Interview: Kevin Greutert – Director (Saw VI) – Editor (various)

On the opposite side of the west coast director Kevin Greutert is braving the Toronto cold and preparing to crank out another SAW installment. Saw VI pre-production commenced this week & with about 41 weeks until the SAW VI release date here in North America, Kevin & the SAW production crew will no doubt be pulling some long hours in the coming months trying to kill folks in even more demented , ingenious ways as only SAW can do it. Before Kevin gets to wired up to notice anything that isn’t in a trap I was able to get him to slow down for a few moments to get some of his thoughts on SAW VI and to find out, just who is Kevin Greutert ?

Hey Kevin, I’m guessing Toronto is your new home for a while now ‘eh ?

Well, Toronto is my “old” new home. Saw 2,3,4,5 and now 6 are all Toronto productions, so I’ve spend from three to nine months in the city every year since 2005. Most Hollywood films that shoot on location go home for post-production when the filming is finished, but not SAW, this is an all-Canadian movie. What this means for my life is pretty complicated, since my family and non-SAW friends are all back home, I had to drain my fish tanks and let all my falcons go free rather than force a house sitter to deal with all that. The advantage is that French fries steaming with beef gravy are always readily available just outside my door.

I keep hearing how good those fries are, I gotta try those the next time I’m north of the border !

You have an impressive list of films with your name in the credits as either assistant editor, first assistant editor or editor, such as all the Saw films to date, Armageddon , Titanic , The Strangers and Donnie Darko to name a few.

You have become the “go to” guy when it comes to editing horror films lately .What prompted the promotion from editor to the directors chair ? Or should I say who prompted it ?

Like the overwhelming majority of people in the film craft, I got into this world because I wanted to direct films. Very few people are fortunate enough to be handed this position when they first emerge from adolescence (if they emerge from it at all…), and so I’ve had to go about it through the circuitous route of editing. If I’d known how incredibly challenging it would be just to become an editor of feature films, then perhaps I would have concentrated on directing from the get-go. I guess I’m just not a very focused person…

Since we made SAW, I have received ever more enticing offers to move on to outside projects. Our producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules made me an offer that included editing Saw V and directing Saw VI, and that worked out perfectly and kept me in the fold.

How did you get into film editing ? Was editing something you always wanted to do or did the job find you ?

I didn’t have a strong notion of what editing is before I went to film school, but while I was there I took to it quickly. With another student named Ron Rosen, who has since gone on to be a great editor, I cut a 20 minute student film directed by Scott Alexander, who would later write “Ed Wood” and “Larry Flynt”. This started my interest, and after graduating I went through the ropes of apprentice, then assistant editor, until I landed my first job as solo editor on SAW. This was tremendous good fortune, and I think also reflected the hard work I’d done as an assistant on a film that was produced by Gregg Hoffman, who was a producer on SAW.

Everyone has the “when I grow up I want to be …..” story. What was yours growing up and where was that?

I am a product of the rough-&-tumble streets of Pasadena, California. My father was a Caltech graduate who became a geologist, and for a long time I thought I would wind up in science, but I found that my artistic skills were better than my math abilities. I was a committed cinephile by age twelve, when I immersed myself in Kubrick, and first discovered the films of Werner Herzog and Peter Weir, and of course fellows like Spielberg, Lucas, and the other greats who emerged from the 70s.

The SAW franchise is no doubt one of , if not the most successful horror franchises to come along, How does it feel to have been part of that success from the beginning and how does it feel to now be the guy in the directors chair ?

It’s pretty unreal. SAW started so very small, and we began shooting all the bathroom scenes in chronological order over the course of six days. About midway through the first week, I came home and said to my wife, “You know, this movie may actually be something…” I told my ex-boss I thought it might actually make $20-30 million, and he fell off his chair laughing. The rest is history.

I’m proud as hell to be directing 6 now, but you can imagine how challenging it is. Not only is it getting pretty deep into the chronology, but our main character has been dead for going on three movies now. The only reason I’m not in a continual state of soiling my clothes is because of the crew that surrounds me, which is nearly the entire team from the previous Toronto SAWs.

