Halloween is over, and The Jimquisition Halloween Special was released to a surprisingly great reception. It’s not that I didn’t expect – or at least hope – for some people to dig it, I just didn’t expect it to be so overwhelmingly positive.
JimSAW, which is more or less the first semi-serious attempt I’ve had at making a short semi-film, was a labor of love and hard work that relied on the talent of a lot of incredible people.
Now I’m going to be self-indulgent and talk about how we put it all together.
The whole “Jimsaw Killer” thing was first conceived in 2015 after I binged through the entire SAW movie franchise in a week. I’d only ever seen the first one, but I was intrigued by its near-annual releases as a throwback to the era of 80s slasher films and their endless sequels.
What surprised me about SAW wasn’t so much all the gore and the silliness, but the oddly dedicated effort to ensuring things made narrative sense. While the series is ridiculous and only gets moreso with each film, the writers try very hard to explain even minor plot holes while ensuring there’s enough forward planning for shocking payoffs.
I love the character of John “Jigsaw” Kramer. A mentor, a philosopher, a self-centered hypocrite whose talk of rehabilitation through sadistic “games” is little more than a mask for his conceit and his need to be remembered after death. That’s my read on the character, anyway.
In October 2015, I unveiled Jimsaw as part of what looked like a run-of-the-mill skit. He debuted in the episode Enjoy The Silence, Feel The Noise as part of a running gag I’d been doing that year about misappropriation of Patreon funds. In subsequent episodes that month, he appeared in random portions of the show, hinting at something larger.
The full extent of Jimsaw was revealed in The Golden Sins Of Horror Games, notable not just for Jimsaw, but for a familiar face who doesn’t do so much talking now as he did in the video. It also featured Flannel, a dear friend of mine, and a notorious cameo from Cliff Bleszinski of Boss Key Productions.
It was a fun story and I loved making it, but production value was awful and I used the camera’s inbuilt mic like a total toolbag. It was amatuer stuff, but many people got a kick out of it. Not everybody.
The “Shrimp Head” mask was the star of the show, built by Kerry Dyer. I wanted a mask evocative of the “Pig Head” from SAW, but distinctly more Jimquisition in nature. What better than a shrimp? Shrimps have been part of the show for years, and their pink, elongated nature made them work well as a stand-in for the pig.
So I had this badass mask and tune, and there was no way I’d let it all be wasted on a one-off Halloween special.
Enter Justin McDaniel.
Justin has been an associate of mine for quite some time now, a graphic designer and game developer who approached me about collaboration after a chance encounter in a local Target. He immediately impressed me by offering the Fuck Konami News intro sequence that remains a popular fixture of the show. Since then, he’s worked on video thumbnails, Boglinwatch 2016, and upcoming site improvements.
I’d always planned a new Jimsaw Killer video for this Halloween, but it was Justin who wanted to go much further than normal and stretch his legs as a video editor. I indulged my “why the fuck not?” approach and we went from there.
Initially, the character of Michael Rowe was going to be contained within a box with his head poking out of the top – the “game” would demand he cut his fingers off and push them through a hole in the box to land on the scale. Justin found a weird old surgeon’s table with holes in it however, so we changed the game to the seated one in the video.
My goal was to wrap a familiar storyline around it. It was less about creating something new, and more about inserting Jimsaw and his hilarity into a situation you’d see in a Saw movie. I wanted it to feel like, if it had been anyone besides Jimsaw, it would actually be terrifying. – Justin.
The game itself, when you seriously examine it, doesn’t work on paper. The idea of cutting off fingers and using them as twisted “microtransactions” is a horrifying concept, but Jimsaw’s execution is naturally terrible. Leaving aside the obvious structural problems with the setup, nothing about “The Microtransaction Game” works.
Jimsaw left a phone with which to call for help. The saw can be used to cut the handcuff instead of play the game. The box isn’t locked. Even if the rules were actually followed, Rowe wouldn’t have fingers with which to take the key out of the box.
It’s important to me that the games are always incompetent, flimsy, and ultimately non-threatening. It’s less funny if Jimsaw is a legitimate serial killer or actually dangerous in any way.
The plan was always to have a Boglin take over the “puppet” role from Miniature Fantasy Willem Dafoe, but it wasn’t until a couple weeks prior to shooting it occurred to me we could take it to the next level. So I asked Jim to hunt down a boglin on the cheap (didn’t have to be great quality since we were going to work on it), and then proceeded to mimic Billy The Puppet‘s style on it. Thankfully since it was the weeks leading up to Halloween, fake hair and paint were easy to find. My fiancé Jen put the finishing touches on it by taking one of her hairbows and gluing it to the front, completing the look. – Justin.
Where the mask was the showstealer of last year, Billy the Boglin was 2016’s breakout.
