I’m sitting in the production office, opposite a big screen playing a live feed to the main lecture theatre. There are some audio issues, but eventually, we can hear the excited chatter of students taking their seats, asking about summer plans, occasionally making hearts with their hands at the camera for us. A few minutes behind schedule, there’s thunderous applause that wipes out the audio quality and a little pixelated Edgar Wright walks into frame and proceeds to give the film students a Q&A.
It isn’t until hours later when I’m stood outside the room I’ve been directed to that it dawns on me that I’m going to be interviewing a local boy turned Hollywood director. And the guy who I sit across from on the sofa is all of that: warm, friendly, but also surprisingly down to earth. When it’s my turn to speak with him, we end up chatting rather than interviewing.
Wright was born up the road in Poole hospital and grew up in Swanage until the age of seven, when his family moved to Wells in Somerset. ‘My formative experience of cinema all took place in Dorset. The first film I saw was Star Wars at the age of three on Westover Road in 1978’. And in 1992, he came to study Audio-Visual Design at what was then Poole College of Art (now AUB). During his time here, he began learning the skills that would prove key to his later career including (‘this is really nerdy, but you’ll appreciate it’) making his own cut of Evil Dead.
‘When everybody was at the beach, I was living like Gollum in the edit suite, subsisting on vending machine coffee and Snickers bars’.
But the Audio-Visual course wasn’t exactly his first choice; ‘despite reports to the contrary, I didn’t actually do the prestigious film and television course.’ Having tried twice but being told he needed more experience on both occasions, Wright decided to take matters into his own hands. ‘That summer I made a film in my hometown with my school friends and college friends with money raised from a local businessman. And a lot of people from Bournemouth worked on that’. It was this film that persuaded comedians, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, to convince their producers to get this new director to work on their show, and subsequently kicked off Wright’s career.
‘So, I guess thank you for rejecting me,’ he jokes with a grin. ‘It’s the best-worst thing that ever happened’.
Just before the interview gets passed over to us, Edgar’s asked about his favourite cameo he’s had and I feel the crew glance at me. Now this is something we have a head start on. When I hand over the prints from the ‘The Many Cameos of Edgar Wright’ feature that we released the night before, I can’t help but smile along with him as he looks through them. He picks out Baby Driver when I say it’s my favourite and turns to the marketing team. ‘So the story with that one is that I’m in the back of shot with the reflection in a shop window, watching the shot. You have these monitors that are like this’ – he mimes a portable monitor – ‘it wasn’t until afterwards that someone said ‘ah, you’re in shot’. And we were going to digitally remove me, because you can, and then we figured if we just turned my monitor into an iPhone then it looks like I’m just wandering the street looking at my phone. So I’m in it by mistake’.
As an established director, Wright has made films like Baby Driver and Shaun of the Dead. But he’s also directed adaptations like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the comics of the same name. When I asked him how he approaches adaptations versus original scripts, he told me that ‘you’re not trying to instill as much of your own personality’ into existing stories. ‘Scott Pilgrim was a bit different because I felt like me and Bryan Lee O’Malley had a very similar sensibility and we were really lucky, me and the screenwriter, to be within his process while he was still writing the second half of the books. […] So actually, we had written the script for the movie before Volumes 4, 5, and 6 were even published. In some cases, there are even a couple of lines from our script that he put in his books’.
Scott Pilgrim ‘is a beautiful piece of art as well. The art inspired me so that was a really good collaboration with a living artist’.
I ask if there are particular things that he looks for in collaborators, or if it’s an organic thing that develops later, and he explains that ‘it works both ways,’ especially in writing. ‘Sometimes you can write with somebody who’s very much on your wavelength, I think that’s why me and Simon [Pegg] started writing together’. But ‘it’s great working with different people because they work in different ways. There’s no writing partnership that’s quite the same, and sometimes you can write with people who are very much on your wavelength, but sometimes it’s an interesting experience to write with someone who isn’t from your background or doesn’t have the same sensibility. I mean, I’m writing something with a screenwriter at the moment that I haven’t worked with before, and it’s great because she has a different perspective, and I can tell her my ideas and she has a different viewpoint on them’.