I have a lot of faith that we are going to maintain the quality to which the audience has grown accustomed, and naturally I want this to be the best SAW of all. There are issues and limitations and circumstances beyond all public imagining that make this process very complex, but we’ve done it before, and will do it again.

Do you feel the jump from editor to director is a natural progression for you ?

Yes. I’ve always loved making films, and even as an assistant editor I applied this skill whenever possible.

Until they rise and bulldoze us all into strip mines, I love machines, and it is the rise of computerized film making that has made me what I am today. Using Adobe After Effects you can make an entire film without even a camera, so getting a chance to direct a feature is an extension of what I’ve always done on a much smaller scale on my own.

Since you have been involved with the franchise from the start how do you think your experience as an editor will contribute to SAW VI from a directors perspective ?

I have a strong idea of the kinds of coverage (which essentially means choreography x camera angles) to let us make the film feel like SAW in the cutting room. I am also personally acquainted with all our actors, and have worked very closely with our composer and sound designers.

How involved are you in the creative process with the writers ?

They are doing all the hard work. I throw my ideas out to them, they scratch their heads, and do the best they can!

The whole process closely involves all of our producers, the writers Marcus and Patrick, and me. It’s a big hairy committee! But ultimately I really have to take my hat off to the writers, because they are somehow wrangling all this stuff together into an amazing story.

On Monday we’re bringing on Tony Ianni, who will be the Production Designer, and he is already a major part of the story process due to his ideas about the traps.

How is the script coming along anyway ?

It’s great. We’ll be doing rewrites until the last day of shooting, as usual, but I think all the threads are in place for a very intriguing tale.

Ok perhaps a tough one for you. When Darren Bousman came on board a lot of people ( and perhaps Darren himself ) felt like he was going to have to fill James Wans shoes. He made SAW II , III & IV a success in his own shoes and then was followed by David Hackl who successfully lensed SAW V.

After box office success with three different directors, do you feel like your filling anyone’s shoes ?

Yeah, I have all three pairs of those shoes to fill, and with very small feet to boot. All of my predecessors had great and unique qualities that they brought to their SAWs, and I hope to do no less.

Since your going to be on the front lines with the MPAA in the near future , how do you feel about that organization and the ratings system? ( I won’t show them your answer, I swear ! )

I’m told that the ratings board has a very important function in our society. Without their creative stewardship, kids would grow up using words like f*ck, cunt, sh*thead, etc. Personally, I do not have kids, I do not want kids, and I do not appreciate other peoples’ perception about how my expression could be morally damaging to their little snowflakes.

That said, there’s no escaping the commercial reality of needing to get an R rating from the MPAA. I’ve been through the process a thousand times, it seems, and it remains a mystery to me just what goes on in that fortress. All I can say is: thank God for the unrated Directors’ Cuts

Yes, Thank God ! ( or is it Lucifer in the case of SAW ? )

Jigsaw is dead, Amanda is dead. Unless there are zombies involved in VI. The plot of SAW V as with any sequal determines the basic outline of the story going forward. How does Kevin Greutert maintain the SAW “feel” and yet make the next chapter your own ?

I’m trying to enourage as much unexpected new stuff as possible while still maintaining the demands of the existing chronology. That is the challenge. I can’t really say much beyond that without giving away things I can’t talk about. I can say that in my own way, I have already been a significant contributor to the “SAW” feel, so it would actually be weirder if the whole thing suddenly felt like, I don’t know, “Koyaanisqatsi” or something.

Even I tend to forget how much you have contributed to the SAW franchise since you have been “behind the scenes” in the editing room, it’s great to see at the forefront…

You attended SAWMANIA in New York right ?

It was sawesome. I received my first “fan art”, which was a manga-esque Billy made by a charming girl named Ruby, and it is the first decoration in my new office here in T’onto. Everyone at Sawmania was a pleasure to be with, and I love how we kind of broke the format and interacted freely with the attendees. I couldn’t believe how many people braved the horrific weather (and ticket prices!) just to see us.

