Films For The Dead:
An Interview with James Gunn
with better Photoshop skills than I is welcome to replace
A few years ago, when I was just a stringer for the late Daily
Radar, I experienced my first San Diego Comic-Con. That summer
a small production company called Mindfire Entertainment launched
a mockumentary about superheroes, The Specials, written by
(and co-starring) an up-and-comer by the name of James Gunn.
We did a quick interview and
stayed in touch.
or so later, Gunn's name inflamed fandom when a certain other
website bemoaned his screenplay for the first film adaptation
of Scooby Doo, after
Gunn was brought in to replace writer Craig Titley. We
spoke with him then. Weathering the storm of pseudo-controversy,
Gunn delivered the spine of a film that spent a June weekend
as number one at the box office. It took Warner Brothers about
two days to greenlight the sequel, and bring James Gunn back
onboard for that.
then...a remake of Dawn
of the Dead was announced, with screenwriter James Gunn
attached. Once again, fanboys howled, and Gunn was kind enough
to answer a few questions about
his perceived hubris at re-envisioning a beloved horror
a quirk of opening date maneuvering, the successful writer
(and now producer) has two movies opening within a week of
each other: Dawn opened today, and Scooby Doo 2 arrives next
Friday, March 26. In the midst of the building hype and what
has to be an extremely busy time, Gunn again agreed to submit
to Fanboy Planet foolishness. We thank him, and remind you
readers that we do it all for you.
McCaw: Writing both Scooby Doo and Dawn of the Dead, did
you ever have an urge to combine the two projects?
Gunn: Absolutely. DOO OF THE DEAD would have been
a great film. But I'm not sure that audiences are ready to
see Scooby being disemboweled.
how effective would Mystery, Ink be against the living dead
probably have a difficult time in Dawn, figuring out
the mystery at least. Not even I know what made the dead come
back to life. However, when it comes to fighting them, they
might think of some sort of cool trap with fishing nets, firehoses,
and tar, and trap all of the zombies in one fell swoop. Overall,
they'd probably fare slightly better than Kenneth, Ana, and
Michael in Dawn. Which isn't saying much.
But seriously, did you ever feel like a split personality,
working on a script designed to scare the living crap out
of people while in another life guiding a popular childrens
I did. I was writing Scooby-Doo 2, Dawn of the Dead,
and a romantic comedy, The Newlyweds, all at the same
time. It was a miserable, stress-filled time in my life, and
I discovered some very schizophrenic tendencies. I've been
in therapy ever since.
How constrained did you feel working in the shadow of
a cult film like the original Dawn of the Dead?
Not constrained at all, because I completely changed the
story. Romero's film did what it did perfectly. I wanted to
try something different.
What element of your script for Dawn of the Dead do you
think makes the remake unique and worth it for horror fans?
It's scary as hell, quite funny, and much grittier than
any studio horror film in a long time. Also, it stars actual
adults, a true rarity in modern horror films.
One of the early rumors about the film was that it was
aiming for a PG-13, yet clearly, the end result is not. Was
that ever a factor in the production, and if so, what changed?
the Hell Marathon...
Never ever no not at all. That was more bullshit perpetrated
by the fundamentalist fan boys who thought a remake was the
worst idea since 9-11. It was never considered and never even
discussed. It was stupid.
Your living dead move at a pretty rapid clip. Why did
you make that decision versus the usual shambling creatures,
and when you saw House of the Dead doing that, what was your
I never saw House of the Dead, sorry. In the script
the Dead moved both fast and slow, based on their level of
decomposition. Right away, I wanted Vivian, the little girl
zombie at the beginning, to be a real threat. I liked her
bounding towards the door. It scared the crap out of me just
it was Zack's choice to make them all move fast. Slow-moving
zombies are definitely spooky, but fast-moving zombies are
more dangerous. I think the idea was to go with the danger.
What is it about the living dead that makes such an effective
subgenre of horror films?
What are we scared of more than death? They are death.
Also, it's evolutionarily ingrained in our genetics to be
afraid of being eaten, so that's there. And, finally, nobody
likes the idea of their loved ones turning on them. It brings
on a sort of natural paranoia.
Do you see yourself getting roped into a sequel? Will
we be seeing Return of the Dawn of the Dead?
I've learned to never say never. Who knows? I doubt it,
but we'll see.
Speaking of sequels, lets get back to Scooby Doo.
For the first film, you firmly established the presence of
a real supernatural, and yet hold up the first series as being
what Scooby Doo is all about debunking the supernatural.
So wheres the balance in your take?
someone could debunk Gene Simmons' tongue...
I don't think Scooby-Doo is all about debunking the supernatural.
I think it's more about the mystery, the horror, and the comedy
the debunking stuff works well in the cartoon, but you can't
have a whole series of movies about debunking the supernatural.
Even the Scooby feature-length cartoons have learned that.
monsters, always have, so as long as I'm writing Scooby he's
going to be facing real supernatural forces.
Werent you afraid of blowing your wad by using so
many classic villains in this film?
Nah. I try to blow my wad on every film, so that the screenplay
is getting a hundred percent of what I have to offer. So far,
there's always seemed to be more to say at the end of the
You have also mentioned to me an affection for The
New Scooby Doo Movies, the version of the cartoon with
all kinds of guest stars. Was there a temptation to drop a
few in Scooby Doo 2, especially since Looney Tunes: Back In
Action used Scooby and Batman, albeit in separate scenes?
Or is Seth Green actually playing himself moonlighting as
a museum curator?
Oh, man -- I'm always trying to put celebrities in these
movies, but it just never works out.
first draft of the first movie, the Gang teamed up with David
Hasselhoff, and the villain ended up being Don Knotts. But
the celebrity aspect always ends up getting lost, probably
because it's not really universal.
Any room for Jerry Reed?
a Don Knotts or a Billy Gray?
I have a guest room downstairs. Jerry is welcome to stay
there any time.
Did you approach writing the sequel any differently than
Totally. I learned a lot from the first movie. I set out
to write a great family film, and I think that's what we have.
On Scooby Doo 2, you get a producers credit. As
a producer, how happy are you with the screenwriter?
He's got to lay off the internet porn and work a little
harder. Lazy son of a bitch. He also gets very touchy when
actors change his lines, and he's got to chill out.
How serious a career move do you take becoming a producer
has it already changed your path?
I love making movies, not just writing them. So I love producing.
I always want to be involved in the actual filming stage of
movies I write.
Whats next for you? Are you committed to Scooby
Doo 3? The Specials 2? A film version of The Toy Collector
(his semi-autobiographical novel)? Or
Spy vs. Spy (Gunn
was once attached to the project)?
SD3 - maybe. The Specials 2 -- probably not
in this lifetime. The twelve bucks we made at the box office
wouldn't buy the toilet paper in Rob Lowe's trailer. The
Toy Collector - maybe someday, but not today. I spent
five years writing the book, I don't feel like taking two
more to write and direct it, and I don't really trust it to
anyone else. Unless Terry Zwigoff or Spike Jonze wants to
do it. And Spy Vs. Spy -- again, not right now.
course, right now, what Gunn needs to do is take a vacation.
Or at least sit somewhere quietly while the fans go ballistic,
this time happily, over his work this week.