INT: Gregg Hoffman

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 don’t have to give away, but it is, uh……an obstacle.

It’s something we’ll 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 that’s that hardest thing; the biggest thing when you’re making movies that rely on twists are keeping those things a secret..

That’s what happened with The Village. What’s your take on that, I mean that, the trend in, I don’t 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 it’s not what people are expecting?

Well, let me throw it back to you. Are you satisfied if the ending is what you’d expect? If Saw ended and it really was Zep, right? Everybody would have gone, “Oh that was friggin’ lame”, right? It’s like it’s a Catch 22. All of a sudden everybody goes, “OK, they going to, like, twist or surprise us?” But I think people will be disappointed if what you think is the way it’s supposed to end it is the way it ends, you know. I don’t know what the solution is to it, you know?

The twist is there’s 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 it’s going to be; what kind of audience is going to receive it?

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

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

What’s the rating for it?

It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. We’re not really concerned about it.

But in terms of the script, you look at the script and say, ”Ah it’s a PG-13 or it’s an R". You must have an assumption.

It’s borderline. It’s 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 there’s a big difference. It’s sort of like dread and slow build and, like I said, it’s 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, “You know what? It’s a more delicate flower, therefore it a PG-13,” or they may go, “Shit, this is the most twisted thing I’ve ever seen with macabre endings and  ventriloquists ripping tongues out and bizarre curses,” and they may go, “Well that’s R.” 

I can’t 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, someone’s nipple comes out in the Superbowl you’ll get an R because of that and 6 months later they’ll relax and things that you would never expect to slide through on the first pass will slide through. If you looked at Devil’s Rejects would you say that was a movie that was gonna get an R on basically it’s first go around? There’s no way, but it did. It’s not like we’re conscientiously saying we’re gonna make a movie because we want kids to go see it. If it turns out to be a PG-13, it’s a PG-13. If it turns out to be an R, it’s R. You know, it’s by studio standards it’s priced at a point where it doesn’t have to be 4 quadrants to succeed. If it does, fantastic, but it doesn’t have to be. So they’re sort of going, “Whatever it’s gonna be it’s gonna be.”

How many days is the shoot?

It’s about 40+ with some green-screen and that sort of thing.

Can you tell us what the budget is, too?

I’m not gonna tell you what it is. I would say it’s 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, er…, 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, “Oh we want a re-write, oh we wanna do this, oh we wanna cast.” 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, “Well I don’t understand what they’re doing,” I can say, “Ok, here’s what’s happening, here’s why they’re doing this. Here’s what we’re gonna do...and that sort of thing.

On the set we have more time, he’s surrounded by vastly more experienced people, you know, so in a weird way my job is diminished. Where on Saw we were in each other’s ear talking back and forth all the time by virtue of the fact, like, OK, well we have to have that piece. Let’s give up this piece. I think we’ll be OK here. Here, he's getting pretty much everything he wants. Yeah, occasionally I see some something I’ll go, “Why don’t you have Amber try it that way,” you know just to get an option, but other than that, he’s got incredibly experienced DP’s, he’s 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 I’ll sort of become the father figure again, but you know right now it’s, like, fly little robin, fly. Like, go be free, you’re 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, let’s 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 won’t certainly be that kind of score. The movie doesn’t call for it. There’s a certain classicism? Classy? What’s the word I’m looking for?


No, this movie’s an update of sort of a classic format or form of horror movie, so I think there’ll certainly be a lot of  homage to that sort of thing. I think the thing is going to feel contemporary, but I think it’s 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, he’s almost more talented editorially and on the dub stage and with his composers than he is actually, you know, shooting. It’s really remarkable to watch. That’s 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 is…..we shot in there for 8 days and it’s his parents’ house. It’s the family house that he grew up in, that the father’s been in so it’s, you know,  it’s the “House of Usher.”

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

Uh, they basically own the town. It’s 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?

There’s a town crazy woman that says something to him and that tips him off enough to get started. It’s just one of those things, the wife and he are from there. Everything’s kind of driven him back there and then there’s one of those things where he’s getting ready to get the hell out of there and somebody says something that’s just enough to let him go, “Hmm, maybe I’ll just…..,” you know, and then the more he kind of peels the layers, the more he finds.

The cast that you’ve 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. Universal’s really liked Ryan for a long time. They tried to put him in several movies, but because of Summerland, he wasn’t ever available. We saw the world of guys in their 20’s, 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, “Let’s not go any further.” You know, the studio really wanted to see everybody and make a choice. I mean, as we know I don’t think that these movies are necessarily star driven. I can point to some high profile movies that haven’t done well in the genre in the last few months that both Star directors and actors.

I think it’s really more about people who understand it and get it and are willing to embrace it. Ryan’s willing to go there, Amber was, Amber, you know….Amber was an interesting thing. If you start thinking about someone who you could believe as Bob Gunton’s trophy wife, so it narrowed the age. It couldn’t go really young; couldn’t 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 ensemble…I don’t 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 we’d all be richer and never make bad movies and never make failures, you know. But it’s hard to say. I don’t know. I certainly think that what’s happened, especially with the DVD release itself of Saw, it expanded the people who’ve seen Saw far beyond the people who saw it in movie theatres. 

I think there was a group of people who wouldn’t 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, “Oh, 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. It’s a thriller.” So I think there’s an audience that’s expanded beyond the hardcore. I think we’re being arrogant to say that James Wan is a household name in horror at this point. But I think there’s a hardcore group of people who would wanna go see his movie, but again I think it’s 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, it’s that guy who directed Saw. It’s a long winded way of saying it.

What’s so scary about these dummies? When you read a script and you see dummies are in the movie, what’s so scary about them?

They’re creepy because they’re like quasi-alive. When we had the ventriloquist on-set and he was manipulating that dummy it was just bizarre, you know? There’s, something about it, like, if you’re watching it do you watch the guy who’s doing it, or do you watch the dummy? Do you find yourself talking to the dummy? You do you talk to the dummy and you’re like, “Why am I talking to the dummy?” And these things become, like weirdly supernatural and stuff like that and that’s why I think people think they’re 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, “Hi little boy,” and he’s still traumatized. He’s like, “Daddy, daddy, please.” I was like, “Come to work with me,” and he’s like, “Nuh-uh! Billy’s there! Billy’s there! I don’t wanna see Billy.” And, um, he still talks about it. It, like really tripped him out. So it’s obviously something primal.

How many different dummies do you have?

Well there’s the main dude – there’s Billy, and then there's101 dolls, that’s really only a shot that you see though. So there’s 101, but, you know, Billy’s the main, the main one.

What sparked you about Silence? I mean, if you didn’t know who wrote it, you didn’t 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 I’m interested in?

We were finishing up Saw, if it was a speck I don’t know if I would’ve gone like, “Wow, this is really, just like, whacked out.,” 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 is….wherever we actually are in the wave... to try different things and to go outside of this 80’s remake thing  that seems to be going on. I like to take chances. I’m glad Universal did too, because this thing isn’t normal, any more than Saw was, so I think it’s 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 ‘em scream and throw some drums on the soundtrack. So I hope that kind of answers it.



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