Sometimes filmmakers and/or film lovers sit down to talk about the movie they’re watching, and it’s called a commentary. Sometimes our Rob Hunter listens to that commentary and shares the most interesting and entertaining parts. Welcome to Commentary Commentary and this week’s pick: James Gunn’s The Specials!
James Gunn is best-known these days as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. He worked in indies before then, though, with Troma Entertainment before making the move west to Hollywood and gifting movie lovers with films like Slither (2006) and Super (2010). His big break was with the script for the 2000 movie The Specials which has just been released to Blu-ray complete with two commentary tracks from Gunn and friends along with numerous other extras.
The first features the writer with director Craig Mazin (Superhero Movie) and other crew members, but the second sees Gunn sit down with co-star Paget Brewster for one of the more entertaining commentary tracks I’ve heard in a while. It’s something special, so keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
The Specials (2000)
Commentators: James Gunn (writer, actor), Paget Brewster (actor)
1. He wrote the film in “two or three weeks, and the screenplay is what got me every bit of work I’ve had in Hollywood since.” Brewster adds that the film has gotten her no work at all. Gunn specifies that it was the screenplay that led to more work — not the actual film.
2. Gunn gave the script to his brother Sean who passed it to Jamie Kennedy who shared it with his manager who then took on Gunn as a client. “Within a month I had a deal to write Spy vs Spy for Warner Bros.”
3. He mentions most of the names appearing in the opening credits, but is quiet when director Craig Mazin’s name shows up. “I was not really happy with The Specials when it came out,” he says, adding that power struggles and the resulting feel of the film were issues for him. He originally envisioned it as more of a faux-documentary with hand-held cameras and natural acting, but “it ended up being a little bit more sitcom-y in general.”
4. Gunn lived in Jamie Kennedy’s guest house when he first moved to Los Angeles as the actor was a big fan of the script, but they would get into “heated battles” non-stop during production. They’re still friends (well, as of this 2005 recording anyway).
5. Rob Lowe taught Brewster “the white eyeliner on the inside of the eye trick.” Apparently Sarah Jessica Parker does it “all the time.” It apparently makes yours eyes look ten percent bigger.
6. Brewster used to be in a band in New York City and was a big fan of X. When she left to pursue acting she was thrilled to send old band mates a pic of her on set here with X’s John Doe who has a cameo.
7. Gunn didn’t direct the film in part because he was tired. He was also $70k in debt — mostly on Discover card — and was focused on writing, paying off his debt, and meeting girls.
8. Brewster recalls first reading the script and simply not understanding it. That changed when she reached the “you just hit a bird” scene which made her realize the whole thing was being played straight. The scene was cut from the film.
9. One of Brewster’s biggest issues with the film is the lack of character introductions via comic book panel freeze frames. It was apparently discussed beforehand but then dropped, and the result for her is a lack of awareness as to who these people are until too far into the film.
10. Per Brewster, one of the hallmarks of first-time directors is that “they pitch fits, bitch everybody out, and act like an asshole.”
11. The film was made for roughly a million dollars.
12. Some of the heroes had to have their names changed due to copyright issues. The Strobe was Laser Man, U.S. Bill was Dollar Bill, The Weevil was Bug, and Amok was Eclipse.
13. Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead (2003) is mentioned, and they agree that the best thing to say about the film is that it’s based on “a great video game.”
14. Amok (Kennedy) was originally written as being extremely racist and prone to uttering slurs. Gunn still finds it funny, but it didn’t survive production.
15. Rob Lowe taught Gunn “the extras game” where you identify nameless players by which celebrity they resemble. He went on to use that in his script for Dawn of the Dead (2004) with the guys on the roof top calling out zombies by lookalike name.
16. What is the significance of the pig? There is none.
17. That’s Richard Dawson’s face on the doll at 35:45. They tried to get various approvals for celebrity faces — Ernest Borgnine said no — but only Dawson and John Schuck.
