INT: Darren Bousman

There is something really fascinating to me about the SAW franchise. I’m not sure if it is the wonderfully creepy performance of Tobin Bell who plays it straight and doesn’t go for the “crazy”. Maybe it's Shawnee Smith who has really shone an interesting arc throughout the series. Or maybe it is just the creative death sequences that have offended audiences and made them squirm. But much of what makes SAW work in my humble opinion is the fact it remains true to its nature and still manages to not insult its audience. I think part of that credit must go to Darren Lynn Bousman. He has taken the series and raised the bar on horror sequels. His work in both SAW 2 and SAW 3 was imaginative, and was able to keep audiences wanting more.

I, along with several other journalists, had the opportunity to come and chat with Darren and a few others involved in the SAW franchise. We all gathered at the PARC restaurant in Hollywood and had a few drinks and appetizers. It was just a little chance to chat and find out how the hell Jigsaw is coming back after Part 3. It’s always a pleasure to speak with Darren. He loves horror and has a great respect for the films which have helped him develop a career. Although he didn’t give much away from what to expect, he did [possibly] put a few rumors to rest. And he also spoke about his next trip in the darkness in the form of a horror musical called REPO. Darren is a genuine guy who is able to look at his own work without letting his ego get in the way. But sadly, we have to wait until October 26th to find out what SAW 4 has in store for us. Do you want to play a game?

Are you going to find it tough to pass this franchise off to somebody else?

No. F*ck it. Take it, I’m ready. Not really because first off the people that are coming back for 5 definitely have been here for 4, they know what they’re doing. It’s not like we’re going to some douchebag who has absolutely no idea. And also, people kind of look down because, oh, we’re doing them so fast, we’re churning them out. But one of the great things is, we’re not churning them out, we just never stopped production. So it’s not like we have to come back and think… unlike “The X-Files”, I used to work on X-Files and I’d always go up and say, “Do you guys know where this thing is going? Do you have an answer?” and they’re like, “No. No. We don’t know.” We know where [Saw] is going, there is a definite conclusion and it’s bad ass. And I’m glad to be involved in something, to know where the thing is going.

Do you have a conclusion in terms of "Saw 4” or "Saw 5”?

I’m not saying that. There definitely is and we figured it out, believe it or not, when we were writing 2. When Leigh [Whannell] and I got together on 2, we were saying "Where do we want to see this thing go to? Where is the end?” Did I think I was going to come back on 4? No, I do not think so. I thought 3 would have been the end for me and definitely 3 was the end of that story. But there was always envisioned to be separate stories going on in "Saw” and I just happened to take part in the beginning of the next story.

I thought you came back to "Saw 3” almost grudgingly so I was wondering what brought you to "Saw 4”?

It was the heap loads of cash that Mark brought over in a dump truck. No, that had nothing to do with it. What it really boiled down to was two things. Unlike starting from scratch and having no idea where to go, I’d been with this for two years now. I knew the people involved, I knew the producers, and I knew the cast. I knew everyone involved, the production designer, the costume designer, so I wasn’t starting at square one. It was picking up where we left off and that’s exactly when we came into it. From the day that I left Toronto until when I came back was months. We’re talking a couple of months. So the production offices were the same, the hotel was the same, sound stage, everything was the same.

So we came back for our first meeting and it was like, "Alright, where did we leave off in "Saw 3”? Let’s begin.” Unlike a lot of films, you look at a lot of sequels; they try to take a different road. They try to put new characters in. Everyone is the same. A little known fact about "Saw” which not a lot of people know is that we used the same extras and they played the same extras year to year. We have the same Swat team. Have you looked at my four badass Swat guys that I was allocating the budget to have in "Saw 2,” it’s the same Swat guys in "Saw 3” and in "Saw 4.” If you look at the nurses in all the hospital scenes, everyone is the same. So it completely is a family. I know the film brings back the exact same extras, the same Swat guys, the same… My favorite is there is a police detective in "Saw 3” that has like half a line. He doesn’t really say shit but he’s back in 4 saying half a line and doesn’t really say shit. It’s the same guy.

