Producer Carl Mazzocone‘s name is often associated with the work he performed on the Saw franchise as part of Twisted Pictures. In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say that, to this point, it’s his crowning cinematic achievement. For now, that is. After talking with him on the Louisiana set of Texas Chainsaw 3D, I get the impression that Chainsaw is the type of project he’s spent his entire career prepping for. This isn’t just another film for the producer. This is a longtime dream brought to fruition for which his passion and excitement is palpable.
Build up aside, during my on set interview with Mazzocone, the producer talked at length about his passion for the project, the film’s use of RED Epic 3D cameras, his role in the day-to-day operations of the film, how his goal is to “deliver the best 3D monster movie of modern day”, and much more. In all honesty, everyone I interacted with during my visit was incredibly inviting and willing to answer questions. That said, this interview has to be one of my favorites if for no other reason than Mazzocone’s willingness to lay it all out there without any reservation. Read on for the full interview.
CARL MAZZOCONE: I’m really proud of what we’re doing here because I think for the very first time we’re taking Leatherface out of the hick, scary, little rural house or out of the farm and we’re trying to introduce him into the public and the way we plan to do it right now I think people will really enjoy. It’s going to be a lot of fun and in it is a little homage, a little wink or nod to the Saw franchise which I worked on for a while when I was at Twisted Pictures and so it’s a bit of fun tonight and I’m glad you’re here to see it.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the pressures of bringing this iconic franchise to a new generation, and in 3D no less?
MAZZOCONE: Oh my gosh. Let’s start with the 3D of it all because that was a real education for me. I wanted to go out and make the best 3D horror movie that’s ever been made. I’ve been really let down by a lot of 3D, I think a lot of people have. People shoot 2D movies and convert them and I never think they’re as good. 3D is really a scientific process of laying out shots and picking rotations where –
[An unmistakable roar comes from the background of the set. Mazzocone smiles and continues]
MAZZOCONE: [Laughs] Now you’re on a Texas Chainsaw Massacre set. That’s called “warming up the saw”. But, you know, 3D is like a computer. Every six months that computer that was state of the art is now obsolete. We ended up buying into a system of these RED Epic cameras with 3ality rigs which is the same camera system that Sony used for Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man) and the same system I believe being used in The Hobbit, so I feel like I really went all-in on that acquisition because that was really important to me. A movie of our size really shouldn’t have that kind of camera but-
So you are shooting Epic’s then?
MAZZOCONE: We’re shooting RED Epic’s, 3ality rigs, state-of-the-art and I want to bring you back to the tent where we’re doing all of the 3D, give you glasses and let you meet this wacky scientist guy named Ray who’s just a genius. I mean, I’ve sat with him now for twenty days and we’ve had these in-depth conversations about the algorithms and all of the logic behind what makes great 3D and not great 3D and it’s quite an education. Really, the goal is really to deliver the best 3D horror, monster movie of modern day. That’s the goal. And I say that and now it’s on record and you guys will hold me to it if I fail but I am swinging for the fences on that one.
There is kind of a broad sense of exactly what producers do on a day-to-day basis in the creation and development of a film. Can you maybe take us through a day-to-day of your contributions and exactly what you do?
MAZZOCONE: You know, it’s interesting most people don’t really know what a producer does and really the producer is the very first person on-site and the very last one to leave. You worry about everything from A-to-Z. So, as I sat in the offices of Twisted Pictures as we were cranking out Saw movies I thought to myself, “What franchise could I work on and provide the same kind of insight as we did on the Saw movies?”. I was really proud of how those movies turned out and I thought that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the first one, was really amazing and then the subsequent prequels, sequels and remakes were never of the same ilk as the first one. I felt like they were all over the place and they brought campiness to them and they got watered down but, more importantly, there was no real consistency. I mean, the first one was made in ’72 or ’73 and the sequel was made in ’83 and so I fantasized what I would do if I ever got my hands on it.
Well, it turns out that the sister company that Twisted Pictures is a part of is a management company called Evolution Management and we represented Tobe Hooper. So I approached Tobe and I said, “Hey, you know, when are those rights up that Platinum Dunes has with Texas Chainsaw?” and he said, “I think they’re up, I’ll check for you…” and sure enough they were and the very next day I jumped on a plane and went down to Austin, Texas and met with all of the rights-holders and I basically said “Fellas, if you give me the rights to make six of these, I will revamp this franchise and do the following…” and we laid DVD’s for Saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 down and slid it across the table and literally walked out of there that day with a deal for six remakes, the ability to license six movies.
