INT: Joel Silver

Legendary producer Joel Silver (DIE HARD, the MATRIX trilogy) has been around long enough to have a pretty keen instinct of what’s going to appeal to an audience. That’s why his company DARK CASTLE, which he formed with director Robert Zemeckis, has been going strong for years. JoBlo.com recently had a chance to sit down with Silver, and director Jaume Serra, to discuss their new frightfest, HOUSE OF WAX. This new vision of an old classic features a bunch of hot, sweaty teens on the run from a freaky mute who’s just jonesing to put them in wax. Silver and Serra discussed the challenges of the film, as well as why you’ll never see a sequel and what it was like working with Paris Hilton.


Why do you think horror remakes are hot right now?

Joel Silver: I mean… I don't know if there hot now, it's just been, we have this company Dark Castle, me and my partner Bob Zemeckis, in the spirit of the late William Castle. We've been trying to re-imagine some of those movies, he (William Castle) didn't make House of Wax but it was the same kind of period. I don't like thinking of this as a remake, we've kept the title and the idea, but it's really a completely different movie than the original. We're not running from it, matter of fact at the Tribeca Film Festival, they're going to show the original movie in it's original two strip 3-D version, we're going to show it a week before our movie. It isn't like we're telling the same story, we have the same idea, but it's a different picture.

Have you thought of doing homage to the old gimmicks they used to do, wiring theater seats and 3-D?

Joel Silver: In the first movie, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, we gave away a million dollars, as a promotion. We're doing our own version of what Bill Castle would have done; I mean the MTV show, which is on every week, it’s a promotional idea. I remember the show last week and there were three spots for Amityville Horror, the audience, they felt, the people who will be watching the show, they'll advertise another movie. It's Ok, it's a great promotion I think too, and it's something no one has ever done before, which Bill Castle would have done too.

Is this up fronting the DVD early?

Joel Silver: We're trying to put those shows on the DVD, all five of those half hours. It was an unusual thing, it was like the REAL WORLD while making a movie, and it was a cool idea.

Can you talk about the idea of getting comfortable with how much brutality goes into the bat beating at the end of the film?

Joel Silver: I mean, it's a fun movie, you're not the audience , the only reason you're seeing this is because you're here! I think that, when I watched Passion, Mel’s movie…in one of the scenes, they had the whipping scene and I turned away and when I looked back they were still beating him. I said to Jaume, 'Let's do that.' But it's fun, how can it be fun? Yes, the actor’s fine, he’s on vacation now. This is a great fun story, that all these kids, none of them are really dead, fingers weren't really cut off, it just works for the movie, it's summer fare.

The answer to everyone's question on why the chose the film was you, who would you do a film with, who would you want to do a project with?

Joel Silver: I like these movies, I mean look… Hillary Swank came to us to do the next film; the next one is starring her. People like these movies, they tend to be successful, people tend to like them, and Jaume did a great job, so we try to make them fun and if they're a commercial movie then it's kind of good for everybody.

As far as young filmmakers, what would you tell them about trying to get their own careers started?

Jaume Serra: I think for a director, to get your career started you just have to be a director. It's very difficult, that someone will just give you an opportunity, like he (Joel Silver) gave me the opportunity to do my first movie, but I'd been directing for like eight years doing commercials, before that I had to spend my own money to show what I could do. So, I think the biggest step for someone to become a director is to earn money somehow and trust yourself and do something, and if you're good enough you'll survive.

How was the chemistry between you and the actors, this being your first film?

Jaume Serra: It was great chemistry; they're all young, energetic. We didn't have a lot of rehearsal. I was lucky that we scheduled, sort of like… the first scenes of the movie in the beginning of shooting, they were kind of getting to know each other, the same time they're shooting the same scenes where the audience is getting to know them. After that… they went through a lot of difficult, prosthetics and heat and wax, and that really bonds them with the crew. It was a great experience.

From studying masters like Castle, what do you think is the true formula that makes a horror film work?

Joel Silver: There are all different kinds of horror films, we started doing TALES FROM THE CRYPT in 89 and we did 93 half hours and they're all different kinds of movies. I don't think there is a formula. Horror movies are the only kind of movies where you can actually take people in a darkened room and with what you show them and what they hear you can really raise their heart rate, make them sweat, just change their… feelings about things by just bombarding them with images and ideas. That's what's exciting about making horror films.

If you look at the great run in the 70s, of the Freddy Krueger, the FRIDAY THE 13th movies and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, they were very different kind of movies, one was supernatural, one was kind of the slasher type. It's different kind of scares…the scariest movie I ever saw when I was a kid was ALIEN, it was a monster movie and when I made PREDATOR, I was conscious of that. You think about these pictures, if you can scare the audience, give them some laughs to take away from the scares, and have a good pay off at the end, it's really hard to have a good pay off.

I think that HOUSE OF WAX has the best pay off of any of our Dark Castle movies. We don't have to have characters explaining it for ten minutes what happened…once they find out the two brothers are there and what happened, and that house comes down, you believe that building is melting in front of you, it really wasn’t a building of wax, but you believe it and you kinda pay off the story.

