Friday, August 13, 2010

Edgar Wright Burrows Deep Into Scott Pilgrim [Seewhatididthere?]

A bunch of journalists recently had a lovely chat with Edgar Wright, the director of Scott Pilgrim, (and also director of one of my top 5 TV shows of all time, Spaced and top 10 movies of all time, Shaun of the Dead, lalala, I love him), opening today, in which he touched on his Comic-Con experience, why there was never a doubt that all seven exes had to be in Scott Pilgrim, and why the American Spaced pilot just didn't work. While we were unable to attend the roundtables at the last minute, the amazing Todd Gilchrist of Cinematical fame was nice enough to share his audio so we could transcribe some of the magic that transpired.

On Comic-Con,

It was my fifth Comic-Con and it was probably the most bananas. We showed the film three times over the weekend and it was very sweet, it became sort of like a theatrical residency. And the cast -- some of whom like Michael Cera, had not seen it yet, watched for the first time on Thursday night with the Comic-Con fans -- they all came back every night to watch it and, you know, I came back, so I watched it twice over the weekend.

And the audience reaction surpassed even the love Wright & the cast felt for the film. Though Wright experienced what a Comic-Con screening could do when he brought Shaun of the Dead in 2004, which resulted in "...the best screenings we ever had of Shaun...", the insanity of Scott Pilgrim was a whole other ballgame.

It was great on the first night, then kind of got bigger on the subsequent nights…It wasn't the first time I'd seen it with an audience, ‘cause we went through the test screening process, so I've watched it about five times with an audience, you know, like completely cold, so I knew where all the big laughs were already, but then people just responded very warmly throughout, and it was just very gratifying. [P]eople clapped frequently, and I think it says everything about the film that on the first night, they clapped at Scott and Ramona kissing, but they also clapped when Scott head-butted a man to death. [Laughter] That probably says everything about the film: kissing gets applause and so does head-butting..

One of the defining elements of the film is the influence it draws from video games, which is something that also made the comics stand out. On that influence,

Well, it's in the comics, we took it a little bit further.

Before the comic book movies started to really score in the late 90s, there was a thing in the 80s, where the best comic book movies were not based on comics. Like Robocop is an amazing comic book film which isn't a comic and yet it was leagues ahead of comic book adaptations. It always amused me -- not to mention any names -- but the general consensus was that a lot of video game adaptations as films were not very good or haven't been. Not many people can honestly argue that there have been that many great video game films yet. [... W]hen people make like, Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia or Resident Evil, they leave out the most famous part of video games, which is the graphics and the most fun aspects of it and stuff. I guess the only film that did that for a little bit was Doom -- it at least had that point of view sequence. But I thought, well this is the perfect kind of license to take the parts of video games, the parts of video game adaptations that they always kind of leave on the floor, and have a ball with it.

Bryan Lee O Malley had this great quote about Scott Pilgrim being the hero of the movie inside his own head and I think the film is exactly that, it's like Scott Pilgrim's daydream [... H]e's like a fantacist and you're watching his version of events. It kind of explains the level of reality. You're seeing the film through Scott Pilgrim's eyes and it's kind of governed by the pop culture that he consumes.

On whether he plays video games himself and much much more after the jump!

I did grow up on [...] the British home computer, The ZX Spectrum [sic] was what ruled my sort of pre-teens. And then I also went through a Sega phase and a Playstation phase, but [...] I haven't owned a console in ten years. When I made the TV show, Spaced, they had a Playstation on the set and it was my Playstation and I left it on set at the end of the second series and I never had a console in my house since because it was becoming a problem -- like I had a heroin addiction and I had to like, get off. So [...] I would call myself a "lapsed gamer."

The video game references in the film are all more nostalgic than anything. [...] People always talk about video games in a contemporary sense, and yet [...] most of the iconography and sort of tropes that are in the film are all like, from the 80s.

Much like Kick Ass, as one reporter pointed out, Scott Pilgrim, the film, was being worked on as the comic was still being written - in this case, all the books after the first installment, as Edgar got involved so early on that the second book, although written, didn't even have art yet. When he and co-writer Michael Bacall met with Bryan in Toronto in 2005, they "...[picked] his brains and [Bryan] sort of forced himself to outline the rest of the books." Some of the film actually came from that original outline, even if it changed once Bryan actually wrote the rest of the books. Wright goes into more depth on the matter,

I was skeptical about it at first but as it turned out, it actually worked out really well.

[...] By the time we started [actively] making the film, the fifth book had been published and the sixth book had been half written and essentially, even though the two things diverge, and very much with Bryan's blessing, [...] we sort of arrived at the same ending from different directions and it was really interesting in that respect. It worked out, it became a very organic process, that Bryan was involved all the way through and even in some cases he took the lines from the script and put them into the books. [...]

With this we decided pretty early on that it was okay to diverge because structurally, we had to make it more like a 70s Shaw Brothers film, like you know with a sort of succession of tournaments and jewels or even like, video games. Although ironically, a lot of the fighting games of the 80s are based on like, 70s kung fu films, [...] so all the different things blend together, but it's interesting. Sometimes I think some fans say "Well, why didn't you make six films?" And A. I think I would have been laughed out of the studio and B. I'm glad that everything is climaxed in 2010, I think it was the right -- I'd much rather the film be coming out on the heels of the book and the game than for us to be talking about Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour in 2022. 

On whether there was ever a point where he thought he should cut the exes down,

This is gonna sound really silly, but me and Michael Bacall decided that even numbers didn't sound cool. And you couldn't just do five, cause that would be too similar to Five Deadly Venoms and two of them are twins, so it has to be seven anyway, seven sounds cool. Six does not sound cool, four does not sound cool, five's been done, it's gotta be seven, that was it.

