sort on an obsession with dolls? I mean, in Saw we had the one doll and now in Silence it looks like there'll be hundreds.
Well, this one is actually about ventriloquism. You know, with Saw it was just me scratching the surface. I find the act of ventriloquism really macabre and creepy. Think about it: It's a grown man playing with a doll and pretending to give life to this inanimate object. I don't know, I guess I just find that split personality thing pretty fucked up. [laughs]. So I guess I'm taking that to a supernatural level, essentially, with this film.
Is this a story you've been wanting to tell for a long time?
Leigh [Whannell] and I always wanted to make a film that sort touched on ventriloquism, and also a ghost story about an old woman's spirit. So it's really a combination of those two ideas.
How did you come up with your casting? Was it a group decision, or did you have a lot of free rein?
The casting process was pretty scary to begin with, because we were getting pretty deep into the film and you know, I was still searching [for our lead]. I had to fly and back forth to L.A. to look for my actors. But seriously, it wasn't until the last three weeks before we started shooting that all my actors started to come together. And when it all came together, it just really fell into place perfectly. I think I got a really good cast here. It's really strong.
What's it like working on studio film now, with a lot more money?
[laughs] Ask Lucky McKee. That's all I'll say. [pauses] Look, I mean, there's no doubt there's an upside and there's a downside to it. The upside is, you do get a bit more money and a bit more time to play with, and you've got this huge infrastructure behind you. If they like your film, they'll support it all the way. But on the flipside of that coin is, you know, you are quite limited by what you can do. Universal has been pretty cool at this stage, so. we'll see. [laughs] I haven't finished the film yet, so come back later and I'll report the rest.
Do you have a favorite scene in this movie?
I this scene [in the set in which we're standing], the one in the doll room will be one of the big set pieces in the film. What I'm trying to go for here is a much more subtle feel, especially compared to Saw. But I guess it's about as subtle as I will possibly go [laughs], because my filmmaking is not very subtle. But Silence is very old school. I mean, people ask me, why did I shoot and cut Saw the way I did; one of the big factors in going in that direction was because, when you don't get a lot of things you want to go for and you don't have to shoot it and do it right and all that, one of the things you try to do is basically try and hide a lot of the flaws in post-production.
That's just the kind of stuff that you have to do when you have no money, and the stuff that you shot didn't come out the way you wanted it to. You need to make up for it somehow, so you kind of. So, I didn't really want to go down that way. I wanted to make Saw more like a Hitchcock film, but that wasn't going to happen. [shrugs, laughs] When you shoot a lot of handheld stuff, things go in and out of focus and I think it was at one stage during filming that I just thought: Fuck this shit. I can't go for that film [I wanted], so I'm going to have to rethink my approach and just embrace the down and dirty guerilla style of filmmaking. That's what I did. But with this movie, I've got a great production team behind me. I've got a great production designer [Julie Berghoff], and my DP, John [Leonetti], has done a lot of things.
We talked a lot about the look of the film, the three of us, about the approach. I have a bit more money this time, you know, I can have the set designed closer to what I want to see. This is a very old school film. I think my producer puts it best when he describes it as a 'contemporary horror Hammer Film.' There are scenes in the film where you see this, like, mansion in the background and it's all shrouded in fog. [laughs] Seriously. I've got so much dry ice machine going on in this film, and I go: Gee, I wonder what the studio's going to think? If they're expecting The Ring, this ain't it! [laughs] If they're looking for more like a House of Wax sort of look, that Ring sort of look, that really contemporary horror film that comes out of studio. this is not it.
Did you use the term horror Hammer Film in your pitch to Universal?
[laughs] It's like [innocently] 'Hey, guys. How did this film turn out looking like that?' I shouldn't say that, because Universal [people] are right behind me.
What's the approach going to be with the score?
I'm trying really hard to bring back Charlie Clouser who I worked with on Saw. I do want to go for a much more. not conventional or traditional, but much more of a classical score. When you do a classical score through someone like Charlie, it's not going to be traditional at all. So I'm hoping to build to that through someone like him and I've already heard some of his ideas. He wants to do a lot of the score with voices on the soundtrack and all that. The soundtrack for this film, overall. the sound design and acoustics in this is very important for it. I mean, the title is a reflection of what the film is going to sound like. So there's going to be a lot of Silence and then sort of like, you know, big hits and stuff like that. Basically, the whole film is about the characteristic of the villain - it's someone who has the ability to throw voices. There will be a lot of fun stuff to play with in terms of sound design. So. we'll see.
This being a big studio film, how much control do you think you'll have in the editing room?
I do have an editor on this film who's been cutting for a long time. [Michael N. Knue] Actually, I chose him because I love his record. He just finished The Ring 2, but I actually picked him more for the films he did earlier on. He cut Night of the Creeps, and he cut The Hidden. He's done a lot of really cool genre films. He did A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master as well. He's been around for a long time. I really love his credits. I think I'll have the choice between him, and maybe one of the guys who cut Fight Club - [laughs] I really like Michael. He's a really cool guy.
What are you shooting today?
