So this is kind of a change of role for him. ^ Yeah.
He’s not the lovable boy next door. ^ When Freddie Prinze Jr. was cast everybody thought of that Rachel Leigh Cook movie. But I never even saw that movie, so I didn’t think of that. What I thought of was “House of Yes.” That was the first time I ever heard of Freddie Prinze Jr. and I thought he was hilarious in that movie. So, I’m like yeah this guys knows comedy and he did a good job. And then Matt Lillard (Shaggy) was just, Matt in the movie…he is f*cken’ incredible. I mean he is really really amazing and everybody loves him unanimously. I know people who never liked Matt Lillard, never wanted to see Matt Lillard in anything and they’ve seen this movie and they just think there’s nobody on this planet who could have done a better job then Matt Lillard. And I completely believe it’s true. He channels Shaggy. And then Linda was like my pet project. There were a lot of people that came in that auditioned for Velma and many of them were good, but I saw Linda and I knew her, but actually I didn’t recognize her because she had done the whole things with the glasses and her hair and was wearing an orange sweater in our audition and I didn’t recognize her from “Freaks and Geeks” which is a show that I love and she was just out of the world. I mean I couldn’t believe it. She was perfect! So I just fought and fought and fought and fought for Linda Cardellini to be in the movie. And I was so excited when I met her because I was like a big fan by then. (Laughs) I got to meet everybody else and I’m like hey nice meeting you, but when Linda Cardellini walked in the room I was very excited. (Laughs)
Now I know that Rowan Atkinson plays the villain. Give me a little bit about working with him. ^ Rowan’s a perfectionist. When it comes to the actual script work I worked with Rowan more than anybody else. Freddie and Sarah were very mellow. Linda was very mellow. There were a couple of scenes that Lillard and I went over in great depth so he was definitely a pretty big part of the writing process. He had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do. For instance, there’s one scene with Matt that is at the beginning of the movie that just wasn’t working and we went over it again and again and sort of acted out the roles together until we finally came to what we thought the scene should be. So he was pretty involved. But Rowan is incredibly involved in the writing process and he would go through every single line. Most actors, if they don’t like something they just change it. You know what I mean. Especially if they’re a star of the caliber of Rowan Atkinson they just change it. Especially if it’s something small. But with Rowan we go through every single word. He’s a perfectionist. When you’re shooting Rowan you have to cut off the camera at point because he’ll just keep going on forever. One more time, one more time, one more time, one more time.
The film is budgeted at over $80 million. So we’re talking about a big budget picture. A couple of people, the first time on a big project, you, the producer, even you could say the director. Certainly something of this stature. It sounds like everything went really smoothly. ^ You know on the one hand it went smoothly because everybody was friendly and everybody got along. On the other hand, it’s a hard shoot. This is why Raja’s so great and this is why Matt is so great. Because Matt, he’s never acting with another actor. Almost all of his scenes are with Scooby Doo. We had the weirdest things that were supposed to be Scooby Doo for the CGI guys. The most common was a Scooby head on a stick. (Laughs) Which is gory in its own way. Half the time he’s acting with a beheaded Scooby. Other times they’re shooting a real dog running around. Other times, this one I don’t get at all, there’s one scene in which Scooby dresses up as an old woman and there was an actual guy in an old woman costume walking as an upright dog and he had this weird yellow mask covering his whole face with a black X on it. (Laughs) It looked like a retarded superhero. And then there’s something else! Another one that’s a garbage bag with like a pair of eyeballs on it. It’s like a garbage bag on a stick. Again I don’t know why they changed from the Scooby head to the garbage bag on a stick. And then my favorite was the midget because they had a midget who had a Scooby hat on his head and a wheelbarrow strapped to his back. (Laughs) It looked like something from some weird German sex film.
Tell me about seeing the movie for the first time. ^ It wasn’t exactly like that because I had seen the dailies. And then I would come in and hang out with those guys while they were editing and they would show me scenes. That was in Australia. Then I saw the very first rough cut which was just like me and the director and the producers. I’ve had to see this movie a billion times at this point. I think when it really hit was when we did a market screening when I realized the movie was really good. Cutting a movie is like putting together a piece of music because everything has to fit together almost musically with all the beats being right, and if you put a joke in the wrong place it just doesn’t work. And sometimes you could put a funny joke in the right place and it ruins the emotion of a scene. In fact just this morning I was talking to Raja about this. There’s a joke that I really like at the end of the movie and it’s right before a very emotional scene and I think that we’re going to cut it because it messes up the emotion of the scene. It gets a laugh every time it plays, but the rest of the scene doesn’t play as well.
That’s interesting. ^ I totally believe in Faulkner’s kill your darlings thing and I make a living killing my darlings. It’s completely cool with me. I don’t have a problem with a that because I just like to see a good movie. A movie like this is so much bigger than I am and it really does belong to the kids. And it belongs to the fans of Scooby Doo and it belongs to me in so far as I am a Scooby Doo fan and I’ve put myself into it, but I’m one of a team of people creating this thing along with Raja and Bill Boes, the art director who is just awesome and David Newman who did the score and just everybody that brings it all together to be one thing. I really am just a spoke. The only center is Scooby himself.
