Edgar Wright envisioned the film version of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World the minute he finished reading the first installment of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series.
“I was given it the week it was published, so I read it with everyone else in 2004,” says Wright, best known as the co-writer-director of such spoofs as Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. “Making the film has been quite organic, because I’ve been in contact with the author while he was writing the other books.”
Wright, a youngish-looking 36, sought and received input from O’Malley during the six years he spent bringing Scott Pilgrim to the screen.
“He was very involved—he read every single draft and he did little polishes on scenes,” says Wright, in Philadelphia to talk about the project. “A couple of lines from the movie are in his (most recent) book, and his lines—like four or five—are in the film. He was very polite to email me and ask: ‘Can I use one of your lines in my book?’”
The long-in-the-works Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World movie is being released around the same time the sixth—and last—installment of the graphic novels hits stores.
To all involved, this seemed like a case of serendipity, marketing and otherwise.
“It started to come together when we knew the film was being made, it all worked out that the book came out with the film,” says Wright, who now looking to turn the Marvel comic book Ant-Man into a film. “His ending of the new book went through a lot of different drafts. He didn’t like his ending of book six until we were filming.
“We both agreed early on it was better to do something in the spirit of the books rather than cram everything in one film. I would hope that people who had not read the books would see the film then read the books. A whole bunch of people have been reading the books since the trailer came out.
“Some people are reading the books so they can have an opinion on the film,” adds Wright with a smile.
In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Michael Cera plays the lead character, a Toronto-based, bass-playing, out-of-work 23-year-old who’s getting grief from his friends for dating a high school student (Ellen Wong). When he falls for a hip delivery girl with dyed purple hair named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott doesn’t realize that he has to face her six ex-boyfriends (and one ex-girlfriend—“she was going through a phase”) in combat, using martial arts, musical instruments and knives to win her hand.
One of the trickier things about making a film based on source material that has such a feverish following is that fans often compare the two mediums. But Wright thinks listening to fans about how to adapt the material could lead to danger.
“You can end up chasing your tail,” says Wright. “You can’t please everybody. If it was an Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) situation, where you have no contact with the creator, maybe. But I probably wouldn’t have done the film. Because Brian was so involved literally, this made it something I was interested in. It even got to the point where we were bothering him. He said, ‘Listen, I trust you guys, just get on with it.’”
Wright has peppered his film with a steady stream of videogame references and game-influenced action scenes, complete with coin payouts and musical themes of popular games like The Legend Of Zelda. He claims his intention to do so was influenced by the way game-related movies have ignored their origins.
“We thought we’d put all the things in the film that the other films don’t do,” says Wright. “All of them–Tomb Raider, Doom, Super Mario Brothers, Prince Of Persia– don’t have the most recognizable things found in video games. They don’t have points and coins and that sort of stuff.
“They all have guyliners instead,” jokes Wright.
“Most videogames themselves are based on films. There’s a weird xerox to them: Resident Evil is based on zombie films. Then you have a film based on the game like Tomb Raider that is based on Indiana Jones, so it feels like a weird filtration system once you get to the movie. So it was nice that we weren’t adapting a game. Besides, lots of these games have been with us for 30 years.”
Still, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is geared to an audience of gamers and/or those familiar with its source material. At a recent screening in Philly, most members of the packed audience—some of whom had reportedly been waiting in line since 2 PM for a 7 PM screening—were wildly enthusiastic, cheering and applauding throughout. But some older viewers—certainly not in the film’s target demographic—clearly didn’t get what all of the ruckus was about.
Does Wright think others than the intended audience will appreciate the film?
“I would hope they would just enjoy it on the basis of young love and as a rites of passage film,” says Wright. “All of those kinds of touches (in the film) are like flourishes, really. All of it is some kind of comment on growing up in their world, and this is the media that governs their lives, and Scott Pilgrim comes out as growing up on video games and there are downsides as well.”
With his heavily pop culture-referenced British TV show Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, a zombie send-up, and Hot Fuzz, a police thriller satire, gaining sizable cult audiences, Wright has amassed quite a reputation around the industry, which has led to bigger budgeted, more special effects-driven projects like Scott Pilgrim and the upcoming Ant-Man. He’s also lately lent his talents to co-scripting Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming animated adaptation of The Adventures Of Tintin.
Some of the primary cast members found working with Wright much different than their past experiences dealing with directors. “Every moment has been thought out before we started to shoot,” says the boyish star Cera, 22. “We did a lot of rehearsal, but Edgar had already worked on the movie for three years. He storyboarded it and wrote the script (with Michael Bacall) and made it really tight.”
The star of Superbad and Juno also did many of his own stunts in the film. “I did them with Edgar. I did training. I’d wake up and run and do pushups and all sorts of disgusting stuff.”
Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-nominated co-star of Up In The Air and the Twilight series, plays Stacey Pilgrim, Scott’s barista younger sister. She tells of how the film was no picnic to shoot.
“It was the most technical work I’ve done,” says Kendrick, 25. “I’m in a split screen with Cera, and I’m supposed to be mirroring his body language and moving my body. It was frustrating. Every outtake probably has me throwing something.”
Kendrick says she got a stronger impression of Wright the more she worked with him on the movie. “I got this image of Edgar when I asked him who he wanted to be in the cast. And he loved the idea of casting Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four, The Losers, the upcoming Captain America) and getting other young actors and pitting them against each other. So I got this image of Edgar being an evil puppet master and delighting in seeing these young actors fight to the death to amuse him.”
Jason Schwartzman, who channels Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls’ Z-Man character as ex-boyfriend/evil music producer Gideon Gordon Graves, had hoped to work with Wright one day, but never thought it would happen.
“I have a 50/50 split in me, “confesses the 30-year-old Rushmore star and musician. “I have a dream list of people I want to work with, but I flagellate myself for having a dream list. How can you even think you could even work with me? It’s my mega-Jason. He’s always been on it because I never thought it was possible, because up until Scott Pilgrim, he’s only worked with the English. And in England! So I didn’t know how it would happen. Would he ever have an American actor?
“So the fact that I worked with him was so exciting, especially for me personally because I’m a fan.”
Schwartzman, the son of actress Talia Shire and the late producer Jack Schwartzman, says the key to Wright’s success is his attitude.
“He’s so enthusiastic about the movie,” says Schwartzman. “He’s more enthusiastic than anyone on the movie, even if you added them up. You know, some directors have a director’s chair. He doesn’t have one. He just stands the whole time—he has such momentum for the movie.
“He’s always right there even in big scenes, I felt he had he had his attention on me. Everything was so well thought out and choreographed. To me, it was so different than making most movies. Usually you make a movie and you do stuff from every angle. But he already had it all planned out.
“So making a movie is hyper-focusing as opposed to doing a play. And doing this movie is mega-super-hyper-focusing, so you’re doing a shot at a time and getting exactly what you need, and that’s an unusual experience. It was unlike anything else I’ve done.”
“In the car on the way home,” adds Kendrick, “you’re usually like ‘I hope they used the medium (shot) of that line, I hope they use the close (shot) of that line because I wasn’t nailing it on the other angles. Here it was so different. It was cool… it was challenging. They definitely kept you on your toes.”
Here’s Movie Irv’s review of the film: