With less than two months before the theatrical release of “Saw V,” Executive Producer Dan Heffner ’78 made another trip to Ithaca College to speak to students and faculty members and screen clips from “Saw V” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” a horror-movie musical he produced, Aug. 29 in Park Auditorium. Online Media Editor Andy Swift spoke to Heffner about his experiences at the college, the future of the “Saw” franchise and what it was like to work with Paris Hilton.
Andy Swift: Could you tell me about your role as an executive producer?
Dan Heffner: I’m the executive producer of the “Saw” franchise. I started as a co-producer and director on the first film, and I co-produced “Saw II.” In between the second and third films, one of our partners passed away, and I became an executive producer. I used to deal exclusively with the physical aspects of producing the movies, but now I deal with the physical production, the creative and post-production.
AS: How much screen time will Jigsaw have in “Saw V”?
AS: He’s dead at this point, right?
DH: I don’t know, maybe.
AS: So that’s how you’re playing it.
AS: I read an interview where Shawnee Smith (Amanda) said she’ll be appearing in “Saw V.” Is that true?
DH: We jump around in time a lot in “Saw” so we have people who are making appearances but are doing so through clips from prior films. You will see a bit of Shawnee Smith.
AS: Did you get any angry letters from Christian groups for using “Be Thou My Vision” and comparing Jigsaw to God in the teaser trailer for “Saw V”?
DH: I don’t know what Lionsgate got, but I know there’s been some buzz on the Internet about that. Certainly there’s no religious theme to the movie. Sometimes when you’re creating something you’re just thinking in one way, but then when it goes out people react in a way you never expected.
AS: Is there a realistic end in sight for the “Saw” franchise?
DH: The movies are still doing well, there’s a huge demand for them and there are people out there who get psyched about them. In that sense, I see no reason to stop. At the same time, I don’t think any of us involved with the movie want to run it into the ground. At some point I think there will be a natural end that will be clear to everybody once it’s run its course.
AS: How did you get involved with “Repo! The Genetic Opera”?
DH: The movie was directed by Darren Bousman, who directed “Saw II,” “III” and “IV,” and I’ve been his producer since the beginning. When we were finishing up “Saw III” he came to me and said, “You know, there’s this project I’ve always wanted to make. It was an Actors’ Equity off-Broadway production and I’ve always wanted to turn it into a movie.” It’s a horror musical and it’s futuristic. It’s like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “Blade Runner.” We have an amazing cast: Paris Hilton, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head, Alexa Vega, Sarah Brightman, Bill Moseley, Ogre from this group The Skinny Puppies.
AS: Had you ever done a musical?
DH: No I hadn’t, and making a musical is a major undertaking. The only upside is everything is prerecorded, so we didn’t have to worry about soundproofing. We used an old warehouse that was in the process of being converted into a stage, so there were still holes in the wall. We were right across the fence from “The Hulk,” which was shooting in Toronto. So we’re making a musical, and they’re blowing up helicopters. We were very lucky because all of the actors were just spot on with their lip synching, which can kill you in a musical. You might have an amazing take, but if the synch is off you have to do it all over again.
AS: People seem to be skeptical about Paris Hilton. What can you tell me about her performance in the movie?
DH: She was fantastic. We went through a huge process in casting her and considered a lot of people for the part. [Hilton] had been in jail, and she auditioned like two days after being released. She came in totally prepared and gave this amazing performance. She nailed it. … There was one number she did called “Come Up And Try Out My New Parts,” which got cut because it didn’t fit in terms of the movie’s flow. But it’s one of the most amazing numbers I’ve ever seen. I told people in the studio if they want to get more publicity, they could release just that song as a music video and it would be a killer.
AS: What about your experience at Ithaca helped you in your success?
DH: One of the things Ithaca offers that’s so important is the diversity of the elements of filmmaking and the hands-on approach. … You go out and experience shooting and editing and everything. Doing that helps you figure out what aspect of the industry you want to go into and, more importantly, helps you to eliminate what aspects you definitely don’t want to get into.