Welcome to Larval Ink, a recurring feature which will take a look at the earliest iterations of certain genre films as they existed in their early scripting stage, long before the transformation which significantly changed the original vision into its final form for the silver screen. Here, we will be chatting with the writers of these initial eggs to gain their unique insights into their screenplays and the finished films they would eventually metamorphose into, and all the painful phases in between.
With this entry, we’re taking a look at Darren Bousman’s The Desperate, the script that would eventually become the second installment of the Saw franchise. Mr. Bousman was kind enough to chat with Bloody Disgusting about the script’s origins, the story it would have told, how different it is from the movie it eventually became, and how his original vision might yet be made.
“First off, when I wrote this, I was a lot younger,” Mr. Bousman begins. “I was 22, 23 when I wrote it. I’ve progressed a lot as a writer, and I’d hate for this to get out. It’s not embarrassing to me, it’s just not something I want out there. Also, I love the legacy and lore that surrounds The Desperate. I think the minute you pull back the curtain and let people see it, it stops being that kind of mysterious legend that everyone hears about.
“This was so long ago in my life that I don’t know how much is what I remember, and how much of it I’m completely making up, because I’ve told the story a thousand times. So I apologize in advance, because it was almost twenty years ago now. But, I worked at a place called Tapestry Films. This was my first real, real, real Hollywood job. At Tapestry Films, I was a reader of scripts. So I would sit in an office and I’d read scripts all day, and I would try to figure out which ones I liked and wanted to present to my boss. And that was a fear, presenting something to your boss, because when you present something you’re basically vouching for it.
“You’re saying, ‘Hey, this is good, read it.’ The last thing you want to do is to pitch something that they’re going to hate. So you passed on almost everything because it’s your job, right? If you say ‘This is great!’ and it ends up being fucking terrible, you’re going to lose your job. So, I remember I read a script called Van Wilder [which would go on to become the 2002 Ryan Reynolds vehicle], which I just absolutely thought was hilarious, and I loved. I recommended it to my boss, and next thing I know that movie’s getting made, which I worked on.
“Eventually, I was fired from that job, but as I kind of went through the next year, year and a half of my career, I was getting fired from all of these jobs. And I felt like I was being fired by the gatekeepers. The people that, you know, whether it be First ADs or producers … I was just getting let go. I was becoming more and more desperate financially, more and more desperate in my career. I started realizing that the scripts that made it through were either shocking, disturbing, or they were just not a carbon cutout. They were not cookie cutter. So I started bringing my laptop with me everywhere that I went, and I started writing a script, which would later be known as The Desperate.
“I was trying to take what I learned as a reader and try to make it disturbing, try to make it almost a little bit offensive, to ensure that people would see it and actually read it. Nine or so months passed, and I did not finish the script. It sat on my computer about half finished. Then I started working in an agency called APA as an assistant. Once again, I found myself writing coverage for scripts. One afternoon, I just had this idea. I said, ‘I wonder, if I wrote big coverage for my own script, what would happen?’ So I ended up calling a couple of assistant friends of mine and we hatched a plan. That plan was, we were all going to write fake coverage for the script called The Desperate, written by this person named James Luther, which was a pseudonym I was using. So I told them what it was about, I let them read the first thirty or so pages, and they started writing coverage.
“That coverage ended up going into what’s called a tracking system. It’s how assistants track scripts, and everyone started to request to read the script, but it wasn’t finished yet. There was no script at that point, it was just me making shit up. When I started seeing that people wanted to read it, I quickly, quickly, quickly started writing it as rapidly as I could, because I knew that I was getting interest on this thing. So I started rapidly writing, I finished the script, and we sent it out as James Luther. Not as Darren Bousman, because I knew that I was being untruthful with it in how I did this coverage. People started to respond, and we started getting offers for people wanting to make it. Very independently at the time, like ‘Oh, we’ll give you $200,000 as a budget.’
“So it would’ve been a very low budget movie. And I’m just giving you the kind of a quicker version of it, but I met with a DP named David Armstrong. He had just shot the first Saw, and he was looking to do this as another movie, for a $200,000 movie. He actually said, ‘Do you mind if I let someone else read this?’ And I said, ‘No, that’s fine.’ Well, who he let read it was Twisted Pictures, who ended up being the one that eventually bought it. So that’s the kind of quick version of how it got to the Twisted Pictures people.”
