Edgar Wright on “Baby Driver”
Of all the ways you could drive a car-themed heist thriller Edgar Wright chooses to go 100 m.p.h. down a crowded street with the pedal to the metal in Baby Driver.
When Baby Driver had its world premiere at SXSW a few months ago, Wright autographed over a thousand mini posters for the movie that were handed out to the exiting crowd at the Paramount Theater. “I sat down at my house and autographed 1,200 posters,” Wright tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. “It took about four hours.”
Wright reunited with many of his regular collaborators for Baby Driver. “My crew is generally the people I’ve worked with several times: my producers Nira Park and Eric Fellner, my production designer Marcus Rowland. For Steven Price, the composer, it’s the second film we’ve worked on. And it’s the third time I’ve worked with [Director of Photography] Bill Pope.
“He’s done everything in his career once before, I like him because of his visual style but he also thinks about the heart of the story. The characters and what they’re thinking. Bill’s not just thinking about what it looks like, he’s thinking about what it feels like,” says Wright.
Editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, also alumni of previous Wright films, were working on the movie before principal photography. Many of the sequences are timed to specific rock songs and as such required advance planning.
“What’s interesting is we did some editing before we even started. We had the songs locked down – those were written into the script,” says Wright. So before we even start shooting we were editing the sequences with storyboards in animation. Then you start rehearsing with the actors. And then you start the film for real.
Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a heist car driver who constantly listens to music to drown out tinnitus caused by a childhood trauma. Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx co-star.
“Anytime there was a two-shot of Jamie and Kevin I would whisper to Bill ‘Oscar shot,’” laughs Wright. “But there’s another Oscar winner in the film, Paul Williams who has a small role won an award for Best Original Song.”
Wright literally composes action scenes in tempo to songs like Queen’s “Brighton Beach,” and “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.
“All of the action set-ups were difficult in their own right. Anytime cars were involved it got very tricky because of the precision and the timing. The safety aspect means that everything has to be worked out.
“A lot of times the actors are driving on actual roads. The entire affair becomes a ballet of teamwork,” says Wright. “Other factors include how exhausted you are on a particular day. We were shooting the finale during the middle of the schedule, things like that where you’re going from day to night and day again are punishing.
“With a lot of the key action set pieces in the movie I would literally have the idea for the movie based on the song. Some of the songs you mention like ‘Hocus Pocus’ or ‘Bellbottoms’ [Jon Spencer Blues Explosion] or ‘Neat Neat Neat’ by The Damned — I would listen to the song and imagine the scene. I always wanted to use ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus, and I love the idea of it starting and stopping.”
Baby is running away from a botched robbery during the opening of the “Hocus Pocus” sequence. “But then there is the yodeling interlude and a character is hiding behind a tree and then the guitar kicks in and Baby starts running again. Then later there’s gunfire in time to the track. When it all comes together in the editing — that’s what I intended to do with the movie.”
For the use of “Brighton Rock,” the film mixes car engine sounds into the song. “In the mix we tuned the car sounds so they would be in the same key as the song,” says Wright.
Some of Wright’s previous films include Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End.
Free Press Houston asks Wright if he would ever consider doing a sequel to one of his films, like Hot Fuzz?
“Yes and no. Have we ever thought about it? Yes. The tricky thing is I make a movie every three years, I’d like to do it quicker sometimes, but the idea of spending three years in the same world — that’s the less appealing part to it.
“I agree you can do something more with those characters. It would have to be something really special. I’m really proud of Hot Fuzz,” says Wright. “Oddly it’s a personal film for me because it was shot in my hometown in Somerset, England.
“I wouldn’t do it just for the paycheck, that’s for sure.”
Baby Driver is currently unwinding in area theaters.