Writer/Director Edgar Wright is back on the big screen this week in what I can describe as THE Thrill ride of 2017, Baby Driver starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey. Talented getaway driver Baby relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss, Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom. I recently sat down with the man himself to talk about the music, the chase and the life in the fast lane.
Baby Driver is one of the best films I have ever seen this year by far. I like you to describe the process of selecting the right songs for the movie.
So I guess the process of the songs. In a way, the songs sort of inspires the movie. The initial gem of the idea was twenty-two years ago. I was listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; I still do in fact. That particular song “Bellbottoms”, which opened the movie. I had that twenty-two years ago. I was listening to it and I thought “This would make a car chase in a movie. I sort of had to think of the movie to go around this idea I had. I think then, much like the character “Baby”, I am motivated and inspired by music. Then in the intervening twenty-two years, there would be several songs and I think “This would be great in an action film or this would be great in Baby Driver”. Before I started writing, I sort of seriously started writing ten years ago on this movie and by the time I started writing I figured out eight of the thirty songs. I have already mapped out like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Tequila, The Barry White song (Never, Never Gonna Give You Up), The Queen song (Brighton Rock), Hocus Locus by Focus. A bunch of them I had figured out.
Then you know, the rest of the writing process I wouldn’t start writing a scene until I had the right song. So someday, some afternoons I would be sitting there in front of my laptop. I knew what the scene was but I would like not start writing until I had the right piece of music.
In addition, you had mentioned that Ansel (Elgort) suggested “Easy” by The Commodores during his audition. Can you elaborate on that?
The Ansel thing came about when I was doing an audition with him and our choreographer (Ryan Heffington, he’s amazing!) It was Ryan’s idea. Ryan said that “Why don’t you ask him what song does he knows off by heart?” So we completely sprang it on him. It wasn’t something where like sometimes with agents you prepped them saying “Bring a song that you know by heart”. So we didn’t give Ansel anytime to prep. I’d just asked him off the bat “So, what song can you lip-sync right now?” And he said “Easy” by the Commodores. I was so taken aback that a twenty-year old was suggesting this. I thought “that was interesting, how do you know that song?” He said “Oh, my … had given it to me on a playlist and I love it. I hope that it will be on the Blu-Ray for what he did in his audition will be amazing. In the next draft of the script, I wrote that into the movie. So, that whole thing of like “Easy” being the song that he plays in the junkyard and it being the song that his mother sang … that didn’t exist in the first draft of the script.
Please include that audition in the Blu-Ray.
As long as we get clearance. As long as Lionel Ritchie lets us put out the Blu-Ray.
As a director, you have to do a lot of research especially when it came to car chases as you mentioned so many of the great car chase films of all time. How did you prep the car chases in this film?
The first part, I mean, we had this incredible second unit in stunt team lead by Darrin Prescott and the other guys Robert Nagle and Jeremy Fry. Between the three of them, they worked on things like “John Wick”, “Drive”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Fast & the Furious”, “The Bourne Supremacy”, The Bourne Ultimatum”. Darren Prescott who was the stunt coordinator and the Second Unit Director was the one of the choreographers and performer in “Supremacy” chase which is one of more recent modern car chase classics. What’s also funny actually is also that Prescott was an Agent Smith double in “The Matrix”. Bill Pope, who was my cinematographer, who did the Matrix, when he saw Darrin again he went “Ahhh, Agent Smith”. The thing is that are all incredibly experienced those guys. This film really pushed the limits because there’s a new element that they have previously thought of – like doing these sequences to music.
All of those sequences had to be plotted out to time. It made on one hand, really complicated but on the other hand, it gives you a narrative to every set piece because the scenes can’t get any longer than the songs. So, that opening car chase is like “We know that song is like five minutes long. So this is as long as the scene is.” So, it did mean that you can kind of plot it out but it would be very specific and meticulous way when you get down to it. You would sit there with the song and say “At this point of the song, they would need to crash, then go through a red light. This point of the song they need to go to the alley. This point of the song they need to do the gag with the spike strip. This point of the song they come around the corner and there’s all the police behind them. This point of the song, he’s on the freeway. This point of the song, he’s off the freeway. So you have to be very incredibly specific about it and it would be very daunting to them but as the process comes together, I think it’s already helpful that we have it so mapped out. Those guys had pulled miracles basically because I think the film looks more expensive than it is. I also think that it comes down to the fact that unlike a lot of action films in which you shoot on fourteen cameras and just burn millions a fee and its out later, we were very precise about what we wanted.
Did you work well with the City of Atlanta to make sure that everything runs smoothly?
Yes, without the state of Georgia and the Atlanta Police Department, we would not have a movie. When we knew that Atlanta was going to be city we were going to shoot in, I said to the line producer and location manager “I really didn’t want to shoot on a country freeway because a lot of the Atlanta freeways you can use in filming.” Unlike very leafy, then you’ll look like you’re in the country and to me it was like immediately less exciting because it was like “Smokey and the Bandit” and it’s just like all leafy green and Georgia and you think “well, it looks like they already gone away”.
I made this pronouncement in the pre-production and I said to the line producer and the location manager saying that “if we don’t get Downtown Atlanta freeway, then there’s no movie”. It took them months, they got the state of Georgia on their side and the Atlanta police and we shot on three Downtown Atlanta freeways. There are bits where it’s not just the stunt car but the actors themselves. There are shots in the movie where Ansel, Jon Hamm, Gonzalez, Jamie Foxx flee all on the freeways.
There’s a really funny Behind the Scenes moment where they were just happened to film me and Jamie. He was looking around and goes “You got this whole freeway shutdown?” I go “Yeah” and he goes “Big Budget”
We really like went for it. I was very happy for it. I mean it’s kind of crazy shooting. I don’t know if you been to Atlanta.
Yes, my wife’s originally from there
So has your wife seen the movie?
She has not.
I think if she’s a traffic person then I hoped that she would be impressed that we shot on the I-85 because that was quite a big deal
Thank you Edgar Wright for bringing us the thrill ride of the summer! Baby Driver will roll into theatre this Wednesday!