Xbox Experiment Provides Fertile Ground for Horror Auteurs

Filmmaker James Gunn Talks About Microsoft's New Role as a Hollywood Studio

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Over the "Black Friday" weekend, Microsoft slashed the price of its Xbox 360 video-game console to $199. The result? It outsold rival Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 by a 3-to-1 margin.

Having gotten the device into millions more living rooms, Microsoft also has been experimenting with finding new ways to make the Xbox 360 more than just a game-console loss leader; it wants to become the gateway for all entertainment content in your living room.

James Gunn
James Gunn Credit: Glenn Weiner
Indeed, over the Thanksgiving weekend, a new series of short films, titled "Horror Meets Comedy," became available for download on the Xbox 360 in partnership with eight Hollywood horror directors making up a who's who of who's hot in horror, including James Wan ("Saw"), Lucky McKee ("The Woods"), Andrew Douglas (2005's "Amityville Horror") and James Gunn, who wrote and directed 2006's campy horror film "Slither" and also penned the scripts to "Scooby Doo" and Zach Snyder's 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead."

In a joint interview with Madison & Vine and KCRW, Mr. Gunn fired off some thoughts on going to work for suits whose shirts sport pocket protectors, and what Microsoft's chances are for seducing the rest of Hollywood's creative artists.

Madison & Vine: What did you hope doing these shorts would do for you?

James Gunn: I thought maybe when people saw me doing a straight comedy they would go back to see some of those elements that were already there. Things get put into the ghetto of "horror" films, and then that's all they're considered. I think you're constantly ghettoized by whatever you've done [in Hollywood]. ... And it can be very hard to break out of that.

M&V: And what did Microsoft hope you'd do for them?

Mr. Gunn: Listen, the Xbox 360 is a machine that [Microsoft] would like to be an overall entertainment machine. Most people think of it as a gaming platform. But there are 14 million users on Xbox Live who get on there every day, and one of the things that they do a lot of is download movies and TV shows and things like that. And so what they [Microsoft] are really hoping is that these shows ... are going to get picked up and be TV shows, that they can be a network, of a type, in addition to being a gaming machine. They want their machine to be "everything," and this is a way of doing that.

M&V: So, how did Microsoft behave when compared with regular Hollywood studio suits?

Mr. Gunn: I didn't find any difference. To be completely honest, they did meddle a little bit, so it's not completely the easiest thing in the world. Some of our stuff was a little harsher [than they expected]. Although it's comedy, it's black comedy. Like James Wan's "Doggie Heaven" [short]. It's the story of a guy who is killed and goes to heaven, but he accidentally ends up in doggie heaven. And, um, he has sort of a dog that humps him and has, um, relations with him -- against his will. And that scene in particular was something that I don't think the Microsoft Corporation was extremely happy with.

M&V: Did any sponsors freak out?

Mr. Gunn: My first short, "Humanzee," was the story of a human-chimp hybrid. It was a little to harsh for Xbox and our sponsor, who was the [U.S.] Air Force. It was "Sanford & Son" meets "The Elephant Man": He was killing people; he tears off this woman's head. It was shot like a 1970s sitcom but with all sorts of this gory, ridiculous stuff. They were like, "We love it, but I'm not sure this is not too much for everyone." And it was. Though frankly, I don't see the big difference: A 9-year-old can go on there and play "Grand Theft Auto," which is much worse than any of the shorts we did. I mean, [in our shorts] nobody killed a hooker for the fun of it, while she was begging for her life.

M&V: You really think this little box is going to change show business?

Mr. Gunn: I have no doubt right now that it is going to change the way things are distributed and monetized in this industry. And it's going to change the form in which people watch their entertainment. Already, 25% of Americans watch a video every day, and for young males it's most often a short-form comedy. People have shorter attention spans, and part of what we're doing is catering to that. And for me, frankly, it's more fun: I am so excited about doing this stuff in new media that that's all I want to do right now. I'm spending 100% of my time creating content for gaming platforms and mobile. It feels like being Milton Berle on TV in 1949: We're creating what this format is, and that's endlessly exciting to me.

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