James Gunn was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri in a large Irish Catholic family. At the age of twelve he began his filmmaking career with an eight-millimeter camera. His first film featured his brother Sean, an actor on the WB’s The Gilmore Girls, being disemboweled by zombies.
While attending Columbia University in New York, Gunn applied for a part-time job filing papers at famed B-movie studios Troma Entertainment, and ended up writing the screenplay for the aforementioned movie Tromeo & Juliet instead. He was paid $150 to do so. In 1997, Tromeo became a cult hit, playing in theaters around the world, including over a year of midnight screenings in Los Angeles.
Gunn left Troma to write and star (along with Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden-Church, Jamie Kennedy and his own brother, Sean) in the feature film, The Specials, about a group of superheroes on their day off. In the year 2000, literally dozens of people flocked to the theater while it played in LA and New York. However, the film went on to minor-cult status on DVD, and Gunn has twice been accosted by someone dressed as himself in the movie.
Gunn wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Toy Collector, released by Bloomsbury Press in 2000. It’s the story of a hospital orderly who sells drugs to finance his escalating toy collecting addiction. He also wrote, with Lloyd Kaufman, the non-fiction book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, which is currently in its fifth printing.
In 2002 the live action Scooby-Doo movie was released into theaters. Gunn wrote the screenplay for the film, the first movie he was involved with that he allowed his mother to see. The film has grossed almost $300 million worldwide.
In March of 2004 Gunn became the first screenwriter in cinema history to write back-to-back #1-for-the-weekend box office hits, with the critically-acclaimed, “re-imagined” Dawn of the Dead on March 19, 2004 and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed on March 26, 2004.
Gunn’s love for the comedy and horror genres has coalesced in the humorous horror film SLiTHER, released by Universal in 2006. Gunn wrote the film, his feature-film directorial debut, which stars Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker. The film was critically hailed, and is currently featured on Rotten Tomatoes as one of the “Top Ten All –Time Best Reviewed Horror Films.” It was named “The Best Horror film of 2006” by Rue Morgue Magazine, and James Gunn won a Saturn Award and a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for his work on the film.
In 2008 Gunn created XBOX LIVE’s first ever original content, producing seven comedy shows by horror directors, and creating his own, SPARKY AND MIKAELA. He also wrote PETS for New Regency/Fox and producer Ben Stiller.
Gunn is currently writing and directing the mega-hit web series JAMES GUNN’S PG PORN for Spike.com.
He lives in Los Angeles with his dog, Dr. Wesley Von Spears.
For more information about James Gunn, check out the FAQ.
–What is your favorite horror movie?
–Can you send me an autograph?
–I want to be a working screenwriter. What advice do you have for me?
–Will you read my script/book/watch the movie I made/etc?
–Are there any screenwriting books you suggest?
–Can you give your famous ex-wife a message for me?
–Can you get a message to one of your famous brothers?
–Can you send me a copy of your original DAWN OF THE DEAD/THE SPECIALS/SLiTHER script?
–Can I interview you for my magazine/fanzine/website?
–Why didn’t you respond to my message, you piece of shit?
–Running zombies suck.
–Why DID you make the zombies run in Dawn of the Dead?
–Are you ever going to write another novel after THE TOY COLLECTOR?
–Will you ever let anyone turn THE TOY COLLECTOR into a movie?
–Then will YOU ever turn THE TOY COLLECTOR into a movie?
–How much of THE TOY COLLECTOR is true?
–What do you like better, writing or directing?
–Did you go to film school?
–How did you come to work for Troma films?
–I went to St. Louis U. High and want to be in the film industry. I havent seen any of your movies, but will you help me?
–Were you surprised by the good reviews for SLiTHER?
–Were you surprised by the low box office for SLiTHER?
–Why do you think SLiTHER did so poorly at the box office?
–What was it like working with Nathan Fillion?
–What did George Romero think of the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake?
–Is that really you answering your own messages in the forum?
