122: In Praise of Edgar Wright
July 9, 2017 3:53 a.m.
Episode 122: In Praise of Edgar Wright
Director Edgar Wright makes insanely fun films and makes it all look so easy that audiences may not appreciate just how skilled and meticulous he is. Here is an appreciation of Wright along with an interview about his new film, "Baby Driver."
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Female: Welcome to another edition of Listener’s Supported KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast I'm Beth Accomando. Edgar Wright has a new film out and that’s caused for celebration. I fell in love with his work back in 2004 just before Shaun of the Dead came out. I had a friend who worked in a store that sell British import DVDs and he told me to buy a British TV series called Spaced. It was directed by Wright and co-written with its stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. The show was brilliant, not only was it funny but it was insanely clever and rich with pop culture references.
Male Speaker: [Indiscernible] [00:00:52] did you notice I was in the [indiscernible] [00:00:53] and there was three films that will mean everything can be attributed to the actress of one very mind character.
Male Speaker 2: Who?
Male Speaker: The Gunner on the start right at the beginning of the first film.
Male Speaker 2: How come?
Male Speaker: Well, because if the Gunner had showed the pot to see three [indiscernible] [00:01:10] were in they wouldn’t have got to [indiscernible] [00:01:12], they wouldn’t have met Luke, Luke wouldn’t have met Ben, they wouldn’t have met Han and Cherrie, they wouldn’t rescue Princess Leah, none of it would have happened.
Male Speaker 2: [Indiscernible] [00:01:19].
Female: I fell in love with the show and then when I show Shaun of the Dead I knew I had found the new director to cherish.
Edgar Wright: I think originally one of the first ideas was to called it Teatime of the Dead. So it’d be like the English in night/day doing teatime. Not really the initial idea was to kind of do almost like a companion film to one of their marathons in that to have a kind of the story of two little people in a epic situation really.
Female: I got to interview Wright and Pegg at Comic-Con in 2004.
Edgar Wright: We wanted to find out and twist on the horror comedy Jon Rans. So the idea was to kind of have a zombie film that’s not really about the zombies.
Female: I remember they weren’t that well-known back then and the studio hadn’t set up a room to do interviews. So I ended up speaking to them in a stairwell at Comic-Con. Shaun of the Dead showed how to construct the perfect movie. It showed how to use opening scenes that are usually just patting in a horror film to genuinely make you care for the characters and to set up things that will pay off later.
Edgar Wright: I think as well with this day and age is that, you know, film is too often cut straight to the chest and I think you lose a lot of time for cast development. Like a lot of the films that we are watching and sort of like that inspired us things like kind of Back to the Future which kind of has a good 45 minutes of set up before it really kicks off, even film like Die Hard has kind of like a good half an hour of kind of set up, set up, set up before it starts kicking in. And I think kind of in this day and age that too many films kind of forget that. Oh, I think it’s something that comes out of the way films are focused scripts and screen is that people kind of like and even with all kind of film we occasionally get some kind of oppression to say get to the first zombie killing, you know get to the first dead. That’s when the audients really liked it and that you have to make the point, yeah but the audience really liked it because they’re with the characters at that point. They’ve watched half an hour of people that they’re kind of like sympathize with and then when they have to become careless it’s a much more shocking things. So that’s why it gets big at last because we’ve had that [indiscernible] [00:03:35] built up to it.
Female: The film also used sound effectively to help reveal what waking up to the zombie apocalypse might be like. It did that by contrasting the buzz and noise of normal life with the quiet of a zombified populous.
Edgar Wright: How many times do you kind of sit at home and the police go by and you don’t look, even look out of the window. Do you know what I mean? And it’s kind of – so it’s that kind of things that you can hear sirens and sirens and sirens but never stop to think, I don’t know what’s going on. And so it was kind of – it’s something that we kind of thought it was both kind of funny and scary at the same time is that they have just car alarms and kind of like police sirens kind of – and then actually when it gets to the Sunday when the zombie is kind of like when it finally happens it goes kind of deadly quiet for a bit. So we wanted to have a film where the first half an hour of the film is like some kind of emergency siren going on in every single scene and then on Sunday morning like nothing.
