Edgar Wright, whether by his own choice or not, spends a long time developing his films. He was attached to Marvel’s Ant-Man for the better of a decade before parting ways with the studio before it began production. With Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he was contracted to develop that comic into a film six years before it opened in theaters.
With his 2017 heist film, Baby Driver, he’s been juggling this idea in his head for 10 years as well and from what we saw visiting the Atlanta set in April 2016, it easily became one of our most anticipated movies of 2017. It’s thanks to some delays actually, that the film’s production moved to Atlanta and Wright took advantage by setting the story there, consulting with a real-life American ex-con, and getting all of the music planned out before principal photography even began.
Below is our conversation from the set of Baby Driver in between takes while the cat and crew shot a sequence with a car on a gimbal, and be sure to check the brand new trailer here.
How long has Baby Driver been in development?
Edgar Wright: I had the idea for a long, long time. Then in 2007 I started writing it.
It’s based on the Mint Royal video?
Edgar Wright: Right, it’s developed since then. I started working on it after Hot Fuzz and then I finished writing it after Scott Pilgrim. So the process of research and trying to figure out the story and stuff, and it’s the first script I had written on my own for a long time, since I was like a teenager. The first solo screenplay I’d written since my first movie. So yeah, a long time.
How has Baby Driver changed and developed as an idea over all this time?
Edgar Wright: A lot. I guess it was more of a concept initially and I sort of knew what I wanted to do tonally and what kind of movie I wanted it to be like instead of what the general premise was and it was a nice voyage of discovery in terms of starting to build out the plot and the characters and the twists and things like that. And also once I started writing I started talking to ex-cons and real getaway drivers and FBI people and stuff and that’s always fascinating to me. It was also something (interesting) because it’s an American film and a crime film. I met this guy who’s amazing, an ex-convict who is now a writer called Joe Loya who wrote a book called “The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell”, and I found him through a researcher and we became friendly. So when I would write pages I would sometimes sent them to him and say ‘Does this sound kind of real?’ I’m real aware of being English and middle class and writing an American crime film, so I may as well get the okay from someone who has been inside for ten years.
We’ve heard this movie compared to a musical, I was wondering if you could talk a little about how it relates to that genre along with the timing of the choreography to the soundtrack – the music Baby listens to throughout the story.
Edgar Wright: I mean, it is and it isn’t. It isn’t in the sense that it’s not like Mamma Mia, I don’t know why that was the first thing that came to my mind, but there is a lot of music in it in terms of Ansel [Elgort]’s character is playing music the entire time. So it’s not like a film where anybody sings out loud but it’s taking things that are in Scorsese or Tarantino or Soderbergh films and in those films you have the jukebox kind of soundtrack and the idea with this is that the lead character is actually playing those songs. So the songs are always sourced, they’re either in his ears or playing in a diner or playing on a stereo, so there’s always within the scenes. So that’s the premise of it really.
Is it wall to wall sound?
Edgar Wright: There’s A LOT of music in it, yeah… It’s a lot of work. We have a great clearance person whose been working on it a long time, and actually we’ve had time to do it. We were going to shoot earlier and then we kind of delayed for a couple of reasons and that actually gave us time to clear all the music. So the unusual thing was we cleared all the music before we started shooting, so we can actually play it on set knowing that that’s the track we’re going to use.
Did seeing Mad Max: Fury Road last year give you pause about making this or did it put it a fire in your belly to do it more?
Edgar Wright: No, I mean, that’s an amazing piece of work, and I think any director who saw that movie was like ‘Oh my god, what a masterpiece.’ I got to know George (Miller) through that because I actually had never met him and then my sound designer was working on Fury Road, so I got to meet George just before it came out and I did a Q&A with him and I’ve seen him a bunch of times since. I think I’ve seen the movie four times before it came out and also I paid to see it opening weekend because I wanted to support it. But I don’t know, that movie is incredible, especially for a director to come along at 71 and just wipe the floor with everybody after not having done a live action movie for 19 years is truly incredible.
Are there any specific influences for Baby Driver then?
Edgar Wright: I think things from when I was growing up. Obviously Scorsese or Tarantino’s films, but a big influence on me are Walter Hill’s movies. Walter Hill’s early movies like The Driver and The Warriors, I love those movies and I liked his style. Walter is somebody else that I’ve got to know through doing Q&As so I’ve made him fully away, I’ve said ‘You know I’m totally ripping you off, right? We’ll call it a big tribute to you.’ So I think a lot of those films, that would be a big influence, The Driver. Which if you’ve never seen it is really great.
At the start of production you posted a photo of David Bowie and we heard you’re really into his music and he had a big influence on you, I was wondering if he had any impact on the story.
Edgar Wright: Well I don’t know if you know this, but he died earlier this year [Laughs]. No, he’s one of my favorite artist and I’m just a huge Bowie fan and it was just very sad to see him go. But also it was a good excuse to reconnect with all of his songs. There is no David Bowie song in this film.
Since music is such a big part of the film, and you’re filming in Atlanta and it’s set in Atlanta, do you have any Atlanta music? Mastodon or trap music or something in this?
Edgar Wright: There was a track, the one track that I couldn’t clear was an Atlanta track. I tried to find something else but I want to find something that’s like an Atlanta sound. The track I wanted to use they hadn’t cleared one of their samples. We’ll see, there will be something.
What was it about Ansel that made you want him to be the lead role?
Edgar Wright: I like that he’s very musical. He plays instruments, he can dance. He’s a DJ as well, he writers music, so that aspect of it… He’s also very young so he qualifies as a baby. There’s also the idea that someone like him, Ansel just turned 22, but to have him in the same frame with Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Jon Bernthal, it’s great. You want to feel like the character is very young, it’s the point of the movie.
The title also shares a title with a Simon and Garfunkel song, does that give us insight into where that came from? Is there a connection there?
Edgar Wright: No, I just really like that song. It’s not inspired in terms of the lyrics of that song don’t really have anything to do with the movie but that song and that album I used to love a lot as a kid.
When was the decision made to set the movie in Atlanta and how has that helped develop the film?
Edgar Wright: It’s been good actually, because as you probably know a lot of films are shooting here but not many of them are set here. I think one of the frustrations with that, it becomes if you’re shooting somewhere and it’s not -there- it becomes a lot of extra work. So as soon as we knew that it was a possibility and I came to kind of look at it, I decided to rewrite it for Atlanta and I immediately became invested in doing it here. There are also elements of the story that make a lot of sense here in terms of the music scene and the love of cars. I’ve never seen a city with more muscle cars in my life… and the crime. So it actually worked pretty well. I think the thing is whenever I’ve been here before, and I’ve only ever been here on press tours because Shaun of the Dead was the first time I came to Atlanta, so I think the last couple of times I went I made a real point of not going to the touristy spots but trying to see the rest of the city and the places that you don’t usually go.
You’ve got an eclectic group here with Jon Bernthal and Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx you’ve got people all over the place. How did you pick these people out of the millions you could have chosen?
Edgar Wright: I think it was just the right people for the job with each role, they were the people we went to. I did a read through of the script in 2012 and I think Jon Hamm was the only actor at that read through who is playing the same character he is in the movie.
A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. When he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), Baby sees a chance to ditch his criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.