–Who sings that “leave me the fuck alone” song at the end of SLiTHER?
–What’s the song after that, over the credit scroll?
–What’s the song at the beginning of SLiTHER, when the Mayor yells at that guy in the street?
–Who’s the biggest prick youve ever met in Hollywood?
–Who’s the nicest star youve ever met in Hollywood?
–Is there going to be a sequel to SLiTHER?
–Is there going to be a sequel to THE SPECIALS?
–Is there going to be a sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD?
–Are you ever going to do a MASTERS OF HORROR episode?
–Is SLiTHER a remake of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS?
–In LOLLILOVE, the movie you acted in that your ex-wife directed, how much of the movie was improv?
–Was Jack a zombie at the end of SLiTHER?
–What the hell is it that you put in your hair to get that trademark Gunn hairstyle?
–In your FAQ you said Rosemary’s Baby is your favorite horror movie? What is your favorite non-horror movie?
–I want to come work for you. How do I do it?
Send a self-addressed stamped envelope with whatever you want me to sign to:
c/o Peter Safran
2000 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
— and I will eventually send you a signed whatever back. It may take a while.
Here are just a few tidbits. There are hundreds more, but this is a start:
A) Watch thousands of movies. And, even if you want to be a genre screenwriter, watch the classics too.
B) Work your ass off. Write through the pain and doubt. You’re competing with thousands of other aspiring screenwriters out there, so it’s important you work as hard or harder than they do. Hard work will make you a better writer. A combination of talent and hard work is what gets people into the film business, especially if you want a long career. No matter what people tell you, politics and who you know is a distant second.
C) Have readers whom you can trust, who can give you constructive criticism. Make sure they don’t have agendas to please you unnecessarily or to put you down.
D) Beware assholes who just want to cut you down in general. Just lose those people permanently. Nobody needs that kind of thinking around them. This is different from people who think OBJECTIVELY.
E) While you’re writing, don’t judge it. Just write. Whether it’s good or not is not your business.
F) After you’re done writing your first draft, or, if you’re like me, after your first couple drafts, be as objective about it as you can. Be honest about what works and what doesn’t work, both with yourself and with readers you can trust. G) Don’t be precious about your material. Be willing to make major overhauls to your screenplay, and to cut huge sections out that aren’t working.
H) As a general rule, write five or six screenplays before you go out to agents or people in the industry. Make sure whatever you go out with is great. People will remember a good screenplay, and want to read what you write next, but they will also remember a piece of crap and toss your next script in the trash, even if it’s CASABLANCA.
I) Move to Los Angeles! Or at least New York. It is nearly impossible to make a living as a screenwriter, especially someone starting out, from someplace else. You need to dedicate your life to screenwriting, which means at the very least you should be willing to choose where you live based on that profession.
Unfortunately, I cannot read/watch your work for two reasons: 1) Legally it’s a very shaky thing to read someone’s script who you don’t know, and who doesn’t know all the things you have in the pipeline. I was once sued over a script my agent read (not even me!) that had some passing resemblance to a pitch I made (the suit was dropped because I had email going back for months before my agent read the script concerning the idea luckily). And, more importantly 2) I just don’t have the time. I’ve had my best friend’s script on my desk for almost six months, and I’m only through half of it. I can say I would read your stuff, but I just will never get to it. I’m sorry.
I think it depends upon your personality type. I love THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, by Christopher Vogler. I also think it’s great for anyone who wants to be an artist of any type to do THE ARTIST’S WAY, by Julia Cameron. I had to overcome the touchy-feeliness of the text, but if you go through the chapters and do everything as prescribed you are assured an artistic breakthrough. Honestly. And if you don’t have the discipline to do what’s in the book, it’s unlikely you have the discipline to do what you need to do in the industry. The book is good for actors too: my ex-wife credits the book one hundred percent with giving her the insight that got her her role on THE OFFICE. And, no, neither one of us have ever met Julia Cameron.
