james gunn guardians of the galaxyWhen you think about potential directors for $100 million, comic book-originated blockbusters, chances are, the name "James Gunn" probably doesn't immediately spring to mind. Gunn is a well-respected but cultish filmmaker, who has, up until this point, handled only small to medium-sized productions, including the gooey horror throwback "Slither" and the decidedly more subversive look at comic book heroics "Super." (Gunn got his break writing for the low budget studio Troma, creators of "The Toxic Avenger," amongst other notable B-grade concoctions.) Still, Gunn seems unfazed by this leap into the big leagues.

On the set of "Guardians to the Galaxy," Gunn's really-for-real superhero epic (starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and the vocal stylings of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), Gunn seemed calm and relaxed, luxuriating in the size and scope of the production instead of feeling daunted by it. (And considering how much hand wringing has been done about this movie, with its wacky tone and cast of largely unknown characters, this is nothing short of miraculous.) You could tell this was a dream project for the director; a chance to explore characters and situations that he would never normally be able to accomplish. In fact, he was having such a great time talking to us about the movie, that he literally had to be dragged away. You know, to film more stuff.

One of the first things that was brought up was how "radically different" an experience this was than his previous films. Something that Gunn agreed with, to a certain extent. "I mean, I'd say radically different yes and no. For me it all comes back to just my own experience," Gunn explained, somewhat enigmatically. "For me, just because of the length of it, it makes it a much different experience from doing something like 'Super,' which we shot in 24 days for $3 million. We had to do like 50 set-ups a day so it was just a harrowing, tough experience. And this is difficult but it's because it's over such a long period of time. But on a day-to-day basis it's actually a lot more-using the word easy is not the greatest thing but yeah, it's easier, because you do have more time for the set up, you have more time for planning. We had more time for planning, period."

Even if this movie relatively similar to a movie like "Super," the expectations are much, much greater. Even though even this assumption seemed to not rankle Gunn. "I guess I just don't think of it so much as expectations," he demurred. "I'm definitely trying to make a huge commercial, fun, awesome movie that moves people. I don't know that's an expectation so much as just something I'm trying to achieve. I think in terms of the expectations from the fans... one of the great things about 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' is there aren't as many expectations on what to expect when you have' The Avengers.'" Gunn then went on to explain the comparison: "There are a lot fewer titles to choose from. And there are a lot fewer fans in general of 'Guardians Of The Galaxy.' Those types of expectations I think are easier with a movie like this. For me, I'm always hard on myself no matter what, so that's always a thing I have to deal with on a daily basis. And that's whether I'm doing this movie or in a relationship with a girl or whatever. It's like I just beat the sh*t out of myself constantly. So, same old, same old."

Earlier in the day, we had heard that Gunn was doing a lot of single-take sequences, where information or characters were introduced via a long, single shot (this is particularly true during an extended sequence in an intergalactic prison). When it was brought up to Gunn, he made a fairly amazing analogy. "I think that, for me, making this movie it's a little bit like a Nirvana song. It's slow and long, and then big and fast, and slow and long, and big and fast. And I really like those-sort of going from really small to really big," Gunn explained. "So, we have some longer takes in there and then we have a lot of really fast moving scenes with a lot of different shots. And I think both are important and it's a way to make the movie work together as a whole. I think that it's a pretty cinematic film, and for me it's been really exciting because every other movie I've been on I've been very, restricted by budget, in terms of the amount of shots I was able to do and the kind of shots I was able to do."

Besides moving from the low, low-budget world of independent cinema to the excessive glories of the studio film, Gunn has also had to transition away from his profanity-laced, blood-splattered tendencies to the more cuddly realm of the all-ages superhero romp. This was something that, typical of the director, he didn't find daunting at all. "I haven't found any difficulty in myself going from R-rated to PG-13," the director told us. "Occasionally, I get a little too violent but for the most part I haven't been, and the person who censored me has been myself. It is a real delicate balance. First and foremost, we're making an action adventure film-that's what this is. At its core it's an action adventure film. But there's also a lot of comedic elements and there's a lot of dramatic elements, which I think people are gonna be surprised to see, because it really is dramatic."

This inherent drama is what Gunn says keeps it from being a brightly colored goof. "A big part of making this film is, we're making something that is so outlandish and out there with so many crazy situations, and characters and settings, that to keep it anchored in the drama and the reality of these characters' emotional lives is the most important thing in the film. It's been a balance but it feels pretty comfortable. That said, it's still a pretty different movie. And think it's a really different movie for a huge film to have as much comedy and drama as it has. It's very unusual."

Gunn said that he typically doesn't "give a sh*t" about what jobs he gets and what jobs he doesn't, that he's just kind of floated through projects with as little emotional attachment as can be. But when Marvel pitched him the idea of doing a "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie, it "terrified" him because he knew that he cared. He put an elaborate pitch together, involving images and music, that he played for Marvel creatives on the set of "Iron Man 3." (At that point the search for the filmmaker had dwindled from five to two, with Gunn facing off against another, unnamed director.) One ace he did have in his pocket was his friendship with Joss Whedon, who has largely been responsible for overseeing the so-called "Marvel Cinematic Universe," and of course wrote and directed "The Avengers."

"I'd already talked to Joss a lot about what it was like going through 'The Avengers' -- what his experience was like," Gunn explained. "I wrote him an e-mail and said, 'Hey, I'm trying to get this job. Can you help me?' And he said, 'You're f*cking late. I already talked to all of those guys all about you.' So, yeah I did do that. And I don't do that stuff normally. That's like the most embarrassing thing."

Not that that was the end of their discussion. "Joss came in and Joss was happy, but he wasn't as happy as everybody else and I was like, 'Whoa, man!' And he's like, 'Well, I really loved this and this is great, and the story's been cracked. But you know, I just really want there to be more James Gunn in the script. There's things that are too conventional and I want more James Gunn in it,'" Gunn said. "I was sitting there and then [Marvel bigwigs] Kevin and Lou were like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.' And I was like, "All right, your funeral." Then I went home and I swear to God, wrote a 7-page scene where the guys are in the spaceship arguing about something and it's all dialogue, and we're about to shoot it on Friday. And they were really happy. That was a cool thing and I think it's been a unique situation where Marvel -- this group of characters is ready for somebody who sees things in the way I see things. And frankly, I think people are ready to see the movie like that. So, it feels good."

Oh, we're ready James. WE ARE READY. And just to let you know that you are very much in the Marvel Universe, even if it is in the far recesses of space, apparently this movie is full of surprise cameos from other Marvel characters. After telling us that there are "tons" of Marvel Easter eggs littered throughout the film, he also expanded on the character count ("four times" what have been in other movies). Not that the process of cramming these characters in was easy. "I actually have to clear everything with legal," Gunn explained. "We put in little things like graffiti on the walls and stuff like that. There's a ton of characters from the comics in this movie, in little tiny roles. But we have to clear everything with legal because once I use their name then I'm screwed in that scene or whatever. We have just tons of reference to Marvel Cosmic throughout the movie. And I'm certain probably the most Marvel comics characters ever in one movie."

With "Guardians of the Galaxy," it seems that more really is more. And that's a very good thing.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" hits theaters August 1.

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Photo courtesy Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Poster
Guardians of the Galaxy
PG-132014
Based on 52 critics

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categories Interviews, Movies