Interview: Patrick Melton

Gavin nearly wet himself when he found out that he would be chatting with Patrick Melton… but he didn’t, and on April 27, 2010 Patrick called him up and the following conversation took place.

It’s possible you don’t know the name Patrick Melton. He’s not an actor, so he doesn’t have a well-known face. He’s not a director, so he doesn’t get top billing in the theater. But he has created, or co-created some of the biggest horror blockbusters of the last five years. Feast, “Feast 2” and “Feast 3”, “Saw 4”, “Saw 5”, “Saw 6” and “Saw 7”, “The Collector”, as well as being involved with “My Bloody Valentine” and “Piranha 3-D”.

Besides discussing the writing process on these films, we covered Ben Affleck, David Hasselhoff (as always), the fate of the “Scanners” remake, the ongoing 3-D craze, Dimension Films… and the whereabouts of Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) — the man “Saw” fans have been waiting for the past SIX YEARS.

GS: What has it been like going from an unknown to one of horror’s big players in under five years?

PM: Well, it feels great, I suppose. We were just sort of thrown right into it with “Project Greenlight”, which was this wonderful contest. They buy your script, which is great because then you’re getting paid. And then they make the movie, which is great because then you have something to show for it. And even if it sucks or doesn’t suck, you can still say you made a movie. And you suddenly get more recognizable, which is great when you’ve made something like “Feast”. We were very frustrated — I think we tried to be humble and just make the best of it and work hard and it paid off quickly, because we’ve had a shitload of stuff made. And that’s just the result, I think, of being on top of things and trying to keep doing stuff all the time. And “Feast” is very different from “Saw” and “The Collector”, which has some similar aspects but was intended to be more of a thriller. And then there were all the rewrite jobs we got from that, from “My Bloody Valentine” and “Piranha 3-D” were all just the result of working hard and people seeing that you work quickly and effectively in terms of executing what we say we’re going to execute.

A lot of times in Hollywood you’ll have these meetings with studio bosses where you talk about what to do, you get a rough draft, and months later you come back and forget about what you’ve pitched. We’ve been good about delivering what we promised, they’ve been generally happy and they have continued to hire us. It’s been a wild ride, but fulfilling nonetheless.

GS: I absolutely agree that you deliver on what you promise. I may not know exactly what the transition is from script to screen, but I see in “The Collector” or the “Saw” films these elaborate setups, and when you’re writing the script, you have to ask yourself, “Are we going to be able to pull this off?” But you do, you do pull it off.

PM: (laughs) Well, there’s a lot of times where we write it and someone says, “You CAN’T pull it off.” So we have to go back and sort of re-do it until it’s something that is more plausible and able to execute. It’s a process, and having gone through it several times with the “Saw” movies… and we learned from the “Feast” movies. The “Feast” movies were made for not a lot of money, so we had to be resourceful.

GS: And you can’t even tell, which is the best part.

PM: Well, yeah, the sequels were definitely more difficult than the first one. Less resources, less time. The thing about filmmaking is this: if you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll need time. But if you don’t have a lot of time, you’re gonna need a lot of money. So we were fortunate on the first “Feast” movie that we didn’t have a lot of money but we had a lot of time. The same thing on “The Collector” — principle photography was only nineteen days. That’s very short for a movie like that, with all its complicated traps. There’s not a lot of dialogue, so it was all about getting the shots and creating suspense. We had several instances of additional photography where we were picking up things that we just didn’t get. And we were able to do that because we had time. It’s really tricky if you don’t have money and you don’t have time; that’s a recipe for disaster.

GS: With regards to “Feast”, did you have certain actors for the characters in mind at the time of writing? For example, Henry Rollins seemed spot-on for the part he had.

PM: I think naturally when you write you think of people, of certain actors, that are “dream people” you’d like to have. But what you have in your head may change once the role is cast and each actor makes the role their own. The Henry Rollins character was probably written a lot more over-the-top than Henry delivered it. And I’m actually thankful that he delivered it the way he did. He did it dead serious, despite saying the most ridiculous things and dressing with pink sweatpants, which made what he was saying even more absurd. He could have played it campy, but it played exactly how he should have. And that’s a testament to Jon Gulager’s directing, because the script could have gone more ridiculous, but it wouldn’t have been as effective a movie. Jon had people seriously saying these crazy things, and that made it a lot more fun, especially when the horror stuff came around.

GS: One of the film’s producers happens to be the love of my life, Mr. Ben Affleck. Tell me how wonderful he is.

PM: He’s a really nice, friendly, smart, outgoing guy. He’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for, and he was actually really helpful and hands-on in the “Feast” movies. For example, we had those title cards for each character, and he really helped us with those. There was a moment where we had like a roundtable dinner and we got together with some other writers, and he brought in the most creative minds. You see his on-screen persona and you think of a goofy frat guy, he has that sort of vibe to him. But then he comes out with a movie that he wrote and directed, “Gone Baby Gone”, that couldn’t be more serious and gritty. I didn’t know he had that in him. He’s a real smart guy, a lot smarter than he gets credit for.

GS: In your personal opinion, is there a moral difference between killing someone and placing someone in a situation where they kill themselves?

PM: Well, you know, probably not. But in John Kramer’s head he seems to think there is. Clearly he’s a psychopath, but maybe he can see a difference, because at least theoretically in his mind he believes he gives people a chance to change, and go through the extremes that he has. He had a life-changing near-death experience when he crashed his car, and probably should have died then, but didn’t, and that changed his outlook on life. So in his own sadistic kind of way, he is implementing that on to others with varying results, as we know from the movies. But if any rational person looked at that, they would not really distinguish between the two. They’d both be murder. But that’s the fun of the series: what would I do in this situation? It’s a little more nuanced than a killer who just hacks people’s heads off. It’s a thinking man’s slasher movie.

GS: Yeah, it gets to be more of a thinker as it goes on. To be perfectly honest with you, just trying to keep the characters straight is a chore.

PM: Oh geez, you don’t even know. When we first came on in the fourth movie, we had this big board listing all the characters from each movie who may or may not be showing up again. If “Saw 4” would have been made the way we had it scripted at one point, it would have been even more confusing than it was. We had so many things, such as Benito Martinez from “Shield”, who was Dr. Gordon’s lawyer in “Saw”. And there was Drillbit Jeff. Remember in the first movie with Danny Glover, there was that guy who may have died… who put the drillbit into his head, and we were like, who is that guy? So we were going to go back, but it would have been way too much. But yeah, it’s a complicated world. There aren’t a lot of other movies that are as serialized as the “Saw” movies. I can’t imagine someone just coming in watching “Saw 6”. You have to know the movies and know them well, which may be fun for the fans. There’s a lot of reaching back, and maybe we’re giving people too much credit thinking we can go back to something obscure six movies ago and assume people will remember that. Which, by the way, we have all sorts of things in the upcoming “Saw 7” reaching back…

GS: And on that note: Without ruining everything, what can you say about the return of Cary Elwes in “Saw VII”?

PM: I saw, as everyone else did, the Lionsgate announcement that he’s going to be in the movie, and he is. And it’s not going to be in a flashback. He was in Toronto, the footage was shot, and you’ll have to see the movie to see what that means.

GS: So even though you wrote it, you can’t actually say anything?

PM: Right. Not really, no. Lionsgate doesn’t like that, so we can’t really say. I think this year at Comic-Con we’re going to show a clip and it’s going to be pretty juicy. By the way, if you hear noise in the background (there has been an occasional crinkling noise), that’s my turtle, and she’s going nuts — it’s mating season.

GS: You did some uncredited clean-up work on “Bloody Valentine 3-D”. What do you think about this growing 3-D trend (including “Saw VII”)? Is it good for the fans or a cynical plot for studios to charge more and avoid piracy?

