“INSIDIOUS” WEEK CONTINUES: MORE FROM FILMMAKERS JAMES WAN AND LEIGH WHANNELL
The new horror film Insidious opens tomorrow (April 1). Will you be going to see it? Here director James Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell discuss coming back to original horror, how the film has changed since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, and the creation of the screenplay
What was it like coming back to an original horror property which horror fans don’t always support.
James: Which is ironic. They always complain that there’s no original stuff, but when original stuff comes along, like Splice, no one goes and sees it which is so annoying.
It definitely is tough because the tough aspect of that is that a studio looks at that, right, or the financing company looks at that and goes, ‘Well, why should we finance original stuff when no one wants to go see it, when we can just make sequels that people are already aware of and has a built-in brand name?
So it’s definitely tricky, but that’s part of the reason why when we started making Insidious [we wanted] to make it as low-budget as we can so we don’t have any of those problems. There’s a big difference between making a film for less than a million dollars than let’s say making a movie for three million dollars, which is still super low budget…
Leigh: Or $15 million where all of a sudden people’s opinions count.
James: Even from one million to three million there is a big jump. As it is, it’s three times more money. So we wanted this to be as small as we can but yet still have enough ability to make the film we want to make.
Did you do that?
James: I think we did, yeah.
Leigh: James has a good quote that I like: ‘The theatrical cut is the director’s cut.’ It’s not like there’s 40 minutes of footage out there that we were forced to excise from the film. The only thing we did which could be considered a concession but it was something we agreed with was to go and do some reshoots. Some quick reshoots…
Leigh: To me I think the film is better because of these pickup shots.
What changes have you made to the film since it screened at TIFF?
James: When Patrick Watson first enters The Further world, that black void, in the TIFF version he actually picks up a lantern and he floats through the world. Because it’s part of the whole astral projection thing, he’s floating through this world. And watching it at TIFF and watching it with a few audiences along the way, we actually between the two of us, we actually came to the conclusion that that probably wasn’t the right direction to go.
And it’s weird. In a lot of ways playing it at TIFF was a test screening. We could tell what worked and what didn’t work as well, and so when we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do a few tweaks here and there that was one of the things that Leigh and I really wanted to take care of. And in this version he just literally walks into this black void, and in the initial version not only does he float but he floats through a world that was pretty visually FX-heavy, even the visual effects they weren’t all there yet but we had building structures that were lifting off the ground. It was very hyper-stylized and we felt it was the wrong way to go. And so we went back and we literally had Patrick walk into a black room, like a black space, and we felt that is so much scarier because now the audience fills in the blanks.
How difficult was it to come up with a fresh take on the ghost story and when did you crack it?
James: We actually cracked it first and then we applied the cracked nut to the haunted house genre.
Leigh: It’s difficult to talk about it without ruining it, but for your readers I would say that the central conceit of the film, the idea at the heart of it was the first thing that attracted us to the idea.
When I was writing it I remember having moments of doubt where I was thinking ‘is this too straight, too normal?’ My instinct as a writer is to make things as convoluted as possible, as James will attest. I do love stories that are sort of labyrinthine narratives that twist in and around each other, reveal things at different moments. It’s almost like my subconscious has fooled me into thinking that if it’s not complicated it’s no good. You think back to Saw, it’s this non-linear narrative. This was very linear, and I had moments where I was thinking ‘wow, God, there’s no window-dressing to this. It’s just a window, it’s just very simple,’ but I think there is a beauty in that simplicity and sparseness because when you’re telling a linear story that is uncomplicated and just a forward-moving engine, you’re then able to endow it with some crazy stuff and hang it off this simple, straight-ahead story.
James: Have a strong foundation then you can build a really cool-looking house.
Leigh: Right, yeah.
James: But the foundation needs to be there.
Leigh: Then you can concentrate on the details.
But I think one of the moments where I thought, if you want to talk about cracking it, in the writing at least was the séance scene, when the gas mask comes out. I was like, wow, up until this point it’s been a very classic sort of haunted house story, but all of a sudden it just took at turn for the lynch, and I loved it. I couldn’t wait for James to read that scene because the only person who read this and didn’t think ‘what!?’ is James! [James laughs] And I know that he’ll know I had a strong idea in my head about what it would look like and sure enough James got our production designer Aaron [Sims] to draw a picture of it, and as soon as I saw the picture, as soon as the picture was emailed to me I was like ‘that’s it.’