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Director Edgar Wright on Baby Driver and the Need for Original Blockbusters

on June 20, 2017, 2:15pm

Edgar Wright loves movies. He also loves making movies, and his latest film, Baby Driver, is a testament to that passion. At a young and lean 43 years old, the English filmmaker is already a wizened veteran in the entertainment industry, having tackled a multitude of genres and mediums, from the highly coveted UK series Spaced to genre subversions like 2004’s Shaun of the Dead to signature spectacles like 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Baby Driver feels like a coronation for Wright. That’s not to say his past efforts aren’t exceptional — they’re why he’s one of this generation’s most beloved visionaries — but they’re not on this level. To be fair, most films aren’t, especially those in the action genre. It’s a sleek and muscular production that should change the marriage of sound and screen.

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Seeing how Consequence of Sound has dabbled in both areas over the past decade, we were naturally overwhelmed by Wright’s flawless execution. In our glowing South by Southwest review, Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman writes, “This is the La La Land of car chase movies, a jaw-shattering spectacle of sight and sound that sets the bar through the roof for any filmmakers currently cutting their teeth in music videos.”

We’re not alone, either. In addition to other stellar reviews, it’s perhaps most telling that TriStar Pictures moved the film up two months from August 11th to June 28th, aka the season’s highly coveted Fourth of July Weekend. In anticipation, we reached out to Wright amid his epic press tour to talk about the economy of filmmaking and how Baby Driver is exactly the type of summer blockbuster we need right now.

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In the past, Leonard Maltin has referred to you as a fanboy turned filmmaker, but do you ever stop being the fanboy? Has it been difficult keeping tabs on everything in pop culture?

Well, I think when you’re making a movie, everything else goes away. Last year I was in Atlanta solidly from January until the end of May, and I think I saw four movies in total during that whole stay – but that’s due to the exhaustion. I think I watched barely any TV; I think the only TV I did watch was The People vs. O.J. Simpson, I saw that, and I’d watch late night shows but that was kind of it. Usually when you’re shooting, you’re so completely consumed with the movie and also exhausted that there really just isn’t time for anything else.

Do you have any escapes while you’re shooting?

I try to still keep up with my passions and stuff, for film and music. Sometimes there just the isn’t time in the day to watch every TV show that’s out there. I’m always suspicious of the people who do watch all the TV shows, it’s like “How do you do that?” It seems like there’s 30 shows on at any time that I’ve got to keep up with, and I can barely do two! Or even one at a time.

I think it’s very difficult to kind of keep invested in every single part of pop culture anyway. You know something’s got to give. I didn’t read as much as I’d like to. Or, I didn’t watch that much TV or play any video games at all, so the things I try to keep up with are films and music.

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In the book, The Film That Changed My Life, you talked about your love for An American Werewolf in London, and specifically discussed how you had to search for a physical copy of the film. Do you feel having grown up in an era of hunting and gathering for pop culture informed your drive and passion for the subject? And, do you feel that’d still be the case in today’s era of streaming?

Having everything at your fingertips doesn’t make me want to watch more stuff. What’s sad, in a way, is that people think that Netflix or iTunes is the big deal, but the truth is that not everything’s on there. I still watch and buy a lot of movies on DVD because I like having a physical copy at hand. I don’t want to say, “Oh, I can’t watch ‘so and so’ tonight because it’s not on Netflix,” you know, because the lease expired. I think when you have more choices, especially on Netflix, I find it overwhelming. I don’t want to have to look through this menu for 45 minutes to find something. I’ve come to make a list of films I still need to see, and usually if I see that it’s out of the cinema or I have a copy of it, I’m like, “Alright, I’ve got to watch one of these films that I know I need to see.”

I think the other thing with streaming and having everything readily available is that … when I was a kid, before I even had a VCR, I would just watch films because they were on TV. In the U.K. there were only four channels, so if a film was on late at night, I would probably watch it. Sometimes, you would suffer through films that were just okay, and there would be like one great bit. There might be a film where it might be like, “This film is okay, but there’s a great bit where ‘blah-blah’ happens.” I think in this day and age, if I was an 18-year-old now, I wouldn’t make it through the first five minutes. I’d get FOMO and think, Oh, okay, this is no good, let’s see if there’s something else. So I think that’s a tough thing with streaming; too much choice also leads to people kind of having Attention Deficit Disorder.

You mentioned you have a list of films to watch. Recently, on Twitter, you announced how you were also putting together a list of your favorite albums…

Oh, I was trying to do a list for The Quietus for the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ and it was really tough.

You had some great choices in the mix: Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, Be Your Own Pet’s Get Awkward, and especially Beck’s Midnite Vultures, which has always been cruelly underrated.

It really holds up. In fact, there’s a track from Midnite Vultures in Baby Driver.

Right! “Debra”, which is used so well in the film. I was very stoked to hear it, especially since the album doesn’t get enough love, even now. Do you remember when the album first came out, or was it something that you found later on?

Oh yeah. I saw him on that tour, in fact, at Wembley Area. I particularly loved the single off the album, “Mixed Bizness”, it was just fantastic.

Let’s talk about the music for a bit. Did you assemble the soundtrack prior to writing the film?

I had like eight of the songs that were the set pieces I had somewhat figured out. So, I knew what the big set pieces were because I kind of outlined it, but then when it came to writing the draft, basically, I wouldn’t start writing a scene until I had the right song.