Female: Wright and Pegg then delivered Hot Fuzz which revealed their love for 80’s action romances and world’s end where they ventured into sci-fi territory. In between those films Wright adopted the comic book Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Female: What I love about Wright’s films is that he pays meticulous attention to every detail, music sound, editing, casting, cinematography everything works together in perfect harmony. And everything is in there for a purpose and generally pays off by the end of the film. Like Quentin Tarantino, he makes films that reflect his own love of cinema, but he doesn't have Tarantino's brush ego that can sometimes get in the way of his films. Wright doesn't call attention to himself and the stylish flourishes that fill his films all seem to come organically from the materiel so that we aren’t ever pulled out of the movie to marvel at what he’s done. He makes it all looks so easy that we may actually overlook how truly skilled and meticulous he is as a director.
I recently had the chance to do a short phone interview with Wright about Baby Driver. I may have gotten the interview in part because I saw him at the TCM Classic Film Festival where he introduced Kentucky Fried Movie. I gave him a but I had made for the film for the segment called Catholic High-School Girls in Trouble. He posted a picture of it on his Instagram account and said it was a great take away from the Festival. So maybe that’s what help me get one of those limited time slots for an interview. And that’s another thing about Wright, he’s a genuinely nice guy and a true film gig. I had the pleasure of attending a film series he did at The New Bev. It was films that he hadn’t seen but should have.
I went when he was screening The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and he had made a special printout packet of information about the film. Then he introduced it and sat in the front row to watch the movie with the audience. And after the film he hung out to talk about it. That was an amazing screening. Baby Driver is his latest film and I’ve already seen it twice. Here’s the trailer to give you a taste of what it's like.
Female: Because my interview time was so short I didn’t get to ask all the questions I wanted to. So I’m going to play one sound bite from the studio provided press kit in which Edgar Wright talks about directing. I want to play this because it goes to my point of how meticulous he is when he’s directing. Here, he talks about choreographing scenes and action to the music.
Edgar Wright: Sometimes in action scenes you would occasionally be able to play the music out loud, so in that opening sequence when he's walking down the street and getting coffees that song was playing,. Harlem Shake was playing out loud in the street. Other scenes it’s only an enthusiast and maybe like Ansel has enthusiast I can hear it on my headphones and the camera operator can hear it but nobody else. And then other times we had to play like a quick track or something because sometimes when there’s like guns firing nobody can hear anything. So in those cases then a really amazing thing happens is the choreographer Ryan Heffington who’s amazing genius, he would get the actors to think in counts. So say for example, a scene where people are shooting in time of the music, he would get them to memorize this part of the rhythm. So it would be a thing like Ryan going up to Jon Hamm and saying this next bit is you going da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da and da-da-da-da-da and that he was like get that in your head.
Female: And here’s my interview with Edgar Wright. I apologize for the sound quality, but sometimes the studio set up interviews where they insist on staying on the line or keeping the talent on a speaker phone so they can listen in. Anyway I started my interview with Wright by asking which came first, the playlist or the script for Baby Driver.
Edgar Wright: When I was 21 I was listening a lot to the song that opens the movie by John [indiscernible] [00:09:31] that I would just imagine this concept. So I would literally like dream the sequence that is on the music. And then that became the idea of doing a film about somebody who is motivated by music and the idea of it being a getaway driver who needs the right music to kind of like excel. And it kind of went from there really, but so over the years sometimes the songs would dictate the scenes and sometimes the songs would dictate the scenes and sometimes I will have to find the right song to fit a scene.
Female: So how did the finished film, The Car Chases and these car scenes live up to the dreams you had when you’re in your 20s?
Edgar Wright: Very similar, I mean I would say probably better actually like I think I kind of – I couldn’t be happy without [indiscernible] [00:10:32], you know?
Female: You’ve this real passion for cinema and for films. So how does that love for cinema kind of play out in your career choices and the kind of things that you want to do?
Edgar Wright: Well, I think it’s kind of a bit of a no brainer for me is I never think about what film I ought to make. I just think about what film I want to make. And I have to approach it that I want to make films that if I hadn’t have made them I would love them. So that’s really sort of the only thing that governs my choices is like what kind of movie do I want to see as a film fan.
