A Conversation with Edgar Wright

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“I literally shot one of the Klingons being shot. So, you know, it’s on screen for like two seconds.”

After the smash out performance of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim V The World, Edgar Wright puts aside Marvel’s mighty Ant-Man to helm the final chapter of his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy alongside Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. After a few dodgy phone drop-outs I finally managed to chat with Mr. Wright about The World’s End, and then some.

Fletcher: Although you, as well as Simon and Nick, have been busy working across a number of films independently, it’s been a long time since you’ve collaborated in such a direct way. Was it difficult finding the time to come together for The World’s End?

Edgar Wright: A little bit but I think. It was something Simon and I had always intended to write. We actually had the idea during the Hot Fuzz press tour of 2007 – that’s how the idea came together. And it took a little while to get back together because we both went off and made separate movies and obviously Simon and Nick have both been in lots of movies as well. But I think it’s worked out well, I don’t think we would have been able to write this exact script six years ago. So I think the script is better for the wait.

F: Having that additional experience under your belts, was there a deliberate attempt to make this new film more ambitious than the previous two, or were conscious of maintaining a level of continuity?

EW: I guess so – maybe both? When you see the movie you’ll see that it’s both smaller in some respects and a lot more epic in others. We wanted to do something that would bring this film into and a make a trilogy with the other two films. They’re all in a similar sensibility and they sort of share some of the same themes. But like the other two movies, we wanted to take something very personal to us and then crash land a genre right in the middle of it. But essentially, they’re all three relationship comedies in a way.

F: The media often refers to the films as the Cornetto Trilogy. Can you explain how that mantra cam about, and what are your thoughts on it having stuck?

EW: It’s basically a joke which has kind of become a thing. There’s no real overarching line between the films in terms of the actual ice-cream factor, that’s literally a joke that originated in an interview that just spiralled into a thing. It was just because cornetto ice creams were in at the time?

In the first film we just had it as a throwaway joke because we thought it was a funny thing for Nick Frost to ask for one first thing on a Sunday morning. When I was in college it was like my hangover cure. I’d eat a cornetto first thing in the morning and feel a lot better so, that became my thing, sort of.

So then it got such a big laugh in the first film and we got free ice cream at the premiere we thought we’d include it in Hot Fuzz – but then we didn’t get any free ice cream at the premiere for Hot Fuzz so were quite disappointed, but by that point a journalist in the UK said, uh, “I think you’ve had cornettos in two of your films, are you going to make it a cornetto trilogy?” and I just said “oh yeah it’s going to be just like Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s Three Colour trilogy with three flavoured cornettos”, so that’s it. It just stuck! So it’s not like there was any bigger idea than that; there are a lot of other things that make it a trilogy rather than just the ice cream.

F: Simon, Nick and yourself have always embraced the fanboy culture reaching right back to Spaced, which was crammed full of film and pop-culture references. And now it’s your films that are being referenced by young filmmakers and embraced by pop culture. Are you surprised how influential your films have become?

EW: It’s nice. It’s very nice. You know, the thing is when you make films that cross genres, they’re never entirely the same. You can have a lot of action movies that are the same, you can have a lot of horror movies that are the same, but when you start to mix two flavours together like comedy and horror or comedy and action or comedy and sci-fi it’s always going to be slightly different every time, and I think that’s sort of what we try to do. I like the sensibility that’s in Shaun and Hot Fuzz, so why not try and make a series and maybe we only do three.

It seems silly to only do two. Once we had an idea about what this film was about it was like, oh wait I want to write this film! It’s something that’s really close to our hearts.

But then, yeah, the fact that other people are influenced by it, and it inspires them in their own work is very nice.

F: You mentioned that the idea for The World’s End came about during the press tour for Hot Fuzz. What was the spark that drove the inspiration for this final chapter?

EW: I had been on a pub-crawl in my hometown when I was 18, maybe 19. My town had about 12 pubs, it’s about a mile wide and so I called it the Golden Mile. And on that night in 1993, 20 years ago, I got through six of the twelve pubs and ended up blackout drunk and getting into all sorts of trouble. I always remembered it as being amazing legendary quest that quickly dissolved into chaos. So I thought there was something in that.

In fact when I was 21 I wrote a script called “Crawl” about teenagers on a pub-crawl. I obviously never did anything with it but when we were on the Hot Fuzz press tour, strangely enough actually I think it was on a flight from New Zealand to Sydney, I was actually in the air and I was thinking about the film Superbad which was about to come out and I thought “Oh I have that script about teens drinking, I’ll probably never do anything with that now”, and then I remember thinking, “Wait a second, what if that was the prologue; what if the teen drinking epic was actually the first five minutes of the movie, and then the actual movie is about those characters reuniting to do it again, and then something happens which kind of changes everything.