Who’s the actor that was in "Saw” part one and was talking to Dina and gets torn apart in "Saw 3”?

If you watched "Saw 3,” there is a guy who when Rick is talking to him when Dina comes busting through the door, he’s got a call at 8pm and he’s got a whatever report, he’s the same guy doing the same thing in "Saw 4.” Now that’s exciting for us to bring back the exact same people, so it is a family. That’s why it’s not like coming back to do 4, it’s like continuing 3.

Does that tie into the continuity as well?

It is. We never said where "Saw 4” is being filmed. There’s no place being filmed. It’s anywhere. But one thing we tried to do is create a community. The die hard fans will pick it up. They will see that we are in the same locations, that we have in the same actors, that we have the same… There is this continuity that brings credibility to the project. We’re not changing over every year. So definitely there is a continuity to it. I think that’s why if you look at the successful franchises like look at "Lethal Weapon.” The "Lethal Weapon” films continue to succeed because they had the same people every single "Lethal Weapon.” And if you liked or hated them, they did well. I mean the Lethal Weapons did do well because it was the exact same people every year. The movies that fail are the ones that have completely new people come in every single time and try to reinvent it.

So what new blood have these new writers brought?

A lot. Patrick [Melton] and Marcus [Dunstan] are great. You know what’s a crazy story about Patrick and Marcus which is, I was working in between "Saw 2” and "Saw 3” helping edit a movie and I was working out of this building and Patrick and Marcus were working a floor beneath me on one of their movies called "The Midnight Man” or something. And I was going to my car one night and the two guys – and "Feast” had not come out yet – they go, "Oh, you’re Darren. We’re huge fans of ‘Saw,’ we’re huge fans of ‘Saw.’”

And they gave me their phone numbers like "Dude, we love ‘Saw.’” And then now two years later, here they are the writers of it which is strange fate, but they did a great job. The thing that’s hard about coming into a "Saw” film is there are rules. Not a lot of people realize this but we try to stay true to them. Jigsaw doesn’t lie, number one. The traps have to be things – anything that can be bought at Home Depot or found in the environment which we’re saying it is. There are all these rules so we gave the writers the rules sheet and the rules sheet was a thick book. We’re like, "Here… Just don’t fuck it up.” And they did a good job. They really did.

When did they greenlight "Saw 4”?

When I was filming "Saw 3.” It’s become kind of a tradition now. I don’t think it’s been greenlit, it’s just like they’re keeping going. But definitely when the movie came out and did well, I think then that solidified it that they were 100% doing 4.

At this moment did you already know that the 4th part would pick up right after the 3rd? I recall at the junket you told us the 4th part could be something about the past.

I can tell you this with pretty much certainty that nobody knows anything about 4. I was just joking around that all of these rumors going around about 4, no one has any clue what 4 is.

Is it about Angus’s character and his daughter?

That’s what it’s about. It’s about Angus and his daughter and they’re trapped in the same… and the dog. Yeah. [Laughing] One of the greatest things about the "Saw” film is everyone is speculating. What’s going to happen? Is Shawnee [Smith] back? Is it this? And they start pushing the things and we lead them there and say "Sure. That’s what it’s about. Shawnee ’s back. It’s about Angus and his daughter and this lovely relationship.” But I can say with much certainly that no one has any idea at this point what "Saw 4” is about.

You don’t see anything in "Saw” films that’s crazier than what you see on TV. Do you think you are competing with TV and is that a bad thing?

Yeah. 100%. You know the funniest thing about 3 was there was only one scene they did not f*ck with which caused the most rage after the fact. People were writing the MPAA. It was the autopsy. The MPAA said whatever, sure, let it go. This thing where we’re taking his head off, they did not care at all. They said sure. That’s because they show autopsies on "CSI” all the time. On "CSI,” I was watching it the other day, they did an autopsy on a guy and it was more graphic than anything we showed on the brain surgery. They show body parts being removed.