I loved Justin’s idea to use a Boglin, but I was not prepared for what he’d create after I grabbed a cheap burner Boglin off eBay. The moment I saw what Justin did, I knew the video would have at least one awesome thing in it – if nothing else worked, we had Billy, and he would be adored.
The response to him was about the one thing I banked on, and I was correct to do it.
So this is where we filmed, a subterranean storm shelter in Blair Witch territory. It was legitimately spooky down there – full of bugs, the walls covered in oil, a floor of rocks and earth. We quickly dubbed it the Murder Hole.
My only regret is that we never got around to filming somebody entering or exiting the hole from outside. The imagery of that big metal door swinging open would’ve been fantastic. Another time, perhaps.
Getting in was easier than expected, and there was just enough room to film. The rubble-covered floor was dangerous, especially as seeing through my costume’s black-tinted eyes and draping wig was incredibly difficult. Luckily nobody got hurt, but many of us were squicked out by the amount of roaches down there.
Some props were made or obtained on the day. Here’s Amanda making a box really dirty for us. She insisted we reference her “dirty box” a lot throughout filming. The plastic spiders were discarded, but were going to be part of Jimsaw’s pathetic attempt to make the room scary. We stuck with our glow-in-the-dark cleavers situated atop a metal skull-shaped stand we found outside.
Improvisation was important to more than just the performances. The cheap toy handcuffs we bought for Patrick (Michael Rowe) wouldn’t fit his adult wrists, and they didn’t survive the first scene, splitting apart when filming began.
One issue was that Patrick couldn’t reach anything on the table with both hands cuffed – this was solved when the cuffs broke, and I said we should just have one hand restrained without worrying about the other.
That’s what the restraints of the trap originally looked like before Patrick and I broke the thing between us. What really killed it was the scene with us wrestling over the phone. Patrick could barely move, and it only took a slight overextension for the frail plastic chainlinks to break.
It’s important when filming to know what will break your shitty plastic handcuffs.
What got me into this project? What commandeered my sensibilities and steered my path in life down into that dark hole?
I think it was when Jim saw me screaming about cocks on the teevee. I was dressed as a midwestern football coach, because it was that kind of party, and a downright pornographic campaign ad – a fake ad, for a fake campaign, it was that kind of party – had just aired, and in that ad, a giant flopping penis featured heavily. – Patrick.
Patrick Jerome is a local comedian who performs at Offbeat in Jackson. I came to know him through mutual friends and found him pretty hilarious, so he was a good fit for the role of Mike Row. The party he references above is real – it was a murder mystery party hosted by Flannel and I was playing a presidential candidate. Flannel went so far as to create fake political attack ads for the night, of which Patrick was the narrator.
We had a rough outline for what to do with each scene, but no script. I like improv, and I’m thrilled with how it all worked out. However, looking back on the final product, I think future projects will benefit from tighter direction and at least light scripting or blocking.
I had met all of these people less than once and didn’t recognize any of them on sight. They were gathered around a hole in the dirt, grinning and quiet and welcoming.
“Get into the murder hole,” someone said as I came up with a plan to kill as many of them as I could with the length of cut steel I saw lying across the lip of the hole.
The hole was deep, with a steel ladder leading down into darkness.
“It’s a nice murder hole,” they said, but I wasn’t moving toward it.
We all die someday. They were singing glorious songs down in the murder hole. They were filthing a box. They were putting on costumes. They were singing and testing their cameras.
We all die someday. Jim may well have handed me a wrench and asked “Would you kindly jump down in that there murder hole and make us some teevee?” – Patrick.
Mr. Jerome’s statements of what occurred that day cannot be taken as fact.
The Murder Hole was inhabited and shouted in for several hours. Acoustics were surprisingly good in there, and having a shotgun mic helped make it sound as solid as we needed. Filming was fun and chaotic, and we had to smuggle the dildo bat onto the set because the landowners were not exactly… liberal?
They were very… Mississippi.
Let’s just say I didn’t want them seeing me with a camera and a giant cock.
As well as the Murder Hole filming, we returned to the set (dirty garage) of last year’s episode the following week. Here, Patrick would film his conversation with Double Secret President Wesker while I’d record my flashbacks and final scene.
One noise-ass fuckin’ A/C unit started up as we were about to film, so we moved to the other side of the driveway to avoid it. Just as we moved all the gear, the A/C unit on that side started up. We were screwed. Justin did a lot of work to reduce its impact on the scene.
After shooting hours of nonsense, it was time for the edit, which is where Justin really showed his stuff. Like a George Romero movie, we recorded tons of bullshit and it was down to the editing process to make it work. It’s the soul of cinema, after all!
