Interview: James Gunn, writer/director of Slither

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In Hollywood things go in cycles. For the longest time, horror was box office poison -- a genre mainstream audiences avoided in droves and was frequented by a small but dedicated group of fans. All that changed when Scream hit screens in 1996, and what's followed is an almost non-stop barrage of horror movies. This has certainly been the case in 2006, with what seems to be at least one a week ranging from Scream-inspired When a Stranger Calls to Hostel. One thing is for certain -- fans are coming out in droves despite bad reviews and less than desirable overall quality level.

Now a couple months into the year one man is trying to reinvent the sub genre of horror comedy creature features, a genre where its last offering, Eight Legged Freaks, failed to strike box office gold. That man is writer/director James Gunn and the film is Slither, a film that borrows more from Cronenberg then Craven. I recently had the chance to talk with James via phone from L.A.

Mark McLeod: James, how's it going this morning?

James Gunn: Not bad man, yourself?

MM: On your website, you have a handy list of 50 unknown facts about Slither. At the site you mention something about the location for Brenda's house in the film being in Surrey. What was your experience like shooting in Vancouver and Surrey?

JG: Surrey was great. I mean, you shoot elsewhere in Vancouver and you have all these people coming up to you and interfering, but in Surrey they just sort of left us alone to get what we needed. The shoot on a whole was hard with all the rain. One minute it would be raining and the next perfectly sunny. We had to do a lot of rain removal in post. So we'd shoot half a scene. Though the crew was great and they really worked hard.

MM: The film seems to have a huge online presence at and you seem to be pretty active posting there as Grant Grant from the movie. What are your feelings about the Internet as a marketing tool for horror films and movies in general?

JG: I think the Internet is great for promoting horror movies. It creates a buzz just like TV and allows groups of like-minded people to come together and talk about the film.

MM: You started at Troma. How big of an influence did Troma have on Slither and your career?

JG: It influenced me a lot. It taught me things like "how do you save money?" and so on and so forth. It showed me where things work and where they don't. It was a great education for me. It's like a permanent part of my ass. I don't even think of it as an influence anymore.

MM: The film had some pretty cool music, how did you go about choosing the soundtrack for the film?

JG: I wanted a down home country feel with a bit of an edge to it. I've always been a fan of alternative country like the Old 97s and Curb Lund, so that's how I approached the soundtrack to the movie.

MM: One of the funniest moments in the film is the character of Shelby, the receptionist for the local Sheriff station. Was this always a role you wrote for your wife Jenna (who is an expert at playing a receptionist appearing as Pam on NBC's The Office) or was her part sort of a cameo, an after thought.

JG: Originally that character was written for a man but the actor backed out on a Friday. Luckily Jenna was in town and we shot the scene on a Monday after I had to rewrite a lot of the dialogue. Jenna originally had more of a cameo-type role before she became Shelby.

MM: Are you worried your wife is going to get stereotyped as a receptionist given that this is her second high-profile receptionist role?

JG: Well her next film is an ice skating comedy with Will Ferrell, so hopefully that will break her out from the receptionist stereotype. *laughs*

MM: You had a pretty unique cast -- how did you go about casting the film?

JG: We were very rigorous in our casting. I auditioned over 100 people for some of the roles. In some cases the very last people we auditioned actually got the part.

MM: Finally, DVDs are obviously a big part of the picture nowadays when it comes to a film's release, especially for horror films. Do you have any plans for the DVD release yet?

JG: Yeah definitely, we're going to have a couple of gag reels, an audio commentary, some behind the scenes featurettes, it's going to be a pretty packed disc.

MM: Well James, thanks for talking with me this morning, best of luck with the film and both your wife's and your careers. I look forward to your next projects.

JG: Thanks Mark.

Slither is now playing in theatres everywhere from Gold Circle Films and Universal Pictures. Special thanks to James Gunn, as well as Maria Papaioannoy at Amberlight Productions in Toronto.

Tags: James Gunn, Slither, Troma, Jenna Fischer, horror

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Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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