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The First Piece to the Jigsaw Puzzle
If you consider yourself a fan of the horror genre, you’ve most likely heard of Australian filmmaker James Wan. He is probably most well known for his work within ‘The Conjuring’ universe as well as directing the first two ‘Insidious’ films. Of course now Wan has gone on to direct even larger projects such as ‘Furious 7’ and 2018’s ‘Aquaman’; but where did Wan’s success originate? Let’s flashback to 2003 when he and partner Leigh Whannell created the blueprint to what now is one of the largest horror franchises in history.
Wan and Whannell met as aspiring filmmakers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s prestigious Media Arts course. The two young men, around 25/26 at the time, co-created the script to ‘Saw’ and took a promising scene from that script to shoot as a seven-minute short film to pitch to studios in hopes of creating the full-length feature.
The two met with producers Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, and Mark Burg who fell in love with the short and even more in love with the script attached to it. They proposed that if Wan would direct (despite his non-existent directing credits at the time), if Whannell would star in the film (regardless of his small acting resume except for a few Australian TV hosting and presenting jobs) and if the two could make the entire film with a $1 million dollar budget—the chance was theirs. Without hesitating, Wan and Whannell agreed and the team jumped in to create what we now know to be the first component to an extremely successful film series. Filmed entirely in a single location in just 18 days, ’Saw’ was born.
The Eight (and Counting) Films to Follow
For those that aren’t familiar with the concept, the ‘Saw’ series focuses on the heinous serial killer John Kramer, better known as Jigsaw, who torments his victims with intricate traps or “games” as he likes to call them. If his victims are strong and determined enough to play in exchange for survival, they will endure extreme physical and mental trauma that will either result in death or freedom.
‘Saw’ was given a theatrical release by Lionsgate Films in the United States in October of 2004 and grossed a whopping $104 million worldwide. It was evident that the two young filmmakers held a hefty jackpot in their hands. From 2004 on, the ‘Saw’ franchise released a new film every October until 2010 when ‘Saw 3D’ premiered in theaters, serving as what everyone believed to be the final installment. Each film did so well with audiences (yet not so favorable with critics) that it deterred other studios from releasing their horror films in the month of October because they were all well aware they couldn’t stand a chance up against a ‘Saw’ film. There was even a classic saying coined, “If it’s Halloween it must be SAW”.
Lionsgate opposed making another film until they were presented with a pitch so unique they deemed it worthwhile to revive the franchise. 5 or 6 years after the release of ‘Saw 3D’, Oren Koules and Mark Burg the producers behind every single ‘Saw’ film to date had heard between 50-60 pitches and it wasn’t until Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger proposed a brand-new concept that Lionsgate was ready to take another chance. Stolberg and Goldfinger’s film would later be titled ‘Jigsaw’, the eighth installment in the franchise which premiered in late October of 2017.
In an interview with Digital Spy, producer Oren Koules spoke on how Stolberg and Goldfinger’s ‘Jigsaw’ gave a breath of fresh air into the famous franchise, “What we told everyone was: we didn’t want to make Saw VIII. We didn’t want to just continue the same Saw movies. I don’t want to give too much away, but we wanted to bring it back to Saw 1, which is our original. We thought: a lot more jumps, less gore. More jumps, and more logic.”
‘Spiral’ – From the Book of Saw
Waiting another seven years to get started on another film seemed impossible for Lionsgate. For the ninth installment, they wanted to create ‘Saw’ reimagined with a sort of spin-off notion. This time, the idea for the new film was birthed by comedian Chris Rock (‘Madagascar’, ‘Lethal Weapon 4’, ‘Grown Ups’) of all people, and he had an entirely new vision. Veterans Koules and Burg signed on as producers and Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger once again penned the script. Rock had yet to tackle the horror genre and the opportunity presented itself when he met the head of Lionsgate at a friend’s wedding. A long-time fan of the ‘Saw’ series, Rock was more than thrilled to star and executive produce.
Joe Drake, Lionsgate’s chairman spoke to Variety on Rock’s vision, “When Chris Rock came to us and described in chilling detail his fantastic vision that reimagines and spins off the world of the notorious Jigsaw Killer, we were all-in.” While most of the film’s concept is kept under wraps, Rock shared that this new film would be lightly doused with what he knows best: comedy. In an interview with Collider Rock stated, “A lot of times, you can get comedy in things, if it’s grounded, without it changing the movie, per se. So, Saw is really scary and really bloody. It’s a Saw movie. But every now and then, you take a little air out. It’s gonna be good.”
To date, the franchise as a whole has grossed over $1 billion. The release of the upcoming ninth film in the ‘Saw’ series starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson (‘Pulp Fiction’ ‘The Hateful Eight’, ‘Captain Marvel’) and Max Minghella (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Social Network’) is set to premiere May 14, 2021, after being postponed an entire year amidst the COVID pandemic.
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Alexa Sutherland is a writer for Hollywood Insider who enjoys writing film and television reviews. With a degree in creative writing and a previous background working in the entertainment industry, she enjoys putting both of her passions to use by highlighting upcoming shows and movies with powerful storylines and the messages behind them. She admires that the Hollywood Insider is strictly against scandal and instead builds people and projects up instead of tearing them down.