'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2': Everything We Learned While On Set

On April 22nd, 2016 I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to visit the set of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. What follows is everything I learned while on the set of James Gunn's galactic sequel.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 behind the scenes

Filming Guardians Vol 2. In Atlanta

To give some perspective, we visited the set the day after music legend Prince died. Marvel was shooting a lot of the movie at Pinewood Atlanta Studios, and was also prepping Spider-Man: Homecoming to shoot on the same studio lot. One thing I learned about Pinewood Atlanta Studios is that they actually have their own private Home Depot on the lot just for the movie productions.

The working title for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is "Level Up." There were multiple funny flyers posted all around the Guardians offices warning crew members not to feed director James Gunn's dog Wesley, with a photo of the dog looking almost like a Wanted poster. Signs around the set show an illustration of a Hellicarrier crashing into Earth with the words "Loose Lips Sink Ships, Keep Our Secrets Safe!" The posters include a phone number for Marvel's security team for anyone working on the movie to report something that doesn't seem right.

We watched them film a scene at the abandoned Georgia Convention Center. They had run out of room at Pinewood, and with Spider-Man gearing up they've lost some of the stages at the studio. So they have constructed six sets at this former convention center. Imagine the big halls as Comic-Con converted into make-shift Hollywood soundstages.

We watched them film a sequence on Ego's spaceship. The set is surrounded by LEDs glowing orange; the structure is modern, round, smooth and white. James Gunn describes the ship as Kurt Russell's "freaky, creepy, sixties pop-art spaceship." The scene we saw them film involved Ego welcoming Quill onto his ship, followed by Gamora, Drax, and Mantis. They are bringing their bags/luggage onto Ego's ship. He seems very welcoming, but Quill looks very unsure of himself. The day before, they turned the lighting for the set to purple and played "Purple Rain" and danced on the set as a tribute to Prince who had died that day.

They are shooting some scenes in IMAX, and the aspect ratio will expand for those scenes.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Super Bowl Spot

The Story

After they were done with the first film, James Gunn came in and pitched his idea for a sequel. On spec, James delivered a 64-page treatment that Feige says "was amazing."

James Gunn's original treatment mostly became the fundamental ideas for the final shooting script, but one significant change was made: Originally there was a major character who was removed from the film because it felt like the story had too many characters. Gunn admits that the new character was another Guardian team member who might eventually join the team in a future movie, teasing "I love the character actually. I loved everything about the character; I just didn't have room for him."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. takes place just a few months after the events of the original film, which also explains why Groot has not yet fully grown back to full-size Groot. James Gunn says he set the story three months later because he felt the group are just such fragile egos and he didn't think this story could start years later. At the beginning of the movie, the Guardians are so annoyed at each other. They have been living aboard The Milano together in close quarters and are becoming annoyed with each other.

Baby Groot is just dumb as large Groot was and he isn't a baby in mental capacity. Groot gets just as mad at people and says the exact same thing. Groot was Rocket's protector in the first movie, but this film swaps that role as Rocket is Groot's protector. Baby Groot started as an idea on the set of the first while they were shooting Rocket on Groot's shoulder they thought it might be fun to have it reversed on the next one. James Gunn believes that Groot is a "better-written character than the first Groot in some ways," calling him "a more complete character."

The Guardians have decided to become a more organized group of heroes, but it doesn't always go well. When we meet them at the beginning of the sequel, they've traveled to do a mission on a planet called Sovereign.

They've been called to the planet Sovereign to help with giant inter-dimensional beasts that wreak havoc on the world and is trying to eat their power source. The Guardians have been asked to destroy the beast and recover the expensive batteries. The Guardians are doing the mission in exchange for a payment of personal value: The Sovereign has captured Nebula and is willing to trade her for their help in this matter. The Guardians are hoping to take Nebula back to Zandar, to have her arrested but "things go awry on that journey, and she becomes a much bigger player in the film than she was in the first one."

