Catching Up With James Gunn Behind the Camera
While on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 last May, everyone we talked to had amazing things to say about director James Gunn. With everyone having such great things to say about the director I was excited about meeting him. During our interviews we received surprise news that we were going on the live set. It was pretty exciting because we didn’t know what to expect.
Most of this film is shot on a blue screen, so we wasn’t sure what to expect when we entered the large room. We walked in stepping over cords trying not to trip. The one scene we saw being filmed was starting to get set up by the crew. Before the actors enter the room, the stunt doubles test everything first. There is a round of filming with the doubles, then one with the actors.
We were standing in the background when this scene was filmed for the movie. There were a couple of takes before Gunn was ready to move on to the next shot they had planned for the day. This scene is only about 10 seconds in the movie, but it took at least an hour for them to set up and shoot till it was perfect. In between takes we watched the actors interacted with each other, even waving over to us once they noticed us in the background.
You can see the difference between how the movie is shot and all the work that goes into creating the finished product. Characters like Rocket and Groot are added in after all the filming is completed, along with other background graphics. Main characters are shot against a blue screen, markers are placed on the floor to let them know where to start. Someone on set reads the treatment for the scene so the actors can visualize the scene in their heads and then they shoot. While this isn’t like the typical set, it was still really cool to see the actors process and how they worked with everyone else on the set.
After we finished watching the scene we headed back to our make-shift interview room and waited for Gunn to come in and chat with us about the film. We jumped right in asking him about his day on set.
I’m good. I’m really good. Yeah, we’re pretty busy today. We have two different sets running at the same time so I run back and forth between, Kurt Russell on one set and then everybody else on the other set. So it’s fun mostly.
We had heard a lot from other people on the set about how and when Gunn started to write the script for Vol 2. We went straight to the source to find out when he created the script for this movie.
A lot of the sequel ideas about, Quill’s relationship to his two fathers, basically Yondu and Kurt – the character Kurt Russell plays.. And so that mythology of all of that was something that was written before the first movie was written. I knew basically where he was going. Basically who his father was. Basically what Yondu’s relationship was to his father. So a lot of mythology came then.
Then the story started to ferment like during the first movie I was always taking notes and thinking about it. And I knew this was a story. I wasn’t sure if it should be the sequel. I wasn’t sure if it should be like a third movie in a trilogy. And then when it came time to actually write the screenplay, I’m like, let’s just go for broke and do that story that I had in my head, which was this one. Which I really started actually physically writing the treatment on the first day, on the day the first movie came out.
Gunn finished off his statement by telling us, he couldn’t just sit around waiting to see how the first film would do financially. To keep himself busy he started writing and ended up with the treatment. We continued the conversation about how Kurt Russell ended up being cast in the film.
Kurt at one point Chris brought him up, and I didn’t take him very seriously. But another point, Fred Raskin, who is our editor, brought him up. And Fred cut Kurt’s last two movies. He really liked him as an actor, and if an editor likes an actor, you know that the actor is good. Because there’s a lot of actors that cut together very well because you have to piece together their good performances and it’s actually difficult. And then people go and say, oh this person’s great. But it takes a lot of work to get there. But the fact that Fred liked him so much meant he was a strong a lot, which was great.
Music goes hand in hand with the movie, all through our visit we had tried to get hints from everyone about what music we should expect to hear in the new film. We asked Gunn about why he choose to marry music so closely into the storyline.
Well I think that music is really the character of Peter Quill’s mom, so that’s his relationship with his mother is through the music. Andnyou know, music’s an important thing in my own life. And so I think it’s something that keeps that relationship alive. And that relationship is very much kept alive in this second movie. His relationship with his mother as well as his relationship with his father and what that is exactly. And that’s told through music.
I think in the first movie, there’s another practical reason which is that people were going into this movie, different planets, different worlds, different characters from other planets, and the music was a way we kept everybody grounded in something that was attached to earth, something that was familiar in the midst of all this unfamiliar stuff. Something that was an emotional tether, basically, to earth.
Family plays an important part of this film, so we asked Gunn what he wanted families to walk away with once they watch the movie.
I don’t think so much about what’s the message of the movie, so much as what’s the affect it has on people? And for me the reason I make movies is that when I was a kid and I saw a great movie with my family and it made me love people more when I walked out of the theater than when I walked in. So if there’s anything that this movie can do it’s that. I think it’s a really, truly emotional film. I think the first one was emotional, and I think we take this one to a much deeper level of the emotion.
I think that’s a big part of it. But I also think it’s a lot about The Guardians are a group of outcasts. They’re all creatures or people who don’t belong in society anywhere but with each other. And one of the very moving things to me from the first movie is just getting, messages from all the people who feel like they’re outsiders, who relate to the Guardians, you know. Whether it’s Gamora, or it’s Drax, or Groot.
Gunn talked about some of the letters he has received from members of the Autism community thanking him for creating the character Drax. The character’s reception on the world and how he uses metaphors, is what Gunn said people have wrote him about the most.
We had heard that everyone on set goes crazy when Baby Groot makes and appearance. I was super excited when I had the opportunity to hold him on set. We asked Gunn about his favorite character from the film. He quickly responded with Rocket.
I mean I’ve got a big spot in my heart for Baby Groot, he’s pretty awesome. Baby Groot’s gonna steal the whole movie. And he’s not even there. And I can tell you on the first movie, we were barely aware of Groot. He wasn’t that present on set. I mean my brother, Sean, played Rocket. So he was always there and everybody knew Rocket as a real character. But Groot wasn’t there, and then we kind of start putting the movie together and creating Groot in post, and it was like, oh wow, the character really fills out once we started to create him. But they would just forget about him, which, it happens in the first movie ‘cause a couple times Groot’s like what about me? I’m over here. I want my share of things. And that’s really what we were treating him like. So I love Baby Groot.
But Rocket’s the one. I just relate so deeply to Rocket and I really feel as if he’s in this movie, I think something that we succeeded a lot at in this film is each character has their own story. I think that’s been more true for the other non-star lord characters in this movie than in the first movie. And I would say especially for Gamora and Rocket. They have their very specific stories that are about them.
If the first film was about becoming a family, this second film accornding to Gunn is about staying a family. He went further into the conversation about Rocket and some other characters from the film.
The first story was about becoming a family, and this one’s about being a family. And so it makes a big difference. I think that in this one it’s really about Rocket. You get that first flush of accepting friendship and love which he had in the first movie. And this movie is about being able to continue some form of intimacy, which is much, much harder for him to accept that because of where he came from.
And through that I think he forms a pretty tight bond with Yondu, who has a similar background, because Yondu’s an older guy who never love. Never accepted people that loved him. Never accepted any of that. And to be able to have Rocket. It’s not so much about him learning to love other people, it’s about him learning to accept the love and affection of other creatures. I love him as much as ever, yeah.
I really wanted to do number two when I was doing number one. And I definitely would really want to make number three…mostly because I love the people that I’m making the movie with, you know, the actors but also the producers. The idea of three is very interesting. But I don’t know if I’m gonna do that. I come up with ideas every day for what could be future Guardians movies, and also other movies to have those individual characters go off and tell different stories.It’s just sort of what my brain does all the time. And Jonathan Schwartz who is our Marvel producer, who’s always on set, I’m always joking about things that could happen, or coming up with ideas with him. So I’m always doing that.