Female: But what you do so well is that you even though a lot of your films or all of your films seem inspired by movies you love, you make each of these films completely your own without making them seem like they’re just imitations?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I don’t know, I mean, I – I think it’s just the way that my life, sort of the brain works is that I, you know, in some way I want to take the genre that I love and subvert it in some way. So Shaun of the Dead is like a zombie film through the structure of a romantic-comedy. This movie is like a hies movie but feels it through the music that the lead is listening to. So it’s always trying to go find, I mean I couldn’t – I mean that I was interested in doing just a straight hies movie because that kind of thing where I’ve seen hundreds of those in life. So what’s the new angle? So that’s the thing and so looking of a different way of like refracting something that I really like to make something different.
Female: What did you feel that you were kind of refracting in this one?
Edgar Wright: I guess it’s the idea seeing a hies film through the eyes and ears as a unique character.
Edgar Wright: And so you know Baby is both like a young apprentice within a gang. So to see like a movie, like sometimes that lot of people are like subsidiary characters or you know seeing a movie where like it goes like it’s actually an inversion of what you normally see. Like in Goodfellas, you know, Henry Hill is this a youngster that wants to be a gangster whereas the start of our movie Ansel Elgort is already like a veteran driver and actually wants to kind of get out of it. So he is kind of like the ones to jacket in at the age of 20. So I think it’s saying about like there were about people making kind of like grown up decisions and then a sense like, you know, Baby’s decisions is so like trying to live the life of his life first the adult decision. I guess the other thing then obviously the huge part of it is that not only are you seeing through the eyes of this young character but also you’re experiencing it through his like ears, you know, you’ll hear the songs that he’s hearing and that in a lot of ways kind of like motivates the movie.
Female: Well you always used sound really well in your films especially Shaun of the Dead just the kind of sounds gap you create to let you know when the world has totally gone to halt. And so how do you approach sound when you’re making a film because it seems like such an important part and you used it in ways that other filmmakers seem to ignore?
Edgar Wright: I think you just sort of think about, you know, if you’re not using sound well you’re robbing yourself of like 50% of the experience. I think it’s just something where always it’s fun to play with the soundtrack and the sound effects and how those things combined together with the visuals can give you more information, less information, [indiscernible] [00:15:47] sound of music. And so I’ve been interested in, you know, Shaun of the Dead sometimes you’re also using the sounds to conjure up the sense of things that you cannot afford in that movie at least. So I think it’s always been something that’s interesting to me as how you can use like sounds to sort of just enhance the entire experience. I mean this maybe sort of becomes a movie about balance, you know.
Female: And you also have been playing with sound to creating his little kind of songs and raps that he does at home.
Edgar Wright: Yeah absolutely that was something I thought would be a fun idea. I like when this outfit, in fact the people, the prisoner actually made the songs that’s probably like that a Montreal DJ called Keith [indiscernible] [00:16:45]. He actually did that track.
You know I always like people that make music that found sound or like audio recording. So I thought it was an interesting thing for him to be doing. And in terms of the character like he’s mythologizing himself which I think in turn is his way of compartmentalizing the guilt that like whatever like he’s fooling himself that he’s not a criminal at the start of the movie. And I think creating is somewhat romantic persona of this, that a getaway driver is actually a way of distancing himself from the real repercussions of the crime. But then the movie sort of becomes about having to take responsive if your actions is that Baby can keep on driving but at some point he can’t face the music.
Female: There also seems to be a sense about him that he is sort of different from the other characters and there’s this feeling, it’s almost like his innocence almost protects him because there’s a lot that goes on and there’s a lot of violence and there’s a lot of action. And yet he seems sort of remove from it. It reminded me a little bit of Raising Arizona, how baby never gets hurt no matter how outrages everything is around him.
Edgar Wright: I love that movie. I think with this the idea was actually it’s about, at the start of the movie and I guess it’s a very millennial thing that people talk about in terms of like just headphones themselves is the character is kind of like constructed his bubble around him. And it’s sort of a like a safe place where it’s like the one thing he can control in his life is like a car and his music. You know, he’s kind of created a persona or a job where he can do that. But he’s also like -- the headphones and the sunglasses are like a scene a way or [indiscernible] [00:18:56] approach and really that the movie is about having those things taken away from him so he have to kind of come to terms with what is happening and he’s confident. Like it’s not a coincidence the key part in the movie where he have to make a really big life or dead decision is he has had his sunglasses knocked off or like partly knocked off immediately before.
