Whannell was born in Melbourne, Australia, and believes that he inherited his love of storytelling from his mother and his fondness of filmmaking from his father (Whannell’s father was a cameraman in the television industry). A writer since childhood, Whannell worked as a reporter and film critic for several Australian television shows, including ABC’s Recovery, a Saturday morning youth-oriented program. Whannell has described the show in a 2011 blog post:
The result was that instead of following the usual MTV ideal of what teenagers want in a TV show—“Hey kids, coming up next we’ve got some seriously WICKED windsurfing moves!!”—Recovery managed to tap into the so-called “alternative” movement that was in full swing at the time by giving teenagers what they actually want: genuine, unpolished anarchy.
Whannell had originally auditioned for the host role, but was later employed as a reporter; Whannell’s first interview was with Jackie Chan and he has stated that “Recovery is the best job I’ve ever had …”
In 2003, Whannell appeared in a minor role in The Matrix Reloaded. While in film school, Whannell met James Wan, who would eventually go on to direct the horror film Saw (co-written by Wan and Whannell) in 2004. After making a short film to showcase the intensity of the script, the feature film was made and became a low-budget sleeper hit in late 2004. Whannell played Adam Stanheight in the film, one of the main characters. The popularity of Saw led to a sequel, Saw II, which was directed and co-written by another young horror filmmaker, Darren Lynn Bousman, and on which Whannell co-wrote and revised Bousman’s original script, titled The Desperate. Whannell also served as an executive producer.
Around the same time, Whannell returned to collaborate with Wan and they wrote a film called Dead Silence, which Wan directed. It was slated for a 2006 release, but small problems with the title pushed the release date back to March 2007. In 2006, the duo composed the story for Saw III, with Whannell writing the screenplay for the third time. It was again directed by Bousman and was released on 27 October 2006. Whannell has a featured cameo, reprising his role as Adam. Saw III was a huge financial success and raked in $33,610,391 on its opening weekend, making around $129,927,001 worldwide (after 38 days in cinemas) and is currently the most successful Saw film to date.
Whannell’s writing partner, Wan, was chosen to direct the film Death Sentence, the first feature film with their participation that they did not write themselves. Whannell has a small role as Spink in Death Sentence.
In 2008, Whannell took off his “writing hat” to perform alongside Nathan Phillips in Dying Breed, a low-budget Australian horror film about a team of zoologists exploring the Tasmanian wilderness to locate a creature thought extinct, the thylacine, aka Tasmanian tiger. Instead, they wander into the domain of cannibals who retain their infamous ancestor Alexander Pearce’s taste for human flesh, and become prey.
Before and during the production of Saw, Whannell sought medical treatment. “I was going through a bit of a tough time healthwise and suffering anxiety,” says Whannell. “The anxiety manifested itself in physical ways. I was suffering headaches everyday for nearly a year. It was serious stuff and really started affecting my life.” Spending time in a hospital inspired him to endow the lead antagonist of the Saw series, Jigsaw/John Kramer, with cancer. “It was weird to be 25 and sitting in a neurological ward and I’m surrounded by people who actually had brain tumors. It was very scary and it was my first proper look at mortality. I really wanted to get my health back and it really hammered home how important good health is. If you’ve got that, you’ve got everything.”
Whannell wrote the script for and acted in the 2011 paranormal thriller film, Insidious, which was directed by Wan and produced by Oren Peli of the Paranormal Activity franchise. A sequel, Insidious, Chapter 2 is due out in late 2013.
In relation to the Saw franchise, Whannell stated, also in 2011: It’s hard to say definitively, because we don’t own the copyright for it. The producers could make 10 more if they wanted to. But, if we’re to take them at face value, they told us that they were definitely done with it. They’re pretty exhausted. They’ve been making one a year every year for the past seven years, so I think they need some time off.
Insidious, released in April 2011, was one of the most profitable films of last year, grossing $97 million worldwide on a budget of $1.5 million. It was therefore inevitable that a sequel would be on the way… The cast, writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan are returning for Insidious Chapter 2, which Film District will release August 30, 2013. Jason Blum, who produced Insidious, is producing through his Blumhouse Productions. Brian Kavanaugh Jones, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider, and Charles Layton are executive producing the film, which is set to begin production January 15 in Los Angeles. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne will reprise their roles in the sequel, about a couple and their son, confronting the demons that still possess their young boy.
