At only 35 years of age, James Wan has a lot of years ahead of him in the movie business, yet it seems as if he has been around a while already. He already has a string of impressive horror movies under his belt and the next few years promise more of the same. Wan was born in Sarawak, Malaysia in 1977 but moved to Western Australia as a child. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Whilst studying at RMIT, he met Leigh Whannell and shortly after finishing their studies the pair began collaborating on a screenplay. This was, of course, Saw, a film that would catapult them both to horror stardom and re-invigorate the genre.
With a dead body laying between them, two men wake up in the secure lair of a serial killer who's been nicknamed "Jigsaw". The men must follow various rules and objectives if they wish to survive and win the deadly game set for them.
After several unsuccessful attempts to harness interest in their screenplay, Wan and Whannell utilised one of the latter’s contacts (who was a manager) who in turn, circulated the script around Los Angeles. An agent showed some interest and a meeting was arranged.
To seal the deal, the pair made a short showcase version of the film and it clearly impressed as they received production approval within days. An impressive cast was secured too – including Cary Elwes, Danny Glover and Dina Meyer.
The production schedule was hectic and the film was shot in only 18 days. With a relatively small budget of $1m, Saw was expected to be a straight to DVD release but the buzz it created at both Sundance and Toronto film festivals meant that it was destined for bigger things.
Saw was a huge hit at the box office. For a film that only cost $1m to make, it’s worldwide gross of over $100m meant that it was destined for a sequel – something that was green lighted within days of Saw’s release.
Although critics gave a mixed response (44%) on Rotten Tomatoes, the fans lapped it up (7.7 on imdb). It was fresh, it was original and it had a great twist at the end. And it had some very inventive death scenes – something that would be a regular theme throughout the franchise. Wan and Whannell have since commented that several scenes were inspired by nightmares they both had.
As well as co-writing the screenplay, Wan directed the feature himself – and did it with some panache. A quite remarkable feat for someone who was just 27 years of age. The success of the film meant that a franchise was very much in the pipeline, although James Wan had his eyes on other projects…
The Saw Franchise Although Wan’s involvement in the following six Saw films was mainly as a producer, he also helped develop the story for Saw 3. Instead he handed directorial control over to Darren Lynn Bousman – who would go on to direct Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV. Leigh Whannell penned the screenplay for numbers II and III. The fourth instalment of the franchise saw a new writing duo take over – Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton – the guys who went on to create “The Collector”.