After having defeated the monster, Rocket reveals to Drax that he's stolen a few of these batteries because they're really expensive and the Sovereign are not going to notice. Of course, the Sovereign do find out and end up chasing after them, less because they want those batteries back, but more because they have insulted the honor of the great Sovereign people.

The Sovereign are a very pompous race of alien beings. They are genetically created by themselves as a self-sustaining race who are perfect. They're created as perfect beings, and they think of themselves as perfect. They're gold, and there's a very particular way you need to deal with them otherwise they're easily offended. You need to be very delicate in the way you speak with them, which is not easy for the Guardians.

Elizabeth Debicki plays a Sovereign named Ayesha who hires the Ravagers to go after Quill. Yondu tries to convince the Ravengers not to take on the task, telling them that they would endanger themselves if they went after the Guardians of the Galaxy as the entire Nova Corp would be on their side.

The Guardians team will be split up early in the movie, and the question driving the plot is: will the group get back together as a family?

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The Ravengers

Yondu has a soft spot for Peter Quill, and as we saw at the end of the first movie, he thought he was given the Orb but inside found not an Infinity Stone but a little troll doll. He wasn't mad but smiled. Yondu cares about Quill maybe more than he even admits, and some of the Ravagers think that what Quill did was not right and that they should have hunted him down and killed him right on the spot for being tricked. Some of the Ravengers believe Yondu has gone soft.

One Ravenger named Taserface (played by Chris Sullivan) leads a group of the space pirates to cause a mutiny against Yondu. Yondu, Rocket, and Groot have to team up to escape from that mutiny to go help Quill.

The villains in this sequel, Taserface, and Ayesha, were described by producer Kevin Feige as being "less grandiose in their ambitions than" previous Marvel villains like Ronan. Ayesha wants to kill the Guardians for slighting her people, and Taserface wants to overthrow Yondu as the leader of the Ravagers. It was imperative to James Gunn to "make the story one where the personal story of the Guardians and the villain agenda/plot, all about one thing." He admits that while he set out to write a more intimate personal story, somehow the set pieces got five times as big.

The movie is both about Peter Quill's relationship with his father and also his relationship with his adopted father, Yondu. The Ravagers' role in the film has been largely extended from the first movie. The group is composed of some of the same actors from the first movie, and a lot of new actors playing new characters. The Ravengers operate a drill ship called the Quadrant. There are many Ravager factions in this galaxy. Yondu controlled one large faction and a faction that was not necessarily beloved by the other Ravager factions, in large part because they did things like traffic kids from one place to another, which the other Ravagers didn't love necessarily and set Yondu apart from them. There is one sequence where the Revengers make someone "walk the plank" into the deadly vacuum of space.

Yondu has gotten a much bigger fin on top of his head, which is James Gunn's nod to the larger fin the character has in the comics.

Funko Pop Ego the Living Planet

Enter Kurt Russell's Ego

The Guardians' legend and mythology have grown and spread throughout the universe. Remember, they defeated Ronan, and Peter Quill was able to hold an Infinity Stone and not die. There's a question as to why Star-Lord was able to hold the infinity stone and not be completely and immediately destroyed will be partially explored in this movie.

Kurt Russell is playing Ego, a mysterious adventurer from far parts of the galaxy who has heard the legend of the Guardians and has come to meet them for the first time. James Gunn describes the character as a "thoughtful and gregarious guy." In the art room, we saw concept art showing Kurt Russell's character Ego wearing goggles, a cloak, and a brown blaster holster. The Guardians first encounter Ego on a forest planet named "Berhert" which has origins from the comics.

On set they were being very non-committal about the idea that Ego is Peter Quill's father, teasing that he might be. But they did say that Quill's dad is not a huge reveal in the movie's storyline, and they expect that Disney might openly use this in the advertising for the film. Ego has been looking for Quill for a long time. Chris Pratt says that will "get to find out who he hopes his father is and who he wishes his father is, and you get to find out whether or not that is the reality."

