Baby Driver: Edgar Wright Interview
British writer/director Edgar Wright has made a name for himself in Hollywood. His British “Cornetto Trilogy” of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End have become American cult classics, along with his Hollywood film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. His latest film, Baby Driver, features driving stunts and a soundtrack that can speak to audiences around the world.Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver. The reason he’s so good is that he was a child prodigy with a gifted understanding of music. Now he uses his own personal soundtrack to time his escapes. Wright spoke with reporters about Baby Driver in Los Angeles, including details about the driving stunts and playlist for the film. Baby Driver opens June 28.
G: How much of the driving was practical? Did you have to use CGI for anything?
EW: There’s no CGI car stuff in the movie at all. There’s very little green screen shots. It’s all real. It was all real driving. A lot of other big studio movies might shoot the chases completely separately and then do all the actor stuff green screen later. I didn’t want to do that, which immediately made the entire thing much more complicated. My line producer, Adam Merims, I remember looking at me, “You really want to do this all for real?” It was a really complicated production thing. Not just the shots of them driving themselves, but also the shots of them, the actors, driving the car, are all done on real streets. And they’re also all done in the daytime as well. A lot of those times, the reasons you see chases at night is because it’s easier to close down roads at night. We’re closing down busy streets in Atlanta. Even Interstate 85 which is the main freeway in Atlanta and shot on them during the daytime. It was incredibly difficult. I’m always in awe of people who do great car scenes and now having made those sequences, I’m even more in awe of people who do those things. They’re as arduous to make as they are fun to watch. Every single one of those shots in the car chase is a big setup. I had this thing. Sometimes I would strap myself to the car, rather than follow in the pursuit vehicle because sometimes if you’re in the command van that’s following, the satellite link will go and then you haven’t seen anything. You can’t see, can’t direct, can’t talk to the actors. Eventually I said, “Just strap me onto the car as well.” Which is one of those hare brained things. Once you’ve committed to it you have to do it. Every single take would catch me by surprise as well. Every single time they took off. I’d never be ready for it going off. I hit my head on my monitor so many times. Because you’re in front of a bunch of stunt dudes, you’re like, “No, I’m good, I’m good. I’m fine.”
Q: How did you talk to the actors from there?
EW: One of the trickiest things doing action sequences is when you’re driving, you might be on a freeway and, once you’re on that freeway, you’ve got maybe four takes. It’s not like we necessarily have got anything different to do. We’ve only got three goes on this freeway. Let’s get as many takes as possible. So the hardest thing for me and the actors is maintaining that intensity. Me and Ansel had a couple of code words because, also over a walkie talkie, there’s no time for flowery direction. The two things that me and Ansel had as code, one of them was wanting to look tough so I would say, “Man driver.” I would say “man driver” and Ansel would look tough. The other one was what I called the Kubrick shot which is head down, eyes up. So I’d say to Ansel, “Clockwork Orange face.” I feel like I showed you the still. I literally got a still of Malcolm McDowell on my phone and said, “Like this.” When you’re driving, there is no time for considered articulate dialogue. You’re talking on a walkie and it has to get down to two or three words or one word. When you’re on that freeway, we shot on the 85 twice, which, if you’ve been to Atlanta, you know is the major freeway. When the police say you have six until two, they are kicking you off at 2 PM. That’s it. So we did that twice which is a surreal experience getting on that freeway shooting.
Q: Did you purposely put every song that Dr. Dre has sampled on the soundtrack?
EW: [Laughs] Not just Dr. Dre. Lots of other ones as well. There’s the start of “Harlem Shuffle” which most people think is going to turn into House of Payne “Jump Around.” And it’s like, “Oh, Jump Around. Oh, no it’s not.” The other one is like David Axelrod and David McCowan like “The Edge” which most people know from The Next Episode. Most people kind of sit up and go, “Oh, no it’s not.” Actually there’s one song in there where you hear the sample and the original song in different scenes. It’s the Handsome Boy Modeling School “Holy Calamity.” You hear that, but earlier, you’ve heard the Cashmere Street Band which is the original sample. So that was very deliberate. I always like listening to the original versions of things. The other one is the De La Soul one but then at the end it switches around. Then you hear what you think is “Shaft” but it’s actually Young M.C.
G: The music video you did as a test run was all a single take, right?
EW: No, I know which one you’re thinking of. That was a different video. In between Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, when I was trying to get Shaun of the Dead off the ground, I didn’t do any more TV after Spaced. The only things I did were maybe like three or four music videos. It’s a good thing to just experiment with the form and there’s no real money in music videos, so the only reason to do them is if you can try something out. The one you’re talking about, I was trying out this long steadicam shot. There was another one, “Blue Song” for Mint Royale, which was sort of like a dry run for the opening scene of Baby. At the time that I did that, I was mad at myself. I felt like I’d squandered this idea for a film on this cheap music video. Then it actually sort of came back around, because Noel Fielding, who is in that video, became more and more famous in the U.K. so the video kept coming back. Even 10 years later, it was still getting posted again and people were thinking it was like a new thing. Then it eventually became something where I remember I was doing a talk at the L.A. Film Festival seven years ago with J.J. Abrams moderating. He wanted to show that getaway driver video. When you guys were watching it, J.J. leaned over to me during the clip and said, “This would make a great movie.” I said, “I am way ahead of you.”
G: But it’s not 1:1 in the movie duplicating the video, right?
EW: No, no, it’s in the same vein. It isn’t inspired by the video. It’s that I already had the idea. If anything, you guys are all journalists, you know this. Imagine it’s 11:30 at night and you’ve got to hand something in at 9:30 in the morning. It’s like “oh what am I going to do? Maybe I should use this getaway driver idea.” It was literally like I did it because I couldn’t think of a different idea. I knew I shouldn’t have done it but it ended up being a good thing.
Q: Is Baby Driver sort of a fairy tale with the innocent young lovers and the criminal grown ups are the ogres and monsters?
EW: I think a lot of the premise of the movie is that within this gang of hoods and Spacey, you have a darker more cynical world. Over here is the innocent Lily James and Ansel Elgort is on the bubble. At the start of the movie, he’s an apprentice of sorts but I think he’s fooling himself that he’s not a criminal. So in those moments where Ansel is like “see no evil, hear no evil”, he’s fooling himself that he’s not a criminal. I think then, when he meets Debora, it’s about being a regular guy with her, rather than the glamorous life of being a getaway driver. That is sort of the idea, the aspiration of a better, more normal life.