Director James Wan and actor Leigh Whannell, the masterminds behind the new serial killer gore-o-rama “Saw,” are as big an underdog story as you’re likely to see all year. The two Australian filmmakers spent about two years after film school trying to scrape the money together to shoot their first script.
Wan came up with the idea and Whannell says he spent years honing the script, coming up with the premise (and its exceedingly clever twist ending) and then working backwards to fill in the details. Despite the temptation to cut to the chase, the pair felt it was important to give the audience the tools to figure out the ending on their own.
“I feel that this film literally dangles the carrot in your face the entire time,” Wan said.
After the script was finished, finances proved again problematic, especially in Australia’s smaller, less genre-film-oriented film industry. On the verge of giving up, they shot the film’s “bear trap” scene with Leigh on 16mm film and sent it off to America never expecting that it would be discovered.
Once they moved the project over to America, Wan and Whannell said things moved much more quickly. “People kept telling us not to expect this every time,” Whannell said. “But once we brought it over here, man, we kicked a goal.”
The film was shot in an amazingly short 18 days (most films take 6-8 weeks) with production headquartered in a giant warehouse. The production was so rushed, in fact, that when the studio asked Wan to cut the film back to avoid an NC-17 rating, he said he didn’t mind at all.
“We didn’t have to cut much and it gave me a few extra days to fix the sound … There are things I like about the original cut, things that are better in the new cut,” says Wan.
With the film getting so much attention for its violence, you might expect Wan to cite past horror masters like Dario Argento or Wes Craven as his favorite directors. However, Wan’s cites “Jaws” as a major influence.
“I love anyone who really brings their personality to their work. I actually don’t want to dwell on the violence, believe it or not. I tried to shoot it in such a way that you push it to the point where it becomes sort of surreal … it makes it more visceral, more kinetic,” Wan said.
The pair said they look forward to showing the film back in Australia and letting their friends and family see what they’ve been talking about for so long, despite the excessive gore. “My mom will love it, my mom loves these kind of films,” Wan said.
“I’m not worried either,” Whanell said jokingly. “My parents already know there’s something wrong with me.”