Following a much-publicised departure from Ant-Man, Edgar Wright is back with a new film which he has both written and directed. Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort alongside the likes of Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx. We had 15 minutes with Wright to talk about the film’s long gestation and how he took it from Wood Green DHSS to the big screen…
So this one’s been on the slate for a while. I hear you had the idea for it something like 20 years ago now?
Yeah, it’s funny, when I’ve mentioned that kind of timeline – having the idea 22 years ago – it’s true in a sense that I heard a song and visualised a car chase, which is John Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms, and that’s in the movie – but when people say “So why did it take 22 years to get to the screen?” I’m like woah, back up! 22 years ago I was living in Wood Green, I was 21, I’d made my first feature [Fistful Of Fingers] but it hadn’t come out yet. I was signing on at the DHSS in Shopping City – and this is random but that’s the same one that inspired Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton to come up with the Pauline Job Seekers character. The real Pauline worked there!
You’re suggesting we should get ita blue plaque?
Right! So, I had the idea back then, and over the years it developed into a getaway driver, a young getaway driver, who can’t operate at his best without the right kind of music playing. So over the years – before Spaced, before anything else – I kept sort of developing the idea.
Then in 2002 I did a music video for Mint Royale with Noel Fielding and Nick Frost, Michael Smiley and Julian Barratt that was sort of like a dry run for the opening sequence. At the time that I did the video I was almost mad at myself for squandering the idea on a 20 grand music video.
But it turned out well and stuck around, and ended up being a handy proof-of-concept. Then ten years ago is when I took the advance to write the script. I told Eric Fellner at Working Title what it was, and he sat up in his chair and said “I wanna see you make a car movie!” – I didn’t really tell him anything about it, my elevator pitch was “a car chase movie driven by music.” and he’s like “Do it!” – that’s the great thing about Eric, I didn’t have to do a big outline. He just wants to read what that is.
The next part of the process was speaking to Steven Price, the now-Oscar winning composer of Gravity. In 2008 I had about eight songs worked out for Baby Driver, all of which are still in the movie, and I don’t read music so I asked Nick Angel, music supervisor on Hot Fuzz and who the character of Nicholas Angel is named after – I said “Do you know any music editors?” and he said “Yeah, there’s this guy called Steven Price, he’s great.” So I asked him to help me break down the songs so that I could use those. It’s funny, I worked with him on Scott Pilgrim, then he did Attack The Block, and literally his next credit is Gravity…
That’s good company!
Isn’t it? There’s not that much score in Baby Driver, but he also does that. So all of this precis and prep and thinking was building up to writing the movie, which I didn’t actually start until 2010. By that point I’d got it broken down, and I’d also started interviewing ex-cons. We found some who were willing to talk and had become writers – as an English middle class kid, I thought if I was going to write an American crime film I have to authenticate it. I’d talk to them about the scenes I had and ask if there was anything similar that happened to them.
One of them became the script consultant on the movie! His name was Joe Loya – he was amazing, in the 80s and 90s he committed 30 bank robberies and went to prison for 10 years. So with that experience you could throw anything at him and if he hadn’t done it, he’d know someone who had.
And how much of that made it in?
The thing in the movie where Jamie Foxx is talking about the hex songs, that’s straight from a story I was told by a guy called Rick in Boston. I’d ask things like “Would you ever listen to music on the way to a job?” and they’d go “No, no, nothing like that. Well actually, there was one time…” and he said one time when they were going to a job they had the radio on and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door by Guns ‘N’ Roses was playing, and one of the guys started freaking out saying “This song is bad luck! It’s an omen! We shouldn’t do this job.” So they just didn’t do it. That dialogue makes it’s way into the script. Joe also gave me the line “I’ve got enough demons up here making music”, that was his genuine response when I asked if he ever listened to music on the way to a heist.
One story that Joe told me that I couldn’t use was that he said when he finally got away he’d put on music as like a victory song, and I asked what sort of thing and he said “Michael Jackson, Smooth Criminal“.
Amazing. Probably a little on the nose for a movie!
I know! If I’d put that in the film people would have said it was too much. But I swear, a real-life bank robber said that to me.
This script is kind of your move away from comedy in a way – like it’s a funny script and a funny movie, but I think it’s fair to say it’s not an outright comedy. Is that something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Yeah, I wanted it to have real stakes. Not that there aren’t emotional moments in the other movies, and I think with this… the violence and reality of what’s happening are much more grounded, so it was always supposed to be a heist movie. What humour is in there is usually lulling you into a false sense of security. The original script was probably a bit darker and colder, and through the use of these anecdotes stuff got a bit funnier. I do like the way the humour works – if there’s a funny scene, something bad is about to happen. Some of the performers too – Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey – they’re all separately so funny and dry, but also threatening.
One of my favourite scenes is the one in the diner where Bats, Jamie Foxx, is just needling the others, looking for weak spots. You get the sense of escalating threat, but he’s also very funny doing it.
Just so I remember to get this in, I want to ask about your directorial style in the movie. It felt to me like there was a shift away from some of your signature visual tricks – things like quick edits, fast pans and inserts – and I wonder if that was a conscious decision? If it’s something you even agree with!
No, I think you’re right. With this movie, a misconception people often have is that they say “It’s so amazing how you edit to the music!” and I have to say “No, we’re choreographing things to the music.” It’s mostly done on set! So if there is a slightly different style, I think it’s to show off the choreography. There are still a lot of long tracking shots, which I use in all of my movies, and that’s because I wanted to make it feel more intense when the action starts. So it’s very much by design, yeah.
It’s not a conscious move away – Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim are kind of the Nth interation of that style in how they fit it, but I feel like this one is more influenced by the music it’s paired with.
That’s interesting, thanks! And just very quickly before I go, I’ve also got to check on the status of your favourite Jason Statham movie…
Oh! Right now… Crank 2: High Voltage.
Edgar Wright, thank you very much!
Baby Driver is released in cinemas on Wednesday 28th June.