The director and actress chat about the new film and the series as a whole
Last night I was invited to posh Beverly Hills to mix and mingle with some of the cast and crew of the upcoming horror film Saw V, the latest in the popular series. Several members of the online press and I were hobknobbing with the stars, sipping Saw-kitini's and chatting about the current installment, which recently wrapped filming. During my mingling I was able to have a great chat with director David Hackl. While this is Hackl's directorial debut, he is no stranger to the franchise, having served as the production designer on Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV. Here's what the new director had to say.
Director David Hackl
I was talking with Scott Patterson a little bit ago and he was talking about this insane trap in the movie. Tell us a little about that.
David Hackl: Scott was absolutely fantastic. About a month before we went to camera, I had a phone call with Scott and I explained to him what the trap was going to be, and he was right into it. He would totally do it. We got on the day and, not just Scott, but every member of the crew was scared, apprehensive, anxious. Of course, as the director, I was anxious that we couldn't pull it off, that we would somehow have to resort to a visual effect or something like that, and we didn't. We didn't because of Scott. He really worked his ass off. I've never seen an actor go through something like that and, not only be able to be in the trap but to do a performance and hit the things I asked him to hit. He hit it every time. We'd pull him out of it and he'd go, 'Let's go. Let's go again,' right away. He would do it all over again. I was so impressed and at the end of the day, I looked at him and he looked at me and he said, 'Thanks, man. That was an incredible experience.' I said, 'Thank you. Thank you for being so brave.' It really was an act of bravery. It was the one time, in all the Saw movies that I've done, that we did something that I wasn't fully sure we were going to get.
David Hackl: It wasn't that it was the biggest trap, but it was probably the most truly dangerous one. Now, we had safeties like crazy. We had safety people standing all around, we had double safties on both sides of the thing, and we took every safety precaution we could... but still. Let's say that Scott just said, 'Forget it. I'm not doing it.' Let's say he tried it once and wouldn't do it, they were standing there, the whole crew in the room built for this trap, and we've got nothing. We were so far into the film that we couldn't just go, 'Well, we'll build another trap.' These things take weeks of building and engineering and development and research. It was really something that we would've been stuck.
So who actually does the designs for these traps?
David Hackl: Well, the past couple of years it was me for Saw II and Saw III and Tony Ianni, who was my art director, has now taken over as production designer. It's really a combination of people and it starts with the writers, myself and Darren (Lynn Bousman) working together to come up with the idea. We'll do sketches of things and see what's going to work. These traps have so many criterias around them, so many things that they have to do. They have to look dangerous as hell but they have to be as safe as possible. They have to look like they can kill you but they can't really kill you. It's really difficult when you start to think of a trap. So, how do you really do something where you run spikes through people and it goes through his wife on the other side, and make it look like it's going to work? There are so many elements to it. It is a group effort all the way along. Jason Ehl, our trap builder, is the real engineer. He does the machine work, actually in his workshop. He's the mad scientist. He's got the computerized milling machines that cut out the perfect gear sizes, the perfect blades, the pistons and the servos that make these things work. He's the guy that puts them together. He's the guy that's really working the long long long hours. He literally will work straight through, the whole time. When he's not in his shop, he's on the set making it happen. It all starts, really, in the art department as well with myself and Tony Ianni, Jason and myself all sitting around doing little sketches.
So how detailed are the scripts about these traps?
David Hackl: In the past, quite honestly, we'd get a script and it says something along the lines of, '... and then you see the most deadly Jigsaw trap ever' (Laughs). It's always a situation where, coming up to the shoot, there's always that one trap that hangs out there until the last minute. This was no different. There was one trap that didn't get developed until, literally, the week before we shot. We'd been thinking about ideas, throwing ideas together, but it was just the week before. It's always been like that. We try to get as much lead time, so Jason has has much time as possible to build them, but at a certain point, our pre-production period is really...
Yeah, it can't be that long, with a year turnaround.
David Hackl: Yeah, it's not that long. When you think about prototypes for products for things in the real world, oftentimes it's years in development and they have to work perfectly. Well, these things have to work perfectly with like weeks of development. Not only that, but be built and then make it to look like an actual Jigsaw trap, make the real one and make the rubber one. I think back to the needle pit (in Saw II), where we had a room full of people for three weeks pulling the needles out, real hypodermic needles. Those poor people, they had bandages on their fingers from pricking their fingers so many times, and blisters. What did they do, something like 380,000 needles. Sometimes I think, putting these movies together is more enjoyable then watching the movies themselves, because the real Jigsaw puzzle is making them.
Yeah. It's such a short turnaround, it's almost the new holiday. There's a Halloween every year and there's a Saw every year.
David Hackl: Yeah, and I love it. Certainly, if I'm not doing the next one or I'm not working on the next one in some capacity, I'm going to miss it. It's one of the most fun things I've ever done.
