Disney held a special press event Wednesday screening the Blu-ray extras for the Dec. 19 release of 2014’s so far-#1 film in North America, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Following the screening, director James Gunn sat down for a Q&A with the attending press to talk about his experiences shooting the film, prepping for the 2017 sequel, and his own long-term future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The following is a transcript of the Q&A.
Q: When did you realize Guardians of the Galaxy was going to exceed your wildest dreams?
James Gunn: It didn’t exceed my wildest expectation. I could have beat James Cameron [laughs]. My wildest expectations are yet to be beat.
There was a moment. I think it was the first day because they told us. Tracking said we were supposed to come in at $65 million opening weekend. And the numbers kept coming in higher every day. At first, it was like, ‘My God, we’re going to be coming in near $80 million. ... And then we end up a $94 million.
And there was a time, and this is such a boring anecdote, but I was simply out by the pool with my dog at my house, and I almost got like this LSD experience, where it wasn’t real. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode. It wasn’t entirely a good feeling. It was sort of creepy, but it was that moment when I realized, “Holy s**t, we’re doing really well.”
Q: How much bonus footage did you have to go through to come up with the deleted scenes and other features?
Gunn: We had a guy on set that was shooting behind the scenes all the time. So we have a lot of behind the scenes footage. There’s tons of stuff I’d like to go through and find myself, but I just haven’t had the time to do that. We knew we had a lot of bonus footage, and then we had to cut scenes, so we knew we had all that.
Q: Can you give us an example of the relationship that you have right now with (Marvel Studios President) Kevin Feige in working on the sequel? And how much of an influence was the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, thinking about Phase Three (the future installments planned for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the sequel for Guardians, as well as for The Avengers: Infinity Wars parts 1 and 2)?
Gunn: I think my dynamic at this point with (Feige), is you know, I went in and I said, “This is what I think we should do in the sequel,” and he said, “OK,” and, now I’m off dealing with it. So, it’s not that dynamic [laughs].
Who knows how much we’ve influenced Phase Three. But I think the one thing is: The Guardians [films] aren’t back seat to the Avengers. Captain America, Thor and those other movies really do support the Avengers. And they do a take a back seat to the Avengers to a certain point. And Guardians are their own thing. Their universe is its own thing. And because the movie was so successful, and more successful than Iron Man was, that changed the way other people looked at it. But I still look at it the same way.
Q: Before the film was released, one of the main concerns about it was the fact that it’s really weird. It’s a very strange film. But it was something that audiences obviously really accepted. I’m curious about how you’re kind of pushing that forward as you move into Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and if that’s something you’re even thinking about.
Gunn: I don’t really think about Guardians of the Galaxy as weird, you know, because every day I get someone telling me their 80-year-old grandmother loved Guardians of the Galaxy. So, yeah, in some ways it’s different, I think it’s unique, but I don’t think it’s that weird.
I actually think that it’s more accessible to people than a lot of Marvel movies. I think that the main thing with moving on is we can’t just repeat ourselves. We can’t just say, “OK, well let’s start with something sad and then shift into something really happy, and with some music. And let’s have awesome mix work in exactly the same way, only with songs from the 80s as opposed to songs from the 70s. And it’s like all of those things – that doesn’t really interest me. For me the shift is about really getting to know the characters on a deeper level, knowing them more intimately, and uncovering facets of those characters that make them more real to us. Because I think at the center of what works about Guardians is that people like the characters.
Q: Are you going to be delving into more back-stories?
Gunn: It’s not... uh... Yeah, yes [laughs]. I mean more deeply into the characters themselves and who they are, and how they work and how they think. And what their flaws are and what their strengths are. They’re a much more flawed group than the Avengers. They’re not really... they have major, major issues.
Q: Of the deleted scenes, which one was the last to be cut? And what was your struggle with that?
Gunn: [Looks at notes on deleted scenes. Describes a scene where Rocket is trying to explain something to Groot, who appears distracted, to which Rocket responds, “No, you’re right I’m the stupid one. I partnered with a tree.”] That one was cut the latest for sure.
[Explaining why another scene where background is revealed about the relationship of Gamora and her sister Nebula] That was a hard one. The truth is we had tons of stuff in the first act on the Dark Aster - for too long. And it does provide information, but it made the movie move slower, and so we ended up cutting it. There are ones that were cut later that were easier to cut, but it didn’t even occur to us to cut (the Nebula-Gamora scene) until later in the game.