Every song in the film is welded to each of its respective scene, almost down to a science. Did you have to check on licenses each time to see if it was going to be a hurdle to get?

That’s a bigger job. Our amazing clearance person looks at that, but after we finish the script. Most things we couldn’t clear were dance or hip-hop songs where they had not cleared the samples themselves, and therefore, it was just really impossible to clear.

There’s a ton of music in the film, so it’s not exactly surprising to see the soundtrack span 30 tracks, but that’s one hell of an ambitious soundtrack.

Well I kind of thought that if it was just a single album, people would be annoyed. I’ve had this happen twice, where something isn’t on the album, like for Spaced, all you’d see on Amazon are comments like: “Where’s the A-Team remix?” Or for Scott Pilgrim: “Where’s Brie Larson’s version of ‘Black Sheep’?” And they’ll get one star. So, I guess it better be reflective of the movie because I don’t want to get one of those withering one stars. It’s like, “I can’t believe you didn’t put ‘blank blank’ on there.” As it is, there are still about seven tracks that are not on [the Baby Driver soundtrack], you know? But, I just wanted to make it work as an overall listen.

Was it a difficult process to whittle the soundtrack down to 30 or 40 songs?

Not really, because you would basically just kind of get the right song for the scene. Apart from the big set pieces, you just do it on a song by song basis.

Well, the execution for every song is flawless, but it must have been a very tenuous process. Was there a scene or a particular moment during filming where you thought, Christ, how the hell are we gonna do this?

I think you just have to go all in with it, really. It’s the kind of movie where if I had sort of half-done it or lost my nerve, I would have never forgiven myself. I think we just had to go for it. I think if we ever did the sequel, I would go even further down that route, you know? Just for ways of using the music, and being so inventive with it.

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What was a particularly difficult scene for you to put down?

Well, the car chases were incredibly complicated. The cars are on public roads, so there’s an element there that just becomes incredibly complicated.

You operated on a Michael Mann-type of level. You worked with technical consultant and former bank robber Joe Loya for the heists and hired in-demand choreographer Ryan Heffington for the action sequences. Do you always work this way?

There’s only been two movies where there’s been the chance to do any research. The other one was Hot Fuzz, where we needed to meet lots of policemen, and that’s what informed the script. I think with this one, this was only the second movie where there was the opportunity to interview people for the research for the script.

I’ve used a choreographer before, but never for the entire movie. You know, my stunt coordinator on the last two films was Brad Allan, but he’s not really a car guy, so he didn’t do this one. So, we found Darrin Prescott, instead, and we wanted to work with a choreographer for the entire movie, so Ryan Heffington came up.

It’s an interesting mix of old colleagues and new people to bring into the mix, and that’s always sort of exciting.

Why did you decide to set it in America and not in the U.K.?

I think London is kind of car chase-proof now. The main thing with bank robberies is that you don’t really get the same scene in the U.K. Most robberies are either done by, like, smash-and-grab stuff at night, or if you’re in the city, they might use motorcycles or scooters. It’s been that way since the ‘80s. With the way the traffic flow works, it’s incredibly difficult to get around London anyway, so doing a higher-speed would be very difficult.

Also, there isn’t really the same thing in the U.K. as in California or Georgia, where you have banks next to freeways. So, even way back, when I first thought of the idea 22 years ago, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a British film. I was so far away from Hollywood at that point, so it wasn’t something that I could really do anything about other than just think about it.

You mentioned that you’ve been sitting on this story for two decades. Why now? 

Well, I wrote it before The World’s End, and then we made The World’s End next for somewhat personal reasons, which was great actually, and I went back to the U.K. The irony is that I was going to do another movie, which I didn’t do, and that when I was doing that movie, I thought: Well, maybe if I do this, and it’s a hit, I’ll have enough muscle to make Baby DriverAnd so, I guess the positive thing that came up was that I got to make the movie anyway.

Do you feel it’s getting harder and harder to tell original stories like this and at this level now?

Yeah, and the sad thing about it is it seems like people draw these weird battle lines in the sand, where it’s like, “Oh, they’re a franchise movie” or “They’re an original movie.” But the original movies are avant-garde and quirky and it’s like, well, let’s not forget that in some point in time, Star Wars was an original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark was an original movie, Back to the Future was an original movie, and Alien was an original movie. So what saddens me is that it’s sort of like, well, indie cinema is in good health, and there’s always great stuff that comes out of international cinema, and the awards movies every year … but where are the original event movies?

That’s my sort of big question mark. Hollywood really needs to make more of those, as well, and the sad thing is I think that when you get something that’s an entertaining movie in its own right, like a franchise starter, [it doesn’t start that way.] When they were making Die Hard in 1988, they weren’t mapping out the five John McClane films. They weren’t going, “…and then in the fifth one, he goes to Russia.” The only thought going into Die Hard was like, “Let’s make a great, kickass action movie that lasts two hours.” So, what I miss and what I think there needs to be more are original films.

I’m very proud that Baby Driver is coming out in the summer. I feel so grateful and fortunate because I think, “Well this is like a big screen summer movie.” And, you know, there needs to be more of them. More than the original.

Well, you kind of hinted earlier in the conversation about a second one. Are you already thinking of ideas for a sequel?

Yeah. If audiences enjoy the movie, then, you know, I have some ideas.

Baby Driver races into theaters June 28th.

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