Edgar Wright talks Ant-Man, 3D and making Brandon Generator
Find out what Scott Pilgrim director Edgar Wright thinks of 3D movies, and why sometimes he needs to turn off the Internet.
Edgar Wright is one of our favourite British film directors here at CNET Towers, so we jumped at the chance for a chat. Read on to find out what he thinks of 3D movies, why he replies to fans at 2am and why he needs an app to turn off his Internet. How's that for a slice of fried gold?
After starting with home-movie spoofs of blockbusters, Wright is now a bona fide Hollywood hotshot. Director of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim, he also co-wrote Steven Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin.
Currently linked to big-screen versions of The Night Stalker with Johnny Depp and Marvel superhero Ant-Man, he's also working on the third in the 'Cornetto Trilogy' of films with Simon Pegg. But in the meantime, he's assembled a dream team of cult creators to promote Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser, of all things.
We chatted with Wright about this latest project, The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator. An animated online comic narrated by Mighty Boosh star Julian Barratt, with music by David Holmes, Brandon Generator features crowdsourced contributions from the audience in the form of written notes, sketches and even voicemails.
"I was approached by Microsoft because they wanted to do a crowdsourced animation/comic to show off the capabilities of HTML5," Wright explains. "I was intrigued because I'd never written a comic before, even though I'd been a big fan growing up -- and I knew Tommy Lee Edwards was already doing it, and I was aware of his artwork from the book he did with Jonathan Ross [prohibition-era gangster/vampire/alien mash-up Turf]."
The series follows Brandon Generator, a writer struggling to find inspiration -- not a million miles from Wright himself. "It's based on my experiences of the Internet on two counts: firstly, the character of Brandon is a writer who is very prone to procrastination -- he likes to call it writer's block because it sounds more romantic, but the truth is he's too busy wasting time on the Internet -- and secondly, collaboration, having done a couple of things on the Internet where I've worked with fans.
"There's so many talented people out there -- so I thought this is a nice way to work with people, writers, artists, actors and get them to contribute to something where I've created the characters, but I'm not so precious about it that I can't take on board lots of suggestions from other people."
Asked if he's always open to suggestions and collaborations with things he's written, Edgar is quick to answer with a laugh: "No! Usually quite the opposite!"
Wright on writing
Brandon Generator sees Wright using a different language and different process to the sparse descriptions and structured writing of a movie screenplay. "I don't write the action out on the first pass -- you write the script and then you write 'car chase here' or something like that, and then you come back and flesh that out. I try to get to the end and then flesh out the action on the second pass. But usually you try and outline a lot so you know where you're going. I've never written anything where I haven't known what the next scene's going to be."
Surprisingly perhaps, getting to write an action scene isn't a reward for completing a script. "It's kinda tough writing action! Writing action's weird, it's great shooting action, but especially if you're a director as well you're trying to communicate to yourself so if you're writing a fight scene, a fist fight or a car chase, it's actually not a lot of fun at all. I don't find it fun anyway. I'd rather do it than write it."
Brandon Generator is also a change of pace from movie-making. "Because films take so long to make it's nice to do something where I write it and as soon as it's done Tommy Lee Edwards starts animating it immediately! So the turnaround is pretty fast."
As an online multimedia project, Brandon Generator has other elements as well as the visual. "I direct Julian, and also the sound editor, and David Holmes as well. And the interesting thing about it is that we're all in different places all the time so it's done almost completely via the Internet. I've been in LA or London, David's in LA, Julian's in London, Tommy Lee Edwards is in Carolina, so none of us are in the same room. So that makes it pretty challenging, but ultimately it's pretty amazing to be able to do these things long distance."
Combining comics, music, reader contributions and online interactivity is another example of Wright's interest in blurring the lines between different media, with his films and TV work influenced by videogames, comics, Hollywood blockbusters and even, in one star-studded music video, romance photo-comics.
"I guess Spaced and Scott Pilgrim both had a similar theme, although they played out in different ways: Spaced is about twentysomethings who could only communicate in terms of the media they consumed, and Scott Pilgrim is different in that he's a daydreamer who's living that life of his imagination, he's living his life as if it's a videogame, he's stuck in this fantasist world.
"They're all of a similar theme. I like that idea of surrealism and magical realism and elements like that and I guess my default setting is to imagine weird things happening in everyday life."