So it’s like it’s forcing him to really look at what he’s doing or what he’s a part of. It was a big part of movie is this idea of like really sort of hammering it into people who might have this glamorous idea of being a getaway driver from not just a movie but even video games just this thing about reminding them that it is not a game. And like and, you know, about this sort of the repercussions in the world to those and some people and also to the ones you love.
Female: Well, it had a bit of a tone of like it felt like someone who as a kid watch this movies like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and admired these characters that were breaking law and kind of breaking out of conventional rules, but deep down the person who love those films also had kind of an innate sense of morality too, the kind of how to get balance with it?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and I think that’s something that, I mean I feel that because I feel like and not to give away the ending but if they just clean got away with at the end I would feel unsatisfied. And I think sometimes in those movies, you know, the movies that I did usually end in one or two way is that you could have your Bonnie and Clyde style ending or you could have your ending like the Getaway, the [indiscernible] [00:20:37] film where they literally getaway at the end. And I really, I don’t want to dive [indiscernible] [00:20:41] is I try to think of a third way of ending it which is kind of what the movie is.
And that idea was there right from the start because I feel like I couldn’t really condone the entire film with mayhem without having some kind of a moment where there is some responsibility taken for the actions in the movie. And I think that’s something that I always wanted to do that, I always like the end of the old 30s one or other gangster films, you know, that they had of a strong moral kick out to them, like I always love the ending of Angels of Dead you face as a good example like I think the ending of that film is fantastic.
Female: You’ve mentioned a lot of films that have car chases and a lot of action in heisting them but one thing that I was thinking of when I was watching the film is it also seems influenced by Hong Kong movies in the sense of action defines characters in a way that isn’t used as often in American films?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I know I think that’s true. I mean I’m a big fan of – I watched a lot of kind of Hong Kong movies at a very formative age. I think it’s also something like you know because the character doesn’t talk too much but you sort of see some moments in the movie like purely in action and almost at the entire [indiscernible] [00:22:35] act revolves around one little action that Baby does. I’d probably say this one is that like when he sees the trailer going into the bank, right, he knows the [indiscernible] [00:22:45] he shakes his at her twice as if to say don’t go in there.
And that little action of him like finally doing the right thing and breaking out his passive nature as a getaway driver and actually stopping a member of the public walk into a crime, sort of ongoing crime scene. That is the right thing to do in the moment and it also becomes like the sort of the catalyst for the rest of the movie. But I like that because it’s like a big, big moment in the script and then the movie that is not like a line of a dialogue just action.
Female: The way he handles the car because there is not a lot of dialogue in it and there is a lot of action but how did you want kind of the car scenes to kind of define who the different characters were because there is other people who drive also?
Edgar Wright: Well, I think one of the things that I think is interesting in the film is that Baby is – the car was kind of somewhat disposable to him. So it actually feels like, you know, an action film where the hero didn’t have a signature car and he steals different cars at different points. So to me it becomes – it’s like more about the right than it’s about the vehicle. So I thought that was kind of interesting is that he is like a savant driving but not necessarily linked to any one particular car, he can sort of drive anything.
Female: Okay well, thank you very much for your time and I just want to say I met you briefly at the TCM Film Festival and I’m the one who gave you the Catholic School Girls button.
Edgar Wright: Oh, I loved it. I have this on my Instagram, I took a photo of that I love it dearly.
Female: Yes. Well, I’m very happy that I was able to give that to you because you gave a great introduction for that film.
Edgar Wright: Oh what a blast that was! Can you imagine having to achieve those full, it was amazing.
Female: It was, it was a lot fun.
Edgar Wright: And talking about that, it was sort of late, it was at midnight.
Edgar Wright: And I think they didn’t realize it was a midnight and they like, oh we’re going to be too tired and of the top secret. And then of course they [indiscernible] [00:24:46] got on there, they’re like sort of just the funniest and chewiest. That was amazing.
Female: Oh, it was great and you handled it all well keeping them all kind of on topic.
Edgar Wright: Thank you.
Female: Thank you, bye-bye.
Edgar Wright: He says bye.
Female: That was director Edgar Wright. His new film Baby Driver is out in theaters now and you need to see it and see it on the big screen in the cinema with great sound. Next week I’ll be talking about Hitchcock and the new TCM online class about the master of suspense. Thanks for listening to another episode of Listener’s Supported, KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Till our next film fix on Data Commando your resident Cinema Junkie.