EXCL: James Wan Breaks His Dead Silence

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Hard to believe, but it’s been two and a half years since ComingSoon.net spoke with Saw director James Wan along with his writing partner Leigh Whannell. Sadly, when we finally got a chance to talk to him about his new movie Dead Silence, we only had roughly ten minutes to catch up on those two and a half years.

With that in mind, all the questions we wanted to ask James about the way the “Saw” franchise had changed since our earlier interview had to be excised, so that we could find out more about his new gothic thriller.

ComingSoon.net: I can’t believe it’s been almost two and a half years since we last talked to you in New York.
James Wan: Oh my God! Really? (laughs)

CS: So was “Dead Silence” something you and Leigh already had in mind back then?
Wan: God! I can’t even think back that far, man! I’m getting older and I’m losing my memory. It’s so funny that you said it was 2 1⁄2 years because in the last three years, so much has happened for me, for us, that I’m very grateful for, but man, it’s so hard for me to track of it all.

CS: Believe me, I feel the same way. I was just looking at a picture of you from the first movie and you looked like you were 15.
Wan: Now I look at least 16, right? (laughs) “Dead Silence” was an idea that we came up with right after “Saw.” We didn’t really have that idea or story when we were making “Saw” but we’re playing with a theme that Leigh and I love. I love the theme of ventriloquism, I love creepy dolls, and he and I love scary ghost stories and stuff like that. After “Saw,” a lot of people were saying, “Okay, what next? What next?” really pushing us to get our next film off the ground. We cooked it up a lot quicker than we would have liked. We generally like a bit more time to write our scripts, but at least we had the concept there and we just sort of plowed into it. What we did was we merged our two favorite themes, which was creepy dolls, ventriloquism and ghost stories and that’s what “Dead Silence” is. It’s a ghost story with creepy dolls. (laughs)

CS: I’ve spoken to Leigh a few times in the past few years and he’s said that you were going more for the look and feel of that distinctive ’60s Hammer horror movie, so was this more of a period piece or is it set in present day and just has that look?
Wan: It’s set in present day, but there’s a flashback sequence in the film to the 1930s. It really is Leigh and my loving tribute to those old Hammer horror films. Like every shot is literally fog-bound. There’s a fog-bound town and we’ve got a Hearse driving through the fog-bound streets at midnight, and we have our lead guy rowing a boat across this fogbound lake to get to an abandoned, decrepit old place in the middle of nowhere. It’s this really bizarre imagery that Leigh and I love, but putting that on top of a familiar story we’re used to, which is ghost stories and a revenge ghost story and bringing a lot of strange and fun stuff to it, like 101 creepy puppets. So it’s like this strange ghost story that you’ve seen before but pay that loving tribute to the films that we love. To me, “Dead Silence” is like a big screen feature-length episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

CS: Is it safe to assume this isn’t going to be as gory as “Saw” and be more about the scares and creepy stuff or can we expect some fun dismemberments in there as well?
Wan: The reason why it’s got an R-rating is because it’s more conceptual gore and effects like the ghost in the film, if you scream in her presence, she rips your tongue out and marks up your face as opposed to limbs being cut off on screen, stuff like that. This is more supernatural visual effects.

CS: I heard the poem in the commercials and I just assumed that you’re going to have all these tongues literally being ripped out.
Wan: (laughs) No, don’t have any tongues being ripped out… maybe in the sequel.

CS: Is it safe to presume that you had a bigger budget to work with than you did when you made “Saw”?
Wan: Yeah, I could actually pay everyone on this film… (laughs) no, I’m just kidding. This one there’s a big difference. There’s ups and downs with making studio movies and there’s ups and downs with making indie films. One of the ups is being able to realize my visuals for the film. I can get the right toys to shoot my crane shots. I can get a dolly. I have a visual FX budget and can pay for a special FX person. I can do all the kind of stuff that I was very limited with in the first film… “Saw” I mean.

