With the seventh entry in Lionsgate’s Saw franchise currently shooting in Toronto, Canada in preparation for its October 22, 2010 theatrical release, Dread caught up with the flick’s co-scribe Patrick Melton to chat about the film as well as the other projects he and long-time collaborator Marcus Dunstan are working on.
The prolific Melton, who along with Dunstan penned the Feast film franchise as well as Saw IV through VII and last year’s feature film The Collector (which the latter directed), weighed in on the current status of Jigsaw’s latest exploit along with his thoughts on the Oscar’s nod to the horror genre, the possibility of a sequel to The Collector, and more.
“We are about half through,” Melton told us over the phone on Wednesday of Saw VII’s principal photography. “It’s going to go into early April. We just starting shooting the traps on Monday. We always shoot those last in order to give the crew more time to build them and put them together.”
Originally slated to be helmed by David Hackl, a last-minute director change for Saw VII was issued in January, and Saw VI director Kevin Greutert (he additionally served as film editor for the bulk of the series) was contractually placed in the directorial chair, a move which forced him off Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 2. For anyone who’s read Greutert’s blog, it’s apparent he was none too pleased with the timing of that decision, as in addition to rendering him unable to helm PA2, it also placed him in the unenviable position of coming onto Saw VII merely days before the onset of filming.
“It was a very hard situation,” Melton told us, “to replace your director two weeks before the beginning of production. Kevin’s mind was in a completely other space, prepping his own movie in Paranormal (Activity) 2, and so he was getting up-to-speed as Saw VII was going into production. It’s pretty hard to wrap your brain around, ‘How am I going to shoot this next scene?’ if you’ve never even thought about it before.”
As for Greutert’s “comprehensive re-write” of Saw VII, a task (according to his post on houseofjigsaw.com) which the director apparently undertook upon his early February arrival to the Toronto set, Melton said, “He has a lot of ideas, but it’s a bit hard and extreme to implement all of these ideas because sets have been built, people have been cast, props have been bought or created, and with the Saw films they are so specific in set design because of the traps. It becomes very problematic and difficult to change things a whole bunch right in the middle of it.”
Still, Melton remains positive.
“But if anyone can do it, it’s Kevin,” said the writer. “He’s been involved in every single Saw movie, and he directed the last one so he knows the limitations of the crew and the limitations of the resources, and so he’s been able to adapt pretty quickly, and it’s looking good. Because we are playing with the idea that this may be the last Saw movie and we are trying to wrap things up, it’s made it a ton more ambitious.”
Expounded the scribe, “In this one we have bigger traps and more traps and more characters – especially characters from the past (films) – than we’ve had in probably any other Saw movie. It’s definitely the most expensive and ambitious Saw movie that we’ve done. Some of it is in response to last year’s Saw VI, which, while being the most critically acclaimed Saw film in a while, didn’t do particularly as well (at the box office) as everyone would have hoped, so we are going pretty far with this one in terms of the scale and intensity of the traps and the amount of twists, especially into the third act, which is just a plethora of twists and reveals.”
Wrapping up such a narratively-dense series, and doing so in a way satisfying to the audience, presents its own challenges as well, although Melton feels that he and Dunstan delivered.
“I can’t speak much of what the film is, but once you see it, you’ll understand that there is quite a bit of resolution (to the series). There is a place where it can go, but it’s been undecided at this point if the series will continue. If we end it with this one, then the entire franchise and story will be wrapped up in a nice pretty package.”
Given Melton and Dunstan’s long-standing involvement with the Saw series, we were interested to know as well if during the scripting process the two ever hit a creative wall. The heart of the franchise is invention, and while the pair are certainly prolific in delivering such, there’s got to come a time when the creative well begins to run dry.
“Part of it is coming up with a theme,” said Melton, “and we’ve covered a lot of things before, whether it be ice or fire or some sort of literary source, so I think it gets tricky in terms of coming up with new ideas to torture and maim. The good thing about the process is that most people who are involved (with Saw VII) have been involved the whole time so the producers and the people on set also come up with ideas or seeds of ideas. The way the traps have been executed has always been very collaborative.”
As for shooting Saw VII in 3D, which is yet another challenge director Greutert is facing, Melton tells us that the idea to do so “has been discussed since Saw V. There’s a knee-jerk reaction when a movie like Avatar makes so much money, and the studios can charge fourteen dollars a ticket as opposed to ten, so they see it as a way to make more money and to combat piracy without really thinking of if (whether or not) a film is necessarily catered to be in 3D. But people really do seem to like it, and it makes going to the theatre a little bit more of an event.”
