GUNN-MAN: Talking with Slither Writer/Director/Actor James Gunn by Owen Keehnen

James Gunn has had an awesome career in horror. He wrote the screenplay for the 2004 “reimagining” of George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’. He has worked for Troma in several capacities -- as a writer and crew-member for ‘Tromeo and Juliet’ (1996), he helped Lloyd Kaufman write his memoir Everything I Needed To Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger, he wrote Sgt. Kabukiman public announcements, played himself in ‘Tales from the Crapper’, and acted in ‘Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV’. Outside of Tromaville he wrote the screenplays for ‘Scooby Doo’, ‘Scooby Doo 2’ (which he also executive produced) as well as ‘The Specials’, had a role in the 2003 horror flick ‘The Ghouls, and wrote, executive produced, and starred in the upcoming film ‘LolliLove’ with his wife Jenna Fischer.

However, his greatest accomplishment could well his upcoming horror writing and directing tour de force ‘Slither’. This sinister 2006 flick (a must see for horror fans) is an infectious tale about an alien plague that wreaks havoc upon the earth. The movie stars Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, Nathan Fillion, and Elizabeth Banks.

Recently Mr. Gunn took a few moments and answered some questions for this exclusive interview!


  Hi James --- can you start everyone off with a visual and describe the room where you are answering these questions?

I'm in my office.  The walls are crimson red.  I have a wall rack of power pop CD's on one side of me, a shelf with some of my favorite toys -- Rom, Spaceknight, some Ultramans, and so forth -- on the other, and a computer in front of me.  Also in front of me is a big bulletin board with index cards mapping out an entirely different screenplay than the one I'm doing now.  Sometimes I use the cards, sometimes I don't. These ones are leftover.

Okay, first off I want to talk about 'Slither' (2006).  As writer and director why not give us a plot teaser that will make seeing it irresistible to all the readers?

You get to see an eleven-foot high deformed blob of a woman explode, unleashing 27,000 slithering red parasites onto our heroes.  Then the parasites slither into our heroes' mouths, burrowing into their brains and taking them over.  We had one woman at a test screening vomit during this scene.  I consider that a standing ovation.

Cool. This is the first movie in a long time -- perhaps even the first feature -- that you have directed entirely.  Was that a decision that came about out of a desire to control and maintain the vision of your script or was some other factor involved?

I didn't originally plan on directing the script.  I was attached to another film.  But as I wrote it I fell in love with it.  It's unusual tonally, and I wasn't sure anyone would get the particular balance of humor, horror, and character.

How was the experience -- was directing a feature tougher or easier than you imagined?  What was the most challenging aspect of that whole process for you?

It was easier than I imagined.  Physically, it was brutal.  But I got lucky with a great cast and crew who made it all flow smoothly.  The most challenging aspect was the visual effects -- some of the companies were a pain in the ass -- and the puppets, who have a mind of their own.  The puppets are a bunch of bastards.

What was your predominant memory of filming -- any instance that make you squirm or beam in the director's chair?

Sure, lots.  But my most embarrassing memory was off-screen, when I walked in on Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and Gregg Henry having a threesome.  Together they formed a more hideous creature than I ever could have imagined...

So you got into the business working for Troma -- how did you go from applying for a job there to writing and (partially directing) the classic 'Tromeo and Juliet' in no time flat?

Lloyd heard I was a writer, and offered me the screenplay job the first time we met.  He'd already had two drafts of Tromeo written by dudes who weren't writers.  So knowing what a past participle is was all I needed to get the job.

Now I think most of the readers have fantasies about what it would be like working for that studio -- you created the 'Tromaville Cafe' series, did a Sgt Kabukiman Public Service Announcement, and God knows what else.  What was the most surprising thing about working day to day in that environment?

It's remarkably like any office, except with more people screaming at each other.

As co-writer of the Lloyd Kaufman memoir All I Needed To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger what do you see as the key to the man's success and the success of Troma?

I think Lloyd would disagree with you about his success.  He calls me on a weekly basis telling me Troma only has weeks to live.  He's been telling me this for almost ten years.  But the key to his success is his perseverance, his shamelessness about self-promotion, and that he loves making movies. 

You also wrote the screenplay for the 2004 "reimagining" 'Dawn of the Dead'.  First off --- was reimagining your word?  Is that basically "inspired by, and we're using the title" or does it mean something different entirely?

No, reimagining was Universal's word.  It's basically an acknowledgement that I didn't use the plot from the original Dawn, only the premise and title.  Our Dawn is another way the story could have happened. 

What did you want to achieve with the screenplay -- did you have any goal or message or objective?

I wanted to have a great time writing, which I did.  It had been too long.

Any feedback from George Romero on what he thought about it?

Yes.  He said it was much better than he thought it was going to be.  Considering he probably thought it was going to be the biggest piece of shit of all time, that's not saying much.  The second biggest piece of shit of all time would be better than he thought it was going to be.

I also read somewhere that you have had recurring zombie nightmares since you were a kid?  Did they increase, decrease, vanish, or continue unaffected after you penned the screenplay for the zombie movie of all zombie movies?

They disappeared after I wrote Dawn of the Dead.  I passed them on to a new generation of kids too young to see the movie.

You also wrote the screenplays for both the 'Scooby Doo' movies.  That brings up an interesting question -- is it easier or more challenging for you as a writer to work with characters that have already been imagined & established in another medium or form? 

Probably more challenging.  At least for me.  I'd rather create my own characters, which is one of the reasons Dawn is the way it is.  That's why I'd find it very difficult being a TV staff writer, writing around these characters who have already been established.

Going along with that how does your writing process vary with original versus adapted material?  Is there a creative difference in the process?

Well, I had to do more research with the Scooby movies than with anything else.  Watching the old episodes, reading the old scripts, and so on.  Besides that, I find my process varies from project to project, more based upon my feelings than the material.  Sometimes I feel like outlining, sometimes I feel like just writing away and seeing what happens.

Do you have any other future or current projects you would like to plug, promote, or mention for the racks and razors readers?

The movie my wife Jenna Fischer wrote and directed, LolliLove, is being released on video on March 7.  It's more fucked up than anything I've ever written.  Also, we're going to keep putting up new crap at the SLITHER web site, .

We're pulling the car into the James Gunn Drive In.  What three horror movies are you going to be showing on the triple bill and what goodies are you going to be serving up at the concession stand?

I'd say Basketcase, Rosemary's Baby, and maybe Alien.  At the concession stand there will be Red Vines fresh from the factory and small cartons of 1% milk.  Oh, and barely legal prostitutes.  You know, for after.

What frightens you in real life?

People who don't use their blinkers and black licorice.