James Gunn has had kind of a weird year. After getting fired by Marvel Studios from the third installment in his “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy for decades-old tweets, hired by rival Warner Bros/DC for a new “Suicide Squad” movie and then getting re-hired by Disney for “Guardians 3” just before “Avengers: Endgame” (featuring characters largely established by Gunn) blew everybody away … It’s been a year. But he’s back with a new movie that he produced called “Brightburn,” starring Elizabeth Banks as the mother of a child who, it turns out, is very different. To say more would be criminal but we can tell you that it’s a nifty, very bloody take on the superhero genre that goes in some pretty unexpected directions.
We got a chance to talk to director David Yarovesky about what it was like to make “Brightburn” (the movie was written by James’ cousin and brother), what his preparation process was like, if he thinks the trailers gave away too much of the movie’s storyline and whether or not they’ve started thinking about a sequel.
Moviefone: How did you get involved in this project? You’ve worked with James in the past but how did you get this assignment?
It wasn’t totally an assignment. James and I had been looking for a movie to do together for a long time and, and I was at his house and Brian and Mark were there. They were telling me about this script they were working on. And I got mad at him because I was like, “That's amazing! I need to make that!” I read it and then I came back to them and I said, “Listen, if you, if you're ready to take a crack at this, I'm going to push it towards horror and I'm going to do everything I can to make it as scary as possible.” And they liked that idea. And James liked that idea and we all kind of got in a room and started plotting it out and bashing out some ideas and we went from there.
When you say pushing it towards horror, was it not as horror-focused in the beginning?
Yeah, it wasn't it as purely horror. It was a less horror-centric kind a thing. It was incredibly well written story but it was more of a thriller. The thing I brought to it was making it scary.
Well it is scary. But you also get to play with a bunch of different genres. There’s the superhero genre, the evil kid genre, and all sorts of things in between. Did you watch anything before production that inspired you?
James has been an incredible mentor to me. He’s a friend but he's been a mentor and something I learned from him is about being prepared. And so before making this movie I watched every supernatural horror movie that's been made in the last 20 years. A I watched a ton of them. You watch with a pen and a paper and you study these movies. What didn't work? Why didn't it work? Why did it work? You’ve really got to educate yourself on these things. And that's what I do. I’m a big lover of the process of making movies. I like to work and I like being prepared.
Was there a big takeaway from that reeducation that you applied to this?
I’m a huge admirer of a lot of filmmakers so to get to re-watch these movies from a purely analytical perspective really opened my eyes to the mechanics of horror. How to push that anxiety, how do you get your heart rate going and then how to make you jump out of your seat. I tried my best to learn from the masters. We all stand on the shoulders of people who make movies before us.
Well I think our task in making this movie was to take my favorite things of superhero movies and superhero tropes and tell them through a horror lens. And by telling things through a horror lens, by telling superheroes stories through the lens of people who are running and screaming from that person, it immediately becomes its own thing and unique and different. That is a very different story to tell. I'm really excited about the reaction people have had to the movie and it feels so different and it's scary and I hope to make something so sweet and innocent as superheroes and turn them into nightmares for people in the same way that “It” did that for clowns.
I’d love to talk about the marketing because it showed a lot. Was there ever a discussion about how much to hold back and were you happy with the trailers?
I think that that moviegoers today have a wide range of tastes that they like. I’m a guy that if I hear that James Gunn is making a movie, I don’t even need to see a trailer, I don’t even want to look, I just want to show up and watch the movie and be surprised by where it takes me. That's what I want to do. I don't watch the trailers for “Game of Thrones.” I don't know coming up next week because I want to be surprised next week. That's my taste. At the same time, we are making a movie for a wide audience and you know, “Titanic” was one of the biggest movies of all time and they tell you the entire movie. And there's a reason they do that and it's because there’s a section of the audience that wants to know everything.
The total truth is that very early on in this movie and part of the conversation of what the movie would ultimately be, what the tone is and all that stuff, I pitched a trailer to James as part of my expression of what the movie would be. And that was a very helpful thing for me because that was essentially the promise that I was making to the audience of the movie that I was going to make. When we started cutting trailers for the movie, we went through many different cuts and none of them got anyone very excited. So I went to Sony and I told them what my take was, I walked them through the trailer that I had originally talked about before we ever shot the movie. And they said, “Let's give that a shot.” And they cut that and that's the trailer.
We saw all it and looked at each other and were like, “Wow. Not only is this cool but this is the movie. This is the movie that we made.” I grew up a fan of movies and I always believe that you don't have an hour-and-a-half long relationship with a movie. You have a six-month relationship with a movie. Where you start to see materials. You see a poster, we wonder what that means. You see a trailer, you wonder what that means. Some of this marketing is truly organics from me to the audience.
You’re talking about this relationship with the movie lasting longer, obviously one of the hallmarks of these superhero movies are sequels and spinoffs. Have you started having conversations about a sequel?
The thing that I would say is that, one of the cool and fun things about “Brightburn” was that you didn't know anything about it. And then suddenly there was this trailer and it caught you totally off guard and subverted your expectations in the trailer. And so if we were to expand the universe of “Brightburn,” I’d like to think that we would continue the tradition of not talking about it and then drop a trailer that would just blow your mind.
“Brightburn” is in theaters everywhere starting tonight.