- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

Filmmakers typically shoot short movies for film school or as calling cards for studios to consider.

Tell that to James Gunn and David Slade, two established directors who just shot shorts for Xbox Live users worldwide.

The new “Horror Meets Comedy” series gathers eight filmmakers - all already known in the horror genre - to create comedy shorts exclusively for the more than 14 million Xbox Live users. The Xbox 360 gaming system enables people to connect with other gamers and download digital content.

“It’s a great opportunity to let your imagination run riot,” says Mr. Slade, the British director of last year’s vampire film “30 Days of Night.” No studio executives breathing down one’s neck. No rules or regulations to follow.

“The only stipulation is that it’s a comedy,” Mr. Slade says.

Mr. Gunn (2006’s “Slither”) says short films are the modern version of the comic strips of yore.

“Today, instead of opening up the paper for a comic strip, they go to the Internet,” Mr. Gunn says of consumers.

Other filmmakers participating in the project include James Wan of “Saw” fame, Lucky McKee (“May,” “The Woods”) and Andrew Douglas (2005’s “The Amityville Horror”).

The first Xbox short, Mr. McKee’s “Blue Like You,” debuted Wednesday. “Meat Dog,” Mr. Slade’s animated offering, follows a dog made of cold cuts battling a cult of evil pigs and a meat-eating rabbit (Dec. 9). Mr. Gunn’s film, “Sparky and Mikaela,” features a teen who fights crime with the help of her best pal, a puppet raccoon (Dec. 30).

Mr. Gunn, an executive producer on the “Horror Meets Comedy” project, says the idea came, in part, from conversations he had with fellow horror maestros Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”) and Mr. Wan. Both thought Hollywood saw them exclusively as horror devotees, but each was curious about comedy.

Mr. Slade says he thinks horror directors offer a different, and often darker, way to make audiences laugh.

Sometimes the best comedy comes from pain, even something as simple as a groin-kick clip on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” Mr. Slade says.

“There is great comedy in tragedy, and we’re not afraid to explore it,” he says.

The chance to direct a film in a fresh genre, along with creative freedom, aren’t the only perks for the filmmakers. Should any of the short films spark the public’s interest, they could get a big payday.

“We own the copyrights,” Mr. Slade says. “People expect online stuff to be free or cheap. The way you go about making money is through merchandising. It really is worth it on a business level.”

“Some of these characters might stick; some might not. If they do, we own it,” Mr. Gunn adds.

Both Mr. Gunn and Mr. Slade say they think more film directors will be going online in one fashion or another. Mr. Slade recently pitched a horror-series concept around Hollywood, and when he didn’t get a studio to bite, he decided to shoot the series for an online audience.

Theatrical and online content can coexist, Mr. Gunn says, citing the recent movie “Iron Man” as a perfect example of the studio system firing on all cylinders. The online world offers content for more eclectic tastes.

“The Internet is about ideas and humor, period,” Mr. Gunn says.

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