Jenna reads her messages at her MySpace page, www.myspace.com/pambeesley so you can write her there.
I’ll try. Send me the message on my contact page and I’ll forward it. I can’t promise they will contact you back, though.
No, sorry. I’d post them online, but I’d run into rights issues. Maybe I’ll publish THE SPECIALS or SLiTHER at some point. We’ll see.
I used to do EVERY interview I was offered. But lately it’s become a little overwhelming. I’ll give you a maybe on this one. Message me the info and I’ll forward it to Annie Jeeves, my publicist, and she’ll take it from there.
Sorry, man. Sometimes I get a lot of messages. I try to respond, but if I don’t right away the messages get lost. But, still, I don’t think thats a reason to call me a piece of shit. That’s kind of harsh.
That’s not a question. That’s an opinion. A good cure for your opinion would be not to see any movies with running zombies. That’s why the DAWN remake had running zombies in the trailer, so anyone who hated running zombies wouldn’t have to see the movie. We did it out of respect for you guys. Like a warning outside a roller coaster for pregnant women and people with heart problems. Yet still you spit on us. For shame.
Firstly, as far as I know, Mr. Dan O’Bannon invented running zombies in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, not me. Secondly, in the original DAWN remake script there were both running and slow moving zombies — it depended on the rate of decomposition. However, as the drafts were written, we decided to simplify the proceedings by making all the zombies fast as hell. Your uber-zombies, if you will.
Not in the near future, no. But perhaps someday.
Probably not. I’ve had a number of offers to option the script, but I just never felt right about it. Isn’t it okay for a book to just be a book?
I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve thought about it. But it won’t be in the near future.
I believe all of THE TOY COLLECTOR is emotionally true, however only part of it is based on my real life or people I know. It is, in essence, a work of fiction.
I actually enjoy directing more, but writing is a part of my life and I’d have a difficult time living without it.
I went to two years undergraduate film school at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. But I was pretty screwed up at the time, and had to leave. Years later I went to graduate school at the Columbia University School of Fine Arts but I studied prose writing, not film writing.
I was still in school at Columbia in New York, and I needed a summer job. My brother Matt’s boss at HBO knew Lloyd Kaufman, the head of Troma, and got me an interview. I thought I would be filing papers or something like that, but instead Lloyd offered me $150 to write Tromeo & Juliet. I took it. Shortly thereafter I started getting paid a weekly amount to work full-time at Troma.
I’ve actually received messages similar to this at least forty times. Let me give you a little hint: if you want somebody’s help in the film industry, at least see his movies. Or take the time to lie and say you like them. Jesus.
Yes. I expected maybe fifty percent of critics to get it, and give it a positive review. I expected true horror fans to get it. So being at 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and being embraced by mainstream publications was quite a shock.
By the time the weekend arrived, we knew what had been coming for a little while. However, I would have been surprised a few weeks beforehand if I found out how little money we were going to make theatrically.
I really do think it was primarily the type of movie. SLiTHER was a mixed genre film, a horror comedy. Traditionally, these movies don’t do well at the box office. In addition to this, however, SLiTHER was also very dark, and edgy, and very gross. Those attributes limited it even more than just being a horror comedy. Now, that said, the majority of people who saw the movie enjoyed it once they were in the theater. In fact, in our test screenings the most common comment was: “This was so much better than I thought it was going to be!” You may think that’s a good thing, but it’s really not. Because it meant people didn’t think they were going to like it before they saw it — i.e., people would be unlikely to buy a ticket.
Nathan’s a great guy, a really close friend, and a terrific actor. However, he could be a little irritating at times because he kept coming on to me. I’d return to my trailer after a hard day, and there Nathan would be, playing with himself through his pants and staring at me with this hypnotized glare, and just saying, “Come on, man, touch it, just a little,” over and over again. It was a mite creepy. But, besides that, Nathan Fillion was awesome.
