NUS.org.uk met up with Edgar Wright, esteemed director of seminal mid-twenties flicks such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, in a hotel room in Soho to discuss the release on DVD of his latest movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Scott Pilgrim, Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz; they all start with breakups. What’s going on there?
It’s a good point actually. I definitely think that breakups mean that the writer has something to prove afterwards. In the case of Spaced, Simon had just broken up with someone and was still very sore about it. In the case of Shaun of the Dead, both me and Simon felt that we had been bad boyfriends. So I always see that as an apology for being lazy.
Hot Fuzz is about whether you can be obsessed with work and a career and still be a good boyfriend; of course he gets dumped by Cate Blanchett in the end, so I guess not.
Scott Pilgrim was obviously written by Scott Lee O’Malley but there were a lot of things about Scott Pilgrim that I indentified with. He reminded me of what I was like as a teenager. I think he’s unintentionally very selfish. He causes as lot of heartbreak without really realising it. I mean, he completely breaks Knives Chau’s heart but he thinks of himself as a victim. He sort of lives in this solipsistic bubble.
You were really young when you started being incredibly successful. Have you got any advice for any other young filmmakers?
Well look; Quentin Tarantino didn’t make a film until he was 32. So there you go. You can either be Sam Raimi and make Evil Dead at 18, or you can be Tarantino and make it at 32. And I’m sure there are plenty of people who made their first film even later than that.
When I was working with Quentin Tarantino on Grindhouse we went for dinner and he said "Tell me about your first movie.” So I spent about an hour telling him about Fistful of Fingers, which I made when I was 20. At the end of it he said to me “Oh, I’m so jealous. I wish I’d made a film when I was 20.” So I said “I would give anything to have made Reservoir Dogs. I think you came off better.” He made the classic debut of all time.
But by starting in your 20s you managed to perfectly capture that 20-year-old universe in shows like Spaced and films like Scott Pilgrim.
I didn’t have any experience though really. I grew up in Dorset and Somerset. I went to comprehensive schools in Wells [where he filmed much of Hot Fuzz], my parents are both teachers, I didn’t know anyone in the film business at all. So, I just got in to it by making amateur movies. I went to art college in Bournemouth for two years, but that’s the only education I really had.
Do you ever still make little short films, just for your own pleasure?
I haven’t for a while. I used to do more music videos and I’d really like to do one of those again. It’s a really good way to try things out; you’re essentially doing little shorts.
I think the thing is to just shoot as much as you can. Don’t worry so much. When you’re not making things in public you can just do whatever you want. Sometimes when I meet people who want to be directors I notice that they’ve put too much pressure on themselves to do something amazing first time. They put so much weight on their first short, or their first feature that it really holds them back.
If you’ve got the means then just do it. And I mean, everyone’s got the means these days. I didn’t even have a camera when I started. I used to just steal my school’s VHS camera. And then I won a camera on Going Live.
Going Live with Sarah Greene? Did you have a massive crush on her?
I think Janet Ellis did it for me. And then latterly Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Well, you can see how each generation works.
So, there you were, in Dorset, with your Going Live camera. What kind of thing were you doing?
I used to watch movies and try to replicate the shots with my tiny video camera. I mean, I would watch something like Goodfellas and then try to do it myself, for no money. I even made a camera rig out of a ceiling tile with four pieces of string. It was like a cradle with the camera in the middle, that I could run along with it and take shots of other people’s feet.
How ingenious. A lot of the humour in your films is down to comic timing, which is sort of dictated by the edit. How involved are you in the editing of your movies?
I’m very involved, very hands on. Some of it is the way it’s storyboarded too, of course. I used to edit my own films and I edited some of the TV I did, but the only thing I edited solely on my own recently was my Grindhouse trailer. It’s a very intense, lonely process. I mean, Scott Pilgrim took a year to edit and that was with two editors.
I’ve worked with amazing people over the years, and also the same people a lot of the time. Chris Dickens, who edited Spaced, Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz then won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire; he wasn’t available for Scott Pilgrim, so I promoted two of my other editors who I’ve worked with since Spaced. For both of them it’s there first feature credit and that’s great.
In this film, Scott Pilgrim fights a vegan, two South Asian guys, a woman; were you ever worried about how that would go down in the notoriously nervous Hollywood?
No! That was in the books and I think it’s good. I think the film is pretty diverse. Brian Lee O’Malley is half Irish and half Japanese, which is an interesting mix and Toronto is a pretty cosmopolitan place, so I think it just reflects that.
You worked with Beck to make the music for Sex Bob-omb. Was that just because he looked like Michael Cera’s uncle?
Weirdly, someone else said that. And Beck’s son looks a lot like Michael Cera. I’m a huge Beck fan anyway, but it was actually through Nigel Godrich that he got involved. It took him like a weekend to knock out a CD with about 22 perfect songs on it. A lot of the music in the film is basically just Beck jamming.
Finally, is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?
I sometimes have dreams of going back and shooting Fistful of Fingers again with everything I know now. It was the first thing I’d shot on standard 16mm film and when we got to the edit we basically couldn’t pace it because there was nothing to cut with; there wasn’t enough coverage. You need more shots to make it go faster. I think, if anything, I’ve overcompensated with everything else I’ve made since.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is out on DVD and Blu-ray now!