I think a lot of people have the experience of going back to their hometown after a long period of time or reconnecting with friends from school and finding out that you don’t really have anything in common anymore. I liked the idea of doing quiet, honest, sometimes painful comedy about that, coupled with them being thrown into a new adventure.

And scenes like that are so much fun to write, and even though some of it is quite raw – and even though most people will go along to really enjoy the sci-fi adventure and the comedy aspects of the film – they’ll hopefully be like, “oh my god I know that guy!” or “oh my god I’ve been through exactly that experience!”

A lot of people who have school reunions or have weddings or go back to their hometowns after a long period experience that feeling of alienation in the place you grew up. Once we landed on “that’s a great theme”, it all kind of spiralled out of that.

F: A big part of the film is its ensemble cast. Apart from Simon and Nick’s, were the other roles written with particular actors in mind?

EW: Yeah, they were actually, we did this thing that we’ve never done before, but it actually turned out to be really effective. I think we stole it from Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant’s book, this idea that if you know the actor that you want, you write their name in the final draft instead of the character name. So we did a draft where we wrote the actors names into final draft, so there was an initial working draft before we handed it in where it said Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, etcetera – so that genuinely existed, and it was a very good exercise because you start tuning the lines to each specific actor.

F: Judging from the trailers and the teaser footage, The World’s End also likes like it utilises the largest amount of extras and background actors to date. Do you enjoy working on that scale?

EW: I guess I do, I think this one has some of our most complicated extra stuff actually. In Shaun of the Dead it was about making all the zombies believable with the physical movement. But World’s End has a lot of choreography in it. We had a dance choreographer on set a lot of the time because the movements are extremely uniform and syncopated which actually bought an extra level of complication to it. But it’s really great. You can even see it in the trailer, actually, in a couple of shots where some of the baddies are running you’ll see that they’re running in time, so they’re all like, syncopated together, and you know, en masse its really quite spooky, so we did a lot of that. In fact on a lot of the raw footage for the action scene you can hear a choreographer going “left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right”.

F: I know that all three film’s in the Cornetto Trilogy have been shot in the UK, but you’ve also been working steadily in Hollywood with Scott Pilgrim and now Marvel’s Ant Man; is there a preference as to which side of the pond you like to work on?

EW: I don’t know, it’s nice to come back. What’s ironic is I’ve never actually made a film in the States. Scott Pilgrim was in shot in Toronto in fact. It’s actually very rare that you get to shoot in the states anymore, all the Hollywood films are coming to London anyway!

F: And how was that experience? Did you enjoy working in Toronto?

EW: I did actually. It was a nice experience. A lot of my London crew came to Toronto to do Scott Pilgrim, and actually a couple people like Bill Pope, the cinematographer for Scott Pilgrim who also did the Matrix and Spiderman 2, came to London to do World’s End along one of your fellow countrymen Brad Allen who’s our stunt co-ordinator. Brad worked with us on Scott Pilgrim too and he also did Kick Ass and he worked for Jacky Chan. It was actually a mix of my regular British crew and some international people, so that was great. It didn’t feel that different working on the two different films because we had a lot of the same people – same production designer, same editor, same visual effects supervisor, same co-ordinator, some cinematographer.

F: It’s been roughly 20 years since Simon, Nick and yourself started collaborating. Do you enjoy piling on the physical comedy and action as Simon and Nick get older? Have you noticed it taking longer for them to recover?

EW: Well the irony is that they are playing their age in the film. In fact a lot of the film is about the fact that they’re not 18 anymore. I mean that’s kind of what it’s about. You’ve got 5 characters; 4 of whom have accepted that they’re adults and 1 of them who hasn’t and really wants to be a teenager again, and that’s kind of what the film’s about, that one of these guys refuses to be 40.

Also the action in this film is much more intense, especially in comparison to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. When you see the film you’ll be blown away by how good the actors are in the fight scenes, and how much of the stuff they’re doing themselves. Paddy, Martin, Rosalind, Eddie… and particularly Simon and Nick, all have a lot of stunts to do. I think you’ll be really impressed by how good they are in the scenes.

But then, you know, I think Simon and Nick really threw themselves into the action scenes and really went for it. I think you’ll be wow’d by how good they are, but I’m not gonna lie and say they weren’t completely banged up in the end. I think Nick had done so much running in the film that his feet were completely fucked up, and Simon broke his hand and all sorts of other things. But they’re so tenacious and are such pros that they kept on working through the pain.

I think people will be impressed when they see them in the fight scenes and how intense it is , which is something they made when they were younger

F: So now that the press tour is well underway, have you started brain storming any new ideas?

