Edgar Wright and Brandon Routh discuss Radiohead, The Dark Knight & much more
Giving life to the already lively characters of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series surely has its challenges. Yet when you are working under the direction of the restless and often humorously tangental Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), your acting job becomes all the more easier. That is not to say that one should get complacent and rely on the man's talent for slick hyper-editing and pop art stylized special effects.
Luckily for the die-hard fans of the graphic novel, Wright put together a stellar cast of actors that includes future Captain America Chris Evans, indie film veteran Jason Schwartzman, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Ramona Flowers in the film. Add to that the surprisingly goofy Academy Award-nominee Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air) who plays Scott's older sister, Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), one of Ramona's exes, and of course nerdy heart-throb Michael Cera as the film's title character. This latter threesome joined Edgar for the San Francisco stop of their national press tour, holding interviews at The Connecticut Yankee, a modest live music venue and bar that keeps within Scott Pilgrim's garage rock aesthetic.
Along with myself, this roundtable interview included Joshua Blackburn of TheFilmStage.net, Bryan Gerhart from DailyCal.Org, and ThePopBuzz's Claudia Pierce.
Edgar Wright: Whenever I'm in San Francisco I start geeking out about Dirty Harry and Bullit. I am just a geek; I have the soundtrack from Magnum Force which as a track titled Portero Hill. It's in my iPod.
Miguel Concepcion: If you stick around long enough, you can find out how inaccurate those chases where, geographically speaking.
E.W.: You know what, I've done that! The first time I was in San Francisco must've been in 1998. The first thing I did was rent a car and get atop the hills. It was when I looked at the map that I realized it didn't add up at all. Also the last time I was here--for Hot Fuzz--we did a thing for the DVD, where we only had an hour and a half off where me and the DVD guy tried to get as many cop locations as we could, so we went to that park by the cathedral in North Beach from Dirty Harry. Then we went to the deli near where Steve McQueen lives in Bullit.
Joshua Blackburn: I heard that the original test screening had an alternate ending with Knives being....
E.W.: Don't ruin the film for everybody! I don't want to talk about that. We can talk about it when the DVD comes out. To talk about it only gives away the ending of the book and the film.
Joshua Blackburn: Did you have any inspiration for the opening titles?
E.W.: Yeah, in the first cut of the film we didn't have opening titles. The titles were all at the end. If you permit me to name-drop, Quentin Tarantino watched the film and the only big note that he had was "You should have the titles at the start. Let the audience settle in." Originally it started with just the title and then it went straight into the film and if you just sat down, you would need a second to catch your breath.
So we have these titles and we actually expanded the Beck track at the start and edited it for a demo to two minutes long. This amazing animation company called Shynola--who make amazing music videos, also for Beck--did the titles for us. Within the titles there are these subliminal images. We tried to coat it so that the good guys are in color and all the bad guys (gestures to Brandon) like this fella are in black and white. They have their number ranking and you're number 3 and you got three X's as well as your guitar. There's all sorts of symbolism and stuff.
Brandon Routh: Yeah, I totally missed that.
E.W.: There's a lot going on! It's designed for a second watch to be honest. I'll talk you through it. Anna's got coffee stains. Kieran has cell phone bars. Everyone's got symbols for their credits.
B.R.: My mind is blown right now.
E.W.: Having grown up on Sesame Street, I wanted to make a film like the numerologists, so when the exes come up, they all have their ranking. Brandon's most obvious thing is this massive "3" on his chest, but then Scott's ranking is "0". So you must think I'm a crazy person like Jim Carrey. Scott also drinks Coke Zero, Brandon has his "3", lots of shit like that.
Miguel Concepcion: What was the experience like editing this considering it's of a similar style as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with all of the rapid cuts and cutaways?
