Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. My sit down with Edgar Wright for Baby Driver ended up being a very focused chat on one specific scene in the movie. I say chat, but it was really more of Edgar proselytizing about the amazing way he constructed the first two scenes of the movie. That was good news for me because all I had to do for this one was sit back and let Wright flood me with some cinematic learnin'.
Wright talks a little bit about shooting the big opening car chase, but he really gets into the nitty gritty of the next big sequence, which is a simple scene of Baby walking a couple blocks into a coffee shop and back. That's it, but Wright shoots it like a Gene Kelly musical, making city sounds, signs and graffiti match the music on display in an incredible “oner” that really tells us that the energy of the movie doesn't ebb when the car chases are over.
We spend almost the entire interview talking about how Wright shot this sequence, why it was the first thing he shot and how important it was for crew morale. Enjoy!
Quint: I know that most people who talk to you about the movie really want to dig deep on the incredible car stunt work you did, especially with the opening sequence, but I was thinking it might be cool to shift that a few minutes later and talk about the anatomy of the scene where Baby is picking up coffee. On its surface it's a simple scene of a guy walking into a coffee shop, but it's just as precise and choreographed as the car stuff. It might not have been as time intensive to shoot as the car chase, but it's just intricate in design.
Edgar Wright: You know, talking about the opening car chase... I was just thinking about it. I talked to my AD and asked him “How many days shoot was that in total?” The thing with the opening car chase is a lot of those locations we could only shoot on Saturdays and Sundays, so we were doing parts of that sequence during the entire shoot. I think we ended up shooting 9 days on main unit and another 6 days of second unit, sometimes with me there and sometimes with me not there.
Poor Jon Bernthal was probably the person who did the most travel between California and Atlanta and he had to come back and forth, like, eight times. We were apologizing to him at the end because of that. Most of the other actors would be there, shoot their bit and then go, but Jon (Hamm), Ansel and Eiza (Gonzales) were there for the entire shoot.
Bernthal came back eight times and I said to him, “Hey, man. I'm so sorry, this scene is taking much longer than we initially thought.” We had to go back to the I-85 a second time, which was not planned. So, I apologized to him for the long days trying to get this action sequence and I remember he said “Hey. If this shit was easy every asshole would do it.” That's words to live by.
In terms of the coffee sequence... it's quite like Shaun of the Dead. On Shaun of the Dead, the first day, our first slate, was Simon going to the shops and back. We shot both versions of that Steadicam shot the same day. On Baby Driver out first official day of the shoot (and I say official because we shot some flashback bits before production) was the coffee run sequence. It was 28 takes and that was take 21 in the movie. We rehearsed it twice. We did a rehearsal with the choreographer and then we did a rehearsal on the Thursday before the Saturday we shot it. We rehearsed for half a day with the camera operators, the main actors in it and the music. Hopefully that'll be on the Blu-Ray because the actual video rehearsal is kind of fun to watch.
Here's the crazy things about that sequence: First thing we did was I had that song written into the script and broke it into sections, even down to Baby saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in time with the chorus. Then, and this goes way back, like 9 years ago, before I had even written a word, like nine years ago, I got Steve Price before he was an Oscar-winning composer. He was a music editor and he broke down the song with me. Then I got this guy called Mark Nicholson, known as Osymyso. He's an amazing mash-up DJ and I got him to help me with these mixes of the songs so we could have Harlem Shuffle, but we could put sound effects in time with the music.
Where that comes into it is we would have the sound of a baby crying or at a specific point someone on an ATM embedded into the music. So that means, and this is where it gets truly bananas, when you play the music back and you're walking down the street you can say to the production designer “The ATM needs to go right there because that's where that sound lands in the song.” Literally on our first day there they put the ATM 20 feet away and I was like “No, the ATM has to be here because when he goes through the frame you hear beep-beep beep-beep.”
Now, when you watch the finished movie you might think “Oh, they must have put that on afterwards.” No, we fit the bits to the music!
The other crazy thing about doing that was finding the location. The song isn't going to get any longer and how we worked it out in the music breakdown that we'd done is that he would get to the coffee shop on the first chorus. What that means is you have work backwards.
