Interview: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan, Piranha 3DD

Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are modern legends in the horror world. Melton burst on to the scene with his debut film “Feast” in 2005 and has since written for the “Saw” franchise, as well as “The Collector”, “Piranha 3DD”, and many other films that he has done behind the scenes (writers often work as “script doctors” and make uncredited drafts or revisions).

Dunstan has worked alongside Melton on virtually everything, and has branched out a bit from behind the writing desk. He directed the two “Collector” films, and even had a cameo as an actor in Adam Green’s “Hatchet II”. Together, these guys are a dynamic duo the likes of which has not been seen in a generation.

As always, it was an honor and a pleasure to talk with them.

GS: Patrick, when we last spoke, you had a Knight Rider ringtone…

PM: I still do. You want to hear it?

GS: Yes.

PM: (music plays) Feel it! You have to be pretty cool to have that one.

GS: And how is your turtle doing?

PM: Ah, you mean ??, which is Mandarin for Fat Head. I have to be honest with you, the turtle is a bit of asshole. She’s been giving me problems lately, eating whatever, biting things… trying to ruin the cage. With a lot of pets, the only thing stopping them from eating you is that they’re not big enough. That’s definitely true with turtles. They’re garbage disposals, they’ll eat anything. If I put my hand in there, she tries to bite me. Luckily, she’s slow. Same thing with cats. You have cats?

GS: Yeah.

PM: Don’t be fooled. If they were any bigger, you’d be eaten.

GS: So I know you have that ringtone… are you blame for getting Hasselhoff into “Pirahna 3DD”?

PM: That would be us. One of our ideas early on was that it takes place in a water park, but it’s a sleazy, rundown water park trying to revive itself. And how do you do that? By having a party with celebrity lifeguards! Right? And who better to be a celebrity lifeguard than the Hoff. Originally we were looking at several guests, but it was just too batshit crazy and we had to weed it down to just one. And Hoff was always the guy we wanted, so there he was. He makes fun of himself. Not sure if you saw his roast, but it’s really funny. He’s a cool guy, it was just great from the beginning.

GS: So was there a script and then he had to agree to it, or was it run by him ahead of time?

PM: That was the risky part. We wrote it just hoping that the studio would be able to get him. And that’s risky. There were a couple people we didn’t know if we could get. Like, we had Snooki, who dies terribly. She could have been replaced if she was too expensive. With the Hoff, I’m not sure he necessarily wanted to be in it right away. He needed to be sweet talked. This was a constant issue we ran into with the “Saw” films, because they’re so serialized. They are almost impossible to make without the cooperation of the actors who appeared the previous year. If you want to bring someone back, it becomes a negotiation, and that can be difficult.

I don’t know if you know, but in “Saw III”, the lead character was supposed to be Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes). This time, his wife was to be taken and he was tested again. But when it came down to it, they couldn’t close the deal and it had to be changed. Our first version of “Saw IV” had Detective Mathews as the lead character. Wahlberg didn’t want to do it, so we were changing things on the fly. Especially because there was such a ticking clock, with a release date before we even finished making anything. This was no different. Some people dropped off, some were added. Ving Rhames was a late addition, and you can sort of tell because his story is more of a sidebar.

GS: John Gulager suggested that Hasselhoff joined on because the Weinsteins owned the rights to “Knight Rider”, so they used that as a bargaining chip…

PM: Well, that’s just business as usual. (laughs) Harvey and Bob (Weinstein) are very much throwbacks to old movie moguls. It’s always a “you scratch my back” situation. On “The Collector”, it was like the Thursday before we began shooting on a Monday, and at that point we didn’t know if we were shooting on film or digital because we didn’t know about the money. So we called Bob in. And he was like, “Hey guys, I hear you need some money. I’ve got this project, Hellraiser, and if you’ll do that you’ve got your money.” And were like, “Okay, great”. Besides, we really like Hellraiser. So that’s how that began; we did a draft of Hellraiser and Bob gave us the money to shoot on film. That’s just how it works, and I prefer that. Everything’s been good.

