Having edited the first five SAW films, then directed SAW VI and now SAW 3D: The Final Chapter, Kevin Greutert has a good handle on the infamous horror franchise, whose newest installment opens today nationwide. In my chat with the director for MSN Movies — we conducted an interview during New York Comic-Con 2010 earlier this month — Greutert spoke about the gory nature of the new entry and also hinted that this would be the last since nearly everyone dies. We were also able to discuss more in our allotted time, from his experience as long-time SAW series editor to his perspective on the franchise as well as working with star Tobin Bell and Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. Here is the rest of that one-on-one chat.
Being so familiar with the series, how hard did you work to ensure that everything fits within the continuum?
One of the most important things we’ve found is that we have to keep Jigsaw in the story. He died at the end of SAW III, so we’re always trying to figure out ways to elaborate on his back story. He’s a very rich character and is the face of the whole SAW chronology, so it should always feel like the story comes from his intent, something that he had posthumously in mind. In the case of SAW 3D, there’s a man named Bobby Dagen who has made a name for himself writing a book about an experience he had in a Jigsaw trap. As it turns out, he is not a fully honest person and is somebody that Jigsaw knew during his own life, so he didn’t go to the grave without plans for Bobby Dagen. That’s probably about as much of a spoiler as I can give, and it’s probably saying too much already. Because I edited all of the SAW films prior to the two that I directed, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the details of the story, so I have my memory at my disposal when it comes to crafting the story. It’s not easy, though. We want the experience of watching the film to be very seamless, but at the same time there are flashbacks, jump cuts and all sorts of stuff that can get out of control, and you could lose the audience if they start to get confused or their eyes start to melt from fast cutting or too much 3-D. It’s a matter of pumping as much adrenaline into the film as possible but still making it a coherent experience.
Did you see The Final Destination 3D? How does that compare with this?
I did. There are a lot of similarities in The Final Destination series. There’s a very cool, fetishistic look at mechanical details. The camera will track over the projection booth — I’m thinking specifically of the final set piece in The Final Destination — here’s a table saw suspended over a can of chemicals, and the table is ramping towards… All of that sort of thing is very similar in a lot of ways, but that said, I think Final Destination is a little but more of a popcorn movie than SAW. We’ve let SAW 3D be a little bit more of a thrill park ride on some levels, but for the most part it is still very story based like the other SAWs.
“In the SAW movies they compress so much story into 90 minutes that you just can’t be sloppy with the way you stage a scene or the way you edit it.”
What was Chester Bennington like to work with?
Chester was great. He was performing a role that I think would have been challenging for any actor because he was shirtless while we shot over the course of several nights in the winter in Toronto. It was freezing cold, and everyone else was wearing parkas and boots and rain gear, and here was Chester literally glued into the front seat of a car. I don’t know how he didn’t freeze to death, but he was literally attached to the front seat of this El Camino for hours, and he literally couldn’t take a bathroom break during that whole time. Not that he needed to wear diapers or anything like that, but it was very challenging for him as an actor. He did a fantastic job, and I was very happy that he was in the scene. He’s a great guy.
What has it been like for you to go from editing five movies in a major series to directing the next installment to then directing a 3-D installment? How much pressure has that been for you?
I’ve got to say the whole SAW experience has been a pretty crazy roller coaster for me, from my first editing job on SAW one — which was a very humble film and difficult as hell; really challenging to cut a film as quickly as James [Wan] and I did — I’ve learned a huge amount with each SAW film that I cut after that. By getting my first directing job on SAW VI, it was literally like having a new career handed to me. It was a completely different world. I was literally working in a cave, as it were, in the editing room. It is just so different than production. I would have one or two people working under me as an editor, and I rarely interacted with other people except on those occasions that the producer would come into the cutting room. Suddenly I’m in a cavernous soundstage with 100 people looking to me for guidance. It just couldn’t be a more different world. That said, it came very naturally to me. From my experience as an editor, I knew the kind of footage I wanted. I had met all the SAW actors over the years and had a good rapport with them. I did quite a bit of second unit directing on SAW V, so it wasn’t as hard as you would think. As far as going on to direct a 3-D film, again it’s all incremental. You learn stuff as you go along. In a case like this, there’s a learning curve for 3-D without question, but we just attacked it and were constantly on our toes, and it worked out well.
Did any of the previous SAW directors give you valuable advice?
I learned a great deal just from talking with and observing the previous SAW directors and the other directors that I’ve worked with in the course of my whole career. Sometimes you learn from what they say, sometimes you learn by doing the opposite, but I think even when I was an assistant editor on Disney films back in the day, just by being a fly on the wall and watching how directors and producers interact and work together was very helpful later on when I was able to have a directing career myself. I think both Darren Bousman and James Wan do not ever want a frame of the movie to be boring, and in the SAW movies they compress so much story into 90 minutes that you just can’t be sloppy with the way you stage a scene or the way you edit it. We were constantly watching to make sure that there was no fat in these films, and I think that’s part of the key to their success. The desire to entertain the audience is so intense that all pretention is aside. It’s just about making a really powerful experience for the audience.
“It was freezing cold, and everyone else was wearing parkas and boots and rain gear, and here was Chester [shirtless] literally glued into the front seat of a car. I don’t know how he didn’t freeze to death.”
Is there any type of film you would like to make in the future, especially considering that you have been working on the SAW franchise for so long?
I love horror, but I love all kinds of genres in film. I really want to make a science-fiction film, and I really want to make an historical adventure film. I have ideas for those in mind. Hopefully in the next couple of years you’ll see that coming for me.
What has Tobin Bell been like to work with over the years, and how does he feel about the success of this franchise?
Like everybody, I think Tobin is happily bewildered by the success that we’ve had with the SAW franchise. He is a very key component, both in terms of his character and his personality and will. He makes sure that we have integrity when we’re putting together the story. It’s easy to lose sight when you’re making a film of what really matters and making sure that you’re giving the audience what they want and deserve. Tobin always would go over his dialogue very closely before we shot and make sure that we really honed it and did it right and were consistent throughout to what his character and what the film series means.