EW: We haven’t even thought about that yet – I mean, literally, with this, the opportunity came up when there was suddenly a window like, “oh we should write this thing, we’ve been talking about it for years, we should do it” and we pretty much wrote it and then started making it – and only just now we’re finishing it up. I would never rule out working with Simon and Nick again but I think we all felt like we couldn’t just make two movies and not make a third one, so it’s like, now we’ve made a trilogy!

They’re amazing and I’m really proud of their performances in this one, their performances are the best of the three, so I’d like to do something more with them but we don’t know what that is just yet.

I think if we did something together again it’d probably be something different, that we would maybe do something in a completely different way. 

F: A little off subject, but I read somewhere that you shot some footage for Star Trek Into Darkness recently?

EW: Well, yes I did one shot. I think people get confused on Twitter what “one shot” means and what a “scene” means, because if you say “Edgar shot a scene in Star Trek!” it’s like, no, I shot one shot!

But that was literally because I was visiting the Star Trek set and visiting J.J. Abrams and Simon and J.J. says “Do you want to shoot with second unit!” and I said “Yeah, you kidding?! Course I will!” So I went next door, because they were shooting two stages at the same time, and I literally shot one of the Klingons being shot. So, you know, it’s on screen for like two seconds. I saw the film a couple times and both times I went, “That was me!” (laughs), it goes by very fast. I think people get confused that I did an actual scene whereas, I never said that, I said I did one shot.

F: The reason I ask is, with the new wave of film makers out there, there seems to be a lot more collaboration going on in cinema. Would you agree?

EW: I guess so, I have nothing to compare it to really. I just feel very fortunate that I’ve got a lot of friends that are directors. Actually when I was in LA I had a copy of the World’s End and I invited a couple of directors and I said “Hey would you like to come watch the movie. I’d love to know what you think”.

I think once you find people who are on the same wavelength you just want to show each other your stuff. I went to see an early cut of Looper, like, way way before it was finished. And I showed Rian Johnson the unfinished version of this. I’ve been very fortunate in terms of the people I’ve gotten to know through my films.

F: I appreciate there’s an air of secrecy around everything Marvel is doing, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the progress of Ant Man?

EW: You know what? I don’t really have any new news to report because I’ve been so busy on this. Basically, as soon as I finish with the press tour I start working on that, so I’ll be able to tell you more next time! But I’m excited about it. Basically, I’m supposed to start doing it in October.

F: So the script is locked in?

EW: The script has been done for a while, yeah. Basically, I had a chance to do Ant Man before World’s End, but I thought that if I didn’t do World’s End now, then maybe I’d never do it. It was unfinished business, and some personal things came into it as well. One of our executive producers became ill a couple of years ago, which bought things suddenly into perspective… sort of like, “Oh this is important that we do this movie, because I promised, and if anything happened I’d never forgive myself”, so I actually put Ant Man on hold and did The World End.

And people always say “Oh you’ve been working on Ant Man for so long”, well you know what, the more we advance the years the better the special effects will be! So that will give me a better mindset. The character’s been around since 1962 so I don’t think it’s too much of a wait.

F: You mentioned special effects, with The World’s End there seems to be a move toward less obvious visual trickery as with Scott Pilgrim towards more integrated visual effects?

EW: Yeah! Oh yeah, there’s a lot more that’s not in the trailer as well. It’s a very different to Scott Pilgrim so it’s not in the same style as that, but there were things that I learned in that movie and thought “Oh, this would be an interesting thing to do within an action scene”, and so I went with the same effects company, Double Negative, and the same visual effects supervisor, Frasier Churchill.

The thing I really like on this particular film, the visual effects are a lot more photo real, with very strange things happening with very naturalistic photography. There’s some really cool photography and effects happening together in the fight scenes; handheld rough and tumble scenes that look super cool. I’ve definitely learned with each movie I’ve done.

F: And how hands on are you with the look and design of the effects? Do you just hand it to the visual effects company or have specific ideas on what you want delivered?

EW: No, basically with every effects shot you see several drafts, sometimes up to 20 versions of something. I’ll edit the film and then you go in to Double Negative and we all watch it on the big screen together. My editor’s there, my brother who does the concept art is there and the production designer comes along. It’s a team effort. Double Negative are an amazing company and they do amazing special effects. But it becomes a sort of collaboration. It’s a long, ongoing process, but I’m very pleased with the results.

F: And has that process finally been put to bed? Is The World’s End ready for the world?

EW: It’s not entirely finished yet. I’m actually on my last week of wrapping up. I just finished the VFX yesterday, I just have to finish the mixing over the next couple of days, but, yeah, I think so. I’m very pleased with it and I think excited for people to see it in terms of what they think it is as well as what it actually is. I think there are quite a lot of nice surprises in the movie.

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