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'We really didn’t think we were making a horror film!' - An interview with Saw series producer, Oren Koules

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In the wake of the latest addition to the Saw franchise, I got the chance to speak with one half of production company Twisted Pictures on what inspired the ideas behind Jigsaw.

That half was the lovely Oren Koules, a business man with experience in everything from ice hockey to entertainment production, and part of the team behind all eight Saw films, with few other spooky side projects to boot. With seven films already out and a definitive end in the form of Saw 3D, I had to start by asking where Jigsaw as a concept came from, and what Koules and co. hoped to achieve by starting afresh.

Saw 3D is the end of those movies. A bunch of times people brought us ‘Saw 8’, or some variation of that, and we had no interest in doing that. We kinda put it out there that we would be interested in doing it again if it was something really unique, like the first Saw, which was more logic, less blood, more jumps, and something like that.’

When meeting with writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolburg for lunch, Koules felt there was something to get excited about when it came to the latest script. ‘They had a kernel of something that we started working on and it became Jigsaw. The reason we called it that is because it’s in the Saw milieu, but it’s different sound, different feel. There’s a lot of outside which we’ve never done – we made it less claustrophobic, we changed the colour palettes – but it’s still a Saw movie.’

Reimagination seems to be the name of the game, with more than just this movie on the cards if the Saw universe can be brought back to life. Koules said himself, ‘If we can continue on, then this will be a start of something new – I’m not trying to play with words or anything, we really were done with the seventh one. Over the five years people have always come to us with ideas.’

‘We probably heard or read - I don’t want to exaggerate – 75 to 100 ideas, and we’d talk about it but nothing really tickled us until this one. It was a start, but it was a complete revamp, whilst still remaining in the Saw world.’

It’s not only the film that has been revisited in this instance, with Saw’s annual Blood Drive making a return in an effort to gather donations in the name of horror movies. For a small offering of blood at their mobile donation vans, Jigsaw fans can get a free ticket to the movie – a wholeheartedly charitable gesture that not many marketing campaigns can rival.

‘Lionsgate does an amazing job with that. Tim Palin is the driving force of Blood Drive, and the amount of blood has been some amazing amount. You equate that to lives saved – and it’s something we’re really proud of.’

Spawning from the very first film, the Blood Drive has been a large part of Saw reaching into the real world from the beginning. The Saw we know may have never been the Saw we got however, with Koules admitting he had a different vision in mind upon first reading James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s script: ‘[Laughs] We really didn’t think we were making a horror film! Mark and I, when we saw the short for this movie we thought we were making a twisted little version of Seven. That’s actually why we named our horror division Twisted Pictures!’

It was actually whilst working with Palin, a representative of Lionsgate and respected creative, that the genre-defining piece first took root. ‘Tim saw it and said, “This is a horror film.” And we were like “No it’s not, it’s a thriller!” He said “Listen, if we call it a thriller it’ll do $1.93. I’m telling you, this is a new way of horror, horror is changing.”’

‘It’s 100% Tim Palin and Lionsgate – we make ‘em – but he changed the marketing and understood it and was so passionate about it. That’s why we’re here. So we don’t consider ourselves horror producers if that makes sense, we were doing Two and a Half Men with Charlie Sheen at the same time as Saw.’

The mix of work never took away from what Twisted Pictures were creating with the franchise however, and as the Saw world grew, so did the production company’s flexibility with risks. A recurring feature of the Saw franchise is it’s use of first time directors, and the chances it takes with collaborations across a range of professions. Asking Koules about his most memorable work in this instance, it was the late Linkin Park frontman that left a lasting impression.

‘We used Chester Bennington in the last film – we’ve never tried to stunt cast, we’ve never tried to use a celebrity, we never wanted to take people out of the Saw world. You never really know in this world where you are time wise or geographically, and my partner Mark Burg lives next door to Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park, and he kept saying “Hey! Chester really wants to do this, Chester, Chester, Chester,” for years. So finally we said let’s go and meet with him.’

‘It was one of my most favourites because we broke our own rule, and it worked. We just didn’t want to have some flavour of the month – that’s always a collaboration I think about because he was so passionate and willing to do anything… he was glued to a chair for hours! It’s bitter-sweet for me.’

As for what’s next from Oren Koules and Twisted Pictures, an end is in sight for the producer when it comes to his film work. ‘Unless it’s another Saw project, I’m done. I’m absolutely done. I’m married and have two little girls that I hang out with every day, and I just don’t really have any interest in the time it takes to make a movie other than a Saw movie. Economically… it’s like that Linda Evangelista quote where she says she won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 dollars a day!’

At least we have Jigsaw to keep us thoroughly terrified in the meantime, and hopefully, a reignited franchise that keeps Koules doing what he does best.

Jigsaw is in cinemas now and out on DVD in January.

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