Acclaimed commercial director Jaume Collet-Serra moved from Barcelona to Los Angeles 12 years ago. After graduating from film school, he began his industry career as an editor. From there, he moved into directing music videos and then commercials for Playstation, Budweiser, Mastercard, Delta, Pontiac, Smirnoff Ice, Renault, JT Roots & 7UP. “House of Wax” marks Jaume’s debut as a feature film director.
Joel Silver has produced over 40 films, including the groundbreaking “The Matrix” trilogy, the blockbuster four-part “Lethal Weapon” series and the seminal action films “Die Hard” and “Predator”. To date, Silver’s catalog of films have earned a combined gross of over $5 billion worldwide, averaging over $100 million per picture. Silver has produced this horror thriller through his Dark Castle Entertainment division. Dark Castle has produced a string of hit films such as “House on Haunted Hill”, “Thir13en Ghosts”, “Ghost Ship”, “Gothika” and are preparing “The Reaping” for 2006.
Both recently sat down in Los Angeles to discuss “House of Wax” and what lies beyond for them and Dark Castle:
Question: Why do you think horror remakes are hot right now?
Joel Silver: I don’t know if there hot now, it’s just been, Dark Castle we created, my partner Bob Zemeckis and I, in the spirit of William Castle. We’ve been trying to re-imagine some of those movies, he (William Castle) didn’t make House of Wax but it was the same kind of period. I don’t like thinking of this as a remake, we’ve kept the title and the idea, but it’s a completely different movie than the original. We’re not running from it, in fact at the Tribeca Film Festival, they’re going to show the original movie in it’s original two strip 3-D version, we’re going to show it a week before our movie. It isn’t like we’re telling the same story, we have the same idea, but it’s a different picture.
Question: Have you thought of doing a homage to the old gimmicks they used to do, wiring theater seats and 3-D?
Joel Silver: In the first film, House on Haunted Hill, we gave away a million dollars, as a promotion. We’re doing our own version of what Will Castle would have done; I mean the MTV show, which is on every week, is a promotional idea. I remember the show last week and there were three spots for Amityville Horror, the audience, they felt, the people who will be watching the show they’ll advertise another movie. It’s Ok, it’s a great promotion I think too, and it’s something no one has ever done before, which Will Castle would have done too.
Question: Is this up fronting the DVD?
Joel Silver: We’re trying to put those shows on the DVD, all five of those half hours. It was an unusual thing, it was like the Real World while making a movie, and it was a cool idea.
Question: Can you talk about the idea of getting comfortable with how much brutality goes into the bat beating at the end of the film?
Joel Silver: I mean, it’s a fun movie, you’re not the audience, the only reason you’re seeing this is because you’re here. I think that, when I watched Passion, in one of the scenes, they had the whipping scene and I turned away and when I looked back they were still beating him. I said to Jaume, ‘Let’s do that.’ But it’s fun, how can it be fun, yes, the actors on vacation he’s fine, this is a great fun story, that all these kids, none of them are really dead, fingers weren’t really cut off, it just works for the movie it’s summer fare.
Question: The answer to everyone’s question on why the chose the film was you, who would you do a film with, who would you want to do a project with.
Joel Silver: I like these movies, Hillary Swank came to us to do the next film, the next one is starring her. People like these movies, they tend to be successful, people tend to like them, and Jaume did a great job, so we try to make them fun and if they’re a commercial movie than it’s good for everyone.
Question: This question is for both of you, as far as young filmmakers, what would you tell them about trying to get their own careers started?
Jaume Serra: I think for a director, to get your career started you just need to be a director. It’s very difficult, that someone will just give you an opportunity, he (Joel Silver) gave me the opportunity to do my own film, but I’d been directing for like eight years doing commercials, before that I had to spend my own money. I think the biggest step is to earn money and do something and if you’re good enough you’ll survive.
Question: How was the chemistry between you and the actors, this being your first film?
Jaume Serra: It was great chemistry; they’re all young, energetic. We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal. I was lucky that we scheduled, so that the first scenes of the movie, they were kind of getting to know each other, the same time they’re shooting the same scenes where the audience is getting to know them. After that we went into a lot of difficult, prosthetics and heat and wax, and that really bonds with the crew.
Question: From studying masters like Castle, what do you think is the true formula that makes a horror film work?
Joel Silver: There are all different kinds of horror films, we started doing Tales From the Crypt in 89 and we did 93 half hours and they’re all different kinds of movies. I don’t think there is a formula. Horror movies are the only kind of movies where you can take people in a darkened room and with what you show them and what they hear you can really raise their heart rate, make them sweat, just change their feelings about things by bombarding them with images and ideas. That’s what’s exciting about making horror films. If you look at the great run in the seventies, of the Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. They were different kind of movies, one was supernatural one was kind of the slasher type. It’s different kind of scares, the scariest movie I ever saw when I was a kid was Alien, it was a monster movie and when we made Predator I was conscious of that. You think about these pictures, if you can scare the audience, give them a laugh, and give them a good pay off, it’s really hard to have a good pay off. I think House of Wax has the best pay off of any of our Dark Castle films. We don’t have to have characters explaining it for ten minutes what happened, once they find out the two brothers are there and what happened and that house comes down, you believe that building is melting in front of you, and it pays off the movie.
Question: There are two types of people who talk about horror films, those who believe the less you see the scarier it is, like a Hitchcock approach. Then there’s the special effects type, what do you think about the two.
Joel Silver: I think they’re both effective. This one is designed for young people, so this one is a little more graphic, a little goreier; it’s designed as a fun teen slasher movie. Some of the more adult ones, Sixth Sense is very scary, and you see very little, I think it depends on the film maker and what they want to make. The scarier the movie is at the end of the day the better it is for the audience.