But you’re still saying, and this is fascinating to me, as a screenwriter you’ve has an awful lot of input into this movie. Typically in Hollywood you hear horror stories. ^ Right. Well I think there’s two reasons. I just think I have a pretty good attitude about the thing. Obviously there’s struggles for a screenwriter but that’s what the job of screenwriting is. You’re not top dog and it’s hard because you write the stories. We’re the one that made everything up. We created it that way and then we end up not being top dog and that’s not always the easiest thing. And I have a healthy ego so it’s been a struggle. I came into this job in a different way then I came into a movie like The Specials which was just hell throughout making that movie. I came from Troma where Lloyd Kaufman (president of Troma) let me do everything I wanted on Tromeo & Juliet. Lloyd didn’t give a shit. He was too worried with the fat guy in the corner vomited.
I remember you saying that he’s great with extras, but he doesn’t pay much attention to the lead actors. ^ He doesn’t care that much about the lead actors! All he cares about is the background people. Ask him. He’ll tell you same thing. He loves those extras. (Laughs) Watch “Tromeo & Juliet.” “Tromeo & Juliet” is the only Troma movie in which the stars of the movie are not the extras. And believe me, there’s a lot of extras in that movie too.
Can I quickly get into “Dawn of the Dead” for a bit? ^ Yeah, go ahead.
How did this project about? ^ I was offered it. Eric Newman called me up one day. He was over at Beacon Entertainment at the time. He just left so it’s not at Beacon anymore it’s at this other company.
I didn’t know that. ^ Yeah, he took it with him. So anyway, Eric Newman called me up one day and he said do you like the movie “Dawn of the Dead” and I said yeah it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. And he said would you like to do a remake of it? And, true to god, I’ve always disliked remakes and I never thought I would ever write one, but something in me just said yes. Eric had called me up a million times trying to get me to do different projects because we’re friends. We’ve always wanted to work together, but never the right thing came along and I’ve been stuck on one movie for two years. So, he called me up and I don’t know why, I just felt drawn to it. I could see it in my head. I could see the whole movie. And I said yeah so he said ok I’ll buy the rights and he went out and bought the rights.
Any start date? ^ No.
So you felt that this one could be updated without losing the original? ^ Yeah, and I don’t even think of it as an update. I think of it as another “Dawn of the Dead” movie. I don’t know how to explain it. The thing that’s most like it is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It takes the basic premise and it does it in a totally different way. Thematically it totally different. The stories are totally different. It’s connected to the first one because you see the guy from the end of the first movie run into frame and hit by the people in the second movie, but it’s a totally different movie. And I like both those movies a lot. I prefer the first one a little bit, but I really like the second one as well. Great movie and Kaufman’s a great director. And that what’s this movie is. I love the idea of a flesh eating Apocalypse and human beings being caught in a mall. I think that’s just the best place they could be. But there’s a lot of other ways the story could go. So that’s were I started. It’s different than Romero’s movie. I think George Romero’s one of the most talented horror film directors of all time, one of the most talented directors, but it’s a different movie. Romero’s having a hard time getting a zombie movie made and this might help him do that.
That’s right. I know he has one in the works. ^ Yeah, the script is out there now.
That’s interesting, so he sees this as a positive. ^ Yeah, plus he’s gonna make money.
Of course. And at least you’re doing something different. It’s not like what Tom Savini did with “Night of the Living Dead.” ^ I didn’t understand that movie. That was like Psycho. Just a remake of the same movie. The other movie I think of is “Cape Fear.” A lot of people don’t like the second Cape Fear, but I love it. I love to watch those movies back to back. When I see those movies back to back it’s almost like the second one is a commentary on the first one and how things have changed since the first one was made. It does not harm the first one. In fact, it makes it better somehow. So I would like this movie to work like that.
How do you react when you read hateful stuff directed towards you? ^ Well, I try not to read it as much as possible. Listen, the truth is I was a huge “Batman” fan and when Michael Keaton was cast as “Batman” I flipped out. I was really upset about that. They were saying that it might be Nicolas Cage and I thought that would be awesome. I mean I love Nicolas Cage, he’s cool. He was young and he’s muscular. And I was just really freaking out about Michael Keaton being cast. And the same thing, when the “Batman” movie came out and they changed “Batman’s” origin story so that it’s actually the Joker who kills his parents — I flipped my wig on that because it doesn’t make any sense to me. He’s supposed to have this unquenchable thirst to fight crime and to stop the person who killed his parents, but you know “Batman” will never be satiated. He’ll never get that satisfaction. It’s part of the tragedy of his overall character. But in the first movie it ends. They kill “Batman” because he stops the person who killed his parents. So I hated that shit. So I flip out on stuff like that too. I completely understand if somebody wants to freak out. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Get more Gunn than you can handle at James’ official web site JamesGunn.com.
Posted on June 15, 2002 in Interviews by Ed James
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