We recently got behind the wheel with the British director of the heist thriller Baby Driver and asked him about the movie's winning soundtrack, the Star Wars reference and if he would ever shoot a movie in Asia.
8 DAYS: Quentin Tarantino once said if you use the right music in the right scene, whenever you hear that music, it’ll always be associated with that scene. So in using The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ in the opening of Baby Driver, you’ve cinematically owned that song — no filmmaker will ever use it in a movie again.
EDGAR WRIGHT: (Laughs) I’m quite happy to claim [the song]. Jon Spencer saw the movie the other day and he was very happy with the way it was used. The nice side effect is that the younger music fans, or even older ones, who’ve never heard of that band before, would say, “Hey, I started checking out The Jon Spencer Blues Explosions because of the movie.” That’s exactly what I used to do when I was a teenager listening to bands featured on soundtracks. I would say, “Hey, I like this. What else have they got?”
You used over 30 songs on the soundtrack. Were there songs you wanted to use but couldn’t because of legal reasons?
Not many. Maybe there were about five songs that fell out and they were usually because they had samples in them that were not cleared, meaning that the artists themselves have not cleared the samples in the tracks. So in a couple of cases, I went on this website called whosampled.com and I found the original sample. For instance, I found the song ‘Early in the Morning’ by Alexis Korner because I was trying to clear a different track which was sampling that song, and so I just used the original track instead.
How extensive an album collection do you have? Or is everything on digital?
A bit of both (laughs). I have a bit of everything now. I have lots of albums. My vinyl collection has expanded massively just in the last 12 months. I have lots of digital music, but I still have lots of CDs. I’ve never thrown away my CDs and I [don’t really want to get to] rid of them because I don’t entirely trust digital files. They don’t seem very permanent to me.
The Commordores’ ‘Easy’ is on the soundtrack. Baby Driver was a tough movie to make because of the stunts and syncing them to the music. But was there ever an easy day for you?
Not really. Actually, one of the easiest days was a day towards the end of the shoot. I was finishing early for the only time in the entire shoot, and that was when we shot the junkyard scene with ‘Easy’, because we only had one scene to shoot there, and I remember it being the only day where we finished a little early, but not by much. I’m talking about a half an hour or something.
Was half an hour early for you?
Usually I never finish early. Usually I use every second of the working day.
In Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort has this outfit that looks a lot like Han Solo’s vest. Was that your Star Wars tribute?
It’s funny because when people mentioned it — and it gets mentioned a lot — I thought about it first and I looked at Han Solo’s jacket and he’s wearing a yellowy shirt and a brown waistcoat. Then I realised people were referring more to the Return of the Jedi jacket, and they looked a bit similar. I can understand why people think it looks like Han Solo’s (laughs). It was not intentional, but I don’t mind. It makes me laugh. It doesn’t annoy me, I kind of find it funny.
You sought the advice of Tarantino, George Miller and Ron Howard — they’ve all made car chase movies. Now that you’ve done Baby Driver, what advice would you give future filmmakers who want to make car chase movies?
I would say, never underestimate how complicated the car chase scenes are going to be (laughs). And always my advice for most things is to plan the hell out of it. To pull off this movie, we had to go in with a military plan. We had to know exactly what we’re doing on the day, every day. So we were never ever standing on set saying, “What are we doing today?” Everybody knows.
You interviewed director Walter Hill for Empire magazine early this year. His movie, The Driver, was an influence on Baby Driver. Did you ask him for advice as well?
I’ve come to know Walter very well over the last seven years since I first met him and I told him quite early on that I was writing the movie, but I never solicited his advice too much because I felt maybe it was just too close to home for him. I’m already making a movie called Baby Driver, and for me to sit down and say, “Tell me how you did all the car scenes…” So he was actually the one person I didn’t ask about that. He has seen the movie now and he really likes it, which means a lot to me. He also made a real point of paying to see it, which is ridiculous. He couldn’t make the premiere, so he said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to pay to see it on opening night,” which is exactly what he did, and I was thinking, “I feel like I already owe you money. I can’t believe you paid to see the movie as well!”
I always find it fascinating when directors interview directors. Do you have a wish list of directors to interview?
William Friedkin would be amazing. He really liked Baby Driver, so that would be interesting to talk to him. Brian De Palma is one of my favourite directors whom I’ve never met, so I would love to interview him. There are plenty. It’s always a thrill when you get a chance to talk to somebody you really admire, like I’ve been lucky to do over the years with people like Sam Raimi, George Miller, John Landis or Joe Dante. I’ve also never interviewed Martin Scorsese. I would find that pretty fascinating. I met him once and had a very short conversation with him before, and he very quickly turned the conversation to 1940s zombie movies, which is quite something.
You shot Baby Driver in the US. How did it differ from shooting in the UK?
Not really. I used a lot of the same crew and my crew is a mixture of British, Canadian, American, Australian, and Italian people, so it was quite an international crew. I guess the biggest thing in making a car movie in the States is that some of the terminologies are different — like they’d say hood and trunk in America, and in England we say bonnet and boot, which sounds very different.
You shot in Canada, the UK and now the US. How about filming in Asia?
I would love to. One of the great joys of filmmaking is the travel and being in different cities. The two movies I’ve made in North America — Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and Baby Driver— were both a thrill to be in. Because when you’re in the cities you become very invested in being there, and for me, it’s really important to represent the cities accurately. So I get a real kick out of it that people in Atlanta really responded to Baby Driver. So the idea of shooting something in Asia would be amazing, absolutely. I’m a huge fan of Asian cinema so it would be incredible.
Who are your favourite Asian filmmakers?
John Woo and Jackie Chan meant a lot to me when I was growing up. They still do. They’re both incredible filmmakers and artists. There are plenty of other Asian filmmakers that I really love, but those are the two that really jumped to mind. Wong Kar-Wai is an incredible director, and also Zhang Yimou.
Was there any discussion to involve your Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Baby Driver?
No. The thing is if I work with Simon and Nick, I want to work with them in lead roles. That’s the same reason that Simon and Nick weren’t in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. I don’t want them to be in everything I do. I’m not involved in every film that they do. It also means that when we work together again, it would be more of a treat to see us reunite than if you just see them doing cameos in every movie.
Baby Driver (NC16) is now showing in cinemas.