Much was made of Edgar Wright’s surprising departure from directing Marvel’s Ant-Man back in 2014. But while most focused on who’d be taking over the film, few discussed what Wright had planned for his own future.
Three years later, Baby Driver hits the road. A stunning, cinematic explosion driven by a stellar soundtrack and everything you love about Edgar Wright’s filmography. With every film since his brilliant debut Shaun of the Dead, Wright continuously pushes his talents further and further, utilizing every trick he’s learned along the way. With Baby Driver, the music, cinematography, choreography, stunts, performances (by a large ensemble cast including Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and more), script… everything is firing on all cylinders.
I recently spoke with Wright on writing solo, collaborating with his team, the pros of practical effects, and if we’ll ever see him helm a massive franchise—or if he really wants to any more.
Andy Young, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): This is your first script—not including your early works like Dead Right and A Fistful of Fingers—where you’re the sole writing credit. What were the pros and cons of taking on the story yourself? Was there ever a point where you thought you could use a co-writer?
Edgar Wright (EW): No, I wanted to write solo because it was a bit of a departure from the other movies. It did make it harder just because A, it’s not specifically a comedy and B, you don’t have a sounding board in the room. Writing with Simon Pegg or Joe Cornish or Michael Bacall, you’re pinging off each other all the time. But with this, it was more of a “learn via process” and as such, it was a slower process. The other thing that was a big challenge in writing was that it’s a film that’s about the action and the sound, so just the very nature of having to write it all down and make it exciting was tough.
MM: What are some of your favorite heist films, and which of those influenced Baby Driver? What are the qualities that make a heist film great?
EW: Well, I don’t know, there’s so many. I did a season for BAM called Heist Society of my favorite heist films that inspired Baby Driver in some way, so that’s a good place to start. But the main ones I’d say that influenced Baby Driver are The Driver, Reservoir Dogs, Heat, Point Break to some extent, then there are a lot of other heist films that I really enjoy like The Hot Rock, Straight Time, Thunderbolt & Lightning, there are so many of them. This was a combination of things like Heat and Reservoir Dogs and also The Driver—there was the idea of there being revolving casts in the gangs. So with the structure of the movie, you can have three heists and each one has a different combination of crew and it’s a build-up to each heist getting morally tougher—the stakes are getting higher and the decisions that Baby has to make are getting tougher. In terms of structure, a lot of movies have a “crime doesn’t pay” theme and a strong moral kicker at the end, but I also wanted the movie to start with the dream of being a getaway driver and slowly the nightmare of being a criminal starts to creep in.
MM: Can you break down the amazing opening car chase scene?
EW: There’s a long series of different stages of prep. Number one is writing the scene but even before writing the scene, back in 2008, I’d taken some of these songs and with my DJ friend Osymyso and had him put sound effects to the track, and I would tell him exactly where. I said “OK, this part of the song they’d pull up, and this part of the song the rest of them get out and the door slams, and this part of the song they go into the bank. And now he’s on his own he’s not singing along, and now an alarm goes off, and he looks over, and now they’re running out, and now the car chase is starting.” So I have a mix of that song from 2008 which is still like three years away from me handing in the first draft.
Then once we actually start to get into production—maybe three years ago when we said we wanted Baby Driver to be the next movie—we started trying to get our plans in action, then I did a storyboard of the whole sequence which we then turned into an animatic.
MM: Were you working with Bill Pope at all during that time?
EW: Not at that point. I basically draw the sketches and then my brother sometimes helps oversee and sometimes finishes the boards. For that opening sequence, we had this great animator Steve Markowski do an animatic for the sequence which we’ll put on the Blu-ray. It’s kind of incredible, it’s an animated version of the chase. And then we show that animation to Bill and Dan Prescott, and then the stunt guys have to figure out how to actually do all these stunts.
MM: Like how to reverse a car in an alleyway?
EW: We actually had something different on the boards, they came up with that one! Mine was somewhat similar, it was in an alley and it was just going down part of the alley that was only so wide and it was touching the sides. They came up with the 180 in, 180 out.
