Interview with James Wan & Leigh Whannell

James Wan & Leigh Whannell are the director and the writer of “Insidious” (respectively).  The started their career by creating the “Saw” franchise.  Since then the guys have worked together on various other projects including “Death Sentence” and “Dead Silence”.  James and Leigh took aside some time during their very busy press day for “Insidious” to chat with Movie Mikes about the new film and working together again on this project.

Mike Gencarelli: James, Tell us about how you became attached to “Insidious”?
James Wan: This is a project that happened when I met with one of the producers of “Paranormal Activity”, we hit it off.   I met with the rest of the gang and introduced them to my partner in crime Leigh Whannell.  We said “Guys we want to do a project together”. We all got along so well, we decided to go out there and work on a film together.  That marriage became “Insidious”.

MG: Leigh, Tell us about coming up with this idea for the script?
Leigh Whannell: This idea, like all, James and I came up with it together, even before we came up with “Saw”.  We were trying to find something that we could shot in a really low budget way.  We had a goal for a $5,000 budget for a film and we were trying to come up with idea that would suit that budget.  The core idea at the heart of “Insidious” is what we came up with.  I don’t want to give anything away to the readers but the end is what we essentially came up with.  We thought it was pretty good and almost went with it.  But one day James called me and said he had the idea of two guys chained up in a public toilet.  I thought that was a better idea and I am glad we went with that.  So we filed the idea for “Insidious” in the file cabinet in the back of your brain. When James had the meeting with Steven Schneider, one of the producers of “Paranormal” that he was just talking about… we came to the belief that we would be pretty foolish by not making this film.

MG: You guys have worked together on every project now, would you consider this project to be you’re most difficult?
JW: I think this actually has been the most fun project that Leigh and I have working together on.
LW: I agree, but not easiest in terms of coming up with the idea, writing the film and directing it.  That stuff is hard…and it is definitely hard to do those things on a small budget. But the ease came from great people.  The cast and crew were just so easy to get along with.  The producers were so great and stayed true to there word by letting us make a film we wanted to make, while also giving us great ideas and thoughts.  They were true collaborators. Everything was just so great.  I definitely have had the most fun working on this, the same as James.

MG: Since the film was low budget, did you feel still feel you were able to achieve everything you wanted?
JW: Oddly, this film actually cost less to make than “Saw” and “Saw” was very low budget.  Yet the ironic thing is I managed to pretty much make the movie I wanted to make.  I think this is the reason why, “Saw” was my first film and  I didn’t have a filmmaking infrastructure around me.  I didn’t have the support or a crew that I knew.  Fast forward to four films later… “Insidious” is my fourth movie, even though it is less money, I have brought in a really great team of people and crew.  I got a cinematographer that I love…an AD that is brilliant…costume and production design…hair and makeup…everyone came to work on this film because they wanted to work with me again. I managed to get an A quality film for basically a no-budget movie.

MG: James, Why did you take on the task of editing as well as directing?
JW: Purely because I love editing [laughs].  It is a simple as that.  I love editing just as much as directing.  I have always edited my own stuff back in film school.  When you get to Hollywood people do not want you to wear yourself too thin.  So usually you have to give up the editing aspect of it.  Due to this being such a small movie and in some way real garage filmmaking for me, it was very experimental.  I got to shoot digital for the first time, which I loved.  It allowed me to do a lot of things that I couldn’t do with film.  I cut it myself in my bedroom on my little Macintosh Apple computer.  It was very liberating.  I thought only I would be able to crop the scare sequences because I shot it knowing how I planned to edit it.  That is the only way I would be able to get around shooting a film in only 22 days. I had a very strong specific way on how I was going to cut.  For me, I felt the scare scenes needed to be very effective and that all comes from how the film is edited and how the sound interacts with that footage.  If you are one second off, then your whole scare sequence is thrown off the curve.

MG: This film looks quite scary especially for PG-13, tell about working within that rating?
JW: Particularly, I know for Leigh he was just setup to write the script and it just so happened to fall into the PG-13 world.  For me it was definitely more conscious.  I didn’t want swearing, I didn’t want blood and guts.  I honestly believe that a lot of it has gotten lost in the last few years.  I think in a big part thanks to the franchise that Leigh and I have created.  People have forgotten that you can make a very scary movie without blood and guts.  You can make a very suspenseful with out throwing buckets of blood at the screen and you can do it this creepy atmosphere that gets into your head.

MG: How was it working with horror genre favorite, Lin Shayne?
JW: I have known Lin Shayne for a while now and there was only one person I wanted to cast for the role.  Most people know here for some of the over the top stuff that she has done but for me I know her and she is more than capable of doing the drama.  She is really great at it.  I really I wanted to give her the chance to do that on this film. Since she comes from a comedic background there is a great quirkiness to the role, which I think is fantastic.

MG: Leigh, did you right the part with Lin in mind?
LW: James told me very early on that he wanted that character set for Lin Shayne to play.  I have worked with her and I was able to write the character for her, which is awesome.  It is always easier to write a character for somebody you know.  You can take years of life experiences, quirks and habits and put it into the character.  That is actually how I build from the ground up. I always like to base characters on people I know because it is the easiest access point.  It was great writing the character having her in mind.  I also wrote the ghost hunters characters for myself and Angus Sampson.  With Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson’s characters, I didn’t know them so I based the characters on people I know in my life.

MG: Leigh, you not only started the “Saw” franchise but also starred in it, were you always planned to take on both roles?
LW: Yeah, that was our plan! As I said before we were trying to make a film for $5,000 dollars. That was our post film school plan. James wanted to direct something and I wanted to act in something. We were frustrated, so we came up with the idea and went out and did it.  I love acting.  I just enjoy it as much as I do writing.  I am not afraid to say that if I write a film I love to put myself in it, that way I can still be involved in the filmmaking process after the writing is done. The writing is where it all starts.  These are the plans for the house and you can’t build anything without the blueprints. Once I start I want to be there on the building site.  I want to be hammering some nails and helping out.  So the best way to do that is to be acting.

MG: What do you guys have planned next together?
JW: We have separate things we have been working on that we always check with each other about.
LW: Together as the team the Wan/Whannell brand…we are talking about doing a Sci-Fi.  We have come up with an idea and we really like it.  We ran the idea past some investors and they really liked it.  So that is definitely upcoming.

MG: Do you feel nervous going up against this weeks new films?
LW: Yeah for sure! We are always nervous about going against big films.
JW: Our film is a small little film and it is hard to compete with big studio films, “Hop” and “The Source Code”.  Those are big studio films, with huge marketing behind them.  We are here to nip at the hills.

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