They show blood hitting the floor. And that’s what I said to the MPAA. There’s nothing more graphic than what we already see on "CSI”. And they let that scene go through. They have more problems with emotional torture. They have more problems with people crying and screaming than they do with someone asleep on a bed getting their brain operated on. If you watch TV, watch any of these shows, the CSI’s and the Law and Orders, you see some f*cked up stuff. There was a "Law and Order: SVU,” the one about rape or sex crimes, they had a 3-minute, non-cut sequence where someone was getting raped. They didn’t show the actual penetration, but they showed her face and that’s as bad in some points. So yeah, we really are competing with TV now which is crazy.

When you were shooting it, did you think "Oh, we can save this for the DVD,” "We can save this for the MPAA,” "We can shoot this safe,” "We can shoot this non-safe”?

No, it’s touch and go with the MPAA. You never know what they’re going to be offended by. A lot of what they were offended by in 3 is stuff that I never in a million years would have thought. It’s watching someone cry. That’s what they get pissed off at. My thought on number 3 was I’m going to shoot a ton of shit I know will never make the movie. I’m gonna shoot massive violence. There was a scene when Dina’s ripped apart and her organs fall to the ground and the intestines fall out, the stomach breaks up, there was all this shit.

I’m shooting it just for the MPAA and they didn’t care. We ended up cutting it because I didn’t want to put it in the movie, but they didn’t care. They were like, "Yeah, that’s great. But that girl crying there in the freezer, you’ve got to get rid of her.” And it wasn’t the nudity, it was that she was crying and bawling and that’s what pisses me off is they don’t get pissed off if comedies are too funny or dramas are too serious, but if you get someone too horrified or too horrific, red flags are raised all over the place.

One of the great things about "Saw” fans is, we don’t really want to know the secrets, because we want those to be surprises for us. So what do you tell us when we’re all speculating "I hope it’s not a twin brother or a flash back”?

I hadn’t heard about that. [he yells across tables to Tobin Bell] Tobin! They know about the twin brother idea.

So what do you tell us without giving stuff away that says we’ve got something good here and you’re going to like it?

I was adamantly against coming back for many reasons originally. And the first card they used to get me to come back was "just look at the script.” And when I first read it, I was on page 85 but I didn’t feel any way about it. I wasn’t pissed or excited really until I got to page 87. When I hit page 87, I was like "God damn it, they got me!” And I’ve fucking done this for the last three years and they got me and that’s when I knew that I had to come back because everything before that thing took a whole different light to it. The end this year, yeah, there definitely is something. I’m not saying it’s a huge twist but there’s something at the very end of the movie which made it all. I was saying to someone else earlier I think the "Saw” films kind of to me are like magic tricks. You go in there and you’re looking for the way they’re going to do it. I know what he’s doing. He’s doing this, this, this. And then we do the trick and they’re like, "Shit, we missed it.” And then you go back again to watch it again to see if you can see it.

"Saw 3” was more emotional than surprising, so is 4 back to Tobin getting out of the room in the end?

It’s a combination of all of the films. I would say that it’s more 1 and 2. There’s definitely emotion in it but I’ve killed off everybody. I had to bring new characters in now. In 3 you were with people that you’ve seen before. There was a vested interest in these people. You knew Shawnee, you knew Tobin. So now we’re bringing back some new characters this year and so it’s starting again. You’re not going to have that emotional impact that you did when Shawnee and Tobin were going through that but there definitely is much more character stuff than there ever was in 2.

Just one more thing about the twist ending, do you ever worry it gets to be like M. Night Shyamalan where as he goes on…

This is my "Lady in the Water,” goddamn it! I didn’t say that goddamn it. I didn’t say that. It’s always hard for me to call it. Is it a twist or is it just all wrapped up in this cool little box. We did some f*cked up shit this year that is exciting to me. And the other thing that’s exciting is we’ve been able to keep the Saw secret for this long on 4 when no one has any idea what the plot is. So that’s also exciting to me -- the constant reveals that are going to be happening in the movie because everyone thinks it’s about X when it’s really about Y and Z over here and that’s very cool.

