Icons of Fright Interviews JESSABELLE/SAW VI&VII Director Kevin Greutert!

kgBefore making his way into directing, Kevin Greutert established himself as one hell of an editor, having edited everything from THE STRANGERS and THE COLLECTION, to the first five SAW films, before successfully making the transition into directing. Staying in the franchise until its supposed end (last week’s press conference put an end to “the end”), Greutert stepped behind the camera to direct the return to form SAW VI and SAW VII. With the Jigsaw-led series over for the time being, Greutert recently jumped into directing again, with the Blumhouse film, JESSABELLE (hitting theaters and VOD on November 7th via Lionsgate), a southern gothic tale of a woman confined to a wheelchair, and dealing with supernatural forces attempting to get her (our review).

Greutert was nice enough to chat with us a bit regarding JESSABELLE, the SAW series and  what’s in store for him next. Read on!


 

Jessabelle-Poster

Can you tell me how the genesis of JESSABELLE came about, and how your involvement in directing it happened?

In terms of how it FIRST came about, the writer, Ben Garant (RENO 911) is obviously known by a lot of people from RENO 911 and having written NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and stuff, but he was really a son of the south, having grown up in Knoxville and spent a lot of time in Louisiana. Years ago, he got the idea of the story of a person who came from South Louisiana, hated it, had a tragic family existence and finally managed to escape to a different part of the country and a new life…but a new tragedy would happen to her, and she would be put in a wheelchair and have to go back to her ancestral plantation to put her life back together. He was really attracted to the southern gothic drama of that premise and the supernatural ghost elements came as a result of that. The idea sat for years, then he wrote it and tightened it, got to Jason Blum, the “horror aficionado” and Blum gave it to me and we were off shooting the movie in North Carolina.

It feels like a definite departure from your previous films, was that something that made you want to take it on and go for? 

Oh yeah. Just as RENO 911 was different for Ben to write than JESSABELLE, I wanted it to be where nobody would ever think that the guy behind editing the SAW films and directing some of them would be behind this movie. It’s a character-based drama with slow, creepy moments, and no real gore. It’s not particularly a violent film, it relies on the actors and the inventiveness of the story. It’s not like the SAW movies, I mean I love the SAW movies, but this is the kind of film that I always wanted to enter.

It’s interesting that you say that, because having seen JESSABELLE already, and loved it, one of the things that really stood out to me is how it never has to rely on gore and over the top gimmicks to tell the story, it’s very character-driven. As a direction, how do you know where to balance the two approaches and sometimes pull back on that stuff?

I definitely wanted it to feel like the characters were in danger, but it’s a different kind of danger than what you have in a film like SAW. At first the character’s restrained in the house, mostly by her poverty and the fact that she’s in a wheelchair, but if it’s too scary for her right up front, then the audience is going to say “wait a minute, why doesn’t she just get the hell out of there?!”. Maybe people WILL say that, but I think we found a nice balance in there. Frankly, a lot of the scares in a psychological horror film like this, is in the performances, and Sarah Snook has one of the most interesting and emotionally generous faces ever. In the film, when she’s suspecting that there’s a ghost or spectre in the house around her, it’s really conveyed in her face, and if I didn’t have an actress as good as she is in it, it probably wouldn’t be a very scary movie.

You’ve done a hell of a job making a name for yourself as an editor as well, I mean the SAW films are not only known for the Jigsaw character and the traps but also that style of editing that the series helped spark, a style that you were a huge part in helping to create. How do you break down the different ways, stylistically, when it comes to editing films that are COMPLETELY different films in their style?

That’s a good question. Some films need to be slow, or slow-er. I wanted to feel that slowness like we really earned it. You certainly don’t want to bore the audience, so I loved the idea of making a slow-cook story that’s just as engaging as a SAW film that has constant edits and throwing blood and guts at the screen. For me, it’s all about getting into the shoes of the characters that are on screen and there are many different ways to do that. Ideally, the performance is going to be the number one thing, but it has to be shot and lit correctly to convey the emotion and then in editing, I really have to sit and feel and know where those cut points are. Whether there’s something in the eyes, or a shadow on a face, something that says, “this character feels this way” like when they’re breathing in a shot. That’s what you do when you’re scared, breathe hard, so let’s really exploit their breath in this sequence.

I agree completely. You’ve written a good amount of short films, have you ever wanted to direct something YOU’VE written?, making it 100% your baby?

Absolutely. I definitely want to shoot my own movies, I have a supernatural thriller that I’m trying hard to make. Maybe it’ll be my next film, we’ll see. I’ve loved writing, throughout my entire life, I mean growing up, I wanted to be a novelist. So yeah, writing is very important to me, it’s just a matter of finding people who believe in me enough to put the money behind it.

JESSABELLE as well as your upcoming film VISIONS marks the second time you’ve worked with Blumhouse. What has the experience been working with Jason Blum, and  has it been a big difference working with Blumhouse, as opposed to Twisted Pictures ad Lionsgate?

Lionsgate was involved with JESSABELLE, but yeah, both sides, they have different styles. The first two SAW films were smaller and were around the same, budget-wise as VISIONS and JESSABELLE, so there are a huge amount of limitations with time to shoot the scenes and money to put into locations and props and stuff. So, in essence, the experiences of making JESSABELLE and VISIONS were a lot like the experiences of making the earlier SAW movies. Jason (Blum) is very generous with letting filmmakers do what they want to do. As long as it’s working out, he tends to be very hands off, which I love and appreciate, because I love not having to explain myself all day, every day.

You mentioned not wanting to be pigeon-holed into be the “SAW director” guy kind of thing. Now that it’s recently announced that there are plans to possibly do another film in 2016, does that rule out your involvement in it?

It definitely does not eliminate it (laughs). Look, I can only make films, if I make successful films, and if they make another SAW, it’s GOING to be a successful film. I certainly wouldn’t discount having some role in it. I’ve known those guys forever, and I’m the only guy who has creatively been involved in all seven films, so I know the franchise. If they DO another, then yeah, we should talk (laughs).

As you said, you can only make films if they’re successful films. With the landscape changing DRAMATICALLY, even in the last year, films like JESSABELLE or many others that would typically have HUGE roll out theatrical engagements and wide releases, tend to be put on limited theatrical releases and VOD these days. Do you feel that that approach hinders the films and genre or do you think it’s a positive thing for the industry?

I can only speak for my own opinion, but I got into this because I loved going to a big theater and watching a film on a big screen with a lot of other people in the room.

Exactly.

The experience of watching JESSABELLE in the theater with an audience is amazing. From the first time I started screening it for friends and Lionsgate employees, just knowing that you successfully made a scary movie due to the look in peoples’ faces and the that they would react, that’s great. To watch a movie alone, at home, with who knows what else is going on in the background while you’re watching, that’s a little disheartening. I don’t think people really realize just how much film distribution has changed, just in the last year. There will be very few horror films in theaters, that aren’t tried and true franchises or films with a brand to them, like your OUIJA films or ANNABELLE films, it’s almost impossible to a get a theatrical release for a film that doesn’t have a huge star or a pre-existing franchise to go with it. To me, that’s a tragedy. What IS good about Video On Demand (VOD) is that studios at no point have to invest much money, because they barely advertise them, and I think that’s going to change and they’ll figure out ways to get the word out there, but it’s still not going to compare to the 25 million dollar commitment they would need to release a film like SAW or JESSABELLE in theaters. So I do think there will be more opportunities to make low budget, more personal films, but it’ll be less likely to see them in theaters.

Alright, well Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today, it’s always nice, and I loved JESSABELLE, so keep it up!

Hey, thank you!