If you have been on any horror forums around the net and attended that event, you know what a passionate and loyal group of fans the SAW fans are.

Do you feel pressure from the fans to go in one direction or the other with the story in the next chapter of SAW or do you leave that up to the writers to determine and hope for the best ?

Marcus, Patrick and I are quite aware of all the fans’ concerns. We are doing our best. It will be impossible to please everyone, as you can imagine, but rest assured that we know we are de facto employees of the fans themselves

( Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton , the duo that brought us Feast, Feast II Sloppy seconds, SAW IV, & SAW V )

The SAW production crew is basically the same crew from the beginning isn’t it ?

From the first SAW, which was shot in Los Angeles, the remaining members of the production team are producer Dan Heffner, me, composer Charlie Clouser, and cinematographer David A. Armstrong.

Starting with Saw II, I would say the majority of the Toronto crew is still with us.

What are they like to work with ?

They’re like family. (I happen to have a close family, if that sounds excessively vague…)

AHH, So you fight a lot ! lol, ok enough about my disfunctions…

Ok, I’m going to give you any all the money you need to remake any film you want. ( damn, I don’t have any cash, will you take a check ? )

What film do you remake and why ?

I’m not a fan of remakes, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do one! The key is, don’t remake something that was already great, because you’ll never do as good a job as the original, so pick something that merely had great potential. The producer who first annunciated this sentiment to me, Steven Schneider, has (or had…?) an option on “Fantastic Planet”, and I think it fits this category perfectly

I was sorry that Soderbergh’s remake of “Solaris” wasn’t more like the book, which I’ve always thought could be an amazing movie, but perhaps you could spend your money better elsewhere than a 2nd remake.

I did think that the original “Soylent Green” was great, but that’s a movie I would happily do as a remake, because the messages in that story are more timely than ever. “South Pacific” as a non-musical based on the original Michener stories would be fun, “Caberet” as the original “Berlin Stories”, other stuff with strong literary sources are always game. Ultimately, tho’, I’d rather work with original or non-movie material.

Is anyone really a fan of remakes ?

It’s a commercial reality, like proctologists. They only really disturb me when remakes are made of films whose originals came out when I was an adult. It makes me feel old.

That should be a rule ! If your target audience can remember the original you cannot remake a film!

Is there any film that is so well made in your opinion it should never get the remake treatment or are they all fair game ?

I am very, very sad to hear that “Rosemary’s Baby” is being remade. There is no possible way that the modern System will make something that is not an insult to the original. Look at the LaBute “Wicker Man”… (or better yet, don’t).

I’m afraid to say I witnessed the “Wicker Man” and I’m with you on that one…

Did you get any advise from any of the previous SAW directors ? What’s the best thing you got from who in the way of advise or tips ?

Sure, I’ve talked with them all about it, to great profit to myself, and of course I’ve learned by their examples. The main thing I’ve distilled is, Be Brave…

Also, Darren is a big advocate of ordering the most expensive thing on the menu when the company pays, even if it’s not delicious.

Ahhhh ha ! That explains the jump in recent SAW production budgets !

Should I ask this in October ? Will we see Kevin Greutert in a directors chair again ? What do you have lined up after SAW VI ?

Obviously I hope to direct again. Everything hinges upon how 6 goes, so it’s pointless to speculate. I am actively developing future projects, however, enough to last a lifetime if I can get off the ground.

I know the SAW production is more secretive than the presidents secret service detail! We know your going to spill a ton of blood, but is there any casting news you can spill

There will be a cast. That’s all I can say!

Kevin it appears you are one sick and twisted dude ! Which is always cool in my book !
Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to shoot the SAW with us.

Check out Kevin’s blog at www.kevingreutert.com
( It’s Jigsaw’s world, we just die in it ! )
and don’t forget , SAW VI opens October 23rd 2009 !

“OH YES, THERE WILL BE A CAST ! “

Interview: Kevin Greutert – Director (Saw VI) – Editor (various)

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