GS: How is that even a bad deal for you? You got money and got to write Hellraiser. That’s a win-win.

PM: That’s how we felt, too. And, of course, Hellraiser never got done, but we had good ideas.

GS: I heard that Bob Weinstein actually pitched some jokes to you for the film.

PM: Oh yeah. He had three. One was a piranha going up somebody’s ass. Two was a man making love to a woman, and in the middle there would be a piranha on his dick. Bob said, “I don’t know the science behind that, but make it happen.” It’s obviously completely ridiculous, but we were charged with making it possible. I don’t recall the third.

GS: So we can blame Bob Weinstein for the raunchy stuff?

PM: Some stuff. Sometimes he has some wacky ideas.

MD: To be fair, those jokes were valuable to us for deciding where the tone would be. Because those two moments right there inform us on what kind of story we can get away with. How far we can push. Now we have springboards we can use to one-up Bob and build jokes around it.

GS: What is it like writing a script with multiple writers?

MD: Our original vision was along the lines of watching the world go to shit through the eyes of a water park. When Joel Soisson came in, he wanted to add a John Hughes back story for the three leads. We then wanted to take the John Hughes movie and flip it, destroy it, bit by bit. Some things made it through, some didn’t.

PM: We did the first two drafts, specifically gearing it towards a water park in Baton Rouge called Blue Bayou. We visited one in Shreveport and one in Baton Rouge, because we thought we would be shooting in Louisiana. Once we got moved to North Carolina, that’s when Joel Soisson had to rewrite for that location.

GS: Switching gears, “The Collection” is coming out soon… seems like that’s been in the works for a while. How long did it take?

MD: We just finished it last week! We had a unique scenario where we were able to shoot the movie between season one and two of “The Walking Dead”, using their crew. Then we had to get some scenes back here in LA, but our actor, Josh Stewart, was cast in “The Dark Knight Rises”. And you kind of have to wait for them. So we did, picking up whenever we could, and I literally signed off on the final print last week.

PM: And it wasn’t until all the stuff shot in Atlanta and LA that we called Kevin Greutert in as editor. Kevin you’ll know as the director of “Saw VI” and “Saw VII”, and he helped us put the finishing touches on it. We probably could have had it out by summer, but horror movies get buried in the summer. And then the fall schedule looked really crowded with horror films. So to avoid that competition, we pushed it to December so we’re the only horror movie that month. That’s how you plan things. We didn’t want to go up against “The Avengers” and hope it worked out…

MD: I don’t know if you’re familiar with how test screenings work, but this was the highest-testing film we’ve ever been a part of, by miles. And once that happened, we hit the brakes, because we wanted to come out just right and hit the bullseye. So that pushes things back a few months here, a few months there, and then you want some final touches… some of the things we really wanted was a score by Charlie Clouser, a soundtrack featuring a song we wanted, and some great special effects. We spent the budget of “The Collector” in the first ten minutes of “The Collection”. If the audience can survive past the first thirteen minutes, they’re in for the ride of the year. This is a vicious wolf of a movie.

GS: As the writers, how much control do you have once a script reaches the director? Are you on set, or does it go where it goes?

MD: In the case of “Piranha 3DD”, I was actually directing “The Collection”, so I couldn’t be both places at once. There was a very amusing phone call at 2am, where we got a call from John Gulager and then Gary Busey stole his phone and threw it. We could hear in the background, “Gary, can I have my phone back?” “No, John, I’m not going in the water.”

PM: For the “Saw” movies, we were on set usually the first two weeks just to talk with the actors, answer questions about the characters. We were on set for “Pacific Rim” during rehearsals and readings just to help hone the script. We were gone by the time it began shooting. Guillermo is a good writer, he didn’t need us.

GS: The clock says we’re out of time, so regrettably I have to let you go. Thanks, guys!

PM/MD: Thank you!

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