18. Gunn’s favorite part of the movie is the action figure reveal during the convention.
19. Gunn was married to Jenna Fischer from 2000 to 2008, something Brewster ribs him about with faux jealousy. He points out his good friend Lee Kirk playing one of the reporters during the convention scene, and Fischer went on to marry Kirk in 2010 after separating from Gunn.
20. Lowe wasn’t happy with the film either and refused to do press for it, something that still irks Brewster. He apparently talked a lot about how his career had tanked, and when The West Wing (1999-2006) was picked up from pilot she surmises that he saw that as his ticket back and immediately distanced himself from this.
21. Both Judy Greer and Kennedy were simultaneously filming Three Kings (1999) while making this film, and it was causing some friction with the other movie’s filmmakers. One of the issues was how long it took for Kennedy’s blue makeup to be fully removed, and as an example Gunn recalls seeing Kennedy at a party two weeks after production wrapped and noticing blue paint on the back of his neck.
22. Thomas Haden Church refused to say “cunt,” but he had no problem wearing his costume without underwear — something that apparently bothered the costume department as he had “a sweaty taint.”
23. They mention Michael Weatherly (Dark Angel, 2000-2002) who Gunn says was engaged and then not engaged to Jessica Alba. “Oh, thank god,” says Brewster. “That broad, ugh.” Gunn wonders what that’s about saying she’s a “nice” woman, but Brewster replies “Have you had dinner with her? If you ever wanna punish yourself for some unforgivable sin, sit down and have dinner with Jessica Alba.” She later adds that Weatherly became “a dick when they were dating.” This is a great commentary track.
24. So as not to leave Brewster hanging in the wind of throwing people under the bus, Gunn says that “Perry King is an asshole.” RIP Riptide (1984-1986).
25. Gunn mentions how he hasn’t really kept in touch with many of the people from the film including Brewster who “dumped me as a friend.” She quickly clarifies saying it was because he had “joined a cult” and “wouldn’t shut up about it.” They argue about this for a few minutes as he denies everything while she piles on about how he was “awful, worse than Jessica Alba, and I didn’t want to hear about it anymore.” My first thought was Scientology, but a quick Google suggests maybe it was The Artist’s Way which Fischer was into for a little while. “You were all looney-eyed, and you did a lot of shoulder touching, and ‘you’ve gotta come down!’” He is adamant that she is incorrect.
26. The cult conversation devolves into the pair rehashing their relationship — they were friends, but more than friends doing “what adults do,” and then stopped being friends. She says it’s because he was in a cult, he says she didn’t like who he really was, she adds that they were both in other relationships and didn’t want to cross into infidelity… “so that’s all out in the open now for all The Specials fans to know,” says Gunn. “That’s great.”
27. Gunn relates to The Weevil’s betrayal of the group as he views his move to the big leagues with Scooby Doo (2002) as “my own sort of Weevil moment.”
28. They both like the film far more on a re-watch.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Are you gonna yell the whole time?”
“There’s his tight pants that he was afraid made his ass look fat.”
“I can be a bit precious at times as most writers can be.”
“I wanna punch myself in the fucking face.”
“Oh the maxi-pad on the face.”
“She does have some big cans for a little tiny girl.”
“A lot of big Specials fans despise the dance scene.”
“It’s hard to work with friends.”
“I’m a big fan of pleather.”
“I feel bad that I ragged on Jessica Alba, but she really was a monster.”
“You’ve been yelling all day!”
The Specials may be merely okay as a movie — some laughs, some emotional beats — but this commentary is gold. It’s the second of two that Gunn has recorded for it (with the other being in 2000 on its first home video release), and it is gold. It’s informative and funny, but more than that it’s open and honest which is something too many distributors shy away from when things seem critical. Only one thing is bleeped, a person’s name, but the rest is laid out for everyone to hear. And you should. Hear it I mean.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.