Today I'm shooting. Um, which scenes am I not shooting today? I mean, that's something I want to point out: Even though I have many more days comparatively, compared to Saw, I'm still trying to cram a lot in it. It's a very ambitious shoot. I've got a lot of night stuff, a lot of set pieces, and all that. So it's still a really tight shoot. It's still the same. I've been joking that this is kind of like working on Saw except now I've got bigger toys to play with. I've got really cool toys to play with - that's the biggest difference here.
The stuff I'm shooting today is with Ryan's [Kwanten] character, Jamie, he's just arrived back to the town he grew up in, called Ravensfair. He's just checking into this motel and he's looking around. It's a very quiet scene, with him just about to go to bed. And he thinks that maybe the dummy he's brought back with him has moved out of its chair. But you never quite know. [laughs] I still want to play on that psychological aspect of it. That's what I'm aiming for, but who knows. I mean, that's the kind of stuff that one could be forced into playing up more. Making it more maybe Chucky-like, but that's the kind of stuff I'll fight against. So far, it's pretty cool.
So far the studio's been agreeing with you vision?
Yes. Definitely on the shoot. Pre-production was pretty tricky for me to adjust to, you know, the studio system. Oh my god. It was a pretty complicated process for me, it was really frustrating. You have to answer to so many people and you can't just [be free with] your ideas. But now that I'm starting to shoot the film and they're seeing the dailies, they're really happy with it. They're letting me make the film I want to at this stage.
Saw was your first movie and it was a hit, but you're still a relatively new filmmaker; when you decided to go ahead with this project, was there any pressure to follow up on that success?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. The hardest thing was like, your first film straight out of the gate is such a big hit, and there's a lot of pressure on your second film. I feel more pressure on Silence than I did with Saw, because if it went straight to video, who gives a shit? At least I got that first film under my belt. But man, there's a lot riding on this one. It's kind of nerve-wracking too that, filmmaking-wise, I've got into a different tangent.
I am going for a much more classical feel now. When you do MTV style of filmmaking to, for lack of a better term. You have a lot safety net. A lot of people watching your back. When you make anything that's so flashy and in-your-face, it's very visceral. It's definitely a lot trickier when you're doing something that's more subtle. We'll see.
Saw has a lot of gore. Will Silence be that much more toned down?
You know what's really funny? For me, this one is all about mood and atmosphere. It's all about being really creepy and macabre. And I just shot this scene where I was thinking: Oh man, this is so bizarre. I mean, Leigh and I always joke. We always make fun of our own film. I mean, if you listen to us on the audio commentary of Saw, we're just laughing at the whole thing. We don't take this sort of thing too seriously. [laughs] But it is pretty twisted. Leigh and I just joke about how kind of weird, even though it's a studio film, it smells like a normal studio film, but it has all these little elements that make it really strange. That's the kind of stuff that Leigh and I love.
How about an example?
I guess, for example, one of the big set pieces in the film is a location. It's a theater that's decrepit, rundown, old place. It's supposed to be in the middle of nowhere. It's in this small country town and we're in this theater [indicates set] which is literally on an island, on a lake, in a quarry in the middle of nowhere. So it's just little bizarre things like that. There is a scene set there when one of our main characters finds this room that is filled with 101 dummies, and it's. creepy.
Is Ravensfair based on any particular town?
I love the song Scarborough Fair. [laughs]. I love that word, so I just chucked it in. It's anywhere USA, I guess. Maybe like New England, or Washington State. via Toronto.
Do you remember your first doll-movie encounter? What was it that made such a creepy impression?
I think for me it was Poltergeist. Stuff that sticks with you for a long time is the stuff that you saw when you were an impressionable little kid. Corrupted. [laughs] I do have a very freaky clown doll in this one. [laughs] And what happens with that clown doll is really weird! Like I said, it smells like a normal film, but yet. [laughs] I have no idea what kind of film I'm making, man! Let's just leave it at that. When it's done, you guys might look at it and go, this is a fucking comedy! What's James doing? We'll see.
Is there room for a sequel to Silence?
Despite what you guys heard yesterday [one of the actors revealed the ending], this is not a film about. OK, Saw had the kind of ending that got people talking about whether or not they liked it. So what, right? But people talked about it and I guess this is definitely not a film that lives or dies by the ending. That's not all the film is about, as far as having a twist ending per se. I think it has a cool ending and I think it fits the overall aesthetic of the film. In terms of a sequel, who knows? You know as well I do that you can kill Jason so many times and he'll keep coming back.
You don't seem to rely on the same kind of jump-at-you scares that one sees in a lot of horror movies now.
Yeah. I'm not a big fan of fake scares. I actually really hate fake scares. I've got a lot of people saying, 'Put a boo there!' But I'm like, 'It doesn't fit. It doesn't work. I'm not going to force it in there.' I don't want somebody to just jump out of the shed. It's not like that. A boo scare works best for me if you build it up, when you know something's about to happen. You build it up, but you still don't quite know. But then when the boo scare comes in, it's a real one, not a fake one. That's what I'll try to go for, I guess. There's a couple of boo scare bits in this one, but hopefully they're not fake.
How physical does the movie get?
It's not an action horror film, that's for sure. There are a lot of set pieces, but no action set pieces. I do have one sequence that involves a cat walk. It's going to be played for suspense, though. We'll see if it works or not.
Thanks to the James Wan for the talk! I personally can't wait for DEAD SILENCE to be released!