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INSIDIOUS - James Wan and Leigh Whannell Interview

From: Andrea Chase
Series: Behind the Scenes
Length: 18:21

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Filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell give their definition of terror, explain why making money isn't the point, and why sound is the scariest thing going.

Insidiousposter_small James Wan and Leigh Whannell collaborated on the original SAW and with that film proved that they had a keen understanding that a successful horror film is about mood, tone, and using just the right sound effects. In INSIDIOUS, they use just that approach in making a haunted house story into something with fiendishly clever twists, and a sly dash of unexpected humor. When I spoke to them on March 15, 2011, they were full of praise for their producing partners, the people behind another low-budget horror film, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and spoke to why they were more interested in creative control than in making money with thier latest film. I was also curious about what real-life, rather than reel-life, things scare them the most. The answers were timely, thoughtful, and finally, very honest, with the same sly dash of unexpected humor found in INSIDIOUS.

Piece Description

James Wan and Leigh Whannell collaborated on the original SAW and with that film proved that they had a keen understanding that a successful horror film is about mood, tone, and using just the right sound effects. In INSIDIOUS, they use just that approach in making a haunted house story into something with fiendishly clever twists, and a sly dash of unexpected humor. When I spoke to them on March 15, 2011, they were full of praise for their producing partners, the people behind another low-budget horror film, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and spoke to why they were more interested in creative control than in making money with thier latest film. I was also curious about what real-life, rather than reel-life, things scare them the most. The answers were timely, thoughtful, and finally, very honest, with the same sly dash of unexpected humor found in INSIDIOUS.

Timing and Cues

00:00 - 01:20 Intro and first question. They wanted to make INSIDIOUS the POLTERGEIST of this generation, but in many ways, INSIDIOUS is the anti-POLTERGEIST, relying on mood and tone to do the work that was ultimately done with special effects in POLTERGEIST. Cheaper to make, but harder to make work.

01:20 - 03:34 It forces you to think outside of the box. The thing with POLTERGEIST, it was a big studio film with Spielberg doing what he does best, using special and practical effects. This film didn’t even have the option to do that, so they had to find ways to make things creepy without showing a guy whose flesh is rotting away. Besides, with a haunted house film, the less you do, the better. The beginning of POLTERGEIST is Wan’s favorite part of that film. Whannel cites THE OTHERS and THE SIXTH SENSE as films that are low-key and could have been done as indies without big stars.

03:30 - 05:50 Just having a book out of place can be highly effective if you know what it going on. They cite how savvy audience are, and their job is to take that and then subvert it to surprise the audience. In this case, one of those aspects is the exact nature of the haunting. The sound design, the music score, the everyday sounds, like a heating unit turning on. Wan says that the sound effects are his special effects. Sound design can suck you in and make you think you’re seeing something that you’re not, as in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

5:53 - 06:46 They speak to the advantages offered by their producing partners, whom he characterizes as not just good, but VERY good, including Oren Peli, who made PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Wan also singles out Jason Blum, for the carte blanche they were given, and for the guidance that allowed them to make this movie for the money they had. It made it worthwhile for them to give up the money that a studio film would have afforded them in exchange for creative control.

06:50 - 07:14 Whannell discusses how surprised he was to read some reveiwers who say the film is nothing but “jump scares” in the film when he and Wan went to such pains to put more than that in the film.

07:25 - 07:57 Addresses the reasons why one of the scariest sounds in the film is the sound of Patrick Wilson snoring.

08:08 - 08:50 Whannell on what seems to be the pair’s unconscious pattern of blending everyday moments and the supernatural. One minute the film is a family drama, the next there is a séance with the medium wearing a gas mask.

08:51 - 09:28 Whannell explains why he injected that gas mask into the séance. One reason was to make it different than the hundreds of other séances on film, the other was to inject a tiny moment of humor to juxtapose with the tension of why the séance is taking place, accomplished by jumping to the reaction shot of the parents looking askance. After a few beats, and the audience is in the scene.

09:46 - 11:06 Why being an actor is both a sublime and a ridiculous way to make a living, per Whannell.

11:22 - 12:05 Why Whannell cast himself in the nerd role. Studios want a bigger name in the lead, and besides, playing the comic relief is a chance to stand out in a film.
12:10 - 12:34 Whannell explains why the ghost hunters, one of whom he plays, wear shirts and ties instead of jeans and t-shirts.

12:40 - 13:33 Why “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and the Tiny Tim version, is used as one of the more creepy elements of the film. Wan always thought it sounded like a song that should be in a serial killer movie.

13:41 - 14:57 They discuss how they met and began working on films together, with lots of ribbing on both their parts. Collaborating means sharing the pain and making it more bearable.

15:01 - 15:21 As for why the horror genre. They naturally gravitate towards that stuff.

15:28 - 16:55 What scares them. Answers seriously at first that the earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear threat in Japan scares them, as does the recent earthquake in New Zealand, floods in Australia. INSIDIOUS is meant to be fun, in contrast.

17:01 - 18:15 The use of the horror genre as a catharsis for the terrors of the real world. On a lighter note, they admit to being afraid of sharks and heights and roller coasters. They then get philosophical about human nature being oddly fascinated with what repulses them. Whannell then talks about diving with sharks from the safety of a cage. Wan adds that he watches documentaries about sharks from inside a cage.

18:22 - 18:20 Thank you and outro.

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

Andrea Chase takes you Behind the Scenes of INSIDIOUS with its director James Wan and its writer/co-star, Leigh Whannell.

OUTRO:

Andrea Chase has taken you Behind the Scenes of INSIDIOUS with its director James Wan and its writer/co-star, Leigh Whannell.INSIDIOUS is a truly creepy tale of a haunting that has nothing to do with a house and everything to do with Dalton, a kid with an unfortunate and unconscious paranormal ability. Said ability draws disembodied spirits as well as a demon with intentions far more evil than mere corporeal possession. The film stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as the flummoxed parents. Barbara Hershey as Lorraine, the grandmother with a secret. Lin Shaye as Elise, the medium with the answers, unpopular though they might be. Ty Simpkins as Dalton the kid with the special talent, and Whannell himself as Specs, one-half of a bickering but effective paranormal investigative team, with Tucker, the other half played by Angus Sampson. Wan directed the film from the script written by Whannell. The duo’s previous work includes the original SAW, which launched a deeply successful franchise. Whannell‘s other acting gigs include appearing as Adam in SAW and SAW 3, and as the voice of Jatt in the sublime animated film, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, THE OWLS OF GAHOOLE.