‘So it can work in different ways, and they’re all worthy in different respects’.
Baby Driver is a film that’s been in Edgar’s head for years – ‘a long, long time,’ he confirms – so I ask him about managing the desire to want to get it done and out there, along with waiting for the right time. ‘It’s a tricky one,’ he tells me, leaning back. ‘I knew that when I was 21 and I came up with the idea to Baby Driver, I couldn’t make it. It was too ambitious and expensive and like… It wasn’t really until after Hot Fuzz that we started talking about it. And even in that period between Hot Fuzz and it coming out was like a ten-year period where I did two others movies, and wrote a whole bunch of other movies. And in that period there were other movies, like I remember when Drive came out and I was like ‘ah, shit. That’s it for Baby Driver,’ but then I saw the movie and I was like ‘ah, maybe not, it’s not really the same thing’. He draws a similar comparison between Shaun of the Dead and its predecessor 28 Days Later; ‘you’re writing something and you think it’s totally original, nobody else is doing it but somebody else in the world is doing it’.
‘So, it’s a finely balanced thing between getting your new idea out there before somebody else does – because no matter how original your idea is, somebody else is having it at the same time’.
‘Making any movie is hard,’ he says in the talk. ‘Even like Baby Driver wasn’t an easy film to get going. There were several points even then where it was actually so intangible and could collapse at any moment.’ The film industry is a volatile place, ‘but the main thing is you just have to be extremely tenacious and not give up. The good thing to know is that if you feel like everything’s a challenge, that’ll never get easier. And it never should get easier. The point where work gets easier, you’re being complacent and the work suffers. And no point in my career have I felt like stuff has been easy to get going’. Back in the interview, I probe a bit more about mistakes and pushing through. ‘Mistakes are important things to have in your early career because you can only learn from them,’ he says. ‘My first movie that I made when I was 20, I remake it in my head all the time. And it’s too late. It’s that weird thing where… if I could go back in time I would do everything differently’.
‘Everybody fails at some point and you learn massively’.
I check to see how long I’ve got and Edgar generously offers to get the next train if we run over a little bit. We go on to talk about things past filmmaking he’s ever been tempted to do, and he mentions drawing and music as hobbies. It’s nice to talk with a decidedly successful professional who hasn’t come from an overly privileged background, and has worked his way up the ranks like myself and a lot of my fellow students will have to. ‘If you’re in like Dorset, or you’re in Somerset, and you were making films, you were one of like maybe a hundred people doing it. You go to London, you’re one of a hundred thousand people doing it. I was always glad that I’d done stuff in my own neck of the woods before I’d gone to London and just been… that’s the tough thing: you’re with a lot of other people who want to be the same thing’.
‘Right now, I haven’t thought of anything I want to be doing other than what I’m doing. It’s like my dream job’.
When asked what advice he would give to AUB’s filmmakers, he says ‘I think you’ve got to be self-sufficient. When people come up to me and say ‘I want to be a filmmaker but I don’t know anybody. I don’t have the funds,’ that isn’t really an excuse anymore, and it wasn’t an excuse when I was growing up. You know, grew up in Dorset, moved to Somerset, had no connections to the film industry, went to a comprehensive, came to this art college. But I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any money myself. The movies are made through their own sheer force of will’.
‘There is nothing stopping you from making movies. You have to let go of the excuses, of the reasons why not, and just do it yourself’.
If you want to hear about Edgar writing Tintin with fellow director Joe Cornish, the benefits of 28 Days Later for Shaun of the Dead, and recording the commentary for his debut feature film after 20 years you can listen to the full interview in a special collaborative episode with the Podcast Society, find it HERE
Interview by Daisy Leigh-Phippard, Photographs by Ewa Ferdynus