As Brandon finds out, writing isn't always fun. "Writing is sometimes enjoyable, but mostly it's quite arduous! I did write a script last year on my own, it was the first thing I'd written in a long time solo and it eventually turned out very well, but it was quite a struggle to get there."
Teaming up with tech
Wright is well-known as a writer for his collaborations, including Joe Cornish on Tintin. "It's much more fun if it's with somebody. I've written with three different people -- four actually, over the years -- and it's always more fun to write with somebody, especially with comedy. Maybe not if you're doing drama or thrillers or something like that, but comedy it's always good to have another person."
His best-known writing partner is Simon Pegg, with whom he worked on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. "Me and Simon tend to do the thing where one person is typing and the other is either dictating, or we're both talking about it and we hook it up to a big TV so we can both see it. "
With the Internet and his mobile phone providing technological distractions, Wright also turned to technology to stay on track. "But also the other thing that was actually in the first episode that's true is I would try and inspire myself by using iTunes in a weird way, like sort of playing everything in order of length. Or going randomly on Google or going through the papers and circling odd names that conjured up something."
One useful tool is a program called Freedom. "It basically turns off your Internet! It's an application, basically you tell it how many hours you want to go off the Internet or off social media. You can override it but it's a bit of a rigmarole. I think, 'Right, I've got to get some writing done today, I'm gonna turn Freedom on and I'm gonna shut off the Internet for six hours.'"
It's been forever since we've seen Wright's name on the big screen, but he's keen to stress things are moving behind the scenes. "The development process is something that has so many elements to it and that doesn't mean that you're writing every day. In fact me and Joe Cornish wrote a script (for Ant-Man) last year and we haven't done any work on it since, because they're happy with it, we're happy with it, we're dealing with other elements of it now, so I might be doing another film first, y'know.
"It's funny where its that thing in news stories where people say 'Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright have been writing this film for yeeeears,' and it's true and not true, we've done like three drafts of the script and we've got to a place where we're happy with it and so is everyone else, and now it's a question of when is that slot to make it?"
The long gestation period also doesn't mean there's a problem. "People assume if something's been in development for years there must be some kind of problem or something that we're desperately trying to fix, and that's not necessarily the case because you work on different things at different times."
"I think that what people don't really understand in terms of movies -- especially when film sites do hourly news -- is how many years it can take for a film to come together. Even Shaun of the Dead took four years to reach the screen."
Once a film is done, Wright is also known for engaging with fans with Q&A screenings and DVD extras, although that does eat into his time actually making movies. "Maybe in the future I'd like to do less of that and try and make more movies. But if you're proud of the movie then you're the best salesman for it."
The Internet also provides an outlet to reply to fans. "I like writing facetious replies at two in the morning. I do it very randomly as well, so some people get very annoyed that I don't reply to them. I tend to choose whatever takes my fancy at odd hours of the day and night. "
There are limits to what should be shared online, though. "I'm always surprised when people in film or TV or media slag on other films, cos I think, 'You know the world is really small and you know you're in a glass house...' If I don't like a film I just won't mention it on Twitter at all. And also there's so much snarkiness on the Internet anyway, it's actually nice to inject some optimism every now and again."
3D or not 3D
One subject that's drawing criticism at the moment is 3D, but true to his policy, Wright won't be drawn on which 3D films failed to impress him. "I'm not gonna say -- I know too many people that worked on them! All I can say is that I would have enjoyed it exactly the same, but with about £3 less on the ticket price.
"I sometimes actively seek out the 2D versions, if there's a flat version of something I might go and see that instead. But when it works it's... I thought Hugo was great, Avatar was great in 3D, Coraline was great in 3D, some of the animation stuff... I'm biased but I thought Tintin looked great in 3D. "
Wright won't rule out a three-dimensional outing of his own -- but "only if it was the right thing for the story. If there was something within the story where it really worked, and I thought 'well, this is a reason to do 3D'. That's why Avatar started the ball rolling because in Avatar you had a character inside another body, it was the perfect premise for 3D, you know, that you're having an out-of-body experience with this character so it actually lends itself towards this effect."
What's the plan, then?
Here at CNET we're huge fans of Wright and his work, so we can't wait to see what's coming next. For now though, he remains tight-lipped, saying only, "I'm working on some stuff at the moment which I'm just figuring out."
The final episode of The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator is live today at brandongenerator.com.