Video Game Interview: James Gunn Licks the Lollipop Chainsaw


At this point, filmmaker James Gunn has a pretty decent run of genre movies under his belt, writing the screenplays for Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake and the Scooby Doo film before getting behind the camera to direct twisted movies like Slither and last year’s violent superhero tale Super.

In the last few years, Gunn’s been exploring a variety of other mediums with his hilariously irreverent webseries “PG Porn” and as a judge on the reality TV show “Scream Queens,” so it was only a matter of time before he’d finally bring his sense of humor and love for gore to video games with Lollipop Chainsaw, which follows the journey of Juliet Starling, a cheerleader with a chainsaw, who must take on a high school full of zombies. got on the phone with one of our favorite filmmakers to interview, a couple weeks back, and he was as enthusiastic and funny when talking about his latest project as he is for any of his movies. This game is an amazing thing because I’ve heard a little about it but it’s really this huge global thing with marketing in all these other countries. It’s pretty crazy.

James Gunn: It’s pretty cool, man. I like it. I like how many people know about the game. I like the fact that Warner Bros. really has been selling it up. I think the craziest thing I’ve ever done including all the low-budget B-movies and so on, but it’s also probably getting the widest release of anything I’ve done, with the possible exception of “Scooby Doo” but maybe even more than “Scooby Doo” in a way. “Scooby Doo” doesn’t do very well in Asia. They don’t get the concept.

Shock: Right, but “Scooby Doo” probably opened up in America first and then other places, not everywhere once like this.
That’s right. We’re released in the States on June 12th and then Australia and New Zealand on the 13th and then everywhere else on the 15th, so it’s pretty cool.

Shock: You obviously are a guy who is always teeming with ideas, so why did you decide to develop this one as a video game? The image of a cheerleader with a chainsaw is very striking, but was this new ground you wanted to get into?
I’m a big gamer, so I’ve always wanted to get into video games. It’s one of those things that’s been on my… I guess you’d call it a “bucket list” but I feel stupid even using that term… but it was one of the things I’ve always wanted to do along with writing a comic book. It’s also one of those things like writing a comic book that I’ve flirted with a lot, I’ve had opportunities before, but I just can’t seem to keep my sh*t together long enough to do it. A couple years ago, Suda, Grasshopper and Warner Bros. came to me and they said, “We have this thing, we need your help and we want to see if you want to be involved with it.” They showed me a little bit of test footage of this character that was going to become Juliet Starling, jumping around in a cheerleader uniform with a chainsaw beheading zombies and then this colorful mix of gore and rainbows and tiny pink stars coming out. I truly was blown away. I get pitched so many things. Right now I’ve been in the process of figuring out what I’m going to do next. I’m reading like 12 scripts a week, novels, going into meetings and having guys pitch me things, and I’m never enthusiastic about anything. It is so hard to get me excited over any idea. I just saw this thing and I loved it. I couldn’t believe how cool it was, and I said, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I want to be involved in this.” That’s how it all started.

Shock: Once that was decided, did you already have ideas about what you wanted to do? Did you work on creating new characters?
Yeah, then as soon as that was decided, we started going through who all the characters were in the game, helping to flesh out those designs a little bit, what the names of the characters were, and starting to create the personalities of the characters, how they work together in the story and my main thing was dealing with all the voice of the characters. Who they were as people and what drove them and what made each of them particularly funny in their own way, and the dialogue and story, that was the main thing, coming together in a way that’s fun and entertaining but not obnoxious or obtrusive.