So was The Desperate acquired to become Saw II, or was that not yet in consideration? “That was not in consideration. There was no Saw II at that point. It was just The Desperate. So the producers – Greg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg – were going to make it as a follow-up to Saw. So when they met with me, they were the first ones to offer me a million dollar budget to direct it, and they were going to try to do the exact same formula with it that they did with Saw. First time director, a new piece of property, and I was going to direct it.
“So we started down this path to make this as their next follow-up to Saw, which had not been released yet. It had only been to Sundance, and it made quite a splash, but it was not yet released to the public. So as we were prepping to make this, Saw starts blowing up at all the film festivals, everyone starts talking about it. Lionsgate called Mark and Oren and Greg and said, ‘Listen. We want to make Saw II right away. We want it out next year.’ And they knew that the process of writing a new Saw film was going to take months, and they had weeks. So they came to me and said, ‘We want to take your script and turn it into Saw II.’ At that point, I was pissed. I’m like, ‘No! Fuck you guys, this is my script.’ Because I had no idea how big Saw was about to become.
“They eventually took me into Lionsgate and screened Saw for me. This was before trailers hit the web, anything like that. I saw it and I was like, ‘Holy shit, this movie is amazing.’ I immediately got how similar mine was in tone and style to what Saw was. At that moment, I was like a hundred percent, ‘I get what you guys are doing.’ But I was not attached to direct it. I was just attached to rewrite the script to become Saw II. So that’s sort of the next phase of The Desperate, which I had to turn into Saw II.”
So how was this process handled? It’s been noted that Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell tackled the rewrites for Saw II, but did Mr. Bousman supervise in any capacity, or do another draft himself? “I rewrote the script the first time. I think I spent four weeks adapting The Desperate into Saw II. So I did the first pass of turning it into Saw II, and then once I was finished it eventually went to Leigh Whannell so he could Jigsaw it up.”
Tobin Bell as Jigsaw in ‘Saw II’ (2005)
For those who haven’t watched Saw II in some time, a brief recap: Detective Eric Matthews and a team of police officers find and arrest John Kramer, the Jigsaw Killer revealed in the final moments of the previous film. Before leaving the rundown factory with their apprehended suspect, the cops discover a bank of computer monitors revealing that another one of Kramer’s sadistic games is now being played out in what appears to be a condemned house, all while the officers can only watch and attempt to trace the signal to its source.
In the house, we meet the eight abducted people being forced to play Jigsaw’s game in order to secure an antidote for the nerve gas which is slowly killing them: deeply unlucky businessman Gus; intimidating drug dealer Xavier; hotheaded prostitute Addison; creepy arsonist Obi; timid young woman Laura; reasonable ex-con Jonas; Jigsaw survivor Amanda, encoring from the first Saw; and Daniel Matthews, Eric’s son. When Matthews realizes his son is ensnared in Jigsaw’s game, a battle of wills begins between the cop and killer as the detective is forced to talk with Kramer as the clock counts down on the lives of those trapped within the run-down house as they are one-by-one whittled down by Jigsaw’s lethal games.
The film leaps back and forth between these two storylines before they dovetail with the revelation that the game shown on the monitors is not live, and has been over with since before the police arrived on scene. Matthews spirits Jigsaw away, forcing the mastermind to lead him to the location of the game and his son, all as we are shown the deadly confrontation that unfolds between remaining players Xavier, Amanda and Daniel. As the film reaches its finale, Matthews is drugged and captured by Amanda, who is revealed to be Jigsaw’s accomplice. Daniel is found to be safe (in a safe, no less) at the factory, having been under his father’s nose the entire time, while Matthews is chained up in the iconic Saw bathroom by Amanda and left to rot.
So how different is The Desperate from Saw II, anyway? What story did that original screenplay tell? “I’m going to be careful how I answer that, because … I’ll tell you why. This is something that’s kind of exciting for me. Since I’ve reread The Desperate, it’s something that I would want to make, because it is so different. It is so absolutely different than what Saw II is. It is so vastly its own thing. The characters are the same. Obi and Xavier and all of those characters are still in my script, but the premise could not be more different.
“So the premise of The Desperate was kind of an exaggeration of where I found my life. I was desperate financially, as I mentioned, and I was thinking about what I would do to get out of this desperation. So the premise of this is, a handful of people that we meet in the very first act are approached by a mysterious stranger to participate in a game called ‘The Minus Game.’ It is a game that they willingly have to sign up for. And once they sign up for it, they all meet at a mansion and they have to play the game for twelve hours.
