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INT: James Gunn

03.29.2006by: JoBlo

The Arrow and I recently had the chance to sit down one-on-one (well, I guess it was two-on-one really...yes, a menage a trois!!) with writer/director James Gunn, the man who wrote 2004's surprisingly well received DAWN OF THE DEAD remake and recently wrote and directed this Friday's humorous horror release entitled SLITHER. The film is exactly what you think it will be (if not, more!) with plenty of cool gore, lots of profanity, lots of humor and plenty of peppy dialogue and blood and guts (heck, even a little romance), so if that's what you're into...this flick is the one for you.

In person, Gunn came off like a total movie geek, much like ourselves, and very passionate about both his film, and the movie industry as a whole. Here's what he had to say in response to some of our nutty little questions and yes, the man kept his word and got his film in as an R-rating horror movie...not a PG-13. Sweet! Note: He's married to that cute secretary chick from TV's "The Office".

James Gunn

Arrow: When you wrote this screenplay, is this close to the cast that you had in mind?

Really close, really really close. Iíd say in particular, Nathan [Fillion], who I never thought of until we were trying to cast the role and one of the executives at Strike Entertainment sent me a photo of Nathan and asked how about this guy? Whoa, I was like shit, thatís the Fire. That might work. Heís so much like Bill, itís amazing. And then Elizabeth [Banks] as Starla and when she came in to audition, I honestly, almost got onto the ground and started bowing towards her because I really thought that role was going to be the most difficult role to cast and we ended up casting it second, and it was the first major role we casted.

The role required a Grace Kelly type, a Hitchcock lead, I wanted someone who was very elegant, but also someone small town, someone whoís trying to struggle to get beyond her circumstances, almost faking her way through it and yet somebody whoíd also get the humor of everything. And Elizabeth came in and I couldnít believe how much she was like Starla, you know. And I love her, sheís one of my favorite people of all time, but I had to really fight to have her because she was also doing THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN at the same time as SLITHER and fortunately, I was friends with the producer of ď40 Year OldĒ and I knew Judd Apatow and I knew Steve Carrell, and we had a lot of ties to the production since they were both Universal movies, we were able to work something and kind of trade her back & forth. And those guys were really cool about it as they allowed her to be in the movie.

Arrow: What about Rooker [Michael]? The Rooker part?

Rooker was the only actor I thought of, he passed through my head and I thought maybe Rooker could be Grant Grant [his character's name in the movie]. Iíve been trying to write a role for Rooker for like 15 years and I wrote an action movie thatís never been produced, never will be produced, about ten years ago, and the lead was written for Rooker. Because Iíve been a big fan of his, since HENRYÖ heís great. You know, in MISSISSIPPI BURNING, and I always thought he was an actor who had the ability to do a lot more than what he was usually given. Heís an undervalued talent. And so I was real excited to have him on board.

JoBlo: The practical effects in this movie are really what struck me the most, you really kind of believe that itís happening. Did you ever think of using CGI as opposed to that?

Yeah, we did, for the most part I always had the intention to use practical effects everywhere I possibly could, but there was a lot of discussion initially about the Grant Monster at the end of the movie being CGI.

JoBlo: Some of it is, right?

Just the tentacles. But we would have screwed up the whole thing if we had done that, because in the end, what made me know I had to do it, is that the character has to have real feeling to him and he needs to interact with the other actor, and we just couldnít have done that. With out budget, it would have been ridiculous to do that. Iím really glad we did it the way we did.

Arrow: The film is rated R and Iím really happy about that from a horror fanís point of view. Rated R films, and genre films especially, theyíre either performed really well or under-performed, so are you at all concerned about that?

The great thing about SLITHER is that we made it for a very moderate budget, so we donít need to make that much money to make money off of it. So you know Iím looking forward to a decent weekend like anybody would, but we donít need to make that much money which is the great part. So I feel pretty comfortable. The main thing for me is to be able to make my next movie. Iíve always wanted to go to a premiere of one of my movies where I sat in the film and I felt proud of the movie, and Iíve only felt like that one other time, besides this time.

Arrow: You gotta love flack on the internet -- weíre on the internet of course -- and I see that the flack has lessened quite considerably about you [from pre-DAWN OF THE DEAD], except for some specific message boards. How do you feel right now about the internet from a horror film maker/horror fanís point of view?

Itís a question I can take in a lot of different ways. As James Gunn, the internet is a weird thing because people are commenting on you all the time. And I canít say I never read any of it, I donít read that much of it, but I do occasionally, and Iíve learned over time to not take things personally, and you know, a lot of things, when youíre a film maker of any kind, you have to fight against what outside forces are telling you, and those outside forces can come from maybe a producer whoís f*cked up, or from a studio, or it can come from a pain in the ass actor, or it can come from reviews, or from the internet.

