The Collection premiered at Fantastic Fest, and now it’s going to be the opening night film for Screamfest on October 12. We interviewed writing duo Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Dunstan also directed) in Austin so we’re publishing in time for their next screening. Dunstan and Melton wrote Saw IV–VII, the Feast movies and Piranha 3DD. The Collector was their own booby trap killer, and The Collection follows his next traps, and the survivor who comes after him.
CraveOnline: Did you set out to make yourselves the masters of traps? Were four Saws not enough for you?
Marcus Dunstan: I know, right?
Patrick Melton: Well, it’s different though. Maybe it’s splitting hairs to a certain extent, but Jigsaw’s world was all about puzzles, right? You can solve this puzzle and you can live or you can not live. While The Collector’s are all booby traps. It’s splitting hairs I suppose but there is a difference in a way.
I was definitely going to ask about The Collector’s traps and Jigsaw’s, but is it a world you’re quite familiar with now?
Patrick Melton: Certainly, because Jigsaw’s is how much do you value your life, right?
Marcus Dunstan: And, can you solve the worst in yourself when it’s this mechanized version on a timer? So racist, how much skin will you give up to learn your lesson to survive?
Patrick Melton: That we’re all pink on the inside!
Marcus Dunstan: Exactly. Hey liar, how much tongue will you shave off to never tell a lie again to live? Whereas this - -
Patrick Melton: He’s not teaching very many lessons. The Collector’s not teaching lessons. He’s pretty much out for punishment.
Marcus Dunstan: He’s just this complacent Rottweiler of a soul, just someone with vacancy in the eyes and a pitch black spirit that is curious about mayhem and curious about suffering and absolutely diabolically enjoys watching it all unfold. One way to put it is what if the kid from Home Alone grew up and took a turn for the worst? It wasn’t enough to knock the hobos in the head with a paint can. Now he’s lining it with nails and watching them roll on the floor for a while.
Patrick Melton: How would that reveal go? It’s Macaulay Culkin at the end.
Marcus Dunstan: You know, as soon as the mask came off, he’d have to go Ahhhhh! [With hands on his cheeks.]
Patrick Melton: That’s like the last shot of it. Everyone would go ohhhh, uhhhh.
The other side of that is, is there freedom in not having to tie every trap into a character’s backstory?
Marcus Dunstan: Well, that was the liberating quality of something like Jaws where we didn’t need to know that Jaws had a rough childhood and therefore needed to eat beachgoers on Amity Island.
Or even tying it into the victim’s backstory like Jigsaw does.
Patrick Melton: That’s the asset and liability of that series. It is neat that it’s so serialized but it got pretty tricky at the end there when he had to go after his dentist for that filling that he didn’t do correctly, which is possibly where it would have gone if we had done more.
For the record I would love to see that.
Patrick Melton: I don't know why that popped into my mind but I feel like that might have been discussed at some point.
Marcus Dunstan: John Kramer was felt up while getting a routine deep cleaning. Now feel yourself up with these grills.
So you have The Collector and The Collection. May I suggest for the third one, The Collective?
Patrick Melton: Oh, I’ve heard that title before. That’s interesting you say it.
Marcus Dunstan: That’s the nice thing. If we are so lucky to have The Collection find its audience, there is more engine to that story because when you have such a cypher of evil in the world, a little bit of info goes a long way. We don’t ever want the audience to feel that they are safe from this person. As soon as you define a list of targets, if you say he only goes after the pompous, he only goes after the damaged… No. This guy is a shark on land. He goes after food. He goes after everything and there is no place you can hide, be it your home, and sanctuary you have. He’s almost challenged to invade that and make it something you could be intimidated by. He’s the shadow that strikes.
Patrick Melton: So it could be The Collected or it could be The Collector Takes Manhattan.
Oh, I said Collect-IVE not Collect-ED.
Marcus Dunstan: That would be a group. Ooh. We might be onto something.
What if there were a group of Collectors?
Patrick Melton: And they have a conference. It’s like, “What do you get?”
Marcus Dunstan: They’ll have a TLC show.
Was the nightclub sort of your Bond opening scene?
Patrick Melton: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Marcus Dunstan: Yes. Well put by that in that when he strikes a particular pose when he kicks the double doors open to start off the third act with the two dogs. Literally, Randall Archer who plays The Collector, we have an old teaser poster from Casino Royale. So like would you mind doing that? Would you mind holding the weapon just like so? Because this is your James Bond moment, only James Bond is evil. So okay, he did it and the beginning really was introduce a plot, introduce a set of characters. Not the cameo kill, not the “Hey, haven’t I seen her? Oh.” Nothing like that because that’s been done. That’s been done beautifully. Set up an entire plot and throw it through the shredder and see what happens, almost to make a statement like this horror movie knows that 10 times out of 10 we’re going to have six hot teens and they’re going to be in descending height order on the poster with a shadow of the killer above them and you never know what’s gonna - - yeah, you know exactly what’s going to happen. You can dream those plots out. Well, in this one we like to announce right away that we’re very aware of that and all the expectations. Now let’s throw them all away and start anew. Let’s have the adults step in and see what happens when you shadow their kids.
The Saw movies do have the morality about the traps. Were you worried about taking that out of a horror movie with the first The Collector?
Marcus Dunstan: Well, we had a great character in Arkin and it’s his movie. The Collector is not the entity of the movie. The Collector is a conduit of evil that happens in the world. This was going to be a thriller. It was about a thief trying to provide for his family who unwittingly interrupts another criminal’s act while trying to provide and rob from his employer. The killer by that point, you get more out of him if he is simply evil, evil entering a guy’s life. So the bad guy versus the worse guy comes out on top. Where now this time, we wanted to do that because Arkin, and the name Arkin is from Alan Arkin of Wait Until Dark, and we wanted to make that character a star and put him in a different light where he could be the hero. Well, now, we have this pixie haircutted wonderful actress Emma Fitzpatrick taking over for the Audrey Hepburn idea. So I wanted Arkin and I wanted Elena to be that woman from Wait Until Dark who has a handicap of lack of hearing versus sight, but both are thrown into this really horrific scenario and bond through what they can endure.
