David Hackl

The production designer takes over the reigns for this latest installment of the hugely popular horror franchise

It's Halloween again, and that can only mean one thing. Saw V! Every year for the past five years, the Saw franchise has been the go-to goose bump scare during this creepy pumpkin fueled fall season, and this year's installment is coming on stronger than ever before. Jigsaw's ongoing quest continues in pools of deep, red blood, and he graciously earns every single shocking yelp of terror that this thing is sure to procure. This time, production designer David Hackl is taking over directorial duties from Darren Lynn Bousman, the man responsible for the last three Saw films.

Related: Will Saw 9 Keep the Jigsaw Legacy Alive?

Hackl manages to create quite the creepy tale of terror, finally giving us some much-needed closure in answering those long gestating questions about the Jigsaw mythos. This is certainly one of the best sequels yet, and it is a story as rich and detailed as its kills are gruesome and gory. We recently caught up with David for an exclusive behind the scenes chat about the making of the film. Here is our conversation:

Congratulations. I was at the premier last night, and I think you've got a hit on your hands with this one. I really enjoyed it.

David Hackl: Great. Thanks so much. It's nice of you to say that.

Was it exciting for you to see Saw V with such a great audience last night?

David Hackl: I'd seen it with groups of people before last night, but never with a crowd that big. It was really great. It was interesting to experience that. I love to hear the people laughing at certain things. And I love it when they cringe. Sometimes at things I didn't anticipate. I really love that.

One of the aspects that was interesting to me, that I think got lost in some of the earlier films, is that Jigsaw had been cutting these puzzle pieces of flesh from his victims. That aspect is back. And it occurred to me that each Saw film is indicative of those individual puzzle pieces. These five movies are really pulling together one giant quilt of a picture. Each film is certainly building towards something that is greater than its parts. That notion really stands out here, with this fifth turn at bat.

David Hackl: Yes. This is built from that Jigsaw metaphor. I liked that aspect when we were writing the script. I wanted to weave that aspect in a little more with this one. I wanted to take a few more turns, and add even more lore to this particular story.

Did you guys always know from the get go that this particular episode would focus on Scott Patterson's Agent Strahm character?

David Hackl: Yes, we knew he would be the central character of Saw V from the very beginning. We started writing this installment with that notion in mind. It was this time last year that we put it all together and presented it to Lionsgate. And with that came the evolution of his story. They really liked this idea, and the writers were set loose on it for two months. It turned into what we have now.

This is the first time you have directed one of these films, but you have been with this franchise from the word go. Was it always your intention to make this more of a police mystery than another exercise in torture? It seems like you are taking a step away from the more brutal elements of the Saw franchise with Part V.

David Hackl: No, not really. Not so much. At times, we have talked about making it less of a police procedural drama. That just happens to be there because our characters are policemen. I think eventually we will be able to stray away from it having anything to do with the police. That may be an option for six, for all I know.

Were you guys shooting V and VI back to back? Or was that just one of the rumors floating around?

David Hackl: That was just a rumor that went around. We had considered doing that for a while. And that was simply because of the production designs. Rather than tearing down sets each year, and putting the same ones back up the next year, we thought it would be easier to shoot it all at once. We thought we could stretch it over two movies. We have certainly had sets overlap. We have built the Saw bathroom at least three times. We've had to rebuild a lot of the sets. It would save time, and it started to make production sense to do it over the course of two movies. Doing them back-to-back would have saved a lot of money. And we would have gotten more production value in the film. But as time went on, it made more sense to do just one, and do it good. Our timeline is so short, from when we start making one until we finish it. To put one out every year is difficult. The longer we go, the more and more difficult it gets.

You guys have done a brilliant job of keeping Jigsaw involed in the storyline, despite the fact that he checked out in the third film. Has that been an easy aspect to oversee, or has that become a real challenge?

David Hackl: We definitely wanted to have the element of Jigsaw in there. The fans certainly love Jigsaw, and they love watching Tobin Bell. They love his grief tour. (Laughs). I really wanted him in the movie. But I wanted it to play out organically. I wanted him in there, and I wanted it to feel natural. I didn't want it to be gratuitous. I didn't want it to be one of those things were the audience would be going, "Oh, my God! They are still flogging this 'Jigsaw is dead' thing?" I think, with Jigsaw in this film, we have given one of the central elements to the entire backstory of the franchise.

I really liked that it did seem natural in this film. It does seem like he should be here. I know it's hard to talk about these films sometimes, because I am under an agreement not to give anything away. But Betsy Russell's character is given a box in this film. Is this something that is going to play out through future movies? Or is this a red herring? Are you even allowed to speak about the box?

David Hackl: With every single Saw movie, we try to put little things in there that will carry forward, as to give us material for the future. We also want to leave little mysteries hanging out there. The box is like that, exactly. We don't yet know what is inside that box. I don't know how they are going to use it in VI. Or if they even will use it in VI. For all I know, it could come into play way, way down the road. As it stands, it does contain an important piece of information. And I think people can look forward to figuring that aspect out.

