How do two 27-year-old Aussies with no professional experience
write and direct their own movie with A-list actors and the support
of a Hollywood studio? They make a low-budget indie film centered
on a one room set in an abandoned warehouse. And, of course, a
little bit of sweat, talent and luck helped, too.

Angela Cesere
Conditions worsen at the Frieze Building. . . (Courtesy of Lions Gate Films)

Director James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannel met at film
school, the Melbourne Institute of Technology, where they became
friends. The inspiration for “SAW,” their debut script,
emerged from a combination of childhood nightmares and the lack of
money necessary for a film with more than the few sets in the film
and fuller complement of actors.

They first tried to get the movie produced in Australia but were
turned down. “It’s a frustrating mixture of luck,
timing and all this other stuff when it comes to somebody giving
you money,” Whannel remarked with his crisp accent. Their
dedication to the script finally paid off when the two showed the
only clip of the movie they had previously filmed to Lions Gate
Films in Los Angeles. They gained the studio’s interest and
after showing them the first rough cut, the deal was signed.

The directors faced a challenge in making the film frightening
to modern, jaded audiences. “Our biggest fear was that it was
going to turn into a comedy. When you’re making a horror
film, you’re hoping it scares the hell out of people, not
make them laugh,” Whannel commented.

The entire film was shot within 23 days, not allowing for any
down time on the set. “It was the hardest thing I’ve
ever had to do,” explained Wan. He said that it was a bit
intimidating to work with actors such as Danny Glover, Cary Elwes
and Monica Potter as a first-time director, but the stress of
making the movie left him with no time to feel uncomfortable.

Whannel still sees the difficulty of a horror-themed film
standing the test of time. “A successful movie is one that
resonates with audiences without being corny. Video stores are
wastelands of forgotten films; dinosaur remains. A select few get
remembered and you watch the films that get remembered, so I guess
a successful film is one that does not get forgotten.”

Whannel is still reluctant to admit to his celebrity status.
“You’ll have to ask somebody that’s
famous,” he comments. “It is cool to be on the other
side for a change though.”

Whannel knows how it feels to be in the public eye in Australia
because he hosted TV shows in earlier years, but this will be all
new for Wan. After a sneak preview in Birmingham in early October,
the bouncers at the Blue Martini wouldn’t let the filmmakers
in the bar because of their jeans. Maybe after the nationwide
premiere of “SAW,” Whannel and Wan will start to be
recognized.

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