James Gunn may have been fired by Walt Disney Studios from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but many in Hollywood are looking to work with the controversial filmmaker despite his past coming back to haunt him.
Gunn, who was fired July 20 after past offensive tweets came to light, has been approached by several top producers and executives at major studios dangling big film projects, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
“I’d work with him in a heartbeat,” says one senior executive at a rival studio. This exec asked to remain anonymous because Gunn is not permitted to entertain other offers while his negotiation to exit Disney is ongoing.
“I’ve been advised that we can’t bring anything to him until the Disney matter is 100 percent resolved,” says another studio executive.
Major players said to be interested in Gunn’s services run the gamut between studios, including Warner Bros., which has its rival superhero movies via DC Entertainment, and high-profile and Oscar-winning producers.
The interest, while surprising, makes sense given the outpouring of industry support for Gunn in the wake of his firing, including from the entire Guardians cast, which issued a joint letter calling for his reinstatement citing “little due process in the court of public opinion.” Actor Dave Bautista went so far as to say he would quit the Marvel franchise if Gunn’s script weren’t used.
But any major studio hiring Gunn likely would face immediate criticism from the same people who bombarded Disney with calls for Gunn’s firing after the conservative website the Daily Caller resurfaced tweets Gunn sent from 2008 to 2011 that joked in racist, pedophilic and homophobic fashion. Then again, the Disney brand is often held to a higher standard than, say, Universal or Warner Bros. both of which do not strive for a family-friendly brand for consumers. Some execs and producers expect a cooling off period of several months before making any official announcements.
Multiple insiders disclose that that Gunn, represented by UTA and attorney Andrew Hurwitz, remains locked in complicated negotiations with Disney over his exit settlement. Gunn has written the script for Guardians and was to have directed the third installment of a franchise whose first two entries (also written and directed by Gunn) grossed $773 million and $863 million, respectively.
Sources say that Gunn, while under contract for the third movie, likely was not “pay or play,” a status that would require Disney to pay him his full fee regardless of whether his services are actually used. Filmmakers usually reach “pay or play” status when a movie is officially greenlit or eight weeks prior to the start of production, neither of which had occurred. But Gunn is not said to have breached his contract because the offensive tweets were sent years before he first signed with Disney’s Marvel Studios.
Some experienced talent reps estimate that due to the unique situation, Gunn could receive a payout of $7 million to $10 million, if not potentially higher. And, more importantly, he would be free to take on another project immediately. Also affecting the negotiations is that sources say Disney plans on using Gunn’s script for the third movie.
And there may be an unexpected twist to the story. Two sources say there is a hope through the talks that Gunn could return in some fashion, even if it’s to develop and direct another Marvel movie.
“An end-all verdict hasn’t been issued and conversations with Marvel are still ongoing,” says one source familiar with the proceedings.
That leaves Gunn and his potential suitors waiting to see the outcome of the talks. “Most people feel his comments were coming out of his brand of comedy [at the time he made them],” says another studio exec. “Having an inappropriate sense of humor shouldn’t be a crime.”