In the art room, there was concept art for a planet called "J'son," which is the name of Peter Quill's father from the comic books. When we asked producer Kevin Feige about this, he would only say "You know, this room was scrubbed before you guys came in. It's a very good question. You should ask James." Another producer told us that the planet would not be called "J'Son" in the final film. But Kurt Russell's chair on set even featured that character name "J'Son." Later, James Gunn assured us definitively that "there is no J-son in the MCU." The concept art of the planet is something out of fantastical sci-fi, filled with vibrant red colors, looks like from the cover of a 1970's LP.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - Mantis

Enter Mantis

Alongside Ego is an alien named Mantis who is like Ego's right hand, she travels and is always with him. She is very awkward and curious about other people because she has never actually encountered other humanoids before. Feige describes her as giving the example that Mantis "makes Drax look like the most world-savvy person there is, and it's a tough thing to do and to be endearing, and she's pretty amazing at it." She was really lonely having spent a lot of time by herself. Mantis and Drax spend a lot of time together in this story and have a connection. At the very core of Drax, he is just heartbroken and a childlike innocence, which is why he connects to Mantis. The character is less sexual than the other female characters in the film.

Pom Klementieff auditioned for the role of Mantis "many, many times, along with many, many other people," because James Gunn was looking for something and someone "very unique." Mantis is very different than she is in the comic books. She has empathic powers which means that she can feel things by touching people and that she can change other people's emotions.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 behind the scenes

The Music

The treatment included a CD with much of the music that will end up in the final film. Marvel Studios cleared all the songs that were in the script before the movie went into production, but they don't have to actually pay for them until the final cut of the film is made. So things could change in the edition room, but if the first movie was used as a track record, only one or two songs came out of the film that was in the original screenplay (and those songs were removed "for length more than anything else"). Moonage Daydream was originally not in the first film. They tried a lot of other songs for that scene, but they just "didn't work."

The songs in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack are all off Peter Quill's Awesome Mix #2 tape. Don't expect to hear Starlord listening to songs from the original mixtape in this sequel. The other Guardians now know that music is something that motivates Peter. Baby Groot sets up outer space speakers so that the music can play for the whole team because Quill likes to hear music when he's fighting. One song has "very unique lyrics that play in much more specific part into the plot, than any song did in the first film."

Songs we heard being played on set included "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison and Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, which played in the original teaser trailer. Jay and the Americans' Come A Little Bit Closer was shown in the piece shown at Comic Con, and also will appear in the film.

Chris Pratt believes the awesome mix is probably better in the sequel because they have a bigger budget for the soundtrack this time around.

James Gunn says the soundtrack for Vol. 2 is "an evolution from the soundtrack to the first movie.":

"I think the first movie was made for a child that was a couple years younger than the child that this music was made for. So it's slightly more complex songs. I also think that we have a wider variety of songs. You guys heard, probably, one of the songs today. We have a couple of songs that are enormous songs, which we didn't have on the first movie. We also have a couple songs that are almost completely unknown, or not very well known at all. So there's a bigger gamut between the popular and unpopular songs on the second album."

On the first film, they sometimes played the music from the Awesome Mix during the scenes they were shooting (for instance, they were listening to "Cherry Bomb" while walking down the hallway in that film). Creatively that worked out so well that they are doing more of that while filming the sequel.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2

Make-Up

It now takes only an hour and a half to apply Drax's full body tattoos, down from four hours at the conclusion of filming the original movie (which was significantly down from the beginning of principal photography). It's apparently an entirely different process which is much easier to apply but hard to take off. Dave Bautista has to sit in a sauna at the end of the day while three guys rub the makeup application off of his body. A team of five men applies the makeup every day.