Q: You mentioned how Guardians kind of stands alone, but now going into Guardians 2 and seeing how “Phase Three” is going to play out, do you have to think of where you’re going to have to leave them off for that film?
Gunn: Again, it’s still more important that the Guardian story is more important than what they’re having to do with the rest of the Marvel Universe. So, no, not really.
Q: You did so much world-building on this one. And you created this really rich and very dense environment for these characters. How much of that was just to have that for this movie, and how much of that was just also to see things if you got to do more?
Gunn: Somewhere in between, you know? Some of it was for this movie, but a lot of stuff was you know, there was a lot of things that were way more thought out than they need to be for this movie. In particular, the things like the Ravagers are really well, you know, I won’t say well thought out, because that’s like giving myself a compliment [laughs], “Good job, James.”
But yeah, there are some things that are really, really in depth, and the Ravagers culture and how they work is one of them.
Q: Were you thinking about beyond Guardians with like the whole cosmic side, and...?
Gunn: [Answering immediately] Yes. Totally. Very much. Because I guess there was like this rash of... well every time I say something in an interview somebody takes something and runs with it... so I guess there was this rash of “James Gunn is thinking up ideas for Guardians of the Galaxy 3.” Well, I don’t think I really said that. I think what I said was, I had ideas for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I knew what I was going to do for that from the time I was doing (the first movie), and I had ideas for beyond that. That doesn’t necessarily mean “Guardians for the Galaxy 3,” because there are a lot of characters in this movie that could go into a lot of different directions. And some of the characters that I’m the most interested in, aren’t necessarily the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Q: What happened to Peter Quill’s father’s origins, because in the comics the storyline varies with respect to the father-son relationship and background? Why did you choose not to incorporate that? Or, are you going to?
Gunn: His origins are different in the movie. There are so many things I like... I just thought there was a more interesting way to go for the cinematic universe. (The movie version) was more believable. . .
Q: So you can’t say anything about the future, whether he’ll be revealed in another universe?
Gunn: You’ll just have to wait and see. But it’s very different. There are things that were a little too, in the comic book that, on film, seemed to come up a little too Star Wars to me. So I think there will be a lot of differences in there.
This really is a cinematic universe and the fun of it, for me, is, you know I always loved the Marvel Ultimate Comics where they presented a different story on the way that the origins we got used to were, and we saw characters in a new light and what they were like. And they would show up in different places and different ages and different worlds. And I think that’s exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. We see things in a different light. They established that very well in the first Iron Man movie, where at the end of the movie Tony Stark says, “I am Iron Man.” That was like Marvel’s Cinematic Universe’s way of saying, “Hey, we’re different from, you know, the way that it is in the comics.”
Q: What has it meant to you as someone who’s lived and breathed that film, to see how audience have connected with it?
Gunn: It’s touching. I mean it’s really touching,. I made the movie completely and sincerely. I loved the characters and I’m still moved by it. Every time I watch the movie and I see Drax pet Rocket’s head I still get teary-eyed, honest to God. I love that moment in particular. I love the movie. I love the characters and I love the people I made the movie with. To have people respond to it on that emotional level... and to have people get what I was going for with the whole movie... Being able to get to the point where I feel like I’m able to speak to people through film is a real joy.
Q: The Infinity Wars are presumably going to be the final chapter for Thanos and the Infinity Stones, and the storytelling would kind of dictate the Guardians would be present for the final battle, can fans assume that they’ll play a role?
Gunn: No [Gunn waves off the question by shaking his head. He quickly moved on to the next question, making it unclear if his response to the question was "no" or if he was unwilling to respond to the question].
Q: Marvel is kind of known for having detailed plans and knowing where it wants to go? Were you surprised with how much leeway you had? It seems like you really were able to just do what you wanted, and really embraced your kind of very unique vision for this film. Did you expect that?
Gunn: No, definitely not. I really was very, very surprised. And most surprised by the things that most people might think of as... basic parts of the movie. The fact that when I first wrote the story of what the eventual movie became, I came in with a treatment like, I think this is what the story should be. And at the top of that treatment, I had a photograph of the Sony Walkman, and I don’t know what compelled me to do that, because I think it was stupid. Because I think that if I did that at most other studios, people would be like, wait a second, that should be Saturn. And instead, (Feige) just loved that Walkman. He just started talking about that Walkman all the time and I was like, to me, that was really the center of what is different. It’s that Walkman. The 70s music next to this space opera... And just everything I brought to those guys -- that was the most outlandish stuff -- that was the stuff that they embraced the most. I couldn’t believe it.