Jim has said numerous times that the movie was made in editing, and he’s not exaggerating. We had the basic outline going in, knowing what we wanted to film, but no real storyboard to work from. Both Jim and Patrick work best with improv, and we didn’t want it to feel like anything other than a Jimquisition special. So when we recorded, we recorded alot. Jim and Patrick would go on for minutes at a time in each scene, trying new lines and jokes each time to give us plenty of options.
Once that was done, it was my turn to do the heavy lifting. I took everything into Premiere and started making sense of all of it. I made sure to follow the basic structure, but if we had a great shot of Jim and Patrick going on a hilarious rant, I didn’t want to stop it.
An example of this is Jimsaw explaining the game to Patrick. It was initially not going to be one long shot, and have a few more dramatic cuts, but once Jim started going on about a “gory hole” I knew we had to keep everything in. Instead I filmed reaction shots of the game and Patrick’s struggles, and dropped them in to illustrate what Jimsaw was explaining. In my opinion it made the scene better than originally planned. – Justin.
The things Justin did made me realize how much I don’t consider about video, despite making a living in it. He had us filmed from several angles, and was able to make the visuals and the audio coherent in ways I couldn’t begin to emulate. In one scene, some phone interference ruined the audio of a take, and we had to dub the lines back in – thank Christ my mouth isn’t very visible behind the mask!
As my editor explained, there were some shots that weren’t quite as dynamic as intended due to the nature of the improvised performances. Some things you just don’t want to lose, so you bite the bullet and go for less visually interesting framing in the hopes the action is entertaining enough to make up for it.
I’ve been going through a lot of Red Letter Media lately and their criticism about static wide-angled framing has stuck with me. The Jimquisition on-camera segments are static, but that’s what happens when you work without a crew. I was blown away by how different JimSAW looked just based on the camera angle changes.
As we continued shooting, everyone was starting to wear out. We were in a boiling hot hole in the ground, near 30° degrees higher in temperature than outside. We wanted to get out of there quick, but this would be our only chance to shoot. That did lead to us forgetting to put in leading cues from shot to shot, and me trying to correct them as best as possible. Thankfully there were only a few moments in the film that were really effected by this, but it does remind us to make sure to plan around longer shoots for next time. – Justin.
Fatigue was a toughie, especially with my back injury screaming at me before we’d even started. We soldiered on though, and I think we did a grand job considering our time and resource restrictions. There are some mistakes and flubs that made it into the final video, and that’s a shame, but for a first effort I’m proud of what we could produce.
Of course, there were some moments we just had to rely on the computer to correct our mistakes. There are two particular parts we had to fix in editing:
1. When Patrick notices the video on the phone, we had not actually shot the footage for that at the time. To make up for that, we made sure after that shot, we would never have to see the phone screen directly, and since the audience could see where the boglin video was coming from, we could simply cut in its footage on the video itself. Then I did a tracking shot and matched the video to the phone in the first shot. It was far away and very short, so it didn’t catch the eye too much.
2. We planned an entire reveal around a business card, but it turns out neither Jim or I had a working printer. We just decided to do a tracking shot and place the words on the card, but we didn’t have as much time to detail track it. It made the words look like they were floating above the card. That’s when Jim came up with the idea to have the card project a hologram, as it would match the tone of the evil Umbrella Corp. Turned into its own weird thing. – Justin.
The original ending was very different from what we ended up with. Initially, Michael Rowe would turn out to be a Konami executive sent to gather intelligence on Jimsaw’s activities, and he’d inform his masters that it was okay to go ahead with a Dynasty Warriors pachinko machine. While that would’ve been fun, I started to feel another cameo was important to truly top last year’s video.
After some thought and discussion, I settled on D.C. Douglas appearing as Double Secret President Wesker. I’ve known Douglas for several years and he was more than happy to take part – he is what one would call a real class act!
Rather than make him a game company executive, I had a sudden desire to tie the running Boglin themes even more strongly into the episode. Luckily we hadn’t filmed the ending yet – it was simple enough to alter the story so Rowe was now a professional Boglin burglar and Wesker was desirous of the coveted “#1 Boglin Boy” designation.
In hindsight, it came out cleverer than intended, making a twisted sense of the Boglin stuff that had been creeping into The Jimquisition. Of course, since I’m still obsessed with Boglins, the cleverness will erode with continued Boglin exposure.
And that’s a brief(ish) look at how we brought JimSAW to life!
It was hard work, and I’m currently dealing with exhaustion as a result of doing this on top of the regular content (and creating extra content so nobody felt like replaced anything) but I’m super happy about the results, and excited for the future.
With seat-of-the-pants planning, no script, and a lot of production hurdles, we pulled together a silly and entertaining short film that looked way better than it had any right to and entertained people on a level I did not expect.
Just imagine what we can do from here.
It’s going to be fucking nightmarish.