Question: Any plans to do any more Tales for the Crypt sequels?
Joel Silver: I’m putting out the DVD, the first season is coming out in a few weeks. I was really upset, I didn’t have as much features as I would like, I had some promotional stuff, we had a few things.
Question: But you’re not planning any new shows or movies.
Joel Silver: No, well, who knows, but as of right now I’m not.
Question: With the success of all your movies, has Warners come to you going “We want more product?”
Joel Silver: They would love it if we could do it, it’s a great business for them, they’re cheap to make and they do real well. We’ve got the next one set to go with Hillary Swank which is called the Reaping, she plays a miracle de-bunker, the Hayes Brothers wrote that to. I have the next one set what I want to do. I have a bunch of things in development.
Question: Any more horror remakes?
Joel Silver: Maybe one.
Question: How did you come to cast Paris Hilton?
Joel Silver: I knew her for years and she wanted to do this, wanted to do something like this, we thought lets take a shot. You saw the movie I don’t think you stopped and said “oh that’s Paris Hilton”. She plays the role, she does a good job, she’s not the lead in the movie, Elisha’s the lead and she fantastic. She came to Australia with us, if you saw the MTV show she was there the whole time, she committed to the picture and she worked her ass off and it shows. Does she help me promotionally, we’ll see, I had t-shirts made that said “See Paris Die”, she did a great job and I’m a big fan of hers.
Question: So was the night vision scenes a nod to the video tape?
Joel Silver: Of course it was.
Question: Even the killing scene in the tight shot it seemed you were trying to reference it.
Jaume Serra: Not really, the whole video camera thing was in the script before she was cast, the night vision is a little nod, nothing else.
Question: Was she aware of that.
Jaume Serra: Yeah.
Question: Did you discuss it with her?
Jaume Serra: There was no need to discuss, it was in the script.
Question: So she wasn’t mad about it?
Jaume Serra: No she’s a cool girl.
Question: Knowing that a horror movie is so effects intensive, stunt intensive and you have so much going on where you worried that it was your first feature.
Jaume Serra: No more concerned than a comedy, my commercial experience I’ve dealt with explosions and cg and things, so I wasn’t a bit concerned.
Question: When we talked to the Hayes brothers they said how you had found this location for Paris’s death and how that changed their writing, was there anything else you changed.
Jaume Serra: A couple of things in the structure, you get the script it’s great, then you have to put it in budget and time. You have to move things around.
Question: Was there one where you said, “I wish I could have done this” but couldn’t because of budget or time?
Jaume Serra: We didn’t compromise on anything that was important, all the story points; we spent the money in the right places. You can see in the ending, that’s what the audience wants to see.
Question: Can you tell us about the set and how you achieved to make it look like wax.
Jaume Serra: It’s very complicated; every shot had a different technique. If you have a close up on the feet, it’s one substance, them scratching on the wall it’s a different substance. We had to do a lot of experimenting, a lot of research, see what would work for wide shots light it properly and prey when you cut it together you can’t see the different substances. It was really tough.
Question: Would you like to do more horror movies or do you want to start branching out from here?
Jaume Serra: I would do another horror movie I had a great time, but I’d like to move into action stuff, bigger stuff. I want to explore everything.
Joel Silver: He’s doing another picture for me called the Divide, which will be his next picture.
Question: Whenever an audience see a movie like this, where the one brother is left alive, the third brother, first thing they say is, ” Oh there’s going to be a sequel”, film makers think that way…..
Joel Silver: Dark Castle we don’t make any sequel, the next Dark Castle film is a sequel, each one ends the way it ends.
Question: So no House of Wax 2?
Joel Silver: No, there will be the Reaping as a sequel, it has nothing to do with it, it’s just that’s why we made Dark Castle. I’ve been involved in a lot of sequels and they may have been commercially successful but they weren’t successful to me. With the Matrix, people were confused with the way the story evolved, but those stories did exist they were stories the boys wrote, they weren’t really a sequel they were serial fiction. To create another movie after another one is over just because it was successful I’m not going to do that.
Question: But with Wonder Woman you’re setting that up to be a franchise?
Joel Silver: That’s a different story.
Question: Any news on that?
Joel Silver: I made Joss’ deal, Joss Whedon is writing the script. He’s finishing Serenity when that movie is done, he’s going to turn his attention toward the script. He’s got fantastic ideas.
Question: What’s the appeal of Wonder Woman as a producer?
Joel Silver: When we made the first Matrix, I came out of the first test screening, the numbers for Trinity were so much higher than anything else in the movie, people loved that character. I came out of there and said to the studio this is interesting, I said to the boys why don’t we make a Trinity movie, they said no they had something else in mind. So I figured we should take something, this was in 99, take Wonder Woman and try something and they said fine. I never really felt I got it till now.
Question: Why do you think that is, with the female action hero, it seems whenever they try to launch something like that it never takes off.
Joel Silver: They were terrible movies. That’s my opinion, I think this is a big constructionist picture, it’s property of Warner Bros., the character is the real deal, and if we do it right. Joss has a fantastic take on the story, and if it works the way I think it’s going to work, it’s going to be fantastic.
Question: Any news on V for Vendetta and how is that going?
Joel Silver: The boys (Wachowski Bros) are shooting a unit right now in Germany. It’s a really exciting picture, it’s not Matrix like, but it is set in the future. It’s a dark story and it’s an interesting guy, he wears a mask through the entire movie, unlike ours where he gets his mask taken off, he never does. It’s really something that is fresh, and they’re making an incredible movie out of it.