And so to be a true creator, you have to focus on the creation above and beyond anything else, and really doing what you believe in. And so, thatís what the most important to me. Now, that said, there were a lot of difficult times in the past, not only because of what people were saying over the internet which I could choose to read or not, but because I was actually getting emails and letters that were like death threats about DAWN OF THE DEAD, in particular. And so, that was not a great time, but it died out completely after the movie opened up.

Arrow: It must be like a sweet victory.

It was a sweet victory. The truth is I liked the movie, people really enjoyed the movie and the truth is, at the end of the day, I think itís a pretty good horror/action movie.

Arrow: You have nothing to do with the DAY OF THE DEAD [remake]Ö?

I wonít do anything else, you know, they tried to get me to do Dawn II for the longest time. I did my zombie movie and thatís it, and so itís done.

Arrow: In terms of SLITHER, I gotta hand it to you, I mean, this is a studio picture, right? Pardon my French, but how the f*ck did you pull that off?

I donít know. I mean the way I did it really was, I was very fortunate because I came off from writing two movies that were No. 1, back to back, and nobody had ever done that before, so all of a sudden, I was golden, right? I was being offered all the shit, I said no to everything, I said I want to go write the movie that I want to write. I went off, I wrote SLITHERÖ

JoBlo: How long did it take you?

It took me two months to write the first draft. So I wrote it, went out with it to the studios on a Thursday night and Friday morning I got a call from Gold Circle saying, ďDo you want to make the movie?Ē

Arrow: Wow, just like that.

But Gold Circle and Universal were the only ones who wanted to make the movie as it was.

JoBlo: You touched on this at the press conference, but you havenít thought about SLITHER 2 at all or even as a possibility?

No, theyíve actually [discussed it already]. Hereís the thing: they want to do it quick. And I wouldnít want my next movie to be SLITHER 2, so if they want to do SLITHER 2, Iíll be involved but I am not going to direct it and Iím not going to write the screenplay either.

Arrow: Whatís your standpoint on horror right now?

Right now, weíre in a good place. In 6 months, I think weíre f*cked. This year, SAW and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and HOSTEL were movies of integrity, but next year, weíre going to see the copies of those movies coming out, made by directors who are really just driven by motives other than creating something that they want to create, and thatís going to create some really horrible movies. Itís bad enough to be creating these Japanese remakes that people really donít care about, but to try and capture that ďroughieĒ feel by somebody who doesnít feel that, is ridiculous.

Arrow: Itís impossible actually.

Yeah. So weíll see what happens, but to see the watered down versions of those movies, Iím not looking forward to that.

Arrow: So thereís no pressure at all to make SLITHER a PG-13 film?

No, I had in my contract that it wouldnít be. Yeah, thereís no way. It couldnít have been. The whole act of the tubes going into the woman, right there, I was afraid that we were going to get NC-17 for that, so I knew that there was no way weíd get PG-13 and thatís what starts everything and so thereís no way we couldnít show that without it not making sense. And plus, I just wanted, the movie is about extremes.

Arrow: Youíve had a few screenings now, countless times, what would you change if you could? Iím sure youíre fairly critical.

Thereís certain effects I wasnít completely happy with a couple of scenes Iíd do differently, some scenes were rushed. Thereís always certain lines that I go, ďWe should have cut that.Ē That line of Starlaís, you knowÖ

JoBlo: Do you see yourself more as a director now, a writer, or are you going to do both?

Right now, Iím going to keep directing as long as I can.

JoBlo: Do you like them both the same?

I like writing and directing. I like directing what I write. Iím more comfortable that way. I have a certain way that I write dialogue that is in my head, how it is to be delivered. The way people talk, itís like music, and you need to balance it and feed it off each other and it needs to move at a certain speed. People donít hear my dialogue like I do, a director doesnít, and so itís very hard to go on set, and Iíve been on set for a lot of the movies Iíve made, and listen to the way my dialogue is being delivered, without becoming really obnoxious and going and talking to the actors behind the directorís back, which Iíve gotten in trouble for plenty of times. So SLITHER was a real joy to actually hear in the movie what I originally wrote on the page.

Arrow: Last question: Scooby III? Yeah or nay?

For me?! No f*cking way!! I know Freddy [Prinze Jr.] and Sarah [Michelle Gellar] are not going to do it, and Iím definitely not going to do it, soÖ



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