We’ve taken a much different approach this year than we have in the last two films. It’s much more complicated. In fact, the first time that the script when out to people, it’s hard, you have to read it again and again. I’m watching the edit and it’s extremely easy once you’re visualizing it but it’s the most complex. There are four separate story lines going on. That’s exciting to me. It’s not just this simplistic story of "Oh, I’m torturing people. Oh, I’m dying. Oh, I’m dead.” There’s a lot of shit going on this year.

Does that mean you have to really know intimately the first three movies to actually enjoy the fourth one?

I would say that it helps the audience to know the first three stories. Could you walk into Saw 4 and never have seen 1, 2 and 3? Yes. Will the ending be as impactful? I don’t know. Will the characters be impactful? I don’t know. But yeah, it’s 100% a stand-alone movie.

Can you tell us anything about the new characters?

There are two new characters which I don’t think has been announced yet but I’ll drop this one. There are two characters, Perez and Strong, who are our two people that we’re following on this one a lot. With Jigsaw, we’ve always had cops somewhere in it and again, this issue of cops, I didn’t want to play them as cops. I didn’t want to do that. We’ve seen that story. So I tried to take a different spin on that and the cops [angle] is secondary to who they are. We’ve actually focused on these quirky characters.

We have Scott Patterson in it and Scott is from the "Gilmore Girls” and I really knew nothing about him prior to my first meeting with him. The guy is f*cking insane and great. We never really had people ad lib on the Saw films because it wasn’t that kind of platform. Well Scott Patterson, the first day he shows up, he says, ‘I’m going to do something a little different here.’ And I’m like, ‘Alright.’ We yell ‘action’ and all of a sudden he started improvising and it was gold. It was like the best stuff I’d ever seen and he’s insane. It really works well for his character considering we haven’t seen him in a Saw film before. There’s a whole new life to this one which is exciting.

Was the fourth one more expensive than the third?

Not really. The budget is exactly the same as it was for "Saw 3.”

Around $10 million then?

I don’t know what the exact [amount was] but I know it was exactly the same as it was for Saw 3.

Why can’t everyone make good movies for that amount of money?

Again, I think that it comes back to the fact that everyone knows everyone. There’s a shorthand between us all. There’s not a lot of wasted time or energy explaining things. I’ll say to David Hackl, the production designer, ‘I want exactly what we did in 2, I want this blah, blah, blah.’ He knows it and he will build it exactly like I like. There’s no wasted money. We have an amazing crew and I’ll continue to work with them. In fact, they’re the same crew that’s coming with me on "Repo” and the exact same crew that’s coming with me on my next movie. They’re great. All of them. And so I would say that 95% of this crew is coming over to my next movie as well.

What’s your next movie going to be? Another "Saw” movie?

No. I’m doing something completely different next. I’m doing a rock opera.

The "Repo” thing, right?

"Repo,” yes.

The title is not "Scream Girls” so I guess it’s not a spoof. It’s serious?

It’s serious. It’s a horror rock opera. It’s more violent than "Saw” in every aspect. It’s "Rocky Horror Picture Show” on acid. There’s nudity, there’s violence, there’s tons of hot girls, there’s breaking up and sawing and ripping spinal cords out. It’s great.

Was it always intended for the big screen or is it based on a stage version?

It’s based on a stage show. It’s based on a play and it’s been performed for the last six years. So yes, it was based on a show. If you took all the violence in "Saw” and mixed it with "Rocky Horror Picture Show” and "Blade Runner,” that’s kind of what it is.

Have you already recorded the songs for it?

We’re recording it next week. All the songs are scratch tracks from DeAngelus.

When will you be shooting it?

We start in the end of August in Canada.

Will you be done with "Saw 4”?

We have to turn "Saw 4” in the last week of August to be able to have prints made. Everything has to be made at that point. That’s another reason why it just fit to come back because I was done with "Saw” at that point. I had this gap of time where I wasn’t doing anything. With "Repo,” we have to record all the songs and there’s 77 songs in "Repo.” If you look at "Rent,” there were 19. If you look at whatever, there is 77 songs in this and it’s singing from beginning to end, so all of this is being recorded right now. So while it’s being recorded, I went and did "Saw.” So the time fell perfectly, when I turned in my edit for "Saw,” when I turned my director’s cut in, then it’s pretty much out of my hands. Then they have to start making prints and making all of this so that’s when I start doing "Repo.”