Oh yeah. I can imagine. Can you give us any sort of clue about what this trap that Scott was going through is? Anything at all.
David Hackl: No, I can't, but I think it's definitely a situation where his real fear shows very very well on camera. I'm not sure how much was acting and how much wasn't, but I'm gonna say he did a fantastic job either way.
Is this going to be something that will be really really hard to top in Saw VI?
David Hackl: No, it's a stand-alone trap. It's not going to be hard to top, it's just that everyone's anxiety paid off and everyone's apprehension for this trap really paid off. It certainly showed on film as well. I mean, I've watched people, who I've showed this to, see this trap being performed and they have a physical reaction to it. I love when people get that kind of visceral, very physical reaction.
So it's not a really complex thing?
David Hackl: It's not. As a matter of fact, it's very elegant in its simplicity. That's what I like about it. Certainly in the past, I think one of my favorite traps was the hand trap in Saw II.
David Hackl: That was a situation where I was sitting at my desk and trying to work out how the hand slots would work. It came from an idea where Darren (Lynn Bousman) had said, 'What if someone had got their hands trapped in a glass jar and they're smashing the jars off their hands to survive?' The jars thing didn't seem to work so well and then it turned into, 'Well, what if she stuck her hand into it? What if she stuck both her hands into it?' She's delerious, she'll do anything to get that antidote out. That is truly one of my favorites. It was so elegant and so simple. Visually, it looked so great when the blood was dripping down her arms.
She played it off beautifully too.
David Hackl: Just being the kind of guy I am, I always wanted to cut back to a shot where we go back to it, much later, where she's just hanging dead with her arms half-stripped of flesh. We never got around to that shot.
That might have been an unrated extra kind of thing. The MPAA might not have been down with that.
David Hackl: Especially if there were flies eating her eyes, that would've been bad. But, I think everybody is going to be happy with this one. There are seven traps, which is quite a quantity to try to fill and to try to design. Every year it gets more and more difficult to make these traps because we have to do something we haven't done before, we have to do something that's highly visceral, that works for our story, that works for that character and they have to pretty much work with Jigsaw's philosophy of rehabilitation. The criteria on these things are huge, that's why we have so much trouble. It's one thing to just write a script. For the average horror film you could just write a script and you want to add some gore, you have someone's head come off, or whatever. In these movies, the hardest part about making these movies is how to incorporate these traps, what the traps are going to be, and that's why there are certain traps that are just hanging out there until the last minute.
Excellent. Well thank you so much, David.
David Hackl: Great. Thank you.
After mingling a little bit more I managed to score a brief sit-down with actress Betsy Russell, who portrays Jill and was first seen briefly at the very end of Saw III and moreso in Saw IV. Here's what Mrs. Jigsaw had to say.
Actress Betsy Russell
So how long ago did you guys wrap on this?
Betsy Russell: I want to say like a month ago.
Do these shoots keep getting a little bit longer and longer? I know you weren't in the first two, but they were filmed in just a few weeks. It seems now you have more time to flesh everything out.
Betsy Russell: Yeah, we have plenty of time.
So I was hearing from David Hackl all the new traps.
Betsy Russell: Oh, good.
It seems like they're really ramping things up.
Betsy Russell: Yeah, definitely. I've seen one scene that was cut together, and it looks awesome.
So how much of the film have you seen? Just that one part?
Betsy Russell: Yeah, just that part, but it looked really really good.
So are your roles getting bigger and bigger with each movie then?
Betsy Russell: No comment on that one.
(Laughs) Fair enough. I like to be surprised too.
Betsy Russell: I like to talk as much as I like to listen, believe me, but I just can't.
I hear you. They have your life signed away, I imagine.
Betsy Russell: Yeah. They don't want us to give away too much.
So do you have anything that you're working on after this one?
Betsy Russell: No. It's kind of weird with the strike looming. People that you'd least expect are out of work, are out of work.
Yeah, the climate is sort of odd. The writers strike is over, but now there's this one. I've been hearing about productions being rushed through just so they can get them done before the actors strike.
Betsy Russell: Yeah, exactly, I know. It's unfortunate.
So is there anything that you'd really like to do, besides future Saw's, of course?
Betsy Russell: I wouldn't mind doing an episode of Entourage. I hear that the producers are big fans of mine. In fact, I talked to one of them, so we'll see if that will happen. I love that show. I guess I can't sing so I can't be on American Idol. I don't know. If it's a good part, I'll take it. If it's a good project and a bad part I'll take it.
Excellent. Thank you so much, Betsy.
Betsy Russell: Thank you.
I mingled some more after that little chat, trying to see if I could get an in with Julie Benz or Tobin Bell, but, alas, they were occupied until the event came to a close. Well, that's all from the Saw V event. I had a great time, met some awesome people and learned a lot about the new film which is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide on October 24. Peace in. Gallagher out!