Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Edgar Wright is a wildly entertaining filmmaker, and that carries over to his public personality in general. A combination of wit and knowledge comes through in the stories he shares as does a pure affection for cinema, and that’s part of what makes him one of our favorites when it comes to commentary tracks.
His latest film, Baby Driver, hit Blu-ray/DVD this week, and while it’s worth picking up for the movie alone the extras offer hours worth of additional entertainment and insight. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Baby Driver (2017)
Commentator: Edgar Wright (writer/director)
1. “Tinnitus in the US, tinnitus in the UK. One of the many pronunciation problems I had through the shoot.” He says dealing with car lingo was especially taxing as he had it beaten into him that “it’s hood and trunk, not bonnet and boot.”
2. The film opens with the high-pitched sound of tinnitus that then moves gracefully into “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Wright began working out these cues ten years ago and met with then music editor Steve Price for help in breaking down the songs. Price went on to win an Oscar for his first full film score (Gravity) and was brought on as composer for Baby Driver.
3. The idea for the film hit him while he was editing his first feature, A Fistful of Fingers, and listening to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on a bootleg cassette. (He’s since made it up to them by buying five copies of the album over the years.) “I would listen to this song, and I would just visualize the action,” he says, “and this was before I knew what the movie was about.”
4. It was Oliver Sacks’ book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, that connected for Wright why Baby (Ansel Elgort) would need to listen to music all the time.
5. He used his early ideas for the character’s introduction in a music video he directed in 2002 for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song.” The film didn’t spring from the video — he already knew it would be used for a movie down the road — but “I’d ran out of ideas on what to do with this music video.” He was “very mad” at himself afterwards fearing he’d burned the idea on the video when he should have saved it for a movie.
6. “I took the advance [from Working Title] in 2007, and then delivered the script in 2011, four years later.” He says he would not recommend that technique for screenwriters “because you could get into legal trouble.”
7. His writing routine on the film was to “got to like a coffee shop, and read the L.A. Times, read all of the kind of crimes stories, and watch documentaries about sort of crime, and watch a lot of old film noirs.” The other thing he did which was a big help in the writing was a series of interviews with ex-cons. One of them, Joe Loya, is credited as a technical adviser and has a brief cameo as a security guard. “Literally the first thing he said to me, he goes ‘Hey man, big fan of Hot Fuzz, I know that movie by heart!'”
8. He loves driving in the U.S., and once drove from New York to Los Angeles on his own. “I don’t drive in London, and I don’t even have a car in London.”
9. The film was initially written to take place in Los Angeles but was changed to Atlanta once he realized they’d be filming in Georgia. He was reluctant at first, but after spending time in Atlanta he grew confident in the location. An Eastern location also made more sense if he wanted to have characters yearning to go west.
10. Baby’s guardian, Joe, was written as a deaf African American man in his 80s, and CJ Jones was the only performer they auditioned who is actually deaf. “I started auditioning other very good actors who were pretending to be deaf, it made me feel immediately uncomfortable.”
11. The moment that comes in most commentaries hits around the 23:18 mark when Wright says “I’m sure you’re not watching this for the first time with the commentary on, and if you are I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
12. He spoils Janet Leigh’s fate in Psycho and apologizes afterward. He then reveals Leonardo DiCaprio’s death in Django Unchained and apologizes again. “Maybe I should have put a warning at the start to watch Psycho and Django Unchained before we started the commentary.”
13. The Michael Myers / Mike Myers mask gag originally featured two Halloween masks and one Austin Powers, but while Mike Myers had had granted permission “the Halloween people hadn’t said no, but they definitely hadn’t said yes.” Wright had to write an alternative for the scene and call Myers back to extend the permissions (for three masks). Myers shared a story with him about the first time he went to the bank with a paycheck from Saturday Night Live. It was made out to Michael Myers, and the teller said “Michael Myers? Are you gonna stab me?!”
14. The “good Samaritan” in the pickup who attempts to stop the robbery is played by Jamie Foxx‘s stunt double.
15. Wright intended for the truck chase to play out to The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” but cinematographer Bill Pope told him the track wouldn’t be long enough to cover the action. Pope was right, so Wright added the shot at 29:25 of Baby restarting the track.
16. The flashbacks of Baby’s parents were shot with a hand-crank camera “which is how they used to shoot silent movies.” They’re cranked by hand to keep the speed at 24 frames per second — “you go faster if you want it to slow down, and you go slower if you want it to speed up. It’s also really tiring.”
