We first met James Gunn at last year's San Diego Comic Convention, where
he presented The
Specials, an hilarious superhero mockumentary which he wrote and
co-starred in with Rob Lowe. At the time, he was mostly known for his
work with horror shlockmeisters Troma Studios, masterminding their classic
Tromeo and Juliet. He had just been asked to take a stab at a little
film project for Warner Brothers called Scooby Doo. Maybe you're
familiar with it. Maybe you've mocked Freddie Prinze, Jr. for being in
it, but there's no way you don't want to see Sarah Michelle Gellar play
Since then it's
been a very good year for James. The script for Scooby Doo got
the greenlight just days after his marriage. His novel The
Toy Collector, loosely (very loosely) based on his childhood,
garnered critical acclaim. Warner brought him in to work on 13 Ghosts,
and now he's about to take on a project that many film fans call crazy:
writing a remake of George Romero's classic Dawn
of the Dead. Actually, calling him crazy may be one of the kinder
things said about him on the internet in the last few days. Taking time
out to answer a few e-mails from us, James answers questions about his
sanity, his "special place in hell" for remaking a classic, and a few
So are the rumors true? You're writing the remake of Dawn of the
I am indeed writing Dawn of the Dead, and I'm way, way into it.
It's a different take from the original -- which is one of my all time
favorite films -- but using the central concept of the few survivors
of a flesh-eating apocalypse trapped alone in a mall. I'm writing it
as a film to work side-by-side with the great Romero's film, though
meant to work with it. I'm excited about bringing the gore to a new
level with CGI effects and having a larger budget to play with than
the original film did. The screenplay focuses on the nitty-gritty of
surviving in this world, treating the subject matter as if it were totally
real -- i.e., this ain't no campfest. It should be terrifying and funny
and sick as hell.
I have to ask…why?
JG: At first
I was hesitant about doing a remake -- I used to think that remakes
of movies that were successful in their original versions were unnecessary,
but for some reason I was lit up by Dawn of the Dead. I could
see a different take on the same subject, with more survivors and more
of a focus on surviving in a world where the rules have totally changed.
I also saw a chance to do something in the horror genre that was very
different from the teen romps of the past few years. Tonally, it's a
return to the great, gritty horror films of the 'seventies, aligned
modern day special effects and a sizable budget.
re-makes have really worked?
me, I think 'The Thing' and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' are two
The original Thing
-- the one produced by Howard Hawks -- is a great movie. It was the
very first time naturalistic dialogue and naturalist acting styles were
used in a horror film. Then Carpenter came along -- who I love and have
worked with before -- and made an even better film than the original.
Also, the original
'Invasion' is probably my favorite horror film of all time. The second
version, the Kaufman version, isn't quite as good a movie -- but it
is a fine film in itself, and works great as a separate film from the
original, as well as being viewed beside it.
not sure what you mean by it will work side-by-side with Romero's original.
I mean by "works with the other movie side by side" is simply that hopefully
you'll get a fuller picture of my movie by watching both versions --
that the second can work to bring out some of the beauty of the first.
Scorsese's Cape Fear, though not a great film, works well like
that. If you watch both Cape Fears back to back, you'll enjoy
Scorsese's version (and maybe even the first film) much more -- his
film is simultaneously its own story and a commentary on how life has
changed in between the two films.
as Romero himself seems to be struggling to get a fourth Living Dead
film going, how do you feel that affects this project, and vice versa?
JG: I would
love for this new Dawn of the Dead -- both the development of
the film and perhaps an actual film down the road -- to help bring more
attention to Romero, his career, his films, and his future projects.
That would be awesome.
a movie like The
Specials, you were obviously on the set all the time and, though
there was a little improvisation and of course you trusted Craig (Mazin,
the director), you had control over the words. How was it going from
Troma and Mindfire to Warner Brothers with Scooby Doo?
JG: I love
Craig, and he stuck to my script almost exclusively on The Specials,
but my vision of how The Specials should be filmed wasn't really
taken into account. Scooby-Doo was a much bigger property, and
I had to play around with the script a lot more, but the producers and
the director were extremely respectful of my words and, to a fair degree,
how I saw the movie. My words on casting were not always heeded, but
they were always listened to. No one beats Lloyd (Kaufman, president
of Troma Pictures), though -- he let me do most anything, as long
as lesbian sex was involved in some way. But, hell, there's a lot of
give and take on all these projects.
how about 13 Ghosts? How was your experience with that?
JG: On 13
Ghosts I did a couple weeks rewriting the dialogue. I don't deserve
a credit, and I'm pretty sure I won't get one. Rich D'Ovidio did most
of the hard rewriting work. It was fun, though.
all the negative coverage you've received from some websites, what do
you wish that sites including this one, would do better?
JG: I can't
really say. Better grammar and spelling would help. I do wish sometimes
that they would stick to reviewing scripts in production, if at all,
but I obviously have a lot of stock in that personally. First drafts
are meant to be written taking chances, and if writers have to be worried
about their scripts being reviewed on the net after one draft, I think
it could adversely affect filmmaking as a whole, even if only in a slight
way. But, then again, what do I know? I take on these projects that
are near and dear to people's hearts and then expect them not to be
afraid? No way. If I heard there was going to be a Dawn of the Dead
remake three years ago, I probably would have been on the message boards
myself with more than a little cynicism. I was furious when I heard
Wings of Desire was being remade (as the Nicolas Cage weeper
City of Angels). In fact, I'm still not so happy about that one.
I could rationalize
all the reasons it's good to do this movie, but it comes down to that
I feel good about this project. It feels right, both in the timing of
the external world as well as my internal state. I see the possibility
of something special and intense, and I'm doing my best to make that
For a Dawn of
the Dead post-release interview with James Gunn, click
For an update
on the status of Dawn of the Dead, click
Read an earlier
interview with James Gunn on writing
the Scooby Doo movie.
Read an even
earlier interview with James Gunn and
the cast of The Specials.