I think in terms of a film adaptation, with the fans, it would have been like Three Days of the Condor, people would have been like "Auugh, gaaghhh they took two of the exes out." So I felt like we had to do it and I think in that sense the video game metaphor is probably even stronger in the film because of that ‘cause the idea is Scott Pilgrim is fighting through different levels and it hopefully has a labors of Hercules kind of feel to it [...] Scott Pilgrim, half of the way through sort of gives up, because what was fun in the first fight and maybe part of the second fight is not fun anymore for him, so he goes through a passage where he doesn't wanna fight, then the next fight he has he is consumed with jealous rage and literally conjures up a green-eyed monster and it's almost about the -- sort of like the first and the last fight are about him doing it for the right reasons, and finally it's about him fighting for himself rather than a relationship.

On whether he is into comics at all and if there is anything else he would like to see adapted into film, even if he didn't adapt it himself,

I used to read all the Marvel comics when I was a kid and in my teens. I was definitely more of a Marvel kid, well I also used to read 2000 AD, the British comic a lot, [but] as I've been working over the past 15 years, my comic book reading has sort of lapsed a bit, beyond some big graphic novels. [...] Bryan's book six years ago, it was literally pressed into my hands two weeks after it was published and I hadn't really read anything like that and it really inspired me because it wasn't like a generic superhero film, and it wasn't the same old spin on the X-Men, it was something a little bit different. And that's what kind of made it irresistible to me, really, is that it was a mix of different genres and there have been comic book adaptations of comedy books, like American Splendor or Ghost World, but this was in a completely different kind of league, somewhere between that and The Matrix, something I just thought was really kind of fascinating and an irresistible challenge really.

On whether he always knew he wanted Michael Cera to portray Scott Pilgrim,

Never had anybody else in mind. Me and Michael Bacall have been working on it since 2005 and I remember writing the first draft in 2005 and watching a lot of Arrested Development and saying aloud "Aw, it's a shame that George Michael kid isn't older, he'd be perfect." We essentially got our wish, like five years later.

But really to me it's funny. When there are some people who talk about the casting, they maybe envision somebody who is more of a ripped action star or sort of matinee-idol handsome or something, and I never saw it like that when I read the books. To me on the page, Scott Pilgrim looks sort of like a gangly teen and he is an unlikely fighter because essentially it's this complete wish-fulfillment fantasy of somebody who has played a lot of video games actually [being] like a kick-ass fighter in real life. So I thought there wasn't really any other actor, as far as I was concerned, who could bring off the charm -- like the goofiness, the huge massive insecurities, that he basically goes to pieces for the whole mid-section of the film -- and somebody that would be fun to watch in these fight scenes. To have somebody that was more physically confident or outwardly confident is not as much fun to watch in the middle of these battles and yet, for my money, Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman having a sword fight is very entertaining to watch. 

On people online calling it a Hipster movie

It's funny, cause I find with this film, and this is a theme we've tackled in Spaced and in Shaun of the Dead and even in Hot Fuzz, it's kind of been a theme in everything I've done [...] is no matter how cool you think you are, there is always somebody younger, cooler or thinner. [... T]here is definitely this element with Sex Bob-Omb, in that at the start of the film, Sex Bob-Omb are legends in their own living room, and then when they go into the outer world, everybody is better than them, everybody is cooler than them. Stephen Stills is a complete nervous wreck because every other band is cooler, and for Scott Pilgrim, in terms of the other exes, everybody represents something to him which is intimidating: [Lucas Lee] is famous, Todd Ingram is a better bass player, Roxy Richter is sexually intimidating to him, Gideon Graves is a much much cooler -- he is the hipster, the villain of the piece is the hipster and if you look on the score album, during the fight sequence where Scott Pilgrim mows down all of Gideon's henchmen, the name of the track is "Death To All Hipsters" and if you do notice, they all have jaunty sort of hats on. [...]

I don't know anyone who describes themselves as a hipster, it's always used as a derogatory term and Bryan Lee O Malley joked once, he said "The only hipster I know is Edgar Wright" and I said "I wish I was skinny enough to be a hipster." ‘cause I feel exactly the same way, when I go to LA, I just see people in skinny jeans and think "Oh shit!" So I wouldn't call myself a hipster, I think I need to lose 50 pounds before I can be called a hipster.

On Simon Pegg saying he was publicly relieved that Fox' Spaced reboot didn't fly and if there was any chance of it still happening.

I think Simon would publicly relieve himself on the pilot. [Laughter]

I've publicly registered my discontent about the American Spaced a number of times and one thing I now kind of find is even though I've seen it and I watched it with Simon and Jessica and it was strange. It was very strange to watch something made on an obviously bigger budget be so kind of bland. However, I’ve got to say I have absolutely nothing against any of the actors in that pilot, because they were just doing their job and [there were] some kinda funny comedy actors in that so I feel I’ve got to be careful what I say, because it's unfair to them to them that the pilot didn't get picked up, so some people didn't get work and stuff. But I'd be lying if I said I was not happy that it's gone. What was very clear that was really interesting watching the American version of Spaced is that the actors playing the Tim and Daisy clones in the American one did not write the show. And what you can't fabricate, you can't put in a bottle, you can't put personality in a bottle and if anything, it kind of really came home to me, it came home to all of us, how personal that show was and how that can't be Xeroxed really. I mean, The Office is different because it's a workplace comedy and the actors in the other show have made their own mark with it. But this was something where it was Simon and Jessica; it was their lives, it was their personalities and you can't just cut and paste those kind of souls really. It just [had] no heart to it whatsoever.

And for fun, Metric performing Black Sheep at the first Scott Pilgrim screening of Comic-Con 2010!