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SAW Writers Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan Talk Horror, PROJECT GREENLIGHT & New Film RISE




Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan -writers of Saw IV, Saw V and Saw VI – discuss working in the horror genre, plus their beginnings with Project Greenlight and their new sci-fi robot film Rise.

They described the upcoming Rise as the story of a robot uprising, from the robot’s point of view, and discussed some behind-the-scenes details about getting the deal.

The studio wasn’t sure about the writers’ choice of director, David Karlak, who had worked with Melton and Dunstan on The Collector as a visual effects supervisor. So he was asked to produce a reel of filmed scenes to showcase his skills. In addition to shooting in L.A., Karlak opted to up the stakes and also film in China, which ultimately got him the job.

The writing team reveals that they met at the University of Iowa, and they discuss the unique advantages that school offered them. Before making it big, Melton was a script reader and Dunstan was working at a Blockbuster video store in Woodland Hills, CA.

“Reading a blank script forces you to apply all these rules you’ve been told. I went to film school and you learn this theory, and it kinda gels a little bit, but not until you read a ton of scripts does all that stuff come together,” said Melton.

The two actually entered their movie Feast into Project Greenlight during the series’ first season in 2001, but were not accepted until 2004. They explained that of all the contest participants, 1,000 scripts were narrowed down and went to readers, and those were eventually cut to 100. “When it got to 100, you had to make a video of yourself. And you had to pitch your script.”

To gain the advantage, the pair said they actually produced a video piece to stand apart from the rest. From that point, the script goes down to five, and the studio is then giving them notes. It wasn’t until they reached the top three contenders in Project Greenlight that they finally got to meet Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Wes Craven, and others.

“Patrick said ‘Who are we going to be in there?’ And then we said, you know what, let’s be cheerleaders – and we started clapping. So when we walked in we were giving ourselves a cheer of applause, so when we walked in the room, everyone was like, ‘Hey.’ And we sat down and we were like, let’s not be nervous, let’s get it out.

“We learned that night that we won, but they played it out over the next few days, because they didn’t choose the directors yet,” said Melton.

The writing team spoke about different aspects of successfully selling a script and revealed that the deals for Saw IVSaw V and Saw VI came from the strength of the script itself“ForSaw it was more the script I think,” Melton recalled. “Because the script read… it was contained and it was scary, and there were traps involved in it too, so we sort of knew how to do those mechanics.”

Melton added that another way to sell your idea is to provide what is referred to in the business as proof of concept. “In terms of the proof of concept paying off for The Collector, we showed it to (longtime mega-producer) Bob Weinstein. You know, here’s this video… and Bob Weinstein watches it, walks across his room, slams shut his door and says, ‘You guys aren’t leaving until we have a deal.’”

Eventually that deal ended up being a $2.5 million budget guaranteed, with Dunstan cleared to direct it. “This was all happening the weekend of the Feast premiere in Las Vegas,” Dunstan said. “So we were on the phone hearing, wait, so Bob Weinstein just saw that trailer?”

He added that unbeknownst to them, the script had already made it to The Weinstein Company. “We were sound mixing Feast and we got a pre-call from an executive who shall remain nameless, at the Weinstein Co. saying ‘Hey, this isn’t for us.’ But we didn’t send it to you – how are you turning down The Collector?

It turns out that an agent had showed it to Bob Weinstein and he bought it. “No matter what, if you idea is right, don’t let a modicum of prejudice stop it from existing,” Dunstan said.

The duo also explains how they got involved as script doctors for the action blockbusterPacific Rim and what it was like meeting with director Guillermo del Toro just a month before shooting began.


Patrick Melton was born in Champaign, Illinois. He attended Evanston Township High School, and graduated from the University of Iowa, where he met Marcus Dunstan. Melton also attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he received an MFA in screenwriting. In 2004, Melton & Dunstan won Project Greenlight Season 3. The TV show premiered on Bravo and resulted in the film FEAST. Two sequels followed, FEAST 2 and FEAST 3, but it was their involvement with the SAWFRANCHISE that brought Melton & Dunstan wider recognition. They wrote SAW IV, SAW V, SAW VI and SAW 3D for a worldwide cum of nearly $500,000,000 in box office receipts. Additionally, they wrote THE COLLECTOR and THE COLLECTION, which were directed by Dunstan. This past Halloween marked the release of Melton & Dunstan’s debut novel, BLACKLIGHT, co-written with Stephen Romano. It was published by the Little Brown imprint MulhollandBOOKS. A TV adaptation is in the works at ABC Family. Melton & Dunstan have also performed uncredited writing work on PIRANHA 3D, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and most recently PACIFIC RIM, which was directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Currently, Melton & Dunstan are working on THE STUFF OF LEGEND for Disney, OUTLIERS for Fox, an adaptation of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK for CBS Films, and they recently set up a TV project at NBC with producer Dick Wolf.

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