Karen Gillan's make-up application for Nebula now only takes two and a half-hours before filming each day, down from five hours on the first movie. The first time around she completely shaved her head bald, but this time around she only has to shave half of her head for the role. When Gillan did the first Guardians film, they told her it would be eight days of filming, and it ballooned to 18.

While on set, Pom Klementieff wears dots on her face because her head will be augmented by CGI in the final film. She also has two small antenna sticking out of the top of her forehead which will be extended and animated with CG.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 behind the scenes

Expanding Outward and Beyond

This story extends outward and makes this universe bigger rather than smaller. The scope of the film is "as big, if not bigger than the first movie." We will visit four or five planets in this story and "see glimpses of two or three other worlds." The film will go out further into the far reaches of Marvel's galaxy, but we will see Earth in the movie as well. But none of the Guardians of the Galaxy will be visiting our planet in this sequel. James Gunn thinks this film will feel like "a departure from the first movie," but just like the first film, this sequel will be very different than what anyone expects.

Thanos will not appear in this film, nor will any infinity stones, but his presence will be felt. The film will explore that dynamic between Nebula and Gamora as adopted sisters who both, who both raised in less than ideal circumstances by Thanos. They talk about it for the first time, and it's described as a conversation using both words and physicality. Nebula must decide if she wants to kill Gamora or is she "going to set aside this sort of internal rage within her." Nebula teams up with Taserface for much of the movie. Don't expect Nebula to cross over to the good side completely in this film.

Kevin Feige says that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is more of a standalone story than Captain America: Civil War. This sequel is more focused on the characters than setting up the Marvel galactic universe. This film is about their evolution as heroes, as their own internal family as the group. Thanos and Infinity Stones don't make an appearance, and The Avengers and Thor are not mentioned. That said, the team at the end of this sequel will "inform future things, but there's nothing that nods directly towards it."

John C. Reilly's character Corpsman Dey is not in this film but Glenn Close's character Nova Prime will appear at some point. Don't expect this movie to feature much of the Nova Corps.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 behind the scenes

The Props

While we were on set, Chris Pratt's wardrobe included a t-shirt with a logo of a candy from the first movie written in an alien language.

Prop master Russell Bobbitt had problems finding the cassette decks used in the first film. Almost all of the headsets they found were broken, and they called Sony to try to procure more for the filming of the movie, but even the company didn't have any headsets left. They went on eBay and could only find three pairs, and they were going for around $1800. And those three pairs were not even the exact model. So the propmaster had to manufacture six headsets from scratch.

Two sets of blasters were created for the second film, including a thinner one so that it doesn't look bulky in quills holster. This time around, the blaster cartridge is removable, so they can show Quill reload the blaster.

The prop team had to create a ton of new steampunk-looking weapons and belts, mostly for the Ravengers.

Baby Groot is ten inches tall. The propmaster created a 1:1 model that is used as a lighting reference and sometimes puppeteered against the actors during the filming of scenes. I got to hold this insanely detailed soft figure. Six was created for the film, each with an aluminum armature which allows them to pose him in any way needed for a sequence. When the Baby Groot figure/puppet is on set, James Gunn treats him almost like he is an actor.

Howard the Duck

Post-Credits Scenes and Easter Eggs

A couple of post-credits sequences are written into the screenplay, one that ties into something bigger, but we were told the ideas could change by the final cut of the film. James Gunn said only the following about the post-credit scenes: "You guys saw my last tag, right? I had two tags, one was a baby dancing Groot, and the other one is fucking Howard the Duck. That's my tags. I wouldn't wait. I don't think the fate of the Marvel universe is gonna, don't wait."

This film will top the original film in terms of Easter Eggs. James Gunn says "Our Easter egg obsession is insane. In fact, I have the dumbest Easter egg. We have so many incredibly obscure Easter eggs in this movie that it's ridiculous. Yeah, we've been working hard on the Easter eggs. I feel this need to do it now since people have been pouring over stuff so much."