When most of us ask our friends, "You wanna hear about this crazy dream I had?" the response is usually an eye roll and a firm negative, or a polite smile and halfhearted, "Sure." Let's be honest: Along with baby pictures and vacation snaps, dreams rank among the things that are interesting to the sharer and the sharer alone.
Then again, most of us aren't James Gunn. Not content to just regale his patient friends with a spotty recap of his subconscious adventures, Gunn took a dream he had and turned it into the script for the upcoming The Belko Experiment, the gory horror-thriller that's been percolating in some form in his mind ever since that night a decade ago. The filmmaker recalls:
"I had a dream — this is totally true. About 10 years ago, I dreamt the trailer for this movie, which was a bunch of employees in an office somewhere in some foreign location. And at the beginning of the day, they were getting ready for work and a voice came over the PA that they had never heard, and it said, you know, 'For you to make it alive through the day you have to do exactly what I say. And the first thing I want you to do in the next half hour kill three, any three employees, or else we'll kill six of you.'
"And then all these doors shut up around the building. And I woke up, and I went to my computer, and I started writing the screenplay, because I needed to see what happened."
That was Gunn talking this past September to Robert A. Mitchell at the Toronto International Film Festival. But Gunn has maintained that story of how the dream drove him all these years. What's remarkable is that it was so vivid and came to him so completely that the actual movie trailer didn't even change much from the original dream, as he revealed in a recent Facebook video:
"This is a movie that I came up with almost 10 years ago in 2007. I was asleep; I had a dream, and I dreamt the trailer for 'The Belko Experiment.' It's basically exactly the trailer that you can go watch out there now."
Turns out chasing that dream — both literally and figuratively — had some painful consequences for Gunn, who has described himself as being rather single-minded when he gets immersed in writing a script:
"I wrote the script very quickly, in two weeks. And I was so obsessed with the screenplay, writing for 16, 17, 18 hours a day that I tore a — what do you call it?— a disc in my back because I was leaning over typing."
And writing the script hurt Gunn in other, more fundamental ways, too. At the time of the dream, and in the writing of it, he was going through one of the more painful experiences a person can go through: divorce. He explained in an interview with Den of Geek that this was partly the reason why it took him so long to make the film of the script he'd written:
"Being completely honest, I wrote this movie right around the time I was getting a divorce. I had just gotten divorced, and the movie got greenlit. We were going to go down to São Paulo, Brazil, and shoot it, which strangely I'm flying to tomorrow for a comic book convention. We were going to shoot it, and I just wanted to be around my friends and family. I didn't want to go shoot this thing that was about people who loved and cared about each other being forced into killing each other. It just didn't seem to be the way I wanted to spend the next few months of my life. So I backed out of it."
But make the film he did, and we're better off for it. Having already had the chance to see it, I can attest to the fact that dreams and divorce make for strange bedfellows, and yet a damn fine script. #TheBelkoExperiment is a fun, frenetic ride with real stakes — you genuinely care for these people and what happens to them. As over the top as the film is at times, the excess works. The result is something trippy, weird and hilarious. Something that could only have come from the mind of James Gunn.
The Belko Experiment hits cinemas on March 17.