Den of Geek caught up with James Gunn late last week at the holiday party for Belko Industries, which was actually a party to launch the new trailer for the upcoming film The Belko Experiment. Written and produced by Gunn (along with Blumhouse Films), the movie takes place in a corporate high-rise in Bogota, Colombia where all the employees are basically ordered to start killing each other if they want to survive. From the gripping and darkly funny trailer, the movie (directed by Greg McLean of Wolf Creek fame) looks one part High-Rise, one part The Stanford Prison Experiment and one part Battle Royale, all filtered through the acidly satiric worldview that Gunn brings to his work.
In between bites of tacos, we spent a few minutes talking about Gunn about The Belko Experiment as well as that little indie film he’s currently working on, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which he has written and directed and is currently in post-production on for a May 5, 2017 release, while The Belko Experiment — which stars John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), John C. McGinley (Stan Against Evil) and Gunn muse Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) opens on March 17.
Den of Geek: It’s my understanding that this is a script you’ve had in your pocket that you’ve wanted to do for a while.
James Gunn: Yeah. Being completely honest, I wrote this movie right around the time I was getting a divorce. I had just gotten divorced, and the movie got greenlit. We were going to go down to São Paulo, Brazil, and shoot it, which strangely I’m flying to tomorrow for a comic book convention. We were going to shoot it, and I just wanted to be around my friends and family. I didn’t want to go shoot this thing that was about people who loved and cared about each other being forced into killing each other. It just didn’t seem to be the way I wanted to spend the next few months of my life. So I backed out of it.
After that, different things happened. Super happened, and whatever. All the things that led to doing Guardians. Then I just got caught up in doing other stuff. But I still liked the script. I had kind of forgotten about it. I’d never really totally forgotten about it, but I had kind of forgotten about it. Then (MGM president) Jon Glickman called me, who I’ve known since I first moved to Los Angeles. He called me and he’s like, “What are you doing with this script of Belko Experiment?” I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Well listen, if you can make it for a certain price, then I’ll do it,” and I’m like, “Can I kinda do whatever I want with it? I mean, hire the director that I want? Do the thing that I want? Hire the actors? If I can do my thing and not have a lot of interference, or if I don’t have any interference, and have final say on stuff, then I’ll do it.” He was like, “Okay”. That’s how it all came about.
Did you ever entertain the idea of still directing it yourself? Or did you want to pass that torch along?
It’s simply a matter of time. It would have been fun to direct it. I would have loved to direct it. I would have loved to have worked with this cast. I sat, I went down for about a month of the shoot, and I loved to be around that cast in particular. It’s one of the greatest casts I’ve ever been around. Both in terms of who they are as people, and also just the talent. I was very jealous of it.
But Guardians for me, it takes all of my time. It’s like, I draw the fucking monsters and the space ships, and I have to write it from the beginning. It just takes a long time. I knew how rushed I was on the first Guardians, where I came in at, it felt like the last minute, even though it was practically two years. I came in, and they were like, “Write us a new script, and get it all started. Get going. Move.” Writing while we’re shooting, and all that kind of stuff that I hate doing. On this one, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have a script that I’d taken time with, that I loved, that was a nice work of art within itself, that I could then turn into a really cool movie.
To get a script to that place, it takes time. You can’t do it by backing into a date. So I started it the day the first one came out, I started writing the second script, and spent most of my time working on that script, and then planning it out. Being much more a part of dealing with the color palettes, and all of that type of stuff that I just didn’t have the time to do on the first one.
What did we drag you away from tonight? Where are you at in post-production on Guardians?
We’re pretty far along in the edit, but the little things left seem like big things to me. The movie is testing better than anything we’ve ever done. It’s great. But I want it to be, perfect is not fair to say because it will never be perfect, but I want it to be really as great as it can possibly be. I want to create the best spectacle film that’s ever existed. That takes a lot of soul. A lot of heart. It takes a lot of time, and it wears me out. That’s where I am.
Back to Belko, I think there’s certainly a comparison to be made to something like High-Rise or other films along these lines.
Definitely Battle Royale. There’s no doubt, I really loved Battle Royale, and thought, I’d like to be able to do that with a totally different environment. That one was obviously children, a very strange situation. It was a little bit more surreal, I guess, than this movie in certain ways. To be able to do it with adults, and do it in a way that it’s something people can relate to. Your office. You have to kill somebody. You don’t want to kill somebody, but you have to. Who do you kill? Who’s the guy you kill? Or do you not do it? You just refuse to do it, and die yourself. What do you do?
The fun of making those choices, which we can all relate to that in a weird way, I think, is the fun of Belko.
You have a really great open window there for a lot of black comedy about the corporate environment as well. Is that an aspect of that?
Absolutely. Growing up in a family of lawyers and having that, looking at that and looking at my own career life, and what that’s like. How competitive I can be at times. How competitive people around me are forced to be. I think that it is a difficult part of our lives, living in a capitalist country.
We’re getting pulled away, but one quick thing on Guardians 2 again. There was recently a story about how Marvel swapped Negasonic Teenage Warhead to Fox for them to use in Deadpool in exchange for the rights to use Ego the Living Planet in your movie. Did you have a Plan B in case that didn’t happen?
That isn’t exactly what happened. I was told the full deal, and then I sort of misreported it. What happened was, there are characters that are owned by Marvel, there are characters that are owned by Fox. There are certain characters that are owned by Marvel and Fox. That causes a lot of problems. Like the Quicksilver thing, obviously. Two people making movies (X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron) with Quicksilver in them.
Marvel and Fox co-owned Negasonic, and we co-owned Ego. Those were two characters that were co-owned by both companies. They came to us and they said, “What do we have to do to get the rights to this character, blah blah blah…” We said, “Eh, I don’t know. Give us … I don’t know, who knows. Some stupid character. Give us Ego,” who they had no clue was such a linchpin of the whole cosmic side of Guardians. But, I didn’t know any of this. It wasn’t until right after that happened that they told me. But there are other characters we’ve used that are co-owned. We probably still would have done it. But I didn’t know. I just thought we owned the character outright, and I think those guys believed we owned the character outright too, until they did a little digging and found out.
The Belko Experiment is out in theaters March 17, 2017.