When was this?
MAZZOCONE: Oh, I’d say this was back in 2009, is that possible?
The fallout from the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a famously complex legal situation. How many rights-holders are there? How many people were involved?
MAZZOCONE: More than I can even tell you because there’s literally a bankruptcy trustee involved and it took I think an hour to make a deal and then a year and a half to memorialize an agreement. It was the most complicated rights deal that I have ever worked on.
MAZZOCONE: Well, one of the rights-holders was one of the original writers, Kim Henkel. Another fella named Bob somehow became an owner through litigation over the years and then the trustee that represents all of the other rights-holders, a guy named Chuck. Anyway, then started the process of getting Texas Chainsaw Massacre revamped in an intelligent way. Lionsgate was very excited because My Bloody Valentine had just done very well at the box office and we came up with a million different ways to do it. It’s really a process, but let me get back to being a producer.
So, my day-to-day deal is simply this: this movie is my child and I make sure it’s fed, it’s clothed, it goes to a good school and it has every opportunity to succeed. I care about everything from my crew, a member just overheated, to, you know, making sure every light bulb is lit on that Ferris wheel. I was here when we reconfigured it. It just comes down to, God’s in the details, and I think that when people see this movie they’ll be really impressed with the level of attention to detail we’ve placed in this picture, taking a gigantic page out of the original Tobe Hooper film and showing respect to that film throughout this entire process. As you know, our movie starts with the ending of his original film and, one of the most exciting things for me, and I actually said this to my construction workers today, it’s one thing to sit in your house and dream about replicating a movie. Then actually having the money and wherewithal to-
[Mazzocone shows all of us a picture on his phone of the replicated Leatherface house they have built and it’s pretty spot-on.]
MAZZOCONE: …This was three weeks ago, I started to build the house to absolute scale perfection and then here it is today as were about to film it on Monday. So, I walked in today. We have the right to put about 15 minutes of original footage in our film so I went to the original IP and digitized it, it’s the first hi-res scan I think the movie ever had and that unlocked a host of details that really was very fruitful for our production designer, art director, and set decorator to really see what was on the walls, things that I never knew. For example, they had put brown paper on the walls and animal skins, just learning the geography of things because it’s a really interesting house when you walk through it you go “Wow, is it really like this? I don’t remember it that way.”
MAZZOCONE: To. The. Detail. We made sure the chicken in the cage has the right amount of fat on it. I mean, that’s how far we’ve gone. I’ve driven everybody incredibly insane. When you pull up, the original Black Maria truck will be there right in front. So, I think the fans will be really impressed. I am making a low-budget movie, you could really go for it in other ways but I really think it’s going to be pretty great. The sad part is, in three days we burn it down. So, all that work…it’s a real house too. I was like “I could live in this house”. When you see it, you are like “This is really, really a nice house”.
Even beyond making a love letter to the original film, you want to make sure that you have a story that can sit on its own. How long did it take you to get that?
MAZZOCONE: Well, that’s interesting and it starts out with, I hired a very talented writer named Stephen Susco who wrote The Grudge and we messed around with it for almost a year and sort of went down a few dead ends. Lionsgate took some swings at it and ultimately, I have to say Michael Pasternak came up with a pretty good idea that we facilitated through Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan, but the real honing of the story came around when I engaged John Luessenhop to come and be the director. John and I spent two and a half months locked up in my house, all though Christmas, working the details out. The thing I hate about horror movies, and I think to really understand what makes a good horror movie, and I’m telling this to you guys when, you know, me telling you guys what makes a good horror movie is like telling the Pope how to be Catholic, in my opinion it all boils down to a good boogeyman. A boogeyman who is based in reality so, the greatest horror movie of all time? The Exorcist. Why? Because it used the belief system of a few billion people against them. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre felt real to me. This crazy, Ed Gein-inspired maniac in the woods and what really made it work well was the fact that, you versus a chainsaw, you will lose. It is very much like a Jaws movie.