I remember when I made my first ever movie, Tromeo & Juliet, I was in New York City and I was going to... on the subway every day and I was, you know, I was still in grad school, and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I came up with this idea for this thing and now they’re doing it. And they’re spending $350,000 on it. Like I couldn’t believe it! I was like, “Whoa , this is f**king crazy!” I got that same feeling doing this. Like, I can’t believe they’re just kind of going with this. I felt like I was tricking everybody. But it worked.
Q: Can you talk about the musical selection and what your hand was in it? Was there any issue with any of the songs you wanted?
Gunn: There was nothing I couldn’t get. The songs were 100 percent chosen by me and only me all throughout the movie. Most of the songs were written into the screenplay. And those that weren’t I chose later on. I never had any fight on the music.
I think those guys actually originally thought of it as temp music, the songs that I put in there, and then in our early test screenings, people loved the music. So I was really happy with that, because I didn’t want to end up with, you know, the newest Britney Spears song on this. Although I like Britney Spears. I think I had a very specific type of song I was looking for -- a song that was, for the most part, a song that people might have heard the music but they probably didn’t know the name of the band, and they probably didn’t know the name of the song itself. But somewhat, some part of you remembered hearing it at Shakey’s Pizza, or wherever, in the background, and then all of a sudden this song, that’s been in the background of your life, is being pushed to the forefront.
Q: I didn’t know that the slugs from Slither were in the Collector’s collection. Are there any other pieces of his collection you think the audience didn’t catch? A couple of my friends who think maybe Adam Warlock’s cocoon is in there?
Gunn: Well... [hangs his head] yeah [room laughs]. There’s a cocoon that’s exactly like Adam Warlock’s cocoon. I wasn’t really thinking that much when I put that in there. That was my call. They were asking me, “What should we put in it?” And so I went through the Marvel Handbook and just picked cool things that looked neat to put in the boxes, and one of those things was Adam Warlock’s cocoon, so now everybody thinks he’s out of there. I don’t know [laughs].
There’s a lot of stuff in there, and there’s also a lot of stuff that people think they see that I don’t think is in there, unless the visual effects guys were pulling tricks on me, which they could have been.
Q: Why did you choose Howard the Duck for the after credits scene?
Gunn: So originally, the tag scene was going to be the baby dancing Groot, and we loved it so much, that I think we should put it at the very end of the movie. And I liked the way that it ended with Peter flying away and that song playing. So that worked well, which meant we didn’t have a tag scene to connect with anything else for the future. So we actually had that scene with (Benicio Del Toro) that we shot for the montage at the end, but we cut them for a lot of different reasons. But we had that footage. And we thought, “What could he see in that box?” And I don’t know if it was me or producer Fred Raskin, but someone said, “How about Howard the Duck” and we all laughed. So that’s really all it is. We just thought it was funny.
Q: I don’t know if you’re aware, but the movie came out last in the world in Italy. Was that a specific choice due to piracy?
Gunn: I’m aware. That was simply the Italian distributors. I’m not happy about it, frankly. I think that’s crazy. Listen, I think a lot people undervalued the movie, all over the world. They didn’t think this was a big movie. And so, certain places were like, “Oh, we’re not going to release that in the summer, we’ll release that whenever we want. And I thought it sucked for the Italian fans, especially because the Italian fans have been really good to me for a long time. So I was really bummed out by it.”
Q: You seemed to have a really clear vision for the film, but at any point was improv used?
Gunn: With (Chris Pratt), and more often than improv, Chris and I would think of things we’d put into the script beforehand. Like the Footloose speech is something that Chris came into my office one day and he said, “I bet my (Quill) would think like Footloose is some great legend.” And I’m like yes, and then he could say that to Gamora, and then I said, he doesn’t even remember the name of the guy, to him the hero is Kevin Bacon, because it’s all through his childhood eyes. That was definitely written by me and Chris together beforehand, which isn’t improv, it’s me using Chris’ writing and taking credit for it [laughs].
But there were other moments, especially with Chris and I, because we have very similar sense of humor, and we know how to work off of each other. An improv thing was the Jackson Pollack thing. And it was that same thing with me and Chris, you know, sort of one-upping each other. Chris said that blacklight joke, and then I went over and I said, “Say that again, only this time say that looks like a Jackson Pollack painting in here. And then we did it again. And everyone on set was like, “Are you really wasting our time doing this stupid joke that’s never going to make it into a Disney movie?” And I’m like, “It’s funny to me, so, yeah.”