44 Things We Learned from the ‘Shaun of the Dead’ Commentary

"I'm very proud that we got to do a zombie film."

Best Comedy Movies Shaun Of The Dead
Rogue Pictures

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Jeremy Kirk heads to jolly ol’ England for a pint of brain juice while listening to Edgar Wright’s and Simon Pegg’s commentary for the zom-com classic, Shaun of the Dead.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Groan. Crawl. Shuffle. And commentary on all of it. It’s the Halloween season, so you know the zombie movies are out there in force. But we always like a few lot of laughs with our scares. What better movie to dish out both of those along with an ample helping of heart – figurative heart, as in emotion, not actual bloody hearts being tossed about, though we have that here, too – than Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead?

What’s even better, Wright has brought along a familiar and jovial voice to help him recollect some of the fun and interesting times on set. Simon Pegg is helping out with the color commentary, that color being red more than likely. So it’s time to head on down to the Winchester – provided they have a DVD player – grab a pint and your best cricket bat, watch the ball go from bat to wicket – that’s a cricket reference just to show I know a thing or two. That’s two things. I’m out. – and hear what Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have to say in this week’s Commentary Commentary. Shuffle. Crawl. Shuffle. Groan. Brains.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Commentators: Edgar Wright (writer, director), Simon Pegg (writer, actor), a lot of British slang I don’t fully understand.

