INT: James Gunn

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. I’d 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, that’s the Fire. That might work. He’s so much like Bill, it’s 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 who’s trying to struggle to get beyond her circumstances, almost faking her way through it and yet somebody who’d also get the humor of everything. And Elizabeth came in and I couldn’t believe how much she was like Starla, you know. And I love her, she’s 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 “40 Year Old” 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]. I’ve been trying to write a role for Rooker for like 15 years and I wrote an action movie that’s never been produced, never will be produced, about ten years ago, and the lead was written for Rooker. Because I’ve been a big fan of his, since HENRY… he’s 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. He’s 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 it’s 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 couldn’t have done that. With out budget, it would have been ridiculous to do that. I’m really glad we did it the way we did.

Arrow: The film is rated R and I’m really happy about that from a horror fan’s point of view. Rated R films, and genre films especially, they’re 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 don’t need to make that much money to make money off of it. So you know I’m looking forward to a decent weekend like anybody would, but we don’t 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. I’ve 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 I’ve only felt like that one other time, besides this time.

Arrow: You gotta love flack on the internet -- we’re 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 fan’s point of view?

It’s 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 can’t say I never read any of it, I don’t read that much of it, but I do occasionally, and I’ve learned over time to not take things personally, and you know, a lot of things, when you’re 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 who’s 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, that’s 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 it’s a pretty good horror/action movie.

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

I won’t do anything else, you know, they tried to get me to do Dawn II for the longest time. I did my zombie movie and that’s it, and so it’s 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 don’t 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 SLITHER…

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, “Do you want to make the movie?”

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 haven’t thought about SLITHER 2 at all or even as a possibility?

No, they’ve actually [discussed it already]. Here’s the thing: they want to do it quick. And I wouldn’t want my next movie to be SLITHER 2, so if they want to do SLITHER 2, I’ll be involved but I am not going to direct it and I’m not going to write the screenplay either.

Arrow: What’s your standpoint on horror right now?

Right now, we’re in a good place. In 6 months, I think we’re f*cked. This year, SAW and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and HOSTEL were movies of integrity, but next year, we’re 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 that’s going to create some really horrible movies. It’s bad enough to be creating these Japanese remakes that people really don’t care about, but to try and capture that “roughie” feel by somebody who doesn’t feel that, is ridiculous.

Arrow: It’s impossible actually.

Yeah. So we’ll see what happens, but to see the watered down versions of those movies, I’m not looking forward to that.

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

No, I had in my contract that it wouldn’t be. Yeah, there’s no way. It couldn’t 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 we’d get PG-13 and that’s what starts everything and so there’s no way we couldn’t show that without it not making sense. And plus, I just wanted, the movie is about extremes.

Arrow: You’ve had a few screenings now, countless times, what would you change if you could? I’m sure you’re fairly critical.

There’s certain effects I wasn’t completely happy with a couple of scenes I’d do differently, some scenes were rushed. There’s always certain lines that I go, “We should have cut that.” That line of Starla’s, you know…

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

Right now, I’m 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. I’m 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, it’s like music, and you need to balance it and feed it off each other and it needs to move at a certain speed. People don’t hear my dialogue like I do, a director doesn’t, and so it’s very hard to go on set, and I’ve been on set for a lot of the movies I’ve made, and listen to the way my dialogue is being delivered, without becoming really obnoxious and going and talking to the actors behind the director’s back, which I’ve 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 I’m definitely not going to do it, so…

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