Has this warehouse setting become this generation’s cabin in the woods?
Patrick Melton: Well this one, Grace Graham Walker did really great production design for it.
Marcus Dunstan: All the paintings within the hotel were done by Anthony Leonardi. The look of the hotel and all the nice Goth architecture and the wallpaper and everything was all Grace Walker.
Patrick Melton: And the lighting obviously was inspired by the Argento movies and stuff like that. So actually we’re trying to differentiate it. It is the same location but try to differentiate it a little bit in terms of making this sort of this bizarre looking hotel that is not just dingy and destroyed and decrepit. Actually if you notice, as they rise, each floor changes and gets more elegant until we get to the top floor. So that was our idea of sort of ascending from hell to heaven.
I’m talking more broad industry now. There’s a sort of motif I was trying to encapsulate by calling it a warehouse.
Marcus Dunstan: Our villain needs access to Home Depot so he doesn’t need the mileage to go into the woods to any old cabin. Plus he’s getting more ambitious.
Patrick Melton: Cabin in the Woods literally did ruin the cabin in the woods movie because how do you do another cabin in the woods movie?
But as common as that was when all the ‘80s horror movies went to a cabin in the woods to shoot a horror movie, why does this generation go into a warehouse space? Even with twists like this one is a hotel, have you noticed that movement?
Marcus Dunstan: Ultimately, the characters are usually seeking some sort of forbidden act. Be it if it’s dancing, if it’s sex, if it’s drugs, if it’s underground fist fighting, where do they go? Where do they find that darkness? So for a while, yeah, you drive out to the woods because that’s a safe place to do it. But now as the storytelling becomes more urban, it’s going to be finding the forgotten buildings, as most of our old elegant structures are now left to decay.
Patrick Melton: Also, what’s the opposite of a cabin in the middle of nowhere? It’s a contained location in the middle of a city, right? Also, there’s budgetary sort of concerns. Everyone went out in the ‘70s and shot in the middle of nowhere because that was cheap. You didn’t have to get permits or whatever. It just is what it is and there’s no one around to save you. So if you scream, no one can hear you. With this, in the same sense the Saw movies were made that way because we had a stage in Toronto and we could build all we wanted, but going outside becomes cost prohibitive because you had to move everything and all that. So it seems a lot of people do that now because there’s all these interesting locations in the middle of these big cities that you walk into and think, “Wow, it would be horrible to be stuck in here with some mad man running around,” even more so than out in the country because out in the country you could just keep running and maybe you’ll find something. When you’re stuck in these cool locations, you can’t get out.
Can you imagine what the next prolific location for the genre might be?
Marcus Dunstan: It depends on what’s being denied, what’s being denied the viewer. Is it a vacation? Probably it’ll be something exotic. Yet sometimes you have to be careful with exotic because not all of us feel bad or feel scared seeing people get stuck in paradise. That’s a tricky tightrope but I think things that are attractive to our latent desires, what do we want to get away with? Where do we feel safe that we can do that?
"Project Greenlight" was such a revolutionary way for filmmakers to get noticed 10 years go. Are there even more new avenues, especially for writers, today?
Patrick Melton: Well, now there is through all this YouTube and Twitter, all the social networking. You can at least be heard easier than it was 10 years ago. You won’t necessarily break or really be big necessarily, but when we won that contest it was like, “Oh yay, we bought your script” and we had no money at the time, so “Now you have some money in your pocket, we’re going to put you on TV and we’re going to make your movie” which is completely unheard of. Well now, it’s so easy to make your own movie and just put it on YouTube yourself and if you can properly promote it, that’s how people are breaking in. You see every few weeks there’s some awesome new short on that some kid did in Brazil or whatever and everyone’s just salivating over it because it’s just this raw passion that someone put together, and you couldn’t do that before. You totally can now. Then you’ll talk about it and put it on Twitter and all these people follow you and they’ll look it up and that’s how these things happen. It’s never been like that before.
Marcus Dunstan: I wish it would come back because I think the opportunity that we were given, it’s a finer once in a lifetime version where you can catch people that really want to start out and will be considered and will be exalted and have the machine behind it instantly to help. I learned so much from it and I think people that could watch all three seasons of that show could learn something from each season. Sometimes as simple as when there’s a camera on you, don’t be a douche. How about that?
Or, don’t be a douche at all!
Marcus Dunstan: Yeah, at least.
Patrick Melton: There would be no problems in the entire world if everyone lived by one mantra of don’t be an assh*le. If everyone just was self managing and was like, “Okay, that’s an assh*le move.” If everyone just doesn’t be an assh*le, we’d have no conflicts at all.
Marcus Dunstan: But we’d also have no MMA.
Do you think we’ll see a Saw reboot sooner than later?
Marcus Dunstan: I think so.
Patrick Melton: By sooner do you mean 2013? Because yes. I think probably. It was too big and too profitable for them to let it go so I think it’ll probably happen.
But I liked the approach of continuing the story more than restarting.
Patrick Melton: Well, I don’t think they’ll restart in the sense that they’re remaking at all. I think they will just recognize what has been done and then go off in a different direction. Even with the last one, there’s a lot of ways it can go.
I just hope it’s always the John Kramer story.
Patrick Melton: I know. I couldn’t imagine it without John Kramer.