Tony Cowley: Spiral

DGC Ontario Production Spiral will be released in select Canadian and U.S. theatres this Friday. The film is the 9th instalment of the SAW franchise, with Production Designer Tony Cowley returning to the franchise following 2017’s Jigsaw. Ahead of the premiere, we spoke with Tony about reinventing the franchise, his favourite set and Chris Rock’s pivotal role in getting the film made.

How did you become involved in Spiral

Spiral is my second SAW movie. In early 2016 I was contacted by Producer Dan Heffner and Australian brothers, Directors Peter and Michael Spierig. The brothers were huge fans of my work on Showtime’s Dexter. We hit it off and had a ball.

Can you tell us more about the design for the film? 

By the time I got to the series, it had been designed by many other PD’s, mostly from Toronto. The producers had their playbook about what the Saw world should look like. However, the 2017 Jigsaw introduced a new protagonist in the series, so the brothers wanted a change of pace design-wise.

Spiral was another reinvention of the SAW franchise. There was a lot of spit-balling and concepts flying back and forth from L.A., mostly because on this SAW, we did something they rarely do – we cast high-profile actors Chris Rock and Samuel Jackson. That ramped up the interest. It was Chris calling the producers and Lionsgate that made this project come to life.

Production Designer Tony Cowley and friend
Production Designer Tony Cowley

What do you love most about working in Toronto, the GTA and Northern Ontario?

In 1997, I met my future wife, the beautiful and talented Randi Richmond, while working in this city. Besides that, the city itself has always had a lot to offer, location and process-wise. By that, I mean the people and the system are engaged, chill, and helpful. 

I am also very fond of our Saw crew, particularly my Art Director, fellow DGC Member Greg Chown. He is supremely talented and always keeps our Art Department laughing.

What is your favourite set from Spiral

The producers would have a fit if I talked about that before the release. I will give you a hint and say it has to do with travel. It has a very nice forced perspective. The actual set was executed wonderfully by Greg and the Art Department and our construction coordinator Andrew Yurkiv and set decorator Terri Drennan and their awesome crews. 

Behind the scenes on Spiral
Behind the scenes on Spiral

Where did you take inspiration from for designing Spiral

I think all PD’s at my age and level of experience draw from the archives in our heads.The process of prepping a SAW movie is a lengthy one. The PD and some Art Deptartment crew start 6-8 weeks before the hard prep crew to iron out the traps. We brainstorm on concepts, particularly for the traps, which are at the heart of the psychology in the storylines. Sometimes we go long periods of time with no ideas, then two or three come to us in a day or two. There is one trap in SAW that I think will hit the top-ten SAW traps in the SawNation rankings. Think about a Chinese finger pull you had as a toy when you were young, and run with that!

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