  • As Edgar Wright points out, the eerie music playing over the opening logos is original music from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Joel Martin, an avid fan of Dawn of the Dead, spent three years in a DeWolfe Library – Pegg thinks Wright says Dwarf Library at first thanks to those pesky English accents – piecing together musical compilations from the music he found there. This piece of music from Dawn of the Dead was one of the pieces he found.
  • The Winchester interior set was built at Ealing Film Studios where such classics of British cinema as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers were also filmed.
  • When Lucy Davis as Dianne and Dylan Moran as David appear on screen, Wright introduces them as Harry Potter and Britney Spears. “Harry Potter: the Cappuccino years,” replies Pegg.
  • Wright always intended the opening scene to be one like a typical horror film where it establishes the characters but has no horror references or any indication it was a horror film at all. He mentions it was a very difficult scene to write and that it was originally much longer but was ultimately trimmed down. “We wanted to reach a zombie killing at minute 25 rather than minute 45,” recollects Wright.
  • Pegg mentions Nick Frost came up with the line, “She’s like butter.” Wright goes on to mention UrbanDictionary.com has several different definitions to the word “butter,” that it can mean ugly or beautiful. “Fucking geek,” remarks Pegg.
  • As Pegg points out, virtually everyone shown during the opening credits are characters who will reappear further on in the film as zombies. Likewise, all the extras Shaun comes across on his first trip to the store turn up later as zombies. I should also mention at this point that I’m going to use the word zombie. I don’t have any qualms about this plus it’s easier than typing out “the zed word” every time I want to make reference to it. So zombies. There. You should try it. It’s quite liberating, really.
  • In the first shot where Nick Frost as Ed is sitting on the couch, on the coffee table is an ash tray shaped like a black baby with a sombrero on its back. Wright notes that this was probably very un-PC. “What a lovely piece of racist memorabilia,” notes Pegg. It disappears from this moment on in the film, continuity be damned. Wright also mentions he believes it is being CGed out for the American release.
  • Wright points out the crash zooms he includes throughout Shaun of the Dead. He liked the idea of using these very James Cameron-esque techniques, crash zooms that Cameron had used in films like The Terminator to show weaponry, but Wright wanted to show very mundane items. Pegg mentions he had cut out the crash zoom of a piece of poo, but Wright replies it’ll be included in the German version.
  • According to Pegg, the string of notes on Peter Serafinowicz’s back that say “I Am A Prick” was intended to all be put on one piece of paper. Wright mentions the joke was different originally. The joke was for the note to originally say “I Am Prick”, as if there were a typo.
  • Tim Baggaley, who plays the man in the tux who later becomes a zombie with an amputated arm, is actually an amputee stuntman. He’s also a master fencer, and is, according to Pegg, the first person to joke about his amputated arm. He would often joke about his arm on set, walking around with it dressed up as a bloody stump.
  • Simon Pegg refers to the other workers at Foree Electric – a clear reference to Dawn of the Dead star, Ken Foree – as the “silver 3POs,” a reference that they are all dressed like Shaun. Wright notes it was always an early idea with Shaun of the Dead that Shaun would stay in his work uniform throughout the film’s action, kind of like a “tandy John McClane.” This was a bone of contention for one of the executive producers. They didn’t think it was wise to have Shaun be dressed like this for the whole film.
  • The idea of teenagers chewing gum as an indication of being sinister was something Wright brought over from Spaced, the British show he, Pegg, and Frost worked on together from 1999–2001. I write so much information regarding Spaced here, because many of you might not be aware of it, but you should be. Great, hilarious show. But enough about that. I’m almost at 1000 words here 12 minutes into the film. Back to the commentary.
  • Wright brings up that one of the major influences on the film, along with the original Dawn of the Dead, was the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A lot of the moments where there are things occurring in the background that pertain to the overall story is one thing Wright took from it. Likewise, Wright mentions he ripped Sam Raimi off with a lot of his style for Spaced so he took his style for Shaun of the Dead from John Carpenter. “I haven’t got any ideas of my own,” he says.
  • The scenes at Shaun and Ed’s apartment weren’t filmed until late in production. Pegg mentions you can tell he and Frost look extremely tired in some of these scenes. Wright notes that, since the apartment looks so much like the apartment from Spaced it felt like a sort of homecoming for those who worked on the show. A set for Pete’s bedroom had also been constructed, but scenes on this set had to be cut due to time. The scene that was supposed to take place here between Ed and Shaun now takes place at the bottom of the stairs. Part of the scene that was to be shot here also includes Ed rifling through Pete’s drawers and finding his “fat girl porn.”
  • Wright’s brother was the person who designed the t-shirt Nick Frost wears in the film that says “I Got Wood.” A whole batch of t-shirt designs were considered for Ed. Some of them were “I Heart Pussy” and “Bumping Donuts” in the Dunkin’ Donuts font. In fact, you can see the “I Heart Pussy” t-shirt later on when Shaun and his group run into Yvonne’s group. Matt Lucas, playing the “Ed” of that group, is wearing it.
  • Wright refers to Liz’s loft as the TARDIS, since it looks so much bigger on the inside than on the outside. Some of you won’t get that reference. Hell, I barely get it. Ask Neil Miller. He’s a Dr. Who fan. He’ll talk you through it.
  • Nick Frost’s Clyde impression was something he had been doing at parties for years. Wright made sure to include it in the script just for the chance to capture it on film. In fact, the “I’m not your performing monkey” line was something Frost would say to Wright at parties where the director would try to get him to do it.
  • When “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago plays during the scene at the Winchester, it was Sinead O’Connor singing “Nothing Compares to You” while being filmed. Written by Prince, that song was far too expensive, and Wright feels the Chicago song is a much more apt choice. “Chicago gets a big laugh. It costs £20,000,” laughs Wright. “It’s the soundtrack to a billion break-ups basically, so there you go,” remarks Pegg.
  • According to Wright and Pegg, Ed predicts the entire film in the scene where he is telling Shaun everything they should do the next day. He tells Shaun he should have a Bloody Mary in the morning, which is the checkout girl they find in their garden. “Bite at the king’s head” refers to Phillip getting bitten. “Grab a couple at the little princess’” refers to picking up David and and Dianne at Liz’s. “Staggering back to the Winchester” clearly refers to the group staggering like zombies to get to the Winchester. “Back at the bar for shots” refers to the rifle they use later on while at the Winchester. “If you didn’t hate us before, you do now,” mentions Pegg. “That is incredibly geeky,” says Wright. Also, the character Snakehips is referred to early in the film as always being “surrounded by women.” When he is seen later being eaten by zombies, it’s a horde of female zombies who are surrounding him.
  • The “dogs can’t look up” conversation is something else that carries over from Spaced. This was something Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright explained on their commentary track to the second series of the show. Evidently, Nick Frost made actual claims that the difficulty in shooting scenes with dogs was that they can’t look up. So a Commentary Commentary to Spaced should be in order sometimes soon. Stay tuned.
  • One of the things that got lost from script to screen was the idea that Shaun used to be a DJ. Some of the posters hanging in their apartment are indications of past shows he had performed at. This was also brought up in one or two scenes that got cut out of the final film.
  • The shot of Shaun walking to the story after the zombie outbreak has occurred was the first thing shot on the film. Wright sees this as an ambitious choice, especially considering how closely the shot has to resemble the earlier shot of Shaun walking to the story pre-outbreak. The Bollywood style music playing in the story was originally going to either be “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman or “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place” by The Animals. Both proved to be too expensive. According to Pegg, the man speaking Hindi on the Bollywood track is actually saying “The dead have come back to life. This is not a prank.”
  • Pegg points out that, since he slipped at the store, he should have some blood on the bottom of his shoe when he sits down in the apartment. “Oh, shit. Don’t point out the deficiencies,” remarks Wright.
  • As Wright points out, most horror films take place at night, but he didn’t want to take this typical route for Shaun of the Dead. Instead, he wanted to make a horror film that took place on a Sunday afternoon after a long night of drinking. “There was always this idea to have this kind of hungover quality to it,” says Wright. So drinking a lot of Jameson the night before watching Shaun of the Dead gives you a 3D quality. That’s just my own theory, mind you. One I look forward to putting to the test.
  • Jeremy Thompson playing himself as the news anchor was a role that was originally much smaller. His part was expanded, as they were so impressed by the way he handled the ridiculous material. “He’s actually in Volcano, as well, if you’re a Jeremy Thompson completist,” says Pegg.
  • In the scene where Shaun and Ed take on Mary and the Hulk in the garden, Edgar Wright had them do a trust exercise before filming. They would throw rubber props at each other, but Mark Donovan who plays the Hulk got hit directly in the eye before filming even began. According to Wright, this scene was extremely difficult to complete, as clearance had to be obtained for every record cover shown in the box. Band likes New Order, Stone Roses, and Sade can be seen. “And Sade’s real name is…?” inquires Wright. “Helen,” responds Pegg. “So thank you, Helen,” says Wright.
  • Pegg talked to George Romero on the phone after Romero had seen Shaun of the Dead. He really liked the film, but when Pegg asked him if he got the Night of the Living Dead reference, the moment where Nick Frost’s Ed says, “We’re coming to get you Barbara,” Romero said, “No.”
  • According to Pegg, the first day Bill Nighy spent as a zombie, instead of groans he made chirping sounds like a bird. Which brings up a new interesting idea for a movie. Zombie birds. Zombie angry birds. Ooh, this is getