Friday, December 12, 2014

Writer-Director James Gunn Talks About His "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Walt Disney Home Entertainment provided the following question-and-answer interview with writer-director James Gunn as a promotion for its Blu-ray and DVD release of Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy.  "Q" is the anonymous questioner and "A" is Gunn:


Q: What were the biggest challenges in bringing Guardians Of The Galaxy to the screen?

A: The biggest challenge was definitely having to set up so many characters and so many foreign planets that nobody had ever heard of within the first 20 minutes and then get to the story. To have people feel comfortable with the plot and who the characters were while telling a fun, engaging story – that was the big challenge. I really look forward to doing the sequel because I won’t have to do all that heavy lifting. I can just focus on the characters and the adventures they go on.

Q: How would you sum up the movie yourself?

A: I see it as a space adventure but with a lot of comedy and a lot of heart. We didn’t restrain ourselves in any way, other than just keeping the characters as real as we possibly could.

Q: Was it tricky getting the tone of the film right in terms of not making the comedy too adult?

A: I was thinking that if I had kids, which I don’t - I have a dog but I don’t care what my dog sees – then what would I really care about them seeing? Would I care about them seeing a raccoon say ‘S**t’? Not really. There’s one risqué joke in there that no kid will understand and if they do they’ve been watching something else risqué, but mainly I was thinking about what would be OK for my nieces and nephews to see. But I don’t think I’ll ever write anything that’s not funny because it’s what comes naturally to me. I’m writing characters, I fall in love with those characters, and those characters make me laugh as they go about their lives. I’m just writing down what they’re doing as I see it happen in my brain.

Q: Were you heavily influenced by the Marvel comics when you made the movie?

A: Yeah, especially the 2008 team because Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote the series. They’re the ones that chose the characters who are in the movie and the characters they chose were all sort of Z-grade comic book heroes, some of whom had been around for 30 years. Groot first appeared in 1963. So there was a lot of humor and a lot of interesting stuff in those comics, a lot of space fantasy, and so if there was anything that influenced us when we were making the movie it was Dan and Andy’s work. I’m very indebted to those guys. I’m also indebted to some of the Cosmic guys from the 1970s like Jim Starlin, who created whole universes that really began the Cosmic side of Marvel, and he created Thanos. There are a lot of those elements in the film.

Q: The humor in the film is very bold and brave, but did anybody try and rein you in?

A: It was the opposite, actually. There was a lot of humor in my first draft and I thought ‘This might be a little too out-there for Marvel and they might want to pull it back and make it a little straighter’. I actually brought that up in the first meeting because they really liked the script, which of course I was incredibly relieved to hear, and they actually said, ‘You can make it funnier if you want’. And that’s what I did.

Q: The film is sure to be a DVD and Blu-ray favorite. How do you think it will replay repeatedly?

A: There’s lots of little things in there that people might miss the first time round. There are all kinds of things from the Marvel universe. I was very specifically thinking of the R2-D2 model that Spielberg had on the spaceship in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind when I did the Collector’s Museum scene. If you freeze-frame it you’ll see all manner of references. We also have Cosmo popping up, who’s a character in the Guardians Of The Galaxy comics. He’s a Russian dog who speaks with a Russian accent and that was our nod to him. I really like Cosmo in the comics but he’s very hard to have in the movie because it’s difficult to have a live-action dog next to a CGI racoon due to the way fur looks on screen. In the comics they don’t get along at all, which is why they’re growling at each other in the film. Also, there are some deleted scenes and outtakes because we’d goof around on set a lot, and they’ll be on there.

Q: Did you already know Chris Pratt, who plays Peter Quill/Star-Lord, before making the movie?

A: No but through the process of making the film he’s the one I became closest to. We became very good friends and he moved next door to me when we were based in London so we could hang out all the time. I didn’t know him before but strangely we have a couple of close friends in common, which I think made us instantly trust each other because the friends in question are very good people. They’re guys that I like. They’re just good, basic dudes.

Q: When you’re working with a huge budget is it easy to get carried away and go ‘I want this and I want that’?

A: I don’t do that. I’m selective. For me having a big budget is definitely better than having a small budget simply because visually I can do what I want, but there are always strengths that come through limitations. On this movie, though, having the budget was great.

Q: How did you choose the songs for the soundtrack?

A: For me that was the most fun part probably of the entire film. When I first wrote my treatment for the movie I put a picture of a Sony Walkman on the top of it. That was probably the first sign that this was not the typical thing, but Kevin Feige [the producer and Marvel Studios president] loved that Sony Walkman and he was going, ‘I wonder if we can work that into the advertising somehow’. We didn’t do that in the end although it would have been cool. To me, the songs are the emotional center of the movie. They’re Peter Quill’s attachment to earth and his attachment to the mother he lost. The songs were very important and they were all baked into the script. The way I chose them is that I went and I made a playlist of 500 pop hits from the 1970s on my iTunes, then I whittled it down to about 100 songs that seemed tonally in line with what I saw in my head. With those 100 songs I would play them around the house and be inspired by them, then when I wrote the script I’d try to find the right song for the right moment, like when Peter is dancing through the temple. At first I wrote it with Hooked On A Feeling in mind then changed it to Come And Get Your Love halfway through. I’d try and find the right song for the right moment.

Q: Were there any instances where you were refused permission to use a song or it proved too expensive?

