Exclusive : James Gunn Interview

Posted by: Sheila Roberts
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing director James Gunn who is currently promoting his latest film, the highly anticipated "Slither," which opens this weekend. Gunn’s films are noted for their unique and edgy blend of creepy terror, wry humor, and multi-dimensional characters that are surprisingly human. He also has the distinction of being the first person in film history to write back-to-back #1 films: "Dawn of the Dead" and "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed." Gunn talks very rapidly and with a great deal of enthusiasm. If you’re not paying attention, you will miss some crucial details because this triple-threat actor-writer-director knows how to cram a lot into a short 15-minute interview, and he has a great sense of humor and a lot of fun doing it.

Born into a large Irish-American family and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Gunn has been writing and performing as long as he can remember. His father and uncles are lawyers, and his brothers all work in the entertainment industry. He began making 8mm films at the age of twelve, many of which were comedic splatter films featuring his brothers being disemboweled by zombies. He dropped out of college to pursue a rock and roll career with his band, the Icons, and during this time, also worked as an orderly in Tucson, Arizona, upon which many of the situations in his first novel, "The Toy Collector," are based. He also wrote and drew comic strips for underground and college newspapers.

Gunn received his B.A. from Saint Louis University and his MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. While pursuing his MFA, he began writing "The Toy Collector" and worked for Troma Studios, America’s leading B-movie production house. While at Troma, he wrote and produced the cult classic "Tromeo & Juliet," and, with Lloyd Kaufman, wrote the book "All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger." Gunn eventually left Troma and moved to Los Angeles. In 2002, after doing a draft of "Spy Vs. Spy" for Warner Bros. and director Jay Roach, he was hired to write "Scooby-Doo." In 2004, he wrote "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" and the screenplay for the highly successful remake of "Dawn of the Dead."

Gunn’s latest film, "Slither," is set in the small, sleepy town of Wheelsy that is inhabited by quaint, but friendly folks who mind their own business.  Just beneath the surface charm, however, something unnamed and evil has arrived...and is growing. No one seems to notice as telephone poles become plastered with missing pet flyers, or when one of the town’s richest citizens, Grant (Michael Rooker), begins to act strangely. But when farmers’ livestock turn up horribly mutilated and a young woman goes missing, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) and his team, aided by Grant’s wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), uncover the dark forces that are laying siege to their town and come face-to-face with an older-than-time organism intent on absorbing and devouring all life on Earth.

Here is what director James Gunn had to say:

Q. Tell us about your latest film which you wrote and directed, "Slither." Where did the idea for it come from? Had you been thinking a long time about making it?

A. I had various ideas for a movie of this type for awhile. I sat down to write a screenplay, and I wanted to bring back over-the-top horror movies that I really loved from the 1980s and add something that hasn’t been out there for a long time. I didn’t want to make the usual run of the day horror film.

Q. How would you describe "Slither?" A monster movie, gory horror, perhaps a serio-comic sci-fi thriller? Or a throwback to the gory fun flicks in the 80s?

A. Yes to all of those. "Slither" has plenty of elements that are very modern, but the fun is inspired by the movies of the 1980s. A lot of the movies I loved had a certain creepiness to them that took you places you didn’t expect to go. I think the element of creepiness has been lost in today’s horror films where more emphasis is on big shocks and scares for the audience. "Slither" really concentrates on character and creepiness.

Q. What inspired the "Slither" storyline?

A. I read a three-part graphic novel called "Uzumaki," which means "the spiral," which was written and drawn by Junji Ito. What I loved about the story is it had a high concept that continually mutated and interacted with the town and kept the story alive. "Slither" is a biological version of "Uzumaki."

Q. In "Slither" you have hapless humans infected by extraterrestrial contamination or manmade maladies. Did David Cronenberg’s "Rabid" and/or John Carpenter’s "The Thing" influence your work?

A. Absolutely. 100%. "The Thing" was our bible on the set. It had the humor, the creepiness, and you cared for the characters. "Shivers" and "The Brood" also influenced the plot for "Slither." "The Brood" is an underappreciated film by Cronenberg and it’s one of my favorites.

Q. The whole premise of people trying to survive against the odds is similar to your "Dawn of the Dead" remake? Why does that type of scenario appeal to you?

A. Why does it? Hmmmm. I’m always interest in the underdog – where very few people survive and the odds are against them. It makes for more conflict in the storytelling. You want to have a protagonist that you think is most likely going to be killed.

Q. What’s it like directing Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and Gregg Henry?

A. They were great. The entire cast was great. They were all very nice and funny people. I’ve been on lots of movies where you’ve had a couple nice people, and a couple jerks, or a diva, who do not treat the crew well. Every person we had on "Slither" was a good human being, and it made the making of the film wonderful. It was a great collaborative effort to make this film and the cast and crew brought a lot to the set.

Q. Are you happy with the results of "Slither" and how do you think it will do? How will fans react?

A. Yes, very much so. The fan reaction has been great, and our reviews have been great. I’m happy. I didn’t necessarily expect to get great reviews, but we did. And the fan reaction has been the best part of it. At the recent Chicago Horror Convention, we got a standing ovation. There is nothing more satisfying to a filmmaker than sitting with an audience that’s getting thrilled and laughing watching your film.

Q, What horror writers or filmmakers have influenced or inspired you the most?

A. Cronenberg is the biggest one. John Carpenter. And Frank Henenlotter who made low budget horror films in the 1980s. Also, Tarantino who mixed the crime film with comedy like I’ve mixed horror with comedy.

Q. What inspires you to write horrifying scenes of slugs in the bathtub or mutating people?

A. I think I’m naturally bent that way, and I love horror movies and have an attraction to the dark side.

Q. Do you ever use music as a source of inspiration while you are writing?

A. Yes, sometimes. I had a piece that I really loved from the movie "28 Days Later" that inspired me while I was writing "Slither."

Q. I understand you’re an avid comic book fan. Have you ever thought about adapting a graphic novel?

A. If I did, I think it would probably be an adaptation of "Uzumaki."

Q. What is coming up next for you? In there another film you’re directing, another screenplay, or both?

A. I’m writing another horror movie. It’s different from "Slither." It’s a movie about Satan and it’s darker and deadlier.

I thanked Mr. Gunn for taking time out of his hectic schedule to talk with me and discuss his exciting new film, "Slither," which opens in theaters this weekend. This is one horror film you will not want to miss and one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen this year. Be sure to stick around until after the credits. And if you’d like more information on James Gunn and his career, you can check out his official website at http://www.jamesgunn.com


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