Betsy's overall role in this film is left sort of ambiguous. Was that always the intent?

David Hackl: At one time, we had a couple different endings that we were working from. This happens every year. We write various different endings, and this time we had three of them. Her role was not changed, but we saw her doing a couple of different things. In the end, we loved the climax that made it to the screen. We really wanted to make a dynamic ending more than anything. So we chose not to use one of the endings we had. That we filmed. I think that you see her character go a little deeper. And there is some mystery there. That is built. And I am looking forward to seeing how that plays out myself.

Are you signed on as the director of the sixth film?

David Hackl: No. Kevin Greutert is going to direct the sixth one. He has been the editor for all of the Saw movies thus far. And in order to get him to edit my movie, which I wanted more than anything, the producers made a deal with him. And that was to direct Saw VI. And I am thrilled with that. Because more than anything, I wanted to have him here, working with me on this one. I am looking forward to seeing his movie.

I noticed last night that original director James Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell got executive producing credits. Are they involved with the film on a creative level at all?

David Hackl: No, not really. They pretty much stood aside. I think they are happy to stand by and watch it go. I saw James Wan last night, and he seemed thrilled at where this one went. That made me happy.

One of the things that I really wanted to ask you about, after having watched the film last night, is the fact that a lot of the supporting players look just like Billy, Jigsaw's puppet. Is this intentional? Or is this just my mind playing tricks on me? Were you dressing these actors to look like Billy?

David Hackl: No, not really. We didn't do that. But I think we did have a sense of that. There was a very funny thing that happened on set. There is a scene between Hoffman and Jigsaw, where they are talking and Hoffman is tied to the chair. If you look over his shoulder, you see the puppet. And the puppet has almost the exact same haircut as Hoffman.

There is a receptionist in the film, and she looks exactly like Billy. Her facial features, her clothing. That wasn't intentional?

David Hackl: Well, as it happens, Dana Sorman, who plays the receptionist, is an actress and she also happens to be a receptionist at Evolution Entertainment. Maybe it's a little bit intentional.

I want to know something. Every time I go to one of these Saw premier screenings, I see Dick Van Patten, and last night I saw Luis from Sesame Street. Do these guys have something to do with the series? Or are they fans? Because it's interesting to see the guy from Sesame Street and the dad from Eight is Enough cheering on the Jigsaw killer. It's very odd.

David Hackl: Well, Mark Burg, our executive producer, his fiancee Betsy Russell, who plays Jill in the film, used to be married to Vinnie Van Patten years ago. And they are all still really good friends and supporters of the film. They are big fans. One of the coroners in Saw IV was Vinnie Van Patten.

And the guy from Sesame Street is just there because he likes watching Jigsaw torture people?

David Hackl: I think so. Yeah.

It's just so weird to see the Mr. Friendly guy from Sesame Street, and he's cheering on the brutality of this serial killer.

David Hackl: (Laughs) I know. I think that is awesome!

One of the producers said last night that you'd been saving the best traps for yourself. Is that true?

David Hackl: There are traps in there that I've wanted to do for a while. I don't know if they are the best traps. They are things I just wanted to do. As far as it goes creatively? I give it my all every time. I have never really held back on anything. I've wanted every one of these movies to be great. I think that's how I got here in the first place. I would never hold back if I had an amazing idea.

Of the five people we see going through the ordeal as it is set up by Jigsaw in this film, did you ever have any hesitations about letting some of the more colorful characters go off screen so soon?

David Hackl: The thing that I have always liked about making these films is that we always do the unexpected. Some characters certainly have a very strong personality, but I really like their endings. You always expect certain characters to carry all the way through. And sometimes they don't. It is good when you throw a curveball at the audience. You want to keep them guessing. I heard people saying last night, "I didn't expect this person to go that soon." Or, "I didn't expect that person to die." People really like playing that game in their head. I think that's why they like these movies. Because it makes them constantly play that game in their head while they are watching it.

So you essentially follow Jigsaw's rule about doing the opposite of what you feel, like he says in the film?

David Hackl: Yeah, absolutely.

I want to know about the posters. Every year you guys put together some really great posters for this series, and the one with Jigsaw's face skin stretched over someone else's head is so iconic.

David Hackl: That is all Lionsgate. I have to give credit to Lionsgate for dong those. They have a tremendous marketing department. They have put these fantastic promotional materials together. It is one of the reasons I was so happy to do this film. When Lionsgate gets behind a picture, they really get behind it. One of the things that have made this series so successful is the marketing. All of the posters have been fantastic. And I like the DVDs that look like a saw blade. I have to really give credit to Lionsgate for coming threw on that.

Saw V is set to grind bone this Friday, October 24th, at theaters across the country.

B. Alan Orange