Director In Focus: James Gunn

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With Guardians of the Galaxy finishing last year as easily one of the most loved and highest grossing movies released, 2014 very much became the year Hollywood met James Gunn. Famed for its bizarre set-up, dark-tinted laughs and catchy soundtrack, Guardians was an unexpected summer smash, and Gunn is arguably one of the key reasons for its enormous success. But who, fans may be asking, is this mysterious director who just so happens to have supposedly stepped out of nowhere, apparently holding the key to Marvel Cosmic’s ultimate success?

Following an unusual entrance into the film industry in the 1990s, with a stint at cult low-budget production company Troma, Gunn paved a path for Hollywood, cutting his teeth first as a screenwriter on Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake and Warner Bros.’ live-action Scooby-Doo adaptation and its sequel. Eventually, with enough contacts firmly behind him, Gunn set to work on his directorial debut Slither (2006), a deliciously gory B-movie-style throwback to the creature-features of his youth that garnered praise from both critics and horror fans alike, mostly for its classical visuals and tongue-in-cheek humour. Deemed something of a success, the newly-established director set about finally bringing to life his passion-project, the story of a down-on-his luck fry cook who creates his own superhero in order to shut up crime once and for all. The ultra low-budget pitch-black comedy SUPER (2010) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to incredible audience reactions and despite losing out on a major distribution deal, has since become something of a cult hit amongst superhero fans.

So how exactly did a guy with just two films under his belt, a ludicrously dark sense of humour and very little box-office success somehow land a job directing Marvel’s next big franchise-starter? Between his earlier works, Gunn set himself up as a firm supporter of the ‘outsider’ mentality, matching this with a very rare breed of lovably grim comedy that can be seen to be very much what the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves represent.

Still, to call hiring Gunn something of a gamble would be an understatement, but it’s clear to see now that whomever made the decision certainly made the right one. Between his uniquely dark wit and ballsy punk-rock stance on Hollywood conventions, James Gunn is certainly a name that should remain on tinseltown’s lips for quite a few years to come, it’s just a shame that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 won’t be with us until 2017.

Did you know?

  • The director actually has a background in music as the lead-singer of the local St. Louis band The Icons. Despite achieving moderate success in the mid ‘90s, the band broke up, though Gunn has continued to write and compose music for some of his films since.
  • Gunn is also a published writer – his semi-autobiographical novel The Toy Collector charts the story of a hospital orderly selling drugs to maintain a toy collecting habit. Although out of print, used copies can still be found online.
  • On-top of his frequently used cast of showbiz friends (see below), Gunn also appears as an actor in a great deal of his own work in small cameos. In Guardians of the Galaxy, he provided the motion-capture performance for the dancing baby Groot that plays mid-credits.

Gunn’s Favourites:

  • Actors Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion and Gregg Henry (whom have all appeared in all three of Gunn’s directorial films).
  • His brother Sean Gunn, whom he frequently makes to look ridiculous.
  • Composer Tyler Bates.

The Film You Should Watch: SUPER (2010), a beautifully crafted and under-seen little pitch-black gem.

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Former Film Editor, Film graduate and general supporter of all things moving-picture related. Accidentally obsessed with Taylor Swift. Long-time Ellen Page fanboy.

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