Shock: I don’t really know the voice cast for this at all, but were you able to bring in people from your normal cast of characters?
Yeah, yeah. I told Warner Bros. early on that “You know, I’m going to get some of my friends to be in this,” and they were like “Yeah, yeah” because it’s not a big paying gig so I said, “No, no, I could.” They came to me and we just started casting out of my friends, so Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor on “Smallville” is Nick the Head. Michael is one of my best friends in the world as is Michael Rooker, who has been in a bunch of my movies, plays one of the bosses. Gregg Henry—another guy from a bunch of my movies—Shawnee Smith who I did “Scream Queens” with is one of the bosses, Linda Cardellini from “Freaks and Geeks” and “ER” who is a good buddy of mine, plays Juliet’s sister in the game, and my brother Sean Gunn is like the main bad guy. Tara Strong, who was not a friend of mine before the game but is a fantastic person and who has played everything from Harley Quinn in “Arkham City” to “Twilight Sparkle Pony” to one of the “Powerpuff Girls,” plays Juliet and she’s amazing. Oh, and then one of the coolest ones is my good buddy Jimmy Urine from the band Mindless Self-Indulgence, plays the first boss zombie, Zed the Punk Rocker, and that’s a really interesting thing, because I was throwing out names to Warner Bros. about different guys who could play these roles, and I said, “Listen, this guy is a good friend of mine. He’s not an actor, he’s never done anything like this, but I think he’d be perfect for this role.” They went, “Who?” and I went, “Jimmy Urine.” And Scott Warr from Warner Bros was like, “That is the strangest thing in the world” because Scott was a huge MSI fan and Scott had said, even before I was even around, they sent some pictures of the early prototype of this Zed character, and Scott was like, “It looks too Japanese. It doesn’t look like an American punk rocker” and he sent them a bunch of photos back of Jimmy (laughs) as the basis for the character of Zed. Jimmy is someone I hang out with two or three times a week and it just so happened that things came together in one of those weird moments of synchronicity, and then Jimmy also ends up doing all the music for the boss battles in the game. It’s all pretty cool.

Shock: I was already sold on this game based on a cheerleading carrying a chainsaw and now I’m even more psyched to play it cause that’s a really great cast.
Yeah, Michael Rosenbaum, he’s a good friend of mine and he’s a funny guy, but he is really really funny in the game, and I think he’s a lot of what makes the game so fun is his sort of Abbott and Costello relationship between Juliet and Nick. The two of them and their patter throughout the whole game is real fun and Rosenbaum is just awesome.

Shock: Was it really different working with programmers and artists over there in developing this then when you’re developing a movie? Did you have to think very differently to work with them?
No, there’s a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. However, I think the biggest difference on this game from an American production was the fact that it was a Japanese-American co-production, so a lot of our meetings were me and the two guys from Warner Bros. sitting around one conference table and then there’s a large video screen on the wall with Suda and eight Japanese guys on the video screen having these conferences for hours at a time trying to work our way through little stupid plotpoints in the game. I don’t speak Japanese and I don’t think the other guys speak Japanese and it’s not like going to Germany where they speak English—Japanese people generally do not speak English—so we’re trying to have these conversations with one interpreter, and it was madness. It took some getting used to, not only because of the language barrier but also because of the cultural barrier. The way you deal with a creative project is very different over there than it is over here. But in the end, for me, it was just another benefit of the whole thing, because I learned something about the way my fellow human beings work. When those guys all came into town and we were actually working together in person, it was a magnificent time, and really different for me. I think that the thing that really drove me was that from the beginning, the idea and the esthetics of it, this mix of horrible violent crazy crack world mixed with the Powerpuff Girls esthetic was something that was completely unique. For every step of it, for me, my experience was very unique, so this really was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Shock: It’s really amazing that the Japanese come up with some of these things. I can’t imagine they have cheerleaders there or lumberjacks with chainsaws, so it’s so strange the way they bring elements together to create really original things.
(laughs) So much of “Lollipop Chainsaw” is like the Japanese version of what America is and then they come to me, and they’re like, “And there’s a huge amusement park as part of the school.” I’m like, “What kind of world is this? This is the United States!” They say it’s fantasy, and I’m like, “I know it’s fantasy but we can only take these things so far.” It’s really the Japanese vision of America through Japanese eyes then filtered again through American eyes looking back at Japan then back to us and I don’t know what the hell is going on.

