Commentary: James Gunn shoots content for new and traditional media
Doing webisodes, Xbox shorts, reality TV, feature filmCreating content: In the digital age the word "filmmaker" may no longer be the best way in which to define people who create entertainment content.
Increasingly, directors are working in various media to create content targeted to a wide range of audiences. A case in point is James Gunn, who when we spoke last Friday told me that his current projects include Internet webisodes, short films for Xbox LIVE, one-hour reality cable TV shows and, last but certainly not least, a traditional major studio movie he's writing to direct.
Gunn's best known for writing the comedy hits "Scooby-Doo," "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" and the horror thriller "Dawn of the Dead," which Zack Snyder directed. He made his feature film directorial debut with the 2006 zombie comedy "Slither," which he also wrote.
"I have no idea what 'filmmaker' means," he replied when I asked if he thinks the definition of the term has changed. "Does that mean someone who makes theatrical films? I'm not sure, but I do know that I really enjoy working in new media and I find it to be an exceptionally exciting time because it's a form that has not yet been fully created. I feel like Milton Berle in (the early days of broadcast TV in) 1950. We're on the edge of something new, something different, a new kind of entertainment where there are no rules (other than) does it work or does it not work?"
A good example of the "new kind of entertainment" Gunn's talking about is his series "PG Porn," which since premiering Oct. 8 on Spike TV's website spike.com has already generated over 850,000 views and will be playing there for a total of 30 days. "It's for people who love pornography, but who are offended by the sex," he explained. "(It's) for those of us out there who like to watch a nice porn film and enjoy the acting and the cinematography and the storyline and suddenly you're taken out of the whole thing when you come to this graphic sex scene. It's for people who like the bits of story in-between the sex scenes."
Reflecting on his own past, he added, "When I was a kid I would go to porn movies in theaters with my friends. We didn't go to see the sex because there's nothing more gross than getting turned on next to your high school buddies watching a sex film. We went because we thought they were hilarious and it really was the scenes in-between the sex that brought us to see the porn. It was the humor of those scenes that was so funny. 'PG Porn' was an idea that my brothers, Brian and Sean, and I came up with years ago, but there was no application for it. We just would make jokes about porn scenarios where we think everything is leading towards sex and then usually something tragic happens to stop it. But there was no (place to do it).
"We weren't doing sketch comedy at the time. We could have made a short film, but it seems like nobody would have seen it. We didn't ever do anything with it. We just made jokes about it. Then years later I started doing a series of shorts for Xbox, which are coming out in November, and it got me thinking about other new media projects I could work on and that's when I remembered 'PG Porn' and we started putting that together."
For a look at Gunn's first "PG Porn" episode "Nailing Your Wife" click here to visit spike.com.
Or click here to visit Gunn's own website.
"Every episode teams up a mainstream actor like Nathan Fillion from 'Serenity' and 'Slither' or Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Lex Luthor on 'Smallville' and my brother Sean Gunn, who was Kirk on 'The Gilmore Girls,'" Gunn said. "And then we team them up with popular adult actresses like Belladonna and Aria Giovanni and Sasha Grey and Jenna Haze and that is the core of 'PG Porn.' It works really well in terms of just being funny and having these bits that are two or three minutes long for people to watch, but it also works well because it brings in audience members from all sorts of different places that don't normally intermingle."
The porn stars' fans are coming, he said, to see "them do something different than what they usually do and the fans of people like Nathan and Michael, who have huge cult audiences on the web, are coming to see them do what they do. And then there is, of course, the following that my brothers and I have who are just fans of film."
Besides "Nailing Your wife," Gunn said, four other "PG Porn" webisodes are already produced and there are "another 10 scripts that we're going to start shooting very soon. Basically, we're going to do them as long as they can be fun and funny. If it gets old and boring, then we'll just stop. My brothers and I have a lot of different things we're working on so we don't have to do 'PG Porn' for the rest of our lives. But for right now, it's a blast."