PM: Yeah, you’re old enough to remember the last time 3-D was used as a gimmick. (Patrick knows how old I am because before the interview started, we talked a bit about random stuff and both growing up in the Wisconsin/Illinois region.) There was “Jaws 3-D” and “Friday the 13th 3-D”. Was there a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 3-D? I don’t remember. It’s a gimmick, and I’m definitely not crazy about it. When you go into a movie, you want to be immersed in it. And with a good story, you forget everything that’s going on around you and just pay attention to the screen. Sometimes with 3-D movies, they actually take you out of it because they remind you that you’re watching a movie, especially if something really gimmicky like an ax comes flying out of the screen and you remember you’re wearing glasses. But I guess it depends on the movie. “My Bloody Valentine” was very aware of what it was: totally crazy and fun. And it had no pretenses, it knew it was fun, and you could throw the ax at the camera. But do I need to see “The Brothers McMullen” in 3-D? Probably not. Certain movies I think it’s appropriate and other movies it’s just not. I don’t mind if directors go in with the intention of shooting a film in 3-D, because at least they’ll be going in with that in mind and not just something that will be used to get three extra bucks at the box office.

So “Saw”, it’s totally different from “My Bloody Valentine” because there’s nothing particularly funny about “Saw”. It’s meant to be very serious and shocking and disturbing. So I think the idea of making it 3-D was for enhancement with the traps. It was not shot in a gimmicky kind of way. The whole point of shooting it in 3-D was to make it new fresh from the past few “Saw” movies. A dialogue scene in 3-D isn’t very interesting, but a trap could be pretty cool. I have yet to see it, so I don’t know.

GS: It sounds like we’re on the same track here. I’m all for 3-D if it serves a purpose, but it’s a frustration to me if it seems like they’re using the effects to hide the fact they have no story.

PM: That was a criticism for “Clash of the Titans”, and it was sad that Warner Brothers knew at some point it needed something else, and it used 3-D as a crutch. And that’s definitely unfortunate, because it just seems like the studio is trying to trick the audience. But people are growing wise to that. It’s going to wane after a while. There will be a series of inferior movies and studios will realize it’s not worth the extra cost. It’s expensive to make a 3-D movie, it really is. Conversion is somewhat cheaper because it’s done after the fact. Like “Piranha 3-D” was shot in 2-D, but Alex Aja knew that it was going to be released in 3-D so he intentionally shot some scenes knowing that in advance. In the script he would bold and underline where there was a 3-D moment. That’s one thing, but converting a movie to 3-D just to make three more bucks and make the film seem epic, that’s cheap, and people will sniff that out after a while. And studios will catch on that it’s not worth the cost. But right now, when these inferior movies open and make record numbers, that’s not helping the cause. I’m sure now they’re thinking they should have made “Kick-Ass” in 3-D because it didn’t quite make the numbers they were hoping it would make, and putting it in 3-D would make it an event. Would it make the movie better? No. But it would be an event. But right now, with the fervor over “Alice” and “Clash of the Titans” and “Avatar”… it will be a while before it dies down.

GS: Some reviews have said “The Collector” has a 1980s aesthetic. Do you agree and was this intended?

PM: Oh, yeah! That just comes with Marcus and I having grown up in the 80s and being introduced to horror movies in the 80s. Those were the horror movies that inspired me or scared the crap out of me, the movies from that era. Aesthetically, Marcus is a huge fan of Dario Argento — “Suspiria”-era Dario Argento — so he intentionally had a giallo look to it with the colors and the contrast. So yeah, that was certainly what he intended when shooting it. I take that as a compliment.

GS: In the television electrocution scene, do you know what is playing on the TV?

PM: I do! That’s John Gulager, and me and Marcus! John is dressed with like a crown on, as a king. I’m dressed as a mailman, and Marcus is dressed as a bunny. Originally that’s from “Feast”. In “Feast”, the little boy Cody is upstairs, above the bar, watching TV with this bizarre kids show. And then he gets eaten and puked up on his mom. We put it in that movie, so we wanted to put it in “The Collector”, as well. (laughs)

GS: On IMDB, some one has this complaint: “In order for the Collector to have the time and freedom to set up all the traps, the family in the house would have to have already been captured — eliminating the necessity for traps.” Can you address that?