CS: Were you able to use a lot of the same crew you used to make “Saw”?
Wan: I brought Charlie Clouser back and I brought Julie Berkhoff, who was my production designer. I love them two and I think they’re really talented people, so yeah, they’ve come along with me to my third movie, “Death Sentence.” I enjoy working with them and they’ve become good friends as well.

CS: How long ago did you shoot “Dead Silence”? I’ve been doing interviews for the “Saw” sequels while you were working on this so when I spoke to Donnie Wahlberg for “Saw II,” he had already been shooting it. Did it just take more time in post-production to finish this than planned?
Wan: Yeah, it took a while. The funny thing that not many people realize is generally a movie takes over a year to make. The “Saw” sequels are pumped out so quickly. The moment Halloween comes, the next “Saw” film comes out and already the next morning, it’s like “Let’s get the script ready for the next one.” It goes so quick that people expected my second film to come out quickly as well. Well, you know what? I didn’t do that. After “Saw”—I shot that in like 18 days, and I’m like, “Guys, I don’t want to make another film so rushed.” To top that off, it was such a hard experience because halfway through that film, my good producer friend Greg Hoffman passed away and that was really sad. It really took a toll on me and I took time off and in doing so, we kind of missed the window of opportunity to release the film. Then it became, “You know what? Then let’s release it the next year.” I’d rather them find the correct window to put it out than to rush it out, ’cause I don’t want to be competing in the summer period with all these big summer action films, and to be honest, I didn’t want to compete against my “Saw” franchise either.

CS: A lot has changed in horror since the first “Saw” which made studios take R-rated horror more seriously. One of the things that’s changed though is that studios no longer screen movies like yours to critics. Because of this, I haven’t actually seen “Dead Silence” yet. I was curious what you thought about that new practice.
Wan: I think the only people who’ve really seen it was at a preview test screening, I think one of the guys from Dread Central saw it and he’s got a review up there. It was actually explained to me that because a bunch of recent horror movies did so well without screening it to the critics, that it was just clever marketing, that they end up making more money that way. I don’t fault them, because that’s what marketing’s all about. What I’ve come to realize a big part of it is how you sell the product. I think that was the best way for them to sell the film. I don’t know the younger critics will take to this film. They might look at it and go, “This is stupid or dumb” or whatever.

CS: Some of the younger horror fans might not understand the references.
Wan: Exactly. I honestly believe the older film critics, like your Ebert type, whose been around for a long time, I think those guys will really appreciate a film that is harking back to the old school horror films, like the old “Twilight Zone.” I think the older people will like it more than the younger critics, so who knows?

CS: Okay, they’re cutting us off and I have like 50 other questions. So this other film you mentioned, “Death Sentence,” are you starting that fairly soon? It sounds a bit like “Death Wish” so are you going more into that direction with this movie?
Wan: Yes. “Death Sentence” I’m actually finishing it up as we speak. This is what I meant; so much has happened. I’ve shot it and I’m editing it, and I’m about to start doing the sound for it. I’m nearly finishing it up and in about two months time, I think the film will be wrapped completely, in the can so to speak. It’s really my way of not wanting to be just typecast as a horror director. Not that there’s anything wrong with directing horror films, but I just feel like it’s very limiting for a guy whose a fan of all kinds of genre. “Death Sentence” is a throwback to the old ’70s revenge drama. I really made it in the spirit of “The French Connection” and to some degree, the “Death Wish” films, but it’s a story about a father, whose son is killed, and he makes the wrong choice of trying to take revenge through his own hands, and ends up paying the price. There’s consequences for that. Hopefully, there’s that moral that comes through as well. I think it’s going to be a cool film. I think it’s going to be a great movie, and I don’t usually say that about my own films. (laughs) I think Kevin Bacon really brought a lot to the film, he’s really great in it.

CS: Sounds very cool. Hopefully that’ll come out very soon, and we’ll have 12 minutes to talk to you when it does.
Wan: (laughs) Take care, man!

Dead Silence opens this Friday, March 16.