What we really worked hard to do was keep it real and the one thing you learn when you watch remakes from Platinum Dunes when they did Friday the 13th, you know, you get to a point where your bad guy becomes a caricature so you’re sitting there subconsciously saying “Well, this isn’t real, you can’t really jump over a tree” so it loses its value. So, if you keep it real, keep it honest, keep it authentic and bring logic to it, I mean, the minute you’re in a scene and a girl’s taking this, you know, gratuitous shower because she’s washing the blood of her girlfriend off of her when no one in their right mind would ever take a shower after somebody’s been murdered, and then she happens to be in a towel and there’s a knock on the door and she’s dumb enough to open it, you step out of the movie going “This is stupid” and you lose the audience. I mean, cinema is seduction, you know, we’re in a position where we can totally control every aspect of what a person perceives both visibly and audibly and it’s a very powerful tool if you do it right. You sit down in a cinema, the lights go off, the coming attractions end, you’re totally enthralled in the film and then you wake up and realize an hour and a half went by and it felt like five minutes and I think that’s good cinema whenever that happens.
MAZZOCONE: Well, you know, John I’ve known for a long time and we worked on another script I have about the U.S.S. Indianapolis which was the heavy cruiser that delivered the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs and that really is a Jaws movie. In fact, in the original Jaws movie, Quint talks about the Indianapolis. I own all of the life rights to the living survivors and I’ve been working on a project for a while so that experience working with John and dealing with the horrific aspects of what those brave Navy sailors had to put up with on the water built a foundation of knowing what his skills were. So, you know the other thing to in life, and I think this is true for all of us, you want to work with people you like. So you can work with someone who is really smart and very talented and you like them then it’s a win-win. Am I boring you guys?
[Writers in unison] No!
MAZZOCONE: Well, listen, if I clean it up will you make it sound better?
Actually, I have another Epic question. You’re shooting RED Epic. What lenses are you guys using?
MAZZOCONE: Primes. All wide. Good 3D is wide and a lot of Technocranes, very little handheld, only when needed, mainly when you see Leatherface you see a handheld but never without that. Majestic 3D, in fact, if I can sneak and show you a couple of scenes I’ll try to do that too but I’m pretty excited. Also, I gotta do a shout out to KNB because the one thing we worked really hard on, we first started on mask designs with Aaron Sims who, you know, worked on Insidious and we really wanted to realize another opportunity in this franchise which is that every bad guy, Freddy, Jason they’re all kind of stuck with their iconic images. But Leatherface can change his face with a simple beheading and a scalpel and he’s got a brand new look so we really wanted to make the masks, I mean, I always thought that was weak in the earlier movies, we took a ton of time and money and effort into making these masks magnificent and they’re real works of art and those guys at KNB, I just can’t say enough about their professionalism and artistic ability. Kudos to them. We wouldn’t be making such a good movie without them.
MAZZOCONE: You should meet those guys while you’re here if you can and do a little tour. I mean, the cool thing is that, what we went through to just make determinations on what color tie he wore in the end and reproducing the tie and the debates that went on and going through different Photoshop filters to try to determine and find different indicators in a room that would help the color balance of an old 16mm negative that, you know, was shot in the ‘70s. It’s been interesting. And the most amazing thing of all, I have to tell you, so today I went to see the house. Joy. Just, you sit there and go “I can’t believe I made this happen. I can’t believe I’m on the set of Texas Chainsaw 3D and I’ve reproduced the original house and here it is and it’s absolutely perfect.”.
The other thing that was amazing was working with Marilyn Burns. I mean, she came in and what a glorious woman. So full of light and happiness and joy and a wonderful soul to be reunited and she is just thrilled beyond belief to be a part of the movie and is coming back to be part of the reunion that, I don’t know if you guys are going to stick around, but we have a hell of a reunion happening Monday and Tuesday out at the house when Gunnar Hansen comes back and John Dugan and Marilyn Burns so that will be…and I hope the fans appreciate that, you know, to show that level of homage to the original one and credit the people who made that movie great. I know this will be the first time Gunnar Hansen ever participated in a subsequent Texas Chainsaw movie and I’m really proud to have him on it and delighted with his decision to join us.
For more from our Texas Chainsaw 3D set visit:
- 10 Things to Know About TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D from Our Set Visit; Plus a Filming Recap and Exclusive New Image
- Alexandra Daddario Talks About Starring in an Iconic Franchise, How This Film and the Original Differ and More on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D
- Director John Luessenhop Talks Shooting the Film in 3D, Picking His Favorite Scenes from the Original and More on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D
- Scott Eastwood Talks His Character, Future Projects, and More on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D