We were in downtown Atlanta, in this district that we liked called the Fairlie Poplar District, which is all old buildings from the 1910s and 1920s. We found a cool, revolving door we liked. This is a nice way to start. So, I was literally standing there with an iPhone, me and the location manager, production designer and director of photography, walking and finding where we could place the coffee shop. People watching must have been like “what are those guys doing?!?”
We were walking along playing Harlem Shuffle going “Oh, we can't really get to that door, it's too far, but we can get this to door... Oh, it's a pizza parlor. Maybe we can change this into a coffee shop...” Lots of other things come into it, like he's got to run to get back because he has less time, so we made him see a cop so that he's not swaggering anymore. He's half-running back.
It's a lot of hard work to make something look effortless. Roberto De Angelis, who was our Steadicam operator and, in fact, our A camera operator, it was his first day shooting. He had just gotten back from a shoot in Italy and during the course of the 28 takes we worked out that he had walked 50 city blocks with the Steadicam!
We thought we had it on take 21. It was a great take, but there was one thing that was wrong with it. Bill Pope was unhappy with an exposure change. We ended up fixing it, but there are no stitches in the take, there's no hidden cuts. It's all one take. But you get to take 21 and think “That's great!” and Bill's like “Ehhh... that exposure change isn't that great. We can probably fix it later, but we should do another one for safety.” Then another one for safety becomes another 7 takes!
When we got to 28 we knew we had a good first half on that one and we could stitch it onto another one, but 21 was an all around good take. That's what we ended up doing. We fixed the exposure change.
There's another thing that went into it. Did you see that film A Most Violent Year?
Quint: Yeah, with Oscar Isaac.
Edgar Wright: There's a scene in that movie where they're on the subway and the subway has graffiti everywhere, but when they were shooting that movie they could not deface the trains, so it was all done digitally. There's a great VFX breakdown online. When I saw that I was like “That's amazing!”
So, for the coffee run sequence I wanted to do graffiti on the walls that had the lyrics of the song, but one of the buildings we were walking past was a working courthouse in Atlanta. They said you can't restrict any of the entrances, you can't add any lights and you absolutely can't put any posters or paint or anything on the walls. So, we used digital graffiti.
If you look at the scene there's graffiti that appears in frame that's basically saying the lyrics and when he walks back the second time the graffiti has changed. It has extra bits of lyrics. The new lyrics at the end have been painted on top of the old ones.
So, it was one of those things. I'm a big believer in doing a very complicated shot on the first day of a shoot because it really tells the crew and cast what kind of movie this is. It's going to be complicated every day and everybody needs to be paying attention. Also, a big Steadicam oner like that really brings the crew and cast together because everybody has to be working in a shot like that. When you do a oner like that and you play it back everyone can see the work that has been done. If it works and it's good, it's a good moral booster. The crew can look at it and go “Oh, I see what we're doing. That's really cool!”
I try to be as open as I can with the crew. I show them the script, the boards, the animatics, everything. I want to make them feel a part of the movie. On a lot of other movies directors can be more secretive and you've got the crew standing around bitching. “I don't know what the fuck we're doing. I have no idea what is going on in this scene. I don't know what they're doing.”
To improve crew morale, it's good to get everyone on board and show your hand in terms of what you're trying to do, what you're trying to pull off.
It's a complicated start to a complicated movie, but it was something I had in my head right from the start. You have this opening scene where Baby is this magical, badass driver and then in the very next scene you're reminded that he's sort of an unpaid intern. He's the runner, the go-fer. “You got us back alright, now go get us some fucking coffee.”
Quint: It's a good character beat because it shows us right off the bat that Baby brings the same level of precision to something mundane, like picking up some coffee, as he does to a crazy, action fueled heist scene.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and also showing the contrast between what he is like when the gang members are around and what he's like on his own. Even in the first scene you see that. He's got a complete poker face at the start, then when they're gone he starts goofing around and when they come back he has his poker face again.
It's to hammer home to the audience that this is just a kid. Ansel is 20 years old and he's basically a big kid. That was the whole idea with that section and I was really happy that it came together. It also has a bit more magical realism than the rest of the film because it's also like a title sequence. You're really in his world and it's before the real world starts to rear its ugly head.
This movie rocks, you guys, and the crazy attention to detail described above is a huge reason for it working so well. I hope you watch the movie with all this in mind. It really does take a great, fun sequence and make it mind-blowing.
The flick hits this weekend! Go see it if you like good things!