So the stunt guys have to go out and try out all the stunts in a parking lot and figure out all the timing of it. The tricky thing for them is they have to think about the timing of the song, so it’s really quite delineated windows, in terms of, “This part of the song from this building to this turn is like 10 seconds, and this part leading up to where they knock into some of the traffic is gonna take this amount of time,” so we are giving them some really hard lines to play within. Then the next part, possibly even more complicated than the stunts, is the locations because it’s one thing to draw it and it’s another thing to actually get the streets.
MM: Atlanta is a very film-friendly city, but I imagine you had to block off a bunch of streets and find the right space for each different moment.
EW: Yeah. Low-budget filmmakers will know this, but even on a bigger-budget film, you can’t close down 20 city blocks, you have to do it two or three blocks at a time. In the opening sequence, I think it goes through about 30 or 40 blocks. But even so, each bit is three blocks and we just keep moving with about three hours at each location.
MM: I want to talk about the choreography of your films. One of my favorite things found in all your movies are those great, meticulously choreographed elements. How do you collaborate with both the actor and your choreographer?
EW: It’s similar to my stunt process. I go through the script with Ryan [Heffington, Sia’s choreographer] and walk him through my ideas, tell him you’ve got 15 seconds here or 30 seconds here, either go crazy or let’s start brainstorming together. You give them free rein to come up with great stuff.
That said, the actual areas of play are quite delineated. So, say, in the “Tequila” gunfight, there’s a drum solo in the middle where two drummers are having a drum-off. That is the gunfight, but that bit is also only 20 seconds long. It’s not gonna get any longer than this. So it’s quite a good thing for the stunt guys and the choreographer to figure out, “Well I only have this much time for this bit.”
MM: I read somewhere that you prefer keeping things practical versus CG, especially when it comes to explosions. Were you able to stick to that?
EW: Yeah, in Baby Driver all of the driving stuff is real and 99 percent of the actor shots are also done for real. It just makes everything more vivid. CG can be great at times but I feel like sometimes people just use it lazily because they can’t be bothered to try and do it for real. Gravity is an entirely green screen movie and it’s extraordinary, but I think sometimes where there’s people like, “Oh, we’re driving down the street doing this dialogue,” like, why not just shoot it on the road? I get annoyed with that. I tend to appreciate filmmakers who are pushing to do everything for real, to make it more vivid. Tarantino and Chris Nolan are totally like that, where it’s like, “Why do any of this with effects? Let’s try to do this all in camera.”
MM: Will we ever see you direct a big-budget comic book movie, or are you even interested in doing that any more?
EW: I would never say never, but I think… listen, when I was getting Baby Driver off the ground I got offered two different franchises, but I knew that Baby Driver was more important to do because it was original. The thing with franchises is that if you don’t direct it, somebody else will. With Mad Max, that was George Miller, he’s the man. But with a superhero movie or a Star Wars movie, if you don’t direct it, somebody else will. So at the end of the day my feeling is—and there are of course exceptions to this—but I wanted to look at something and say, “Only I can direct this movie,” and I would only do something if I felt I could really get my paws on it. But if I feel like I’m better served by doing an original movie, I’d probably do that instead.
MM: What about doing television? I know you looked at it as cutting your teeth when you were just starting out, but now that television has grown over the past 15 years into what it is now, do you ever see yourself doing a mini-series or any short-form television shows?
EW: I mean, maybe? If it was the right thing, for sure, but I think I’m also very aware of how completely all-encompassing the work is, so I just don’t want to do anything like that half-in. Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner, that is their entire life doing those shows and sometimes your agents say, “Hey do this TV show, you’ll get in and out quickly,” and I’ll say, “No you don’t, I’ve done it before.” Spaced was my entire life from 1999 to 2001.
MM: So you’re more interested in doing original features?
EW: I will not rule anything out.
MM: Fair enough.
EW: I don’t wanna take a franchise film, and someone says, “Edgar Wright’s a fucking liar, he said he’d never do a James Bond!” MM
Baby Driver opens in theaters on June 28, 2017, courtesy of TriStar Pictures. All images courtesy of TriStar Pictures.