From director to DJ: Edgar Wright is taking to the airwaves

From Shaun of the Dead to Scott Pilgrim, Edgar Wright has brought outsider cinema into the mainstream. Now he is presenting a special New Year's Day show for BBC6 Music.

Rob Sharp
Thursday 30 December 2010 01:00

Split-screen visual trickery, a whimsical script, heart-stopping editing, pop-cultural references appealing to twenty-something slackers. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, released last August, epitomised Edgar Wright's shtick, slapping audiences with ambitious visuals before wooing them with home-spun humour.

Wright first set out his stylistic stall with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on the Channel 4 television show Spaced, which was followed in 2004 by Shaun of the Dead and, in 2007, Hot Fuzz. Scott Pilgrim's bigger budget and higher-profile Hollywood talent, including Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, widened his fan base. While the film failed to recoup its $90m (£59m) cost, taking $30m (£20m) in the US in its entire run, it was a critical hit. The New York Times lauded its "speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit". Now comes the exhaustive content of a Scott Pilgrim DVD and Wright's appearance tomorrow as a guest DJ on BBC6 Music.

"I am just figuring out what is to come, what I can do next," he says. "In the new year, once all the press and screenings have died down, I can get back to writing again. We're still debating whether we'll release the film in Japan. You can never pass up a Japanese press trip."

Promoting Wright's films sounds like fun. A slew of YouTube videos of recent junkets show Cera and Schwartzman larking around. The cast's off-key charisma splices neatly with Wright's role as a standard-bearer for a particular sofa-bound breed of British male.

"The people involved in the film were all very fun," agrees Wright. "And it's also been nice having a lot more interaction with the public through some of the screenings we've been doing. It's a lot of fun talking to audiences who are fans of the movie, answering their questions, though sometimes the degree of their knowledge about the project can be somewhat scary."

Wright is now collaborating with Pegg and Frost on the third in his so-called "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy", named after a running joke between the three about ice cream (it's a hangover cure, they claim). "I'm planning to do another film with Simon and Nick, which we'd very much like to do in Britain. That's very important to us," he adds. "Working Title have been big supporters of us and gave us our break so we intend to make more films with them."

Wright was born in Poole, Dorset in 1974. He cut his teeth directing pastiches with a Super-8 camera, winning a competition on Saturday morning TV show Going Live! One early professional coup involved directing David Walliams and Matt Lucas in their first sketch show, Mash and Peas, in 1996. Then, in 1999, the first series of Spaced aired and was praised for its rapid-fire editing, frequent pop-culture references, jokes, eclectic music and off-the-wall humour.

Scott Pilgrim is similarly fashioned. The director buzzes through dramatic shots lasting a heartbeat, their CGI composition evoking the lettering, colouring and panels of a hard-copy graphic novel. His cinematic lexicon boasts "symbolia", such as lightbulbs pinging above characters' heads to indicate ideas, or "zzzz" to demonstrate sleep. Sound effects are cribbed from Nintendo games (the original Gameboy Super Mario Land, the Super NES version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past), with "power-up" bars and "1UPS" indicating key plot points.

"I read the original Scott Pilgrim graphic novel the month it came out," he explains. "It was really important to me to keep the film as true to that as possible, so I had a hotline to its writer, Bryan Lee O'Malley, throughout the process." Wright says the pair collaborated over important scenes. "He was very much involved, and once you've spoken to him it's easier to communicate his vision to millions of fans. I talked to him even before I'd signed up to do the film." The movie's soundtrack has contributions from Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Metric, Broken Social Scene and Dan the Automator, along with Beck, who rehearsed with Cera before principal photography began. Other cast members, Mark Webber, Alison Pill and Johnny Simmons, who play in the fictional band Sex Bob-Omb, all had to learn their respective instruments before production, and spent time rehearsing with Cera, who already played bass guitar.

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The DVD contains trivia, photo galleries, deleted scenes, alternative endings and a comprehensive discussion of the special-effects process. "An enormous amount of work went into the movie at every level, so there was a wealth of material about the production," explains Wright. "The shooting went on for five-and-a-half months and the cast and crew really bonded over the making of the film. I hope that was clear in the TLC we've put into the extras. Ever since I made Spaced I've been aware of how much people pore over the details – and I always want to give them value for money." The morning before the production deadline, he was in an edit suite until 5am. "It has to have a personality; it's important to us."

On Saturday, Wright plans to "catch up on air" with Pegg and Frost, play some of his favourite albums, including Gorillaz and Broken Social Scene, and build on his previous work hosting a Hallowe'en special, also on BBC 6 Music, when his guests included John Landis.

"I've done a similar thing in Los Angeles a couple of times, on a station called Indie 103.1, filling in for Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols," says Wright. "His show is crazy; it's like stumbling on Derek and Clive hosting a radio show. He is such a sweet man. Whenever these stations let me on, I'm allowed to play what I want. It's nice to be able to shanghai the airwaves." He has little idea of what will happen and plans to "wing it", though topics for discussion might include the dominance of Simon Cowell, "a pantomime villain who will always remain the victor", the recent cuts to the British film industry, and his "cultural barometer" Charlie Brooker.

What of the future? Wright looks set to give fresh impetus to Ant-Man, the comic book he is adapting for the big screen with Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe). The pair met in a shop 10 years ago while buying DVDs. "We got talking and became firm friends," he says. "He's been busy directing his debut feature film [Attack the Block] and we haven't done anything in two years, but it'll come. We will be getting back into Ant-Man."

Maybe it's time for him to come back to Britain? "I flit between London and Los Angeles, but a lot of people assume I've left and I'm not coming back," he says. "In fact, I was editing Scott Pilgrim in London, sitting in a little room in Charlotte Street. I have only been properly gone for three months. At last I can spend some time here; and I'm looking forward to it."

Edgar Wright presents a special New Year's Day BBC6 Music show with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg between 10am and 1pm; 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures

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