James Gunn and His Cinematic Career
Writer and director James Gunn burst on the mainstream cinema scene in 2014 with the premiere of the dark horse Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy. While previous properties like Captain America, Iron Man and The Avengers were at least a bit more widely known, fewer people were familiar with the rag-tag group of misfits led by Peter Quill. While the little film came out of nowhere, it caught fire with mainstream audiences and propelled the talented writer and director into well-deserved, mainstream popularity.
James Gunn broke into the film industry in the late 1990s when he began working for the iconic Troma Studios under the tuteladge of Lloyd Kaufman. The unconventional film studio came into being in 1974. It is known for independent hits like The Toxic Adventure and The Class of Nuke ‘Em High.
Gunn has spoken fondly of his early years working for Troma. When he sat down with Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani on their Indoor Kids podcast, he openly spoke about his earliest directing work on certain scenes in the studio’s 1996 film Tromeo and Juliet.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) November 28, 2015
Gunn continued with Troma through roughly 2000 when his writing career took off astronomically. Within four years, he helped script a number of popular films. These credits include movies like: Thirteen Ghosts, Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead, and Scooby-Doo Two: Monsters Unleashed.
Indie Cinema Breakout
In 2006, Gunn’s career reached its next evolutionary stage when he directed Slither. Gunn also scripted the comedic horror movie which hit theaters in April of that year.
Slither follows the story of a rural town which finds itself gradually taken over by an alien plague. The feature stars Elizabeth Banks, as well as Gunn regulars Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker. Watching Slither, the sophisticated tone leaps off the screen. It shows Gunn already to be a developing talent in the film industry.
In the years between his directorial break-out with Slither, and his explosion into mainstream popularity with the Guardians of the Galaxy series, Gunn kept busy writing. Most recently before Guardians of the Galaxy, he wrote and directed the critically acclaimed indie Super starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Paige.
From Page to Screen
Gunn’s prolific writing credits span the genres, ranging from the darker horror material like The Belko Experiment and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead to lighter, more family friendly films like Guardians of the Galaxy and the 2002 movie version of Scooby-Doo.
In each of his scripts, James Gunn brings a trademark sense of humor to even the darkest of scripts. His most recent undertaking, The Belko Experiment is a great example of this skill. The film’s marketing hypes the story as Office Space meets Battle Royale, and the comparison couldn’t be more accurate. The film manages to take a brutal, gory level of violence and injects a sense of humor to it.
In 2000, Gunn published his debut novel The Toy Collector. Amazon describes the novel as “tragicomic”. The story follows a young man who steals pharmaceuticals to fund his growing toy and action figure addiction. The story not only showcases Gunn’s trademark wit, but also incorporates the occasional biographic element. The book is darker in tone, definitely more representative of Gunn’s earlier independent work. However, for fans of Gunn’s early work, it is a recommended read.
Even in Gunn’s most accessible works (like Guardians of the Galaxy) his cinematic usage of popular music is utterly striking. The superhero film’s soundtrack (Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1) is a catchy and entertaining compilation of some of the best rock songs spanning the 1960s through the 1980s.
When Star Lord (Chris Pratt) dances across the screen to the tune of Redband’s “Come and Get Your Love” in the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn’s flair for mixing music with picture becomes immediately apparent. Throughout the film, there are a number of sequences which capture this same fun, light-hearted feeling. It even proves a commonality in later films.
Even though Gunn did not direct The Belko Experiment, the horror film demonstrates a similar flair. In a scene as the horror ratchets up to a particular brutal level, a radio queues up to play a Spanish language cover of “California Dreamin’”. The moment is a well-crafted one. It plays with the mind of the audience, changing the tone of the scene playing out in front of them.
Throughout his work, Gunn’s ability to craft the mood and feel of a scene using the music has been a hallmark of his film-making style. Not only does he direct the action on camera, but he very much evolved into a filmmaker capable of crafting a scene.
Throughout the last ten years, James Gunn has not only spent his time on feature films. He also released a number of online works and passion projects which he dropped on free mediums like YouTube for his audiences to binge and enjoy.
In 2008 Gunn dropped the first installment of the series affectionately called PG Porn. The stated concept of the series is, “For those who like everything about porn, except the sex”. In each of the online videos, a male Hollywood actor (Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Michael Rosenbaum and even Gunn himself) stars opposite one of a group of ladies representing the porn industry. A-listers from the adult film world: Sasha Grey, Belladonna and Aria Giovani co-star in each of the videos.
Video below comes courtesy of James Gunn’s YouTube page. NSFW due to language and suggestive content.
Each of the videos spotlight a particular plot popular to pornography, and blatantly removes the sex from the story. The videos play the situations relatively straight for comedic effect. The ladies are left utterly confused and bewildered by the (tongue-in-cheek) lack of sex in the videos. The videos, while not necessarily suitable for all, are definitely a fun viewing.
James Gunn cemented his reputation in recent years with the ground-breaking success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. However, in years of developing and honing his craft in the film industry, he established himself as not only a talented director, but also a brilliant creator. Fans of the director’s innovative work in Guardians of the Galaxy should check out this up-and-coming writer and director’s earlier work.