Another project Gunn's got going is the Lionsgate reality TV series "Scream Queens," which premieres Oct. 20 on VH1. "We take 10 girls. Some of them are actresses. Some of them want to be actresses. But all of them want to star in a horror movie and that horror movie is 'Saw VI,'" he explained. "As far as prizes go on reality shows, it's definitely one of the best and most real prizes out there. Shawnee Smith, who's the actress from the 'Saw' movies, and John Homa, who's a great acting coach here in L.A., are my fellow judges.
"We put the girls through a series of challenges every week to weed out who is the ultimate Scream Queen in the tradition of Naomi Watts in 'The Ring' or Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'The Grudge' or Jamie Lee Curtis in 'Halloween.' That's the kind of thing we're looking for -- people who have real acting skill, but also have the charisma you need to hold attention on a movie screen and who have some amount of sensuality and vulnerability so that we can feel afraid for them while we're watching a horror film."
Besides being one of the judges, Gunn is also directing the girls as they go through the challenges on each week's program. "Every week there's a director's challenge," he pointed out. "For instance, I'll have the girls go into a tent and I'll cover them with 15,000 live cockroaches while they're acting their scene and see how they do."
Although it's filmmaking it's not for a film and doesn't bring with it the pressures that directing a movie does: "I liked doing it a lot because so much of what I do is so stressful. Even when I'm directing a movie like 'Slither' there's a lot of worrying about the time and the budget and all that stuff. But doing 'Scream Queens' was a complete joy."
Gunn applauds VH1 for coming up with a new approach to a reality show involving filmmaking. "A lot of people have tried to come out with TV shows that are about finding a filmmaker or finding an action hero or finding an actress and they all failed," he observed. "They all seem to be very boring. I think they cracked the code in creating a reality show which is about filmmaking and about acting and which is a lot of fun to watch. It's the horror element of it. It's all the goofy stuff that goes along with that. The fact that the girls are sexy obviously adds a great amount of appeal to a lot of people. It's a very fun show to watch on all those levels."
As if that's not enough to keep him busy, Gunn's also directing and starring in a series for Xbox, for whom he's producing a number of other 10 minute shows. Gunn's sitcom "Humanzee!" is about his human-chimp hybrid son -- called the Humanzee -- played by James' brother Sean.
"I'm producing eight pilots for Xbox," Gunn said. "When people think of Xbox they think of the gaming console. There's 11 million users now on Xbox LIVE and most people think of them as going on Xbox to play games. But Xbox is making a lot of money now by people downloading high definition movies and TV shows on to their gaming consoles and watching them. Xbox came to me and said, 'We'd like to create our own original series.' Basically, Xbox is like a network now. The picture is amazing. It's high definition downloadable TV.
"So they're creating their own content and they came to me to see if I had any ideas. It was funny because the day before I had talked to Rob Zombie and to James Wan, the director of 'Saw,' about how they would like to do a movie that wasn't horror, but people think of them (only) as horror movie directors. When I came to Xbox the next day, I thought, 'What about doing a series of short films with horror movie directors directing comedy shorts?' And Xbox just jumped at the chance. Right away James Wan became involved and David Slade, who did '30 Days of Night' and 'Hard Candy' and Lucky McKee, who did the great movie 'May.' They all jumped on board and so we're all creating these pilots for Xbox. I'm executive producing all of them and I created my own pilot ('Humanzee!')."
Gunn's also busy on the traditional moviemaking front with the Ben Stiller project "Pets" at Fox, which he is attached to write and direct. "I'm in my second draft on that and that's flowing along like a regular studio movie," he noted. "That's the most normal of all my projects. We're talking about (Stiller starring in the film) and obviously I'm writing it with him in mind. It's a comedy about a guy who lives this bland boring life and he's abducted by aliens and wakes up and finds himself in this big glass cage. He looks around and realizes he's in an exotic pet store on another planet. Basically, he's the size of a hamster to the aliens there.
"This little alien girl buys him and takes him home and puts him in her human (collection). There are other humans whose families have been on this planet for generations and basically they're domesticated humans. It's the story of existing as a pet on this new world."
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