“It can work really well, though,” Melton continued. “Marcus and I worked on My Bloody Valentine 3D, which lent itself to a sort of an over-the-top story, and it was quite conducive to the 3D experience of being fun and wild, like the five-minute naked sequence. With Saw VII, it’s more of using 3D for the visceral nature of it.”
Dread takes a moment to reflect on the longevity of 3D films as it pertains to their inherent kitsch factor, evident particularly when viewing a film in a 2D format (let’s face it, most of us aren’t partial to donning 3D glasses when watching a film in a home theater environment, regardless of Samsung’s 3D-Ready DLP hopes). Inherent to the 3D process are directorial choices which complement that dimensional format, and that is undeniably a double-edged sword, as it also forces filmmakers to approach shots in a way they decidedly would not were they shooting for a traditional presentation.
“Have you seen Jaws 3D lately? It’s dreadful,” weighed in Melton on the subject. “That locked-off shot of the shark coming towards the screen is just awful, but that was the ‘3D moment’ with the shark coming out into the audience. The whole 3D thing is tricky because on one hand it’s a gimmick, but on the other it can make the theater-going experience a bit more fun. It is a bit of an experiment with Saw VII because the Saw films are fast and sort of wildly cut, which doesn’t work all that particularly well with 3D. It’s going to be interesting in post-production to see how we strike that balance between having those 3D moments and also keeping the feel of a Saw film. If it works, it’s going to be great because it’s going to have that pace and ferocity that the Saw films have but also those fun, in-your-face moments in 3D with the traps and the blood.”
As for what the title of the seventh film in the Jigsaw franchise will be, Melton is unsure.
“I don’t even know the title of the film right now,” he said. “I’m not sure if they are going to go with Saw VII or Saw 3D or Saw 3D: Endgame or something like that. There is sort of a response people have when there’s just another number (in the title), as opposed to trying to make this one a bit more of an event.”
Still, the Saw series, whether or not Roman numerals are affixed, is easily recognizable by the movie-going public. The series’ historic box-office take is a testament to that, as was last week’s Oscar nod to the horror genre, which featured a clip of the animatronic and iconic character of “Billy” chattering away during the show’s horror montage.
“I was in the Singapore International Airport,” recalled Melton of viewing the Oscar segment, which was hosted by Twilight stars Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, “and I wasn’t necessarily prefaced for it coming, and I watched it wondering, ‘What is this?’ And I kept wondering why they kept showing clips from (Coppola’s) Dracula and (Branagh’s) Frankenstein, which aren’t particularly well-respected horror films, just because they had stars in them or something like that, as opposed to cutting in more respected horror films from the genre. I mean they showed a clip from Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre just because Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger were in it. I thought it was cool, though, because they never give any recognition to horror, and it was a lot longer than I ever thought it would be.”
With horror still a viable and lucrative sub-genre of film, Melton and Dunstan remain busy with a multitude of projects outside of their involvement in the Saw series, and the co-scribe brought us up-to-date on a handful of them.
“We were to do this ABC show with Clive Barker that’s called ‘Clive Barker’s Hotel’, which we had high hopes for,” said Melton, “but I don’t think ABC is going to make it. That took up a lot of energy late last year, and we were also working briefly on Scanners [writer’s note: the project is a redux of the 1981 Cronenberg flick and is set to be produced by Dimension Films], but that is going nowhere quickly. We came in to work on the David Goyer script (of Scanners), which was really good, but I think it was a bit too expensive for them (to produce), and no one could agree on what the new version should be. So we aren’t on that anymore.”
As for what’s going on with a sequel to last summer’s horror feature The Collector (review here) (which was penned by Melton and Dunstan and helmed by the latter), Melton revealed, “I didn’t think it necessarily would happen because while the movie did well for its budget, it certainly wasn’t a blockbuster, but it did well enough that the film’s producer, Mickey Liddell, wants to make a sequel and of course wants me and Marcus to be involved again.”
“So we are seeing if we can work out some sort of a deal for us to write it and for Marcus to direct, but right now it’s just in the deal stage. It is a possibility. I couldn’t imagine it being made without Marcus directing it.”
Concluded Melton, “Oh, and of course doing it in 3D has been mentioned.”
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