Film's pre-production was only five days; it was shot and cut at the same time in eighteen 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.
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.
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 James Wan decided that the characters being able to cut through a pipe made no sense, if they couldn't cut through their chains.
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.
Shots cut in the R-rated version, according to James Wan and Leigh Whannell, included ones of Amanda sifting through the intestines, the fat guy struggling 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 and 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.
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.
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 visual effects involved, he actually had to place the teeth of the rusty bear trap in his mouth to make it seem real.
According to the DVD commentary, Casting Agent Amy Lippens asked James Wan who he wanted to play the character of Amanda. On a whim, Wan suggested 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.
James Wan and Editor Kevin Greutert 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 Los Angeles, 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, Zep (Michael Emerson) 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" and it was re-written as the gun, and the listening of the heartbeat.
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.
Two of the three actors given main billing (Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, and Monica Potter on the DVD case) are "Alex Cross" film alums. Cary Elwes appeared in Kiss the Girls (1997), and Monica Potter appeared in Along Came a Spider (2001).
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 Zep (Michael Emerson) 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 (Leigh Whannell) is informed via the cassette tape, that he must free himself from his chain, and escape the bathroom. Lawrence (Cary Elwes) 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.
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.
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 (Ken Leung) 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 a few seconds before it went off.
Although "Hello Zep" 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 a song in the soundtrack, and is played during the final revelation scene. This piece of music became the franchise trademark, and was used as the score for the final scenes, which included plot twists and a rapid montage of flashbacks. However, the real line as it stands, during the scene when Adam listens to the final tape, is "Hello Mr. Hindle, or as they call you in the hospital: Zep."
It can be argued that John had intended for Adam to be able to escape from the room, but by the actions of Amanda, he was prevented from it. In Saw III (2006), it can be seen that Amanda was the one who put the key in his shirt pocket, but she doesn't button it up, possibly hinting that she knows he will lose it.
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) entering the building with a shotgun, and the body of Sing falling down after being shot. Also, the close-up shots of Amanda's (Shawnee Smith's) hands in her torture and murder scene were Whannell's, and he wore a wig to make his shadow on the wall appear more like Shawnee's.
Zep (Michael Emerson) claims that the patient, John, who later is discovered to be Jigsaw, is a "special" person. In the show Lost (2004), he also claims another person named John (John Locke) is a "special" person.
The only Saw film, where the two main characters aren't in a trap, but instead held captive. Compared to other characters, they are not in a trap, like the Reverse Bear Trap and the Barbwire Trap; these were actual traps - the two main characters were held captive in a bathroom.