E.W.: I guess with this film the music powers it along a lot of the time and I've always been a big music fan. Aside from the musical set pieces, even the fight scenes are driven by the music. Even with the fight scenes, I wanted the fights to play like production numbers from musicals. So I took my cue as much from like Shaw Brothers and Jackie Chan martial arts films as I do with Bob Fossey.
There's a level of reality in the film where people have these enormous fights that seem like they couldn't possibly exist in the real world and people explode into coins at the end. The only way I think I could maintain that reality is to play it like a musical where people break into song and the film goes back into dialogue at the end of the song. Singing In The Rain has Gene Kelly doing his routine, but no one at the end of the movie goes, "Oh my God, that was amazing! Did you see when we did that whole thing around the kitchen and jumping on that couch and we knew exactly what to do?"
Miguel Concepcion: Speaking of music, was is hard to get the 6th member of Radiohead, Nigel Godrich to be the film's music producer?
E.W.: Nigel and I have been fortunate enough to be friends for almost the last ten years. It was this one summer where we kept running into each other at different social occasions. And this is the first time we got to collaborate on something. It was Nigel's idea to get different artists to play each fictional artist, and Nigel would do the score. So here we've got Sex-Bob-Omb, Crash and the Boys, Clash at Demonhead, the Bollywood song, the bass face-off, and the Katayanagi twins.
So in July of 2008, whilst Radiohead were on tour, we went to Toronto with them and met Broken Social Scene and Metric in Toronto, whilst Radiohead where playing. And then I came to San Francisco with Bryan Lee O'Malley, and in Beck's tour bus at Outside Lands, we talked about doing the Sex-Bob-Omb songs. So we actually came together in San Francisco because Nigel and Beck were going to be there and I told Bryan come and meet Beck.
On top of that, at that very night, I met Dan 'The Automator' Nakamura, who I'm a big fan of and never met before. I love his album Bombay The Hard Way and I got talking to him and geeking out. I remember when working on Shaun of the Dead, we were listening to his Handsome Boy Modeling School album the entire time and the Gorillaz album, which he produced. So I said, "Hang on a second. Why don't we have Dan Nakamura to do the Bollywood song?" So I owe San Francisco two of the artists on the soundtrack.
Bryan Gerhart: In your mind, your vision of Scott Pilgrim, is this a fantasy world? Is this a reality world where fantasy happens? Is it all in his imagination or is Canada just really crazy? E.W.: I think it is in his imagination. Bryan Lee O'Malley and I came up with a list of "10 Fun Facts" for each actor that are not meant to be disclosed to the other actors. Scott Pilgrim's #1 fun fact was "Scott Pilgrim is the hero of the movie inside his own head." I thought it was a great quote from Bryan.
I felt it you're watching the slightly unreliable biography of a daydreamer. Scott Pilgrim is a fantasy from playing too many video games, reading too many comic books, too many Saturday morning cartoons, too much sugary products. As a result he has this totally fabricated version of his life. I like the idea of people reading into it. There's that scene in the film where he walks into a bathroom and then when he walks back out, he's in a school corridor in a dream. It's not really clear if he's awake or dreaming. I like the idea of people thinking, "Well, does he ever wake up? Is the rest of the film like this crazy dream (gestures back to Brandon) featuring vegan rock gods who can levitate and have burning eyes?"
That's the thing that attracted me to the books in the first place. This is a level of reality which is really tricky to pull off. It's not The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight has that "avalanche" aspect but it's definitely grounded in the real world. Even though we used real locations and real sets--I never wanted it to be a green screen film; I wanted it to feel really real with real bars and real music venues--I really liked that aspect where it would explode into magic realism at a drop of a hat.
Bryan Gerhart: Which is really similar to Spaced in that the mundane becomes the extravagant and spectacular. In a way did you feel like this was the Spaced movie you never got to make?
