The Man Behind the Misfits, James Gunn
The unlikeliest of heroes needs the unlikeliest of directors at the helm, and Marvel Studios got that with James Gunn. Gunn has had a strange career which began with Troma film's Tromeo and Juliet, lead him to scripting both live action “Scooby-Doo” films as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake from Zack Snyder. His directorial efforts have been even more bizarre, including the gross-out horror flick Slither and as anti-Marvel a superhero film as one can imagine with 2010's Super. His journey to getting the job of directing Guardians of the Galaxy, however, is a little more simple.
“I met with them I think in July of 2011,” Gunn revealed. “I went down there and I had a meeting in Manhattan Beach and I probably just thought I would get in and get ‘em to make a Hit Monkey movie again, which I tried to get them to do a few months beforehand. So I went down and they’re gonna be meeting with me about 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' I went and I sat down with Jeremy Latcham and Jonathan Schwartz and they really pitched me pretty hard on 'Guardians.' And I really thought they were meeting with like a lot of people and that it wasn’t as serious as it was at the time, but they pitched me pretty hard and they showed me the art that had been done for Comic-Con that year and that really spoke to me. I really liked that art work and what Charlie Wood did. And so I kind of thought about it a little bit while I was sittin’ down with them, and then I went home and then I really thought about it. And then it just sort of came to me. Not the story at all but the visuals of it. I really saw how I visually could see this film. How I could add my own voice to that and really create something different with it that was still – you know had some familiarity.”
From there Gunn created a 15-page document describing the visuals of the film and how it would appear tonally on screen. The folks at Marvel Studios read it and liked it and asked to meet with Gunn again. This time Gunn brought with him a presentation on his iPad including storyboards for sequences.
“I have often attributed my success to the fact that I really don’t give a sh*t,” Gunn said with a laugh. “Like if I get a gig or I don’t get a gig, I really have never ever, ever cared. And this is the first time in my career I know that I cared, which was terrifying to me.”
It worked though, as it wasn't long after his self-described “dog and pony show” that Marvel hired him to bring the world of the Guardians to life. Before he got the job though, Gunn shot an email to a close friend of his, Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon.
“I wrote him an e-mail and said, 'Hey, you know I’m trying to get this job. Can you help me you know?” Gunn said, once again laughing out loud. “And he said, 'You're f***ing late. I already talked to all of them guys about you.'”
Gunn sought out Whedon's help once again after he had secured the position, to get the lay of the land about what his experience had been like working for Marvel Studios.
“After I got the gig, then I called and I talked to him a little bit more about what it was like. But I also knew that Joss was the easiest experience Marvel ever had, because they pretty much agreed and saw things from the same way every step of the way. They aren’t always like that with the directors they work with and that’s been my situation so far as well. I have not had a single – you know any small disagreement I’ve ever had with Marvel has been completely like for the benefit of the movie.”
Whedon even offered some advice to Gunn which producer Jonathan Schwartz mentioned briefly in our interview.
“Joss was involved a little bit in the writing process, he and James go way back and have a great relationship, and everything we do is sort of crafting the same kind of tapestry and cinematic universe. So Joss and James got to work together in putting this together. It's certainly James' script, but Joss was able to be involved in I think a really fruitful way.”
Gunn however elaborated on Joss's input, which seems to be solid practical advice of “just be you.”
“After I wrote the first draft of my screenplay everybody seemed to be very excited. They seemed to really love the screenplay and Louis D’Esposito and Kevin Feige and everybody was coming to me and telling how great it was. Then Joss came in and Joss was happy, but he wasn’t as happy as everybody else and I was like, 'Whoa man!' and he’s like, 'Well I really loved this and this is great, and the story’s been cracked, but you know I just really want there to be more 'James Gunn' in a script. There’s things that are too conventional and I want more James Gunn in it.' I was kinda’ like sittin’ there and then Kevin and Lou were like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah' and I was like, 'All right, your funeral.' Then went home and I swear to God, I wrote a a 7-page scene where the guys are in the spaceship arguing about something and it’s all dialogue and we’re about to shoot it on Friday.”
Gunn has not only impressed his bosses at the studio, but the actors that he's working with on the film, particularly Chris Pratt who says Gunn's trademark humor not only kept him sane on the set but will be everpresent in the final cut of the film.
“James is really funny, it's really rare that somebody makes me consistently laugh out loud and he really does,” he revealed. “This is ultimately his movie and his voice and you'll definitely see that humor through the course of this movie. I think it is important, and I think it is a key to making this movie work, because it's not just a straight action adventure type of movie. I think all the best big adventure movies have good comedy.”
The fast-talking director clearly has a vision for Marvel's “Island of misfit toys” and it's not the bleak and dreary sci-fi that has become so common place. Gunn revealed that although the film is definitely influenced by the likes of Blade Runner and Alien, it's not entirely an homage to those classic films.
“When 'Blade Runner' came out and especially when 'Alien' came out, it kind of changed how all science fiction movies were designed after that. That was a really great thing. But I think that now we’re watching a lot of movies that are you know xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes of 'Blade Runner' and, you know, the way that you can be a serious science fiction movie is by being dark and then sometimes kind of Japanese. It’s just been too much stuff like that and then there’s a certain sort of white look that’s like the utopian science fiction that’s a completely different thing, and that’s gotten sort of equally boring. I wanted to keep the grittiness of those movies ‘cause I like that, but I wanted to bring back some of the color of the you the 1950’s and '60s pulp science fiction movies and inject a little bit more of that pulp feel into things.”
The space setting and alien protagonists of Guardians of the Galaxy aren't the only things setting it apart from the previous Marvel Studios films. According to Gunn it boasts the most amount of Marvel characters in a single film, ever.
“There’s a ton, a ton of characters from the comics in this movie in little tiny roles,” Gunn said. “But we have to clear everything with legal because it’s like if I use their name then I’m screwed in that scene. So we have just tons of reference to Marvel cosmic throughout the movie, and I’m certain the most Marvel Comics characters ever in one movie….I would imagine times 4 really. I mean, you know if you think about 'The Avengers' there was you know a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and then all of The Avengers and then be kinda’ done. With us with have almost every little character is named after somebody in the comics, and some of ‘em are far stretches from what they were in the comics. But you know we try keep those little things in there for the fans and they can go and they can look ‘em up and see who they are in the Marvel Wiki page and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of characters in there.”
Guardians of the Galaxy might seem like a hard sell to some. A strange collection of alien warriors and thuggish raccoons don't exactly invoke the same feelings we get when seeing Captain America or Thor on the big screen, but they've got heart, and hopefully audience's will see that. The outer space setting and talking trees might convince some that it's a complicated film, but Gunn assures us it's really simple at its core.
“This is a story about a group of people who are finding out that they’re not the pieces of sh*t that they think they are and it’s really that simple. They all think they’re pieces of sh*t at the beginning and throughout the movie they learn that maybe they’re a little bit different than who they think they are. I think that’s a nice thing to learn, and that’s really what’s it’s about. So as long as it can keep it centered in those emotions and in those relationships, then I think the celestial head becomes a little bit easier to deal with.”
Guardians of the Galaxy will open in wide release on August 1.