Edgar Wright has brought joy through his films for years. From “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” to the Cornetto Trilogy (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “The World’s End”), Wright has proven himself to have a unique style and voice.
“Baby Driver,” Wright’s latest film, ups the ante and it’s definitely something he’s never done before, while at the same time provides a high-octane viewing experience. Set to a fantastic soundtrack, “Baby Driver” follows Baby on his journey as a getaway driver who ends up in the middle of a heist gone wrong.
Edgar Wright sat down with myself and three other journalists, Eddie Pasa, Leslie Combemale, and Dean Rogers, to discuss the film. He spoke about his influences for the movie, the process of picking the songs, Baby’s journey, and how Kevin Spacey’s character served as a “negative mentor.”
Kevin Spacey’s character arc was one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. He’s this big, threatening character in the film, but then his character has a moment that’s unexpected.
I think the thing with Kevin’s character, I will say [without spoilers], I think he’s what they would call in screenwriting the negative mentor. [Baby] has a positive father figure in Joe and a negative mentor in Kevin. He does have some genuine fondness for Baby for sure and I think there’s a moment in the movie where… he’s exploiting Baby, but he does also, deep down, have some admiration for him. And when Baby finally tells him no, I love that scene because Kevin starts to act like a spiteful lover. He immediately switches on him and gets personal and very threatening. It’s actually the scene outside the valet with Kevin that is one of my favorite bits in the movie.
Your movie really recalls shades of car films like “Bullet,” “Vanishing Point,” “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.” You’re also showing these films at the BFI, you’re programming them. Should we look to those and anymore of those kinds of movies as a primer for “Baby Driver?”
Well, that’s a good ten to start with [laughs]. The ones in that season [of British Film Institute programming]. I always tend to think, when I think of influences, I mostly think of the movies that were made before I started directing. I would say in terms of heist movies, “Heat,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Point Break,” “The Getaway.”
You made a list of heist movies, but what about musicals? I feel like this movie is like “The Getaway” as a musical. Everything is so choreographed and I’m watching it and completely caught up in Baby’s point of view through the music and through the choreography. I’m curious about your influences in terms of musicals.
There’s a bit of everything. In terms of musicals, I like all sorts of musicals. I’m a huge Busby Berkeley fan. Gene Kelly obviously… Jacques Demy. That scene in the laundromat is reminiscent of that scene from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” I don’t think there’s anything too directly a musical riff. The only movie I can think of that’s a huge influence is “The Blues Brothers.”
Describe the process of selecting the right songs for the movie. You mentioned that Ansel [Elgort] suggested “Easy” by The Commodores during his audition. Can you elaborate on that?
In a way, the songs sort of inspired the movie. The initial idea was twenty two years ago, I was listening a lot to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but that particular song, “Bell Bottoms,” which opens the movie, I heard that twenty two years ago. I would listen to it and go, “This is a great car chase in a movie.” And then I had to think of the movie to go around this idea that I had. So I think, much like the character of Baby, I am motivated and inspired by music. In the intervening twenty two years, there’d be several songs I’d listen to and think, “This’d be great in an action,” or “This’d be great in ‘Baby Driver’.” So before I started writing, I think I seriously started writing [the film]ten years ago and by that time when I started writing, I had figured out eight of the thirty songs. A bunch of them I already had figured out. And then, the rest of the writing process, I wouldn’t start writing a scene until I had the right song. So some afternoons, I’d be sitting there on my laptop… I knew what the scene was, but I wouldn’t start writing until I had the right piece of music.
The Ansel thing came about… I was doing an audition with him, and our choreographer [it was his idea and he said]“Why don’t you ask him what song he knows by heart?” We completely sprang it on him. “What song could you lipsync right now?” And [Ansel] said “Easy” by The Commodores and I was so taken aback that a twenty year old [at the time]was suggesting this. I said, “That’s interesting. How do you know that song?” He said, “A relative gave it to me on a playlist and I love it.” In the next draft of the script, I wrote that into the movie. The whole thing of “Easy” being the song he plays in the junkyard and it being the song his mother sang, that didn’t exist in the first draft of the script.
I loved the separation you create between Ansel’s character and Lily James’ character. She’s a normal person who works at a diner. And then there’s Baby’s life, the continuous shot of him going to get coffee and he’s avoiding people, but later, there’s that parallel as he starts to bump into people and reality sets in. That regularity, that normalcy was really great.
At the start of the movie, in the first two scenes, the first car chase and the coffee run, Ansel’s in his bubble. The movie is essentially about the tough realities of life and the crime puncturing the bubble. So whatever kind of bubble he put around himself and the idea of blinkering himself to the consequences of the crimes, that bubble’s going to pop. So you start the movie in his little fantasy world of being this badass getaway driver, but very quickly, the tough reality of the crime sort of starts to come into it. And that’s exactly right: when you see the two different coffee runs, the first one is joyous and then the second one he’s in a black mood, stomping down the street and knocks into somebody.
His journey began as a criminal. But he really wanted to be that regular guy.
Yeah, it’s sort of like the inverse of “Goodfellas.” Henry Hill has aspirations to become a gangster, but in this movie, Baby is already a gangster at the start of the movie and then has aspirations to be a regular Joe.
How many times did you have to do the continuous shot [where Baby is getting coffee]to get it right?
It was the first day of the shoot, which is always good to start with something really ambitious [laughs]. I think it announces to the studio and to the cast and crew, “Ok, we’re not fuckin’ around” [laughs]. It was twenty eight takes. I think we shot a ten hour day, which they call French hours, where you basically don’t stop. The take that’s in the movie is take twenty one.
And were you shooting on film or digital?
Yeah, it was anamorphic, 35mm.
I read that Joe Loya had been in prison and you used him as a consultant. What did you learn from him that you were either doing wrong and needed to fix or that you injected into [the film]that you hadn’t thought of?
I basically interviewed a lot of ex-cons for this movie, both in London and in the States. Sometimes through research and sometimes directly, like with Joe. So I’ve met a few ex-cons, some of whom were getaway drivers. I already had the story worked out, so what was amazing was to sort of run-through scenarios and characters with him and he would find very quickly, and with every single scene, or with every single character, there’d be some real-life parallel. Whether it was something he’d done or somebody that he knew in prison. And we really started talking about the process that they go through. There’s bits, some dialogue, that are directly inspired by things Joe or some of his colleagues had said. The line that Jamie Foxx says: “No I’ve got enough demons making music up here [in his head].” Joe pretty much said that directly. It’d gone so well with Joe and he was so candid and resourceful in his details that we made him a script consultant. He’s also in the movie. He plays the security guard in the third heist.
“Baby Driver” is now playing in theaters.