This is interview part two with the makers of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If you missed the first part with Michael Cera & Anna Kendrick you can check it out here.
Interviewed: Edgar Wright and Brandon Routh
Did you have any inspiration for the opening titles of the film?
EW: Yeah. 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 his only note that he had, his only big note, is he said, “You should have the titles at the start”. Because, I think he said, “Let the audience settle in.” Because originally it started with Brian LeBarton playing the solo title and then it went straight to the film and if you’re sitting down it’s kind of like you need a little second to catch your breath. So then we had the titles at the start and we actually expanded the track at the start to make it two minutes long. This company called Chinola, they’re an amazing animation company they’ve done amazing music videos including Beck, did the titles for us. But also within the titles there are lots of, kind of, subliminal images and stuff. We tried to code it so that all of the good guys are in color and all of the bad guys, including this fella (refers to Brandon) are in black and white and have their number ranking. When Brandon comes up, he was number three, so he’s got three ‘x’s as well as his guitar. So there are all sorts of little symbolisms.
BR: I totally missed that.
EW: There’s a lot going on! It’s designed for a second watch to be honest. It actually took me a couple of times thinking, “Oh!” Anna has coffee stains, Aubrey has black boxes, Keiran has cell phone bars, everyone has different sort of symbols for their credits.
BR: My mind is blown right now.
EW: Anyway, having grown up on Sesame Street, I wanted to make the film for numerologists, so throughout the film when the exes come up, they all have their own kind of ranking of numbers. Brandon’s being the most obvious because he has a massive three on his chest. Scott’s ranking is zero. So you guys might start thinking I’m a crazy person like Jim Carrey in Number 23 in a second. But Scott has the number zero on his chest and he drinks Coke Zero. Brandon has three stripes on his t-shirt. Who else has shit like that? (laughs)
You’re more from the MTV generation when it comes to editing with fast cuts. It must have been interesting when you were up late editing and in a groove with your editor.
EW: I guess with this film the music kind of powers it along most of the time and I’ve always been a big music fan. Aside from the musical set pieces that are in the film even in their fight scenes they’re kind of driven by the music. I wanted it to be, even with the fight scenes, I wanted the fights to play like production numbers from musicals. I sort of took my cue as much from like old Shaw Brothers’ martial arts films. My notes for the stunt choreographers were that it should be as much Bob Fossy as Jackie Chan. There’s a level of reality in the film, where people have these enormous fights which kind of seem like they couldn’t possibly exist in the real world and people explode into coins at the end. The only way I could think of to maintain that reality is to play it like a musical where people break into song and then the film goes back into dialog at the end of the song. In the scene with the rain and Gene Kelly, there’s a routine, but at the end of it nobody goes, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing!’ ‘Did you see when we did that whole thing around the kitchen and then jumped on the couch?’ ‘Everyone knew exactly what to do, that was amazing!’ (laughs)
Was it hard to get the sixth member of Radiohead to be your music producer?
EW: Funny enough, is it Outside Lands that’s the festival here? So Nigel Godrich, who’ve been very fortunate to be friends with the last, nearly 10 years; It was one summer where we kept running into each other at different social occasions and we sort of became firm friends. This was the first time we had the chance to collaborate on something. But when we would try to get together the artists to play, it was Nigel’s idea to get a different artist to do each fictional artist. Sometimes in music films you have one composer that does everything and sometimes that can mean that there’s a house style. So the idea here was like you have Sex Bob-omb, Crash and the Boys, Clash at Demon Head, we’ve got the Bollywood song, we’ve got the bass-off, and we’ve got the Katayanagi twins. Let’s get different people to do everything and then Nigel would do the score. So in July of 2008, while Radiohead was on tour, we went to Toronto with them and we met Broken Social Scene and Metric in Toronto whilst Radiohead were playing there and then I came to San Francisco with Bryan Lee O’Malley and we sat in Beck’s tour bus at Outside Lands to talk about doing Bob-omb songs. We actually sort of came together in San Francisco because Nigel was going to be there and Beck was going to be there and I told Bryan O’Malley to come over and meet Beck and talk about music for Sex Bob-omb. But then, on top of that, that very night, I had never met him before, I met Dan Nakamura, Dan the Automator. I was a big fan of his album Bombay the Hard Way so I got to talking to him and kind of geeking out and I remember back when we did Shaun of the Dead, we listened to his Handsome Boy Modeling School album the entire time and the Gorillaz album as well which he produced. So I was geeking out to him about that and then I said, “Hang on a second, why don’t we get Dan Nakamura to do the Bollywood song?” So, I owe San Francisco two of the artists on this soundtrack.
Does Scott Pilgrim take place in a fantasy world, reality, or all in his imagination?
EW: I think it’s in his imagination. Bryan Lee O’Malley had this great quote which was actually; he gave the actors a list of 10 fun facts for the actors. Number one fact was ‘Scott Pilgrim is the hero of the movie inside his own head’. I thought that was such a great quote and I think in a way it’s like you’re watching the slightly unreliable biography of the daydreamer. It’s like Scott Pilgrim is sort of a fantasist. Maybe too many video games, too many comics, too many Saturday morning cartoons, too much sugary products has results in this completely fabricated version of his life. Which is a total exaggeration. I like that idea if you want to read into it, like with the scene where he walks into the bathroom then when he walks back out he’s in the school corridor in a dream. It’s not really clear whether he’s awake or dreaming. I like it if people think, ‘Well, does he ever wake up?’ Is the rest of the film this kind of crazy cheese dream involving vegan rock gods. Who can levitate and have glowing eyes. That was the thing that attracted me to the books in the first place, while this is a level of reality which is really tricky to pull off. It’s not The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight has it’s outlandish aspects, but it’s definitely grounded in the real world. In this, 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, not only real bars and music venues but the actual instance within. I really love the aspect that it could explode into a magical realism at the drop of a hat.
