You know you must be onto something new in the movie business when the only older work you can find to reference your new one is your own.
That’s the situation that sound editor, re-recording mixer and longtime collaborator of director Edgar Wright, Julian Slater, found himself in when Wright told him about next movie. Baby Driver would be the first car chase movie, or really any other movie, scored entirely by one character’s sixth generation iPod. So for inspiration about the new project, Slater tried out some car chase movies. And then when that didn’t work out, he went back to a more familiar well.
“With Baby Driver, Edgar wanted everything to feel ultra realistic,” Slater told Den of Geek in a exclusive sit down. “So I watched some car chase movies but then stopped because I didn’t want my taste influenced by something that someone else had done. As far as the car chase part of it went, we didn’t have a reference. But with the syncopation to music, we had kind of done it in a very embryonic form in Shaun of the Dead, so I looked to that.”
Slater is of course referring to one of the most successful scenes in he and Wright’s first collaboration Shaun of the Dead, in which the protagonists fight off a zombie bar owner with the help of pool sticks and Freddie Mercury.
That level of synchronicity became a sonic calling card for Slater and the rest of Baby Driver by extension.
“My take on [Wright’s Baby Driver concept] was that we would blow up the idea that sometimes you’re listening to music and then something will happen that will reflect what you’re listening to,” Slater said. “We knew we wanted everything to be in syncopation with the music but doing that is a different thing. All those car sirens, and bank sirens are in sync with the music.”
It’s an extreme and difficult process for any movie, but with Wright’s vision and support Slater was able to create the sonic environment for Baby Driver’s original all-music-all-the-time concept to thrive.
Hence why we had Slater walkk us through what went into the sound design for four of Baby Driver’s most musically and visually oriented scenes.
MAJOR SPOILERS for Baby Driver follow.
Opening Car Chase – “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
“Here’s a global kind of Easter Egg. That first chase sequence is the only one that goes absolutely according to plan. Baby pulls everything off, he’s an amazing driver, and it runs perfectly. That sequence we designed to be more stylized than other sequences. The windshield wipers and skids have been pitched to work perfectly with the music. This is what I like to call the ‘cool as fuck’ sequence. And it sounds different from the other sequences because everything goes well.”
Baby’s Morning Routine – “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl
“I’m gonna guess that a lot of the syncopation is off-camera. [Baby] is walking along and there’s a girl whose dancing with roller-skates on. The music she’s listening to is totally different from ‘Harlem Shuffle’ but it syncopates to ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ The car that goes past him is playing music on its car stereo that is again different to ‘Harlem Shuffle’ but is also syncopated to ‘Harlem Shuffle.’
“Then when he goes to the coffee shop to get coffee, he walks by two construction guys who are listening to rap that is in sync to ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ And there’s a guy outside the coffeeshop sending a text and the text sound is in sync to the ‘Harlem Shuffle,’ as is the music he’s listening to. Then Baby opens the door to the coffee shop and bell that’s going ‘ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching’ is in sync with ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ All the cappuccino machines too. It’s all mixed in a way that’s not in-your-face hopefully. Some people pick up on it, some people don’t.”
Second Bank Robbery – “Neat, Neat, Neat” by The Damned
“In the next robbery sequence after the first scene, things go awry. The marine starts shooting at them, and the sound here sounds different from the first sequence and we change the pitch of the sound design. The sounds still go with the music, but some of it is a bit more discordant. The sounds that you hear from his perspective when things are going well are different from when they go awry.”
Final Confrontation – “Brighton Rock” by Queen
“The mix of that was particularly challenging. Usually you’ve got a score written by a composer that’s designed to work with the ebbs and flows of what happens onscreen. But when you’ve got Freddie Mercury singing in falsetto, and you want to hear that but also more subtle things within the mix, it’s challenging.
“You don’t want the audience getting ear fatigue. I did what we call a pre-mix of the music. Then you have to try to make it work with all the car sounds, and gunshots, and crashes and ricochets. The challenge was to keep Freddie going at a good volume but not wear out the audience. So what we did is have the song playing off the car’s stereo for the first part of the sequence and then when Baby is reversing up the ramps, it goes into full score. So it begins with ‘Brighton Rock’ playing at about 70 percent with the sound underneath it and then halfway through we pump Freddie to 90 percent. And then we just had to mix the sound.”