Would I be correct if I said there might be a "Saw 5” but you won’t be involved with it?

You know what’s funny is James and Leigh were certainly involved in "Saw 4” even though they said they were not involved. That’s funny. Leigh would call all the time on set and so would James. Definitely I’ll be involved somehow. I can bet the house and farm that I will not be directing 5. I said that last year. Right here I promise I will not be back for 5. Double or nothing. I promise. Give me the shot. I will not be back for 5.

Any theories on how the Saw franchise has been able to sustain itself? The second and third films made more money than the first one. It went against the grain – maybe not with the critics but certainly with the audiences.

I think it was a couple of things that they saw that continue to work. First off, we proved ourselves right away on 2 that 2 came back and it did the same numbers, so it helped us with 3. There’s a lot of things that people can relate to in the Saw films and I hate to call them gimmicks but there’s a lot of things people come to expect with the twists, the trap, the puppet, the Jigsaw soliloquy. There’s all these things that love or hate it you know you’re going to get when you go into a Saw film and I think that that’s built in a huge fan base. Also, love or hate it, there are themes in the Saw films that a lot of horror films don’t have.

There are messages. Whether in "Saw 3” it was about vengeance vs. forgiveness and it’s not just gore for the safe of gore. There are messages in there. I think that’s really helped us. Also, I think that people were really looking down on us when we released "Saw 2” a year after "Saw 1.” How can they do it? There’s no way it’s humanly possible. They’re just churning it out, and it worked… The same thing with "Saw 3.” We did it a year to the date and it worked. And so I don’t think we’ve duped the audience yet, we haven’t jumped the shark yet. And a lot of horror films jump the shark on the second or third one. I think we’ve been able to maintain credibility.

Do you see yourself, especially when you say the next film will be even crazier, reaching the point where you’re tired?

Well, I kind of am. I’m not tired of horror but I don’t know how much different I can get than doing a rock opera. Without me doing a romantic comedy, this is the most extreme difference I can get. So this is my way to side step out of the horror genre. Yes, it’s still as violent as f*ck, but people are breaking out into song. I don’t know if they can compare it to "Saw” anymore.

Now that "Hostel 2” did what it did at the box office, how do you expect "Saw 4” to be received?

Well, first off, if you look at a lot of the movies that went from 1 to 2, most times the sequels drop off whether it be " Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or "The Grudge,” whatever it is, most times the sequels drop off. With "Saw 2” we raised. So I think we were able right away to show there’s something different here with the Saw films. And in "Saw 3” we did it again.

So if I was coming back, if "Hostel 2” had done what it had done and all these films like "28 Weeks Later” and all these movies which are not moving up as much, I think I would be a lot more nervous going to do "Saw 2” if it was coming out right now. I think we’ve proven ourselves. Now does that mean that "Saw 5” and "6” aren’t going to feel it? No. But I think that "Saw 4” right now is we’ve not duped the audience going back to it. It’s when we dupe the audience that the other films have to worry about but I think for some way we’ve beaten the loop hole of sequels dropping off. So I’m not concerned about it right now.

Did we miss our chance to see Saw 3D?

[Laughing] I’m not shitting you, when I said to Mark, I make outrageous demands before I come back. I really make these ludicrous demands. I’m not joking you. For "Saw 4” I said I would not come back unless they made it NC-17. I refused to come back unless it was NC-17. Well obviously I didn’t get that but I’m still back. [Laughing] I was like, "NC-17” and Mark and Oren said "No!” "I’m in! Let’s go! Where is it?” I did the same thing. I came back and I was half joking but I came back and I said "We’re not coming back unless it’s Saw 3-D.” And what scared me was they actually thought about it for half a second. So, no, "Saw 3-D” is not on the horizon.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

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