Which is very similar to Spaced. The mundane becomes extravagant and spectacular. Did you feel like this is the Spaced movie you’ve never been able to make?
EW: In a way. 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. It was a similar jumping off point at least. The difference is that in Spaced, there’s the same mix of mundane and the insane and the characters’ lives are being governed by the pop culture they consume. Almost people that have not had enough life experience. They’re younger or they’re adolescents. All they know is what they play and what they watch. But the difference in Spaced is that if there was a fantasy they would wake up at the end and here they never wake up. (laughs)
I found that film was very true to the comics but also true to your style. How did you manage to maintain that balance and did you find it difficult?
EW: I tried to be true to the comic, because I obviously love the source material. But there are things that Bryan can do in the comics that I can’t do on the big screen and visa-versa. So, I hope it’s a good marriage. One of the things that attracted me to the books is that I felt we had a similar sense of humor. I feel like we influenced each other in some ways in terms, because we started writing the scripts before all the books were finished. There’s little bits of our script that turned up in the books and there’s bits that Bryan wrote in the script which are not in the books. There’s a couple of lines that Bryan Lee O’Malley did as like a free polish. They’re neither from our original script or the books. In that sense, it was like the perfect collaboration. It was an exchange of ideas. I loved his artwork and I loved the idea of bringing that sort of pop arty kind of Roy Lichtenstein element. The elements that most comic book adaptations leave out, or haven’t done since the batman TV series back in the 60′s, the original Superman in fact that Richard Donner did was probably the first comic book film that went for realism within a fantastical world. Everyone has kind of followed suite since then, which is great. I also certainly have a fondness for things like Danger Diabolic or even the 1980′s Flash Gordon film. You can have something like The Dark Knight, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have the full color bubble gum pop as well.
You were in Superman Returns, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, then you went on to do Dylan Dog. What is it about the comic book genre that keeps pulling you back in? What was it like working with Edgar?
BR: I think that when you play an iconic role like Superman, that brings everything into the gravitational pull of the Superman world. It’s easier to place me in that world because I have ‘cred’ there I guess. The exciting thing about all these three projects, was that they’re completely different comics, completely different characters, and set in completely different countries. United States, Canada, and Italy. Well, originated in different places. Because Dylan originally takes place in London, created by an Italian. So I felt free to be able to do all three and it wouldn’t be too much of the same thing, because they’re so drastically different in many ways. Working with Edgar is one of the highlights of my, yes, short career. But to be able to work with Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, Edgar Wright. That’s three really good directors that I could check off the list. It’s an amazing accomplishment for me personally to have worked with directors that are so talented. Then being able to play a character like this, an outlandish character that has the opportunity to do a lot of comedy, which something I was really wanting to do. So, I don’t think there was anything that he could have said or had me do that I would have said no to.
I was a big fan of Edgar’s, way back to Superman. When we were filming the movie, we’d go see movies on the weekends to relax. The Shaun of the Dead trailer was playing for months and months and months in Australia. Because it was delayed release, three or four months after the US premiere, I was so bummed. But I finally got a chance to see it, I think we saw it a couple of times, in the theater because it was so awesome that it was a big thing.
EW: You know, when we were there for a press tour, on the way to the airport…me and Simon got a call from Bryan Singer‘s assistant saying, “Do you want to come down to the Superman set?” as we were on our way to the airport. I was like, ‘ah, shit!’ so yeah, I missed it.
BR: Missed the chance meeting then, but we made it work.
EW: There ya go.
Did you have any elegant advice for Brandon on how he should do the bass player role? He had quite the death stare in the first couple of shots.
EW: Well, the bass battle, that bass-off piece of music we recorded at Capitol Records with Nigel, who brought together two of the kind of best bass players in the US. Jason Falkner and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. We basically did dueling banjos. In fact, on the DVD, what’s great about this scene is the piece of music that you hear is exactly the same length as what they recorded. You assume that it would be them doing it, and it’s funny because Michael and Brandon are doing it so seriously, but then when you watch it they’re trying to make each other laugh because they’re trying to out do each other all the time. It’s all in one-shot. It’s kind of crazy watching, because it’s exactly the same piece of music, the same length. We went in, me and Nigel, in Capital Records and basically conducted these dueling banjos. Brandon has to play the part of Justin Meldal-Johnsen’s riffs. Which were particularly, sort of like miming, kind of the most complicated bass shredding possible. He worked on it for months.
BR: Three or four months, there were a couple of coaches. Justin being one of them and another bass teacher. Thankfully I had a little bit of a music background, so I took to it a little easier than if I hadn’t. But, there’s the third one is octaves and it’s all over the board. Keeping my hands up there while not being able to look at my hands, which you want to do. Am I in the right place? Staring down Michael and then we actually put moves in there and stuff so you have to start differently and get used to it. Meanwhile I have, these Christmas lights with a D battery attached underneath the wrist band so that they can start that animation, which was the start for the glowing hands. They build it up after that.
EW: Yeah, it was like an extra handicap to give him the Iron Man palms. Everything looked like lights glowing. I kind of forgot that you had those Christmas lights on as well.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is out now. Rush to your local theatre and see it…twice!
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