James Gunn's Greatest Horror Tale Yet: Working For Microsoft

A while back, director James Gunn (Slither) produced a series of shorts for Xbox Live that gathered together some of the new talent in horror films today. Dubbed Horror Does Comedy, the series was supposed to allow Gunn and other horror directors like James Wan (Saw) and David Slade (Hard Candy) creative freedom to produce some quick and dirty content exclusively for Xbox Live. Unfortunately, according to a blog post by Gunn, the process was more akin to an elaborate torture scene from Saw.

He describes his first short, Humanzee, as "the most balls out, f***ed up thing" he's ever done. Unfortunately, it was a bit too much for the Xbox folks and it was never aired. Gunn recovered the rights to Humanzee and then went on to develop Sparky and Mikaela, the superhero crime fighting tale of a young girl and her best friend (who happens to be a racoon). The Xbox folks said they would approve of it as long as it was along the lines of PG-13 with no sex, but apparently the finished product freaked them out again. Gunn writes:

Obviously they had no f***ing idea what PG-13 was, as they wanted me to cut the words "penis" and "vagina."  They made me cut a piece of very fake poop and a bunch of other stuff.  And then, when they were done making me cut things, they took the final cut and cut it up themselves even more before airing it.

To sum things up, Warner Bros was a bastion of creative freedom on SCOOBY DOO 2 in comparison.  I'm not exaggerating or being facetious.  Microsoft/XBox was by far the most dreadful, non-talent friendly company I've ever worked for.  And if you think I had it bad, some of the other directors (most specifically, SAW director James Wan, who just happens to be one of my favorite people in the world) had it even worse.

Ouch. Gunn goes on to point out the obvious hypocrisy in allowing games to feature sexual themes and ultra-violence while clamping down so hard on this series of shorts.

At first, I thought the main reason for Microsoft's trepidation was because they don't have the means to block mature videos using parental controls, but a quick look at my Xbox 360 settings proved me wrong. The console has the expected ability to block video content based on film and TV ratings, but it also has the option to block "explicit" and "unrated" content. It sounds like Microsoft was fighting very hard to keep the shorts out of the explicit category, which seems to me a ridiculous limitation if you're hiring such talented horror directors.

The big issue with placing Horror Does Comedy in the unrated category is that there's tons of harmless category in that content as well. If MS had truly wanted the directors to have creative freedom, they would have aimed for the videos to end up in the explicit category so responsible parents could block them if they wanted.

Gunn goes on to respond how this fiasco ultimately undermines any future for original series on Xbox Live:

I really think XBox could have been their own Network, as well as a gaming console, DVR, and way to buy movies.  I saw them as the future.  But because of the small-mindedness of the Microsoft executives, who preemptively censored a lot of our scenes for fear of freaking out stockholders, they crushed the potential for something that would have kept them relevant for a long time to come.  It seems, instead, the visionaries have landed at other companies.

Read the full post at James Gunn's blog, where he also has a video up from G4 that was shot before the major cuts to Sparky and Mikaela. Gunn also announced that the uncut versions of all the Horror Does Comedy will be available eventually.

Discuss: Did you enjoy any of the Horror Meets Comedy videos on Xbox Live? Do you have any words of wisdom for the Xbox folks?