He said it was better than he expected. Of course, considering he probably expected the biggest piece of shit of all time, that could still make it the second biggest piece of shit of all time.
No, and this isn’t me either. This is a gal I hired to write all this stuff and pretend she’s me.
Actually, they’re both me, yes. But the great Linda Webster of IJL Designs is my webmistress, so she’s the one that has to put all this shit up. If there’s something you don’t like that I said, it’s something she snuck in.
That is called “Baby, I Love You”, and it’s performed by the Yayhoos.
That would be “The New Kid” by the Old 97s.
That’s “Sad World”, by Simon Steadman, and it was written especially for the movie. Simon is a huge horror movie fan, and he read an early draft, and really wanted to write a song for the film. That’s what he came up with, and I think it fits the movie fantastically.
Uh, probably not. They have this crazy rule in Hollywood that a movie needs to make money to have a sequel made. Of course, with DVD, you never know.
No. Though it has come up a couple times to turn it into a TV series. I’m inspired by what Joss Whedon did with Buffy. The movie didn’t fulfill Joss’s vision of the idea, so he turned it into a show the way he wanted to see it. Currently, I’m too involved in the film world to do TV, but I’m not entirely closed to the idea.
A sequel to a remake of a sequel, huh? That’s something you guys really want? I get this question a lot. The answer is, there may be, but I won’t be writing it. I said no. Zack may or may not do it. Universal and the producers have tried to get something off the ground. But they haven’t had any luck whatsoever. Perhaps in the future. I’ll let you know here as soon as I find out.
Maybe. I’ve been asked, but I currently can’t commit because I’m concentrating on my next film. But I left the door open, so I may do a future episode if I have the time. Mick Garris is quality people.
No. There are a lot of similarities, to be sure, but I never saw the film until after I was done shooting SLiTHER. However, Fred Dekker and I were both influenced by many of the same works — SHIVERS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and THE BLOB in particular.
The situations were pretty much drawn out, but most of the dialogue was improvised.
No. In SLiTHER there are breeders and there are zombies.
Grant infects people with his tubules, and they become swollen with his parasitic spawn. Those are breeders. That is what happens to Brenda when she becomes the big blob. This is also what’s going on with the fat people eating meat in the basement near the end of the film. They are still human, but with an unstoppable hunger for meat. All those people in the basement have swollen bellies because they’re in the initial stages of pregnancy. Because Jack is impregnated in the neck, that is where the worms first start growing.
Other people in the movie are infected when the parasites burrow into their brains and begin driving them around. These people are extensions of the Grant monster’s consciousness. They cease to be who they formerly were at all (although they maintain those peoples memories, because they have access to their brains).
To me it’s all very simple, but a lot of people get confused. I had more explanation in the movie at one point, but it slowed things down, and people don’t really seem to care all that much when they don’t understand everything. It’s an alien disease fucking everyone up — they seem to be satisfied by that.
Actually, I get asked this once a week or so. I use Rusk Wired, and have for years. However, my hair is very very strange in its natural state. I have what I call a white man’s fro – it just sticks up straight like a hedgehog and is full of cowlicks. Rusk makes it so that the strands are thicker. Also, in case you can’t tell by the above answer, I am very, very gay.
First of all, I get a hell of a lot of mail from the Netherlands and have no idea why. Anyone who knows why the fuck I’m so well-known in the Netherlands, please tell… wait a second. It’s the hash, isn’t it? Fuck.
Anyway, my favorite movie changes. Traditionally it’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Recently, I’ve had a great appreciation for ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.
I have a pretty tight troupe of people whom I usually work with. However, we sometimes need folks who will work for FREE on the stuff (usually as PA’s but, if you’re skilled, in some other capacities as well). You can always send an email with your resume and what you’re interested in to my production company, Good Boys, at [email protected] or on MySpace at www.myspace.com/goodboysproductions.
Have more questions? Feel free to post them in the forum!