E.W.: When I first read the book in 2004 that was one of the first things that hit me--Bryan had never seen Spaced, so it was a complete coincidence--that it was a similar jumping off point at least. They're similar because of that mix of the mundane and the insane and the characters' lives are being governed by the pop culture they consume, almost like they don't have enough life experience from being younger or being perpetual adolescents where all they know is what they play and what they watch. But the difference in Spaced is that if there was a fantasy scene, they would wake up in the end and in Scott Pilgrim, they didn't wake up.
Claudia Pierce: I felt that the film was very true to the comic but was also very true to your style of directing. How did you manage to maintain that balance and did you find it difficult? E.W.: I tried to be true to the comic obviously because I loved the source material. There's things in the comic that Bryan can do that I couldn't do on the big screen and vice versa. I don't know, I hope it was a good marriage. One of the things that attracted me to the book was that we have a similar sense of humor. I felt like we've influenced each other in a way because we started writing the scripts before the book was finished. So there's little bit of us that he turned up in the book. There were also bits that Bryan wrote in the script where are not in the books. So there are lines that Bryan did as a free polish that aren't in the original script or in the books.
In essence it was the perfect collaboration and exchange of ideas. I loved his artwork and I loved the idea of bringing that kind of pop-arty Roy Lichtenstein look and elements that most comic adaptations leave out or have done like the 1960's Batman TV series. I thought the first Richard Donner Superman film went for realism in a fantastical world and everyone's kinda followed suit since then. It's great but I have a fondness for flims like the 1980 Flash Gordon film. You can have The Dark Knight but that doesn't mean you can't have 4-color bubblegum pop as well.
Joshua Blackburn: Brandon, so you did Superman Returns, Scott Pilgrim and Dylan Dog. So what is it about the comic genre that pulls you back in and what was it like working with Edgar?
B.R: When you play a character like Superman, that brings other things into the gravitational pull of the Superman world so it's easier to place me in the role. But the exciting thing about these projects is that they're completely different comics, completely different characters and they're set originally in completely different countries. So I felt free to do all three films and it didn't feel like I was doing too much of the same thing because they were so drastically different in many ways.
B.R.: Working with Edgar was one of the highlights of my short career, but to be able to work with Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, and Edgar Wright; that's really three great directors that I can check off the list. It's an amazing complement to me personally to work with such talented directors and to play such an outlandish character who has the opportunity to do a lot of comedy was something I really wanted to do. There wasn't anything he couldn't say or had me do in that movie that I would've said not to.
E.W.: I would thought of some other stuff then!
B.R.: I was a big fan of Edgar back during Superman. When we filmed Superman, we'd go see movies on the weekend to relax and the Shaun of the Dead trailer was playing for months and months in Australia because it was a delayed release, 3 or 4 months after the U.S. premiere.
E.W.: You know I was there! When we were there for the press tour, on our way to the airport I somehow got a call from Bryan Singer asking if we wanted to come down to the Superman set AS we were on our way to the airport!
B.R.: It was a chance meeting then, but we made it work eventually.
Miguel: Edgar, music fanatic that you are, did you have any advice on how Brandon should perform his bass player role? He had quite a convincing death stare in those first couple shots.
E.W.: That bass battle or bass-off piece of music was recorded at Castle Records with Nigel. He brought two of the best bass players in the U.S., Jason Falkner and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. We basically did it like dueling banjos. You'll learn on the DVD that the great thing about the piece of music that you'll hear is actually the same length as what they recorded. You'll see on the DVD them doing it and it's funny because Michael and Brandon are acting it out so seriously and when you watch the Jason and Justin footage, they're making each other laugh because they're trying to out-do each other all the time. It's all in one shot.
It's crazy watching it because it's exactly the same piece of music and same length. So here we were, Nigel and I conducting these duel banjos. Brandon had to play the part of Justin Meldal-Johnsen and in terms of miming, it was trying to convey the most complicated bass shredding possible. You worked on it for months!
B.R.: Yeah, four months. I worked with a couple coaches with Justin being one of them. Thankfully I had a bit of a music background so I took to it a little easier than if I hadn't had experience.