26th August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs the World: Interview with Edgar Wright

Liberation Frequency were sent the following interview Q&As with Edgar Wright and we thought we'd share the love, enjoy!

Q: You have been a lifelong comic book fan. Is that true?

A: I definitely grew up with comics. I grew up in the UK and 2000 AD was a real famous comic there and still is. When I was a pre-teen, I became a huge fan of Marvel Comic’s SPIDERMAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, X-MEN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

Q: As a filmmaker, you must be aware that historically movies were based on classic pieces of literature or great stage plays. The past fifteen years or so, we have seen a tremendous concentration of films derived from comic books or graphic novels.

A: I don’t know whether that is entirely healthy, but the thing that attracted me to SCOTT PILGRIM is that as a graphic novel adaptation, it is not generic. It is something different and had a specific tone and a sense of reality that is difficult to pull off in live action. After I read the first book, I felt the challenge would be to try. I found the book to be funny and romantic, but essentially a comedy. It was interesting to do a graphic novel adaptation that is on a different scale. Before we have had GHOST WORLD and AMERICAN SPLENDOR, but the difference here was the action. That is what attracted me. It was not Batman or Superman. It was something really different and I wanted to see if I could translate that sense of fun to the big screen.

Q: You also had a challenge to visualize the books hyper style – which ran from video games to Japanese anime. You had so many different visual references and yet you had to marry it all together.

A: The way of marrying the different visual influences that were in the graphic novel is one of the reasons why it all intrigued me. Bryan Lee O’Malley grew up with all these different influences from literature, video games, comic books, graphic novels and so did I. We felt that we had a lot in common in reference to our growing up, from video games to Japanese animation to comic books. In a way, it was all easy because it came from the characters. Like Bryan and myself, the characters grew up on the stuff and we see the world through their eyes and that is slightly governed by the media they consume. It is a celebration of those mediums and a slight satire to people who are in this bubble of perpetual adolescence. They play a lot of video games and haven’t stepped into the real world yet.

Q: This movie really speaks to a specific generation both visually and verbally, much in the same way that THE BREAKFAST CLUB did to a generation back in the 1980s.

A: That was really important to me. I didn’t want to make this a generational thing but maybe growing up with video games, and lets be honest they have been around for over 35 years, has left a mark. I am 36 and I grew up with Donkey Kong and Pac-Man when I was four or five. I just think this generation can take in a lot of visual language at the same time. It was interesting at Comic Con to watch the film with an audience who are avid readers. People felt that when computers came along, reading would die, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The internet makes people read every day. When I saw the film with this audience, I felt I was watching the movie with a room full of fast readers because they got the jokes and the subtext that was flying off the screen. Some of the humor is very slight and off hand and I think it really will make people want to watch it in Blu-ray so they can freeze frame.

Q: You do layer the film with not only visual references but musical references as well. I think you used a theme from Nintendo’s ‘Zelda’.

A: I think of all of that as sprinkles. I never tried to make it so the scene would stop dead to make reference to a game. They are more just little grace notes. Some of the sounds of games and MAC and PC sounds make you feel warm and fuzzy in a way that you cannot comprehend. When you hear the PC start-up sound from 1995, you feel nostalgic. Scott Pilgrim is a character whose brain is so hard wired by the media he grew up with. When he does bad things in the film or things that have a destructive bend, he hears sounds from his computer. He hears the MAC error note. It is like Pavlov’s Dog. You know something is wrong. Or when he hears the trash sound, it is when someone’s heart is breaking. I liked the idea of soundtracking it with little sound effects that these kids would have grown up with in their media. I really liked the idea that even though this is a very contemporary film, it is really dealing with pop culture from the last thirty years. In terms of the music, it is going back even further. I feel like the whole film is a celebration of pop culture, but also a satire. Scott Pilgrim is caught up in his own daydream and one of the climactic moments of the film is when he has to break out of his dream and take responsibility for his own actions.

Q: In reference to Scott Pilgrim, there would be a lot on the shoulders of the actor that you cast for the part. You could have gone for a young pretty boy because he is a superhero in this mind and yet you went for a more interesting actor to inhabit the part.

A: What was interesting to me is when I read the book, and when I spoke to Bryan about it, I felt it was about this guy who thought himself a legend in his own mind. There are some who read it and who think it should be a Zac Efron type; super handsome and super ripped and very physically fit. I saw him as early twenties, kind of dorky. So you have these two schools of thought – is Scott Pilgrim awesome or does Scott Pilgrim believe himself to be awesome. Bryan and I are in the latter category and so Michael Cera was my first and only choice. There is only one person who could do the goofiness, the insecurity and the fact that it would be fun to watch him being a bad ass. It wouldn’t be fun to see a young action star doing these fights. It is much more fun to see Michael Cera kicking ass.

Q: How did you design those action sequences? So much of the pay off in the film is derived from these altercations Scott Pilgrim has with the Seven Evil Exes.