There are two types of people who talk about horror films, those who believe the less you see the scarier it is, like a Hitchcock approach. Then there's the special effects type movies. What do you think about the two?

Joel Silver: They're both effective. This one is designed for young people, so this one is maybe a little more graphic, a little kind of gory. It's designed as a fun teen slasher movie, that’s what it is. Some of the more adult ones, THE SIXTH SENSE is very scary, and THE OTHERS, you see very little. I think it depends on the filmmaker and what they want to make. The scarier the movie is at the end of the day the better it is for the audience.

Any plans to do any more Tales for the Crypt sequels?

Joel Silver: I'm putting out the DVD, the first season’s coming out in a few weeks. I was really upset, I didn't have as much features as I would like, because we didn’t plan on that. I had some promotional stuff, we had a few things.

But you're not planning any new shows or movies.

Joel Silver: No, well, who knows, but as of right now I'm not.

With the success of all your movies, has Warner’s come to you going "We want more product?"

Joel Silver: Yeah, they would love two a year if we could do it, it's a great business for them, they're not expensive movies and they do real well. We've got the next one set to go which is with Hillary Swank which is called THE REAPING, she plays a miracle de-bunker, the Hayes Brothers wrote that too. But I have the next one set what I want to do. I have a bunch of things in development.

Any more horror remakes?

Joel Silver: Maybe one. One or two.

How did you come to cast Paris Hilton?

Joel Silver: I knew her for years and she wanted to do this, wanted to do something like this, we thought “let’s take a shot”. You saw the movie I don't think you stopped and said "oh that's Paris Hilton". She plays the role, she does a good job, she's not the lead in the movie, Elisha's the lead, and she’s fantastic. She came to Australia with us, if you saw the MTV show she was there the whole time, she committed to the picture and she worked her ass off and I think that it shows. Does she help me promotionally? We'll see. I had t-shirts made that said "See Paris Die May 6th”, so…she did a great job and I'm a big fan of hers.

The night vision scenes with the video camera… was that a conscious a nod to the video tape? (Note: The famous Paris Hilton sex tape)

Jaume Serra: Yeah, of course it was.

Even the killing scene, the close up, it seemed you were trying to reference that too, with the pipe coming out.

Jaume Serra: Not really, the whole video camera idea was in the script before she was cast, the night vision is a little nod, nothing else.

Was she aware of that?

Jaume Serra: Oh yeah.

Did you discuss it with her?

Jaume Serra: There was no need to discuss, it was in the script.

So she wasn't mad about it?

Jaume Serra: No, she's a cool girl.

Joel Silver: Have you guys talked to her? She’s fine.

Knowing that a horror movie is so effects intensive, stunt intensive and you have so much going on… where you worried that it was your first feature? That it was a horror film, and you had so many things going on, as opposed to a comedy?

Jaume Serra: I’d probably be more concerned in a comedy. In my commercial experience I've dealt with like… explosions and CG and things, so that wasn’t a big concern.

When we talked to the Hayes brothers they said how you had found this location for Paris's death and how that changed their writing. Are there any other things that contributed that changed the initial script?

Jaume Serra: A couple of things in the structure…you get the script, it's great, then you have to put it in budget and time. You have to move things around.

Was there one where you said, "I wish I could have done this" but couldn't because of budget or time?

Jaume Serra: We didn't compromise on anything that was really important, all the story points; we spent the money in the right places. You can see in the ending, you know, that's what the audience wants to see.

Can you tell us about the set, and how you achieved to make it look like wax?

Jaume Serra: It's very complicated; every shot had a different technique. If you have a close up on the feet, it's one substance. If you have them scratching on the wall it's a different substance. We had to do a lot of experimenting, a lot of research, see what would work for wide shots, light it properly and pray that when you cut it together you don’t feel that they are different substances. It was really tough.

Would you like to do more horror movies or do you want to start branching out from here?

Jaume Serra: I would do another horror movie. I had a great time, but I'd want to move into action stuff, bigger stuff. I want to explore everything.

Joel Silver: He's doing another picture for me called THE DIVIDE, which will be his next picture.

Whenever an audience sees a film like this, where the one brother is left alive, the third brother, first thing they say is, "Oh there's going to be a sequel". Do filmmakers think that way when they’re making a film?

Joel Silver: At Dark Castle we don't make any sequels, the next Dark Castle film is a sequel, each one ends the way it ends.


Joel Silver: No, never. There will be THE REAPING as a sequel, it has nothing to do with it, it's just… that's why we made Dark Castle. I've been involved in a lot of sequels, and most of them may have been successful commercial movies, but they weren't successful movies to me. With THE MATRIX, people were confused with the way the story evolved, the pictures did return 3 billion dollars of revenue to Warner Bros., so they were successful. But those stories did exist, they were stories that the boys wrote, they weren't really sequels, it was serial fiction. To create another movie when one is over, just because the first one was successful…I'm not going to do that.


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