From the director of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, and executive producer, Steven Spielberg, comes a suspenseful drama series about an explorer who goes missing and the attempt made by his wife, son and others to track him down. The River will premiere this February 7th 2012 on ABC.
After the recent news that Paranormal Activity 4 will be released on October 19, it has now been revealed Joost and Schulman will return as directors, this time with several more months to prepare. Bloody Disgusting exclusively broke the news of the film’s returning directors. They don’t have any additional information on what the film will focus on, but, we can speculate in one of two directions based on the third film.
The first Paranormal Activity set the stage by showing a haunting in the house of a girl named Katie. The second film showed how that haunting came to be, originating in the house of her sister Kristi, and where a possessed Katie went after the end of the first movie. It was sort of a prequel tagged with sequel elements. Paranormal Activity 3 added a few seconds to the story of the second before jumping back to the 1980s when Katie and Kristi were pre-teens. There it showed them being haunted and revealed that it was because of the ritual beliefs of their grandmother. Either it can go back in the past and show why Katie and Kristi’s grandmother got all wacky or it can jump ahead (something the third film was lacking) and explain what is going on with the now possessed Katie and her nephew, who she’s kidnapped from her dead sister… stay tuned.
Hollywood’s scary 3 months of slumping North American box office is officially over — appropriately enough at the start of Halloweek. In fact Paranormal Activity 3 (which cost only $5M) recorded the biggest horror opening of all time and the biggest October debut this weekend not adjusted for inflation or ticket pricing, according to Paramount. Its worldwide cume is now $80M. For decades, studios have had to spend more and more to keep their big franchises aloft. Not the Paranormal Activity series, and in this economic climate that’s become a very attractive model for the studios.
Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 3 as predicted is setting a franchise best with $45M for the weekend after opening to $26M today in 3,321 theaters so kudos to Oren Peli and Jason Blum who returned to produce the highly secret feature. Report from Nikki Finke.
Strong late shows Friday night surged grosses despite audiences giving it only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore. Then again how many horror films are well-reviewed? It’s 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with raves from Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Rival studios say the weekend take is approaching $52M even if Paramount is sticking by $50M. (there’ll be a huge drop from Friday to Saturday). Paranormal Activity 3‘s strong tracking for weeks showed wannasee not just with young males but also with older moviegoers. So no surprise this bloodless thriller is breaking Hollywood’s 3-month-long box office slump this weekend. PA3 cost only $5M, making the low-budget high-grossing franchise “the gift that keeps on giving,” as a studio exec tells Deadline.com.
The marketing strategy for the first Paranormal Activity was midnight screenings in a few college towns, build word of mouth over several weeks, then slowly open it across the country. Now the 3rd in the franchise gets a wide release from the get-go. “We always market this franchise in a very specific way- we try to stay true to the fanbase,” A Paramount exec tells Finke. “We don’t betray the conceit that the footage is real, and we rely on core fans to spread the word by doing playful stunts and allowing them to see it first.” Paramount highlighted its Thursday midnight opening in all its media. The TV campaign consisted of lots of cable and very little network as well as the highest percentage of online of any movie Paramount has ever handled. ”We spend half of what most other wide releases spend in P&A and continue to let fan buzz propel release,” a Paramount exec boasted.
Then again, you have to laugh at what Ariel Schulman, who directed with Henry Joost, said about how they got the PA3 gig: ”Catfish had a lot to do with it. Paramount were big fans and we had been on their radar. When we first interviewed with the president of Paramount, he actually said, “If you tell me right now that Catfish is fake, you’ve got the job.” And we just went real silent. And then I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that.” Because it was real. I think he figured that if we could create that authenticity dramatically, then we could do it again for this. Ultimately, we convinced them of exactly that. Catfish is completely real, but I think we have a knack for identifying the authentic moments in home video, and it plays like a narrative.”
Internationally, Paranormal Activity 3 opened in France Wednesday and saw $521K opening gross which was +45% higher than PA2, Australia Thursday which saw $516K or +14% ahead of PA2, and almost every foreign territory today besides North America. Russia’s $550K opening gross was 45% higher than PA2. To pump up global grosses, Paramount indulged in a global stunt: the first-ever worldwide tweet-to-see-it-first contest. There were 20 round-the-world fan premieres in 8 countries after a contest based on the most Twitter activity. Out of 250 cities, the winners included Melbourne, Tel Aviv, London, Sao Paulo, New York, and Hollywood’s Arclight, where thousands of fans turned out for gourmet food trucks and franchise star Katie Featherston.