“In this game, basically there can be only one winner, and it involves them committing atrocious acts. They have to do horrible things. I mean, it is very much test-based. They have to do tests, but there is a monitor where a police officer is watching it and he’s trying to figure out where they are so he can stop it before the event actually concludes and everyone dies. Then, as the police officer is rushing to figure out where it is, we as an audience begin to understand that it doesn’t take place in the same timeframe. So that twist is the same. But it is very different. The kills are very different, the tone is very different.
“There are a lot of similarities to … have you ever heard of the game ‘Killer’, where one person’s a killer and everyone else are the victims? It’s a party game, where the guests will try to figure out who the killer is. That is what The Desperate was based on. That one of the people in the house is the killer, and the rest of them are trying to figure out who the killer is. And the killer’s job is to kill each of them before the twelve hours is up. The victim’s job, all they have to do is correctly identify the killer and the game stops. So it was much more of a murder mystery, much more of a whodunit. Kind of an homage to Ten Little Indians a little bit, in a very, very dark, sick, twisted, way.”
The infamous needle pit in ‘Saw II’ (2005)
It sounds as though there’s almost an equivalent to Amanda in the original script, the killer on the inside with the victims. “That’s so funny … in this script, the Amanda character was a hundred percent real. There was a character named Leah who ended up becoming Amanda in Saw II. A character that you realize, at the very end of the movie, she had been in these games before in the same way that Amanda was tested before. It was the same basic idea, that she had danced with this group before, and she was back in doing it again. So she was our character that … we kind of saw the world through her eyes, as someone that had survived one of these games in the past. So that storyline does remain in Saw II, but it’s Amanda. There were a lot of similarities to Saw. I mean, I can see why it was kind of like an easier adaptation for them.”
Obviously Saw II was meant to further its series and set up additional entries, but was The Desperate intended to be a franchise starter in its own right? “Yes. Something was kind of crazy for me … there was a movie that came out that ended up being very, very, very, very similar to The Desperate called Would You Rather. Now, obviously I wrote The Desperate back in 2002, so it was many, many, many years before that movie came out. But when I saw Would You Rather, I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is just like The Desperate.’ I absolutely want to [make it], I’m telling you. It’s something that I forgot how cool the script was until I just reread it. I’m like, ‘Fuck, I would do this!’
“But listen, I’ll tell you this much. Saw II is its own thing. It is completely its own thing. And in fact, I bet you if you read The Desperate, you would not think Saw II. I don’t think you would say it at all. I think you would read this and you would say, ‘Why did you keep the same names?’ It’s got all their names in it, but it is its own unique thing. The kills were vicious and violent, there was a demented killer that was forcing a police officer to watch it online. But outside of that, it’s not really that similar. You know, there was no needle pit. There was no fire pit. There was nothing like that. So those are all completely different.
“But you know, what’s interesting about the script is that Lionsgate owns it. Because it was the basis of Saw II. So I guess I’m going to go back in and convince the Lionsgate to not only give me the Leprechaun franchise, but also give me back The Desperate.”
Nearly sixteen years after Saw II’s release, the Saw franchise is continuing on once again under Mr. Bousman’s direction with the release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw. In closing out our chat, he gives his final thoughts on the screenplay that started his career. “What I think is interesting is that The Desperate was a complete fabrication of a bunch of assistants in Hollywood who ended up hyping a script that wasn’t written, forcing me to write the thing rapidly, then actually getting it set up at a studio and being able to direct my first movie having no experience to direct anything, all off of a few assistants banding together. Which is, I think, an awesome Hollywood story.
“The Desperate is what put me on the map. I mean, it was a place of desperation when I was at my very worst. When I was financially in ruins, I had just complete sadness and anger, I would say. Then I put it out. I used the page as therapy, and it got me signed to an agent. It got me a manager, a lawyer, and it got me a career.
“I think that there’s two types of people in the world. There’s those that talk, and those that do, and I’ve always been someone that just did. I just didn’t talk about it, I went and wrote it. I used all this pain that I had and made something out of it. Without me writing The Desperate, there would be no Saw II-IV with me, or no Spiral. So it means everything to me.”
Very special thanks to Darren Bousman for his time and insights.