Shock: And then filtered through your sick and twisted mind, which I’m sure added a lot.
Yeah, the Japanese have a very poetic way of dealing with story, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they wanted me to work with them to sort of Westernize it—to keep the poetry of the story but to add a bit more structure, so that it can make more sense to your normal Westerner.

Shock: I wanted to ask about the zombies in “Lollipop Chainsaw,” because obviously you wrote zombie in “Dawn of the Dead” and you’re familiar with the genre, so are the zombies different or is it just finding new ways to kill them?
Yeah, first of all, “Lollipop Chainsaw” is essentially a serious comedy-horror or fantastical comedy, so the most important thing for me about the zombies is that they were amusing. That was more important than that they’re scary, you know? There are scary moments in “Lollipop Chainsaw” but that’s not the most important part of the game, and I think they needed to be amusing and funny and interesting and new, and make fun of us. I think that’s what they are. I think if anything they’re closer to “Return of the Living Dead” type zombies, simply because of the comedic edge to it, but they’re very different. They’re kind of their own thing. They’re kind of a mix of a James Gunn edgy comedy and Japanese insanity, all mixed in together.

Shock: Did you turn anyone you know into a zombie as a cameo?
No, pretty much everybody who is in the game are all the people who are in the cast list there.

Shock: “Super” just played at the Hero Complex Festival this past weekend, so have you had a chance to take that to Japan?
“Super” did better in Japan (laughs)… here’s where they’re idiots in hiring me, because “Super” did better in Japan than any country in the world. I’m already Japanese by default. The truth is, “Super” is far more influenced by Asian cinema than anything else, simply because Asians have a way of mixing genres in a way that Westerners do not. And that’s what “Super” is—”Super” is a mix of genres. “Super” is taking different genre at the same time and not only cutting from a scene of one kind of thing to another kind of scene, but also having them together within the movie sort of mixed-up in one batch, and that’s very much something I learned from Asian cinema—not specifically Japanese, I think more specifically and especially, for me, Hong Kong and Korean cinema. I don’t know if that’s where it’s from but that’s where I feel a kinship with filmmakers of those countries, and I think that’s something that’s easier for the Japanese to understand, the sort of crazy tone of “Super.”

Shock: You mentioned you’re taking a lot of meetings for your next project, so you’re not developing your own material to direct?
I’m figuring out what I’m going to do next, so in the process of figuring it out, I have one project I’m working on with a very big actor and we’re trying to put this movie together, and that movie may or may not happen. That’s an original screenplay, but we’ll see about that, so in the meantime, I’m just kind of figuring out what I’m going to do next if that doesn’t happen. Yeah, I’m just taking it easy. Well, I’m not taking it easy because I’m doing all this stuff for LC but I’m trying to see what I’m going to do. I definitely want to do another video game and I’m talking to people about that, and I’m thinking about dipping my toes in other areas as well, so we’ll see what happens.

Shock: I saw that you did a segment in that R-rated comedy anthology coming out next year. Is that finished?
I have finished it with the exception of arguing with the producers over the extremity of the content, something I blessedly did not have to do with Warner Bros. who on “Lollipop” were extremely cool about keeping it edgy. They knew this was an edgy thing and they didn’t really hold me back. They allowed me to hold myself back in places, because at times you need to, but yeah, just trying to deal with that final cut of the piece because I made something pretty extreme with Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks, and I just want to make sure it keeps the edge and integrity. I’m dealing a little bit with that but basically it’s done, yes. We’re talking about two or three different cuts in the film and where it’s going to land. I don’t know what’s going on with that movie. It’s been a long time since I shot it, and we’ll just see what happens.

Lollipop Chainsaw is released for Xbox and Playstation 3 on Tuesday, June 12th.

(Photo Credit: Nikki Nelson/