Film's pre-production was only five days; it was shot and cut at the same time in 18 days (all of the bathroom scenes were shot in six days). The actors had absolutely no rehearsals. The rehearsal takes were actual footage for the film.
James Wan wanted the camera movements to reflect the two main characters emotions and personality. He filmed Dr. Gordon with steady controlled shots and Adam as hand-held shots to capture their emotions of the situation.
The screenplay was written in 2001 as a calling card for James Wan and Leigh Whannell trying to break into Hollywood. They shot a low budget short based on a scene in the film and this proved successful enough to attract the attention of Evolution Entertainment. They immediately formed a horror genre arm called Twisted Pictures and gave Wan and Whannell a small budget.
The scene in which Gordon turns off the lights and whispers to Adam was written differently in the script. The characters were to cut open opposite ends of a long pipe with their hacksaws and speak through it. This sequence was actually shot, but later cut because director James Wan decided that the characters being able to cut through a pipe made no sense if they couldn't cut through their chains.
In post-production, James Wan discovered that he didn't have enough shots or takes to fill out most of his scenes. So he and editor Kevin Greutert created their own filler shots by doctoring some of them to make them look as if they were filmed through a surveillance camera.
Shots cut in the R-rated version, according to director James Wan and screen-writer/actor Leigh Whannell, included ones of Amanda sifting through the intestines, the fat guy struggle through the barb wire just to shorten the scene, and some forensic ones. The color was made more even and the sound was altered because the MPAA had problems with the tone of the original cut shown in Sundance.
Contains many references to the films of Italian horror/giallo director Dario Argento. The creepy painted puppet is a reference to Argento's Deep Red (1975), while the unseen killer's black gloves are one of Argento's trademarks and can be seen in almost all of his films.
To help sell his concept for the film, Leigh Whannell shot a scene in which he appears to be ensnared in a bear trap. There were no special effects involved, he actually had to place the teeth of the rusty bear trap in his mouth to make it seem real.
Writer Leigh Whannell came up with idea of giving John Kramer a brain tumor while spending time in a neurology ward for anxiety and headaches. He says that seeing patients there made him reflect on his own mortality.
According to the DVD commentary, casting agent Amy Lippens asked director James Wan who he wanted to play the character of Amanda. On a whim, Wan suggested actress Shawnee Smith, on whom he had had a crush since his teen years. He was surprised when Lippens came back a few days later and told him that they had secured her for the role.
According to the official SAW website, in a still image used in one of the flash scenes, Adam's last name is "Faulkner". However, it was revealed in Saw V (2008) that Adam's last name was Stanheight, as indicated by a document observed by Agent Strahm.
James Wan and the editor had trouble editing the film as they did not have enough shots they wanted and had difficulties editing some scenes including Dr. Gordon listening to his tape and The detectives in Dr. Gordon's office the first time they meet
James Wan and Leigh Whannell wrote the script and submitted it to their manager. The manager then sent it to an agent in L.A. who summoned the two of them for a meeting. They were encouraged to shoot a scene from the script as a short film which they started passing around to studios.
In the original draft, the Zepp character was to do strange acts with Alison's underwear in her drawers, but Leigh Whannell cut it out as he thought it was a bit 'too far' it was rewritten as the gun and the listening of the heartbeat.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell wanted to make a movie after they finished film school but could only afford one room. Yet, they challeged themselves to create a film that only occured in one room. Saw was the product and was considered as one of the most profitable and successful horror films of all time.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The identity of the Jigsaw killer is given away quite early on in a flashback. When Zepp says, "He's a very interesting person," on John's hospital bedside table in front of him is a diagram of the Reverse Bear Trap.
At the beginning of the film, Adam is informed via the cassette tape that he must free himself from his chain and escape the bathroom. Lawrence is informed that if he does not complete his game, then he will be left to die in the bathroom. The opposite fates befall both characters at the end of the film.
In the scene where Dr. Gordon begins sawing his foot off, Adam is heard screaming and crying in the background. His screaming and crying is the same one used from the very last scene during the final climax. The audio has been edited and relooped.
Instead of the quadruple shotgun trap, the creators wanted a trap that consisted of two things that would spring from the walls and snap shut on Sing and fold him up into a box. They described it as an "iron cocoon." They decided against the idea, as it would have cost too much money for visual effects. The iron cocoon idea, however, was finally used in Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010).
The Jaw Splitter was also used in the original Saw short film, attached to a character named David. The scenario played out the same as the later version, with David escaping from the contraption seconds before it went off.
Although "Hello Zepp" is one of the most famous lines in the film it is actually never uttered throughout the movie. The misconception is mostly due to the fact that this is the title of song in the soundtrack and is played during the final revelation scene. This piece of music became the series trademark and was used as the score for the final scenes which included plot twists and rapid montage of flashbacks. However the real lines as they stand during the scene when Adam listens to the final tape are "Hello Mr Hindle, or as they call you in the hospital: Zep."
Body Count: 5. (Plus David Tapp, however, he is revealed to have survived in the video game, Saw (2009), which the creators consider canon. Adam could be added as well, but he is not yet dead by the end of this film, and Dr. Gordon is revealed to have survived in Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010).)
James Wan and Leigh Whannell returned for several re-shoots, but the original actors were unavailable by that time. Whannell played the parts himself, and Wan used close-up shots of the characters' bodies, avoiding showing their faces. Whannell plays Detective Sing (Ken Leung's character) entering the building with a shotgun, and the body of Sing falling down after being shot. Also, the close-up shots of Shawnee Smith's character's hands in her torture/murder scene were Whannell's, and he wore a wig to make his shadow on the wall appear more like Shawnee's.
The character Zepp (Michael Emerson) claims that the patient, John, who later is found to be jigsaw, is a "special" person. In the show "Lost" he also claims another person named John (John Locke) is a "special" person.