PM: Well, yes. How it works, what the ruse of what this killer does is… he will wait for a family to be out, and then he’ll place this large box with a person in it, the bait. So, imagine yourself coming home and seeing this large box — you’re going to say, “what the fuck is this box?” Then you hear movement and the door closes, the Collector will grab you and incapacitate everybody. A lot of this really didn’t come through, we had it a lot more explained in script format. We’re showing the film from the art thief’s POV, so you don’t see it all. But when the Collector does show up at the house, he incapacitates them and puts them all in the basement. Then, one by one, he releases them into the house, and it’s up to them if they live or die. So when we see Michael, the father, he’s down in the basement. Did you notice there was smoke? It’s probably too minimal to really notice it, but conceptually the idea was that once you’re captured you’re put in the basement. Then the killer will blow off a smoke grenade, which will force you to go upstairs. Once there, you’re either going to die or live.

That’s why there were all these baited things all around the house. Like, if someone’s chasing you and you see a pair of scissors, you’re going to grab them, right? But then you realize they’re connected to something, and you get thrown into the spikes that are against the wall. Or you see golf clubs and you grab them to hit someone, but that’s a trap. So that was the idea, that it’s just this sort of game of cat and mouse in this house where the killer finds joy in playing with the mice. Because, sure, if he just wanted to kill them, he could walk in and stab them in the chest and walk out. But that’s not what he does.

GS: Well, now I know what the traps are for.

PM: Yeah, and that’s our fault, because we probably should have tried to explain that better. We’re doing “Collector II” and you’ll understand it more. Because at the end of “Collector”, the art thief Arkin is stuck in a box. So, in “Collector II” that box will open and we’ll be in a different location. So, you’ll understand the process a little bit more in the second movie.

GS: So you can confirm “Collector II”… it will happen?

PM: Oh yeah. We’re writing it now. And it should be going into production in October. And that’s what we’re shooting for, starting to shoot in October. It will pick up right at the end of the last movie.

GS: I ask everyone this: What dirt can you dish out on David Hasselhoff?

PM: David Hasselhoff? Dirt? Only what I have gleaned from YouTube and “America’s Got Talent”, pretty much the same as anyone else. I don’t know if this is dirt, but I could play something that might add to your cause… hold on a second. (theme from “Knight Rider” plays) It’s my ringtone. That’s all I’ve got on Hasselhoff is just a ringtone dedicated to him.

GS: Oh man, you’re stuck in the same boat I am. I read a rumor that you were rewriting the “Scanners” remake…

PM: Yep.

GS: But it fell through…

PM: Yep.

GS: If your version of “Scanners” were to be made, what would it consist of compared to the original?

PM: Well, we were just doing some rewrites for David Goyer. He’s a great writer, and he had a draft. His first draft was very faithful to the original movie. And then he did a second draft, which was a little bit more of his own, and it was really good. The first two acts are so great that the third act needed to be a little more monumental. So it was our intention to just go in and try to make it a little bit better… just to continue the energy it starts with and bring it to a greater crescendo. But the problem is that there are many different people involved and they all sort of think it should be something different. To me, it seems like a very straightforward update, but the powers that be can’t quite agree on what it should be and I don’t think it’s going to get done any time soon. Hopefully it will be, it’s a really great draft.

GS: We’re not going to see that for a while…

PM: Probably not. It’s with Dimension, and Dimension seems to waste a lot of time spinning their tires in the mud.

GS: You’ve survived the interview. What’s next for Patrick Melton?

PM: Well, you know, we’re doing “Collector II”. And there’s a couple other ones I shouldn’t mention yet because they’re not quite finalized. But “Collector II” is what we’re doing now, and I’m excited to see the first cut on “Saw VII”. That’s all I can mention.

GS: Well, we already know everyone will go see “Saw VII”, but if they weren’t going to — GO SEE “SAW VII”!!! And keep your eyes peeled for “The Collector II”, sure to be just as good or better than the first one. Thank you, sir, for the wonderful interview.

PM: Thank you. It was fun — have a good time in Wisconsin!

Gavin and Killer Reviews would like to thank Patrick Melton for his time and for such a great, insightful interview. Hopefully we run into each other again.

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