17. Quentin Tarantino read the script and told Wright of another “Deborah” song by Dave Edmunds, but “the character is a complete bitch, and I thought, hmm, I don’t know if I want to use this one.”
18. A studio rep asked him to cut the line where Baby refers to the band T-Rex as Trex because they didn’t want him to seem dumb. He refused as it reads endearing not dumb.
19. His mantra to location manager Doug Dresser was “more Sharky’s Machine, less Smoky and the Bandit.”
20. They did four days of re-shoots after getting feedback from a pair of test screenings. The restaurant scene where Doc (Kevin Spacey) pulls Baby back in originally ended back at the table, but the test audiences wanted to see more between Baby and Debora (Lily James) in the build-up to her agreeing to run away with him. They added the car kiss and quick chat.
21. The idea of having Doc’s nephew accompany Baby while casing the Post Office came from one of Wright’s interviews with ex-cons.
22. He thought Foxx would have an issue saying the line about not looking like he would know a fucking thing about Barbara Streisand because “in reality Jamie Foxx is friends with Barbara Streisand. So that’s a funny thing.”
23. It was suggested that Wright cut the scene in the back seat between Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) as they talk about the men Buddy’s killed for looking at her, but he knew it was necessary to confirm that none of these criminals were “good guys.”
24. Foxx was excited to learn that Paul Williams would be appearing in the film. “When I mentioned that Paul was in the movie he said ‘Singer/songwriter Paul Williams?!'”
25. Run the Jewels plays on the car radio after leaving the gun buy gone wrong. This is where I discovered that Run the Jewels is a music act and not an iPhone game.
26. The script originally ended with Baby exiting prison in color but then fading to black & white as he crossed over to kiss Debora — clearly indicating that it was a dream.The head of Sony, Tom Rothman, was excited to make the movie but had two notes for Wright. “I don’t remember what the first note was,” but the second deal-breaker was that the film absolutely could not end on a dream sequence.
27. He was pressured by the studio to cut the foot chase from the script, but he rightfully felt it was important both for momentum but also as a chance for Baby — a character who spends most of the film sitting — to stretch his legs. “I ended up deferring some of my fee to pay for the couple of days to do this foot chase, and I’m very glad I did.”
28. He points out the ad for Boost Mobile at 1:27:31 just as Baby’s boosting a car. Sprint is also visible during the foot chase.
29. Wright wrote the script with Hamm in mind for Buddy, and once the first draft was completed in 2012 he held a read-though with various actors — “The only person still playing the same part is Jon Hamm.”
30. “Now we should talk about Sidney and Thurman,” he says as the Sewell brothers appear onscreen about to be carjacked by Baby and Debora. The pair also starred in Spring Breakers and work as paralegals for their day jobs. They improvised the “more like Bonnie and Bonnie” line too.
31. The script originally featured Buddy arriving at the warehouse and killing Doc before Baby gets there.
32. The security guard asking “You all right buddy?” to a bloodied and battered Buddy didn’t originally say that. Wright ADR’d it himself after the line came to him while editing, but he asked the actor to come back in to record it himself.
33. Jon Spencer — of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — is the guard giving Baby his mail in jail.
34. He recommends watching some films after Baby Driver too. “You could say this movie ends and The Getaway starts, or you could say this movie ends and The Getaway starts. I always felt that Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway leads directly into William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. So if you wanna stick on another Blu-ray right after this I recommend one of those I just mentioned.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“As soon as I started location scouting I just noticed that there were like muscle cars everywhere, which isn’t the case in L.A. which is you know Prius central.”
“When you’re working with somebody who has to lip-read what you’re saying you’re immediately aware that like 50% of what you say is utter guff and nonsense.”
“As you can probably tell from this commentary, I say kinda, sorta, like, uh, um…”
“Only Jamie Foxx could pull off that sweatshirt.”
“I read the script of Django Unchained before he made it, although I was not the person who leaked it onto the internet. I’d just like to say that on record.”
“I don’t really allow that much improv on my movies.”
“This was actually not a retirement club, but it’s a golf club. I guess they’re the same thing.”
Buy Baby Driver on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
Baby Driver is a fun movie, so it’s no surprise that Edgar Wright gives fun commentary too. As with the tracks on his previous movies he does a good job moving between technical details, anecdotes, and explanations for why he made certain decisions. It’s a recommended listen, and it’s only the first of two tracks on the disc as a second is included featuring Wright and his DP, Bill Pope.