A: No, never. Part of it was probably the songs I was choosing. With the exception of David Bowie – and Moonage Daydream isn’t one of the more well-known David Bowie songs – they were mostly songs that people had probably heard but they probably didn’t know the title of the song and they probably didn’t know the artist. I wanted to get things that were familiar but not too familiar. It’s not like I was putting The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack. Because of that fortunate aesthetic choice it meant that the songs were not unaffordable.

Q: Why do you think Guardians has been such a big hit with audiences?

A: The thing that makes it so much fun is taking these outlandish situations and these outlandish characters and then having these aliens act like they’re real people. The things they’re arguing about are things you’d argue about with your friends in your apartment. That’s a big part of the fun of it. I also think it’s a reaction to a lot of the other blockbuster movies. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously and we’re not adding a sheen of darkness and broodiness over the movie to cover up the fact there aren’t real characterisations in there, and we’re not adding a string of explosions with no character moments in between – we’re creating something that is, first and foremost, about those characters. I love those characters with all my heart and I’ve put them on screen to the best of my ability.

Q: What were the big movie influences for you?

A: I thought of the movies I loved as a kid, like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Back To The Future. I wanted to create a movie that wasn’t necessarily like those movies but a movie that made me feel like those movies made me feel. That was the starting point.

Q: If you had the whole Marvel universe to choose from, who would you like to see in the sequel, even if it was just for a cameo?

A; [Laughs] I do have the whole Marvel universe to choose from. It depends on where we go with the sequel. At some point the Guardians will meet up with characters from other Marvel movies and that’s totally cool, but it’s not really my interest. My interest is to keep building Marvel Cosmic and to make Marvel Cosmic as cool as it possibly can be, and also to bring in other characters that I didn’t get to put in the movie. There are a lot of Marvel Cosmic characters I’m really into that I think would make great cinematic heroes or villains. The opportunity to create them for the screen is exciting to me.

Q: The cast has said you have a very definite idea of what you want. Is that something that stems from directing independent movies?

A: It’s just sort of how I create something. I need to have a very specific idea of where I’m going and [laughs] when I don’t, I fake it. It’s how I go about doing things and I really believe that Hitchcock idea that the movie is really made before you step on set. The majority of the filmmaking process is in pre-production. The more you’ve planned out the more freedom there is on set to find new stuff, to play around, find new jokes and let the actors kind of breathe – but it needs to come from a place where it’s completely structured.

Q: Hitchcock also said he preferred the preparation to the actual filming process, but it sounds like you had a great time making Guardians…

A: We had a great time and we really like each other. I always think back to something I heard Madeline Kahn say when I was really little. I don’t know why it stuck with me but it’s that Twinkies are delicious to eat but it doesn’t mean people who work in the Twinkie factory are having an especially great time. Obviously it meant something to me because I heard it when I was around seven years old and I still remember it. Maybe I even made part of it up. I don’t know. I think she said that. So making a movie is not easy but this one was fun.

Q: Chris Pratt says you had to tire him out to get what you wanted. Do you deliberately use tricks to get responses from your actors?

A: I don’t know if they’re tricks, it’s just a method and it isn’t necessarily true for everybody but Chris is such a cerebral guy. He doesn’t seem that cerebral, I know; he seems like a dummy. But he’s a really cerebral guy and he thinks a lot. One of the tricks with Chris is to keep pushing him and pushing him until he gets to the place where he’s just acting on instinct, then you capture this magic. Unfortunately I didn’t know that on the first day of shooting; it took me a little while to learn it. With Dave Bautista [who plays Drax The Destroyer], on the other hand, we understood each other from the moment we met each other so that was a little bit easier. With different actors at different times you get what makes them click.

Q: How important is it to cast name actors like Vin Diesel [Groot] and Bradley Cooper [Rocket] when they’re not actually appearing on screen?

A: I didn’t know Vin was going to be as important as he was. That’s the grace of God. We had other people doing the voice for a temporary track and it was fine and the character of Groot was really cool. Then Vin came in and what he did was kind of miraculous. The editor Fred Raskin and I were sitting in the room and we kept turning to each other because we couldn’t believe how much of a difference he made to that character. Suddenly Groot was complete and he was full and he was real, and that’s because of Vin’s voice. We had this secret script that had ‘I am Groot’ on one side and on the other side it had the lines he was actually saying. Sometimes he was cursing and sometimes he was saying a whole paragraph and at other times it was just one word. It’s amazing to me how when Vin says ‘I am Groot’ he gets across what he’s meant to be saying. We have Rocket in the movie interpreting what Groot’s saying and it’s funny, but we kind of get what he’s saying anyway. Having Bradley do Rocket was a little different because I knew Rocket was as important as anything in the movie. We auditioned a lot of people but it was difficult to find somebody who was able to do all the comedy that Rocket does and also be as emotionally grounded as Rocket needs to be. He really is a haunted little beast. He’s the least happy of all of the Guardians and I needed that on screen, and I also needed someone who was going to do a character, not just come in and do their celebrity voice over this animated raccoon. I needed someone who could create a character out of him and Bradley had the track record of being able to do all that. My first day of recording Bradley was maybe my happiest day making this movie, [laughs] and by happiness I mean relief because it’s pretty much how I experience pleasure.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is available on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere December 9, 2014

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