A: The fights were really inspired by a few things. There is a video game element that harkens back to those old Hong Kong movies. If you look into it you can see that a lot of the fighting games of the 1980s like MORTAL COMBAT and STREET FIGHTER actually were influenced by the Hong Kong films of the 1970s; like ONE ARM BOXER and THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. That essentially started the idea of tournaments with super foes. It all kind of folds in together. Another element that you can trace back to the Hong Kong films is musicals. My idea with the film was to play the fights like production numbers. There is a level of reality that when people break into fights and nobody seems to comment on the craziness of what just happened. The same is true for musicals. When the emotion arises in a musical, people break into song. In this film, they break into fights. With both, after the big song or the big fight, people start talking about what is next. The story then moves forward. No one in GREASE comes up after the song ‘Summer Loving’ and comments “Oh my God. Where did you learn that routine? What are you guys doing on the bleachers?” That never happens and so I took the same musical production route, but instead had a big fight. It builds up in level and spectacle.

Q: One element is that unlike many big action sequences, you offer no blood or bruised faces.

A: Scott Pilgrim as a character does get hurt, but he is like Mario. He is extremely resilient. He gets knocked down and then gets straight back up again (laughs). There is that invincibility that is born out of playing video games where you get knocked down but get straight back up again and try again. In that sense, Scott Pilgrim is tenacious. I liked that idea that it wouldn’t be bloody or violent. Much of the impact is on people’s hair that is blown back violently when they get hit.

Q: One aspect of the film that all people can relate to will be the relationships. There is a strange paradox between redemption and retribution.

A: There are a couple of things happening in regard to the relationships. At the beginning of the film, Scott has been through a bad break up. He has been in the pits of despair and that taps into the moment in our teens when every relationship deals with the best thing that ever happened and every break up is the worst thing that could ever happen. Scott Pilgrim is like that. He has been through a break up that he believes is the worst thing that ever happened and now is dating a 17 year-old who is completely infatuated with him. Even though he likes her, he is doing it for his ego and self-esteem rather than being genuinely in love with Knives. They have a one sided relationship, which is not healthy. When Ramona Flowers comes into his life, he believes that she is the one. He chases after her and the irony is that Ramona does the same thing to him that he did to Knives. Ramona had seven bad boyfriends; seven cases of bad blood and she is escaping to Toronto. Scott is a nice guy. There is a line Scott says at the beginning of the film about Knives referring to her as ‘nice and simple’ and Ramona says a very similar thing about Scott. She says it is what she needs right now. He is the nicest guy she ever dated. Scott Pilgrim realizes then that he doesn’t have the power anymore. He sees her as flighty and realizes that he might be next being dumped. If he is, will he become the next Evil Ex? The film touches on a lot of elements of young love where people have to deal with and don’t really know the workings of their heart yet.

Q: In reference to the casting of the Seven Exes, you chose not to go for stunt casting, putting very familiar faces in those roles. Why was that?

A: The thing was when we first started casting; a lot of agents on Hollywood would bombard me with their clients who were in the comedy frat pack. I didn’t want to do that because I thought each Ex should be different and surprising and some of them should be unknowns. Satya Bhabha, who plays Matthew Patel, is an unknown actor and I wouldn’t even see any known actors for the part. When he crashes through the ceiling, I wanted the audience to wonder who it was and what was happening. On the flip side, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh are more known, but to me they are the other version of Scott Pilgrim. They are movie star handsome and incredibly fit and funny. They also pose a real physical threat to Michael Cera. I knew they were funny before and always felt Chris had amazing timing. They both really aced it.

Q: You showed a rough cut of the film to Quentin Tarantino. What advice or guidance did he give you for SCOTT PILGRIM?

A: Even before I started filming, he gave me some advice on training. I was very fortunate to have become friends with him and actually worked with him in the past so I asked him about the training for KILL BILL. He gave me a great chat, probably the greatest chat I have ever had with another director, where he told me how he trained the actors for KILL BILL. From that kind of talk I had with him, I came up with the plan for the actors to do an 8-week boot camp. That was my KILL BILL yardstick that we had to train the actors for 8 weeks.

Q: When you were young, your father got you an 8mm camera. How do you think the techniques you developed as a young boy making home movies have stayed with you today?

A: My techniques are actually very similar (laughs). The first thing that me and my brother did, and it is so funny because I saw the other day some films Peter Jackson did when he was 12, and we both did the exact same thing. It was a trick we saw on Sesame Street where you make somebody fly by getting them to jump in the air and you take a frame every time they jump in the air. By doing that, you can make somebody fly around the garden. The first thing my brother and I ever did was film each other flying around the garden and the second thing was filmed in slow motion on Super 8mm film of all of our teddy bears being thrown out the window (laugh). We got all of our toys and teddies and threw them out the window so we could watch them in slow motion fall to the ground. I am not sure my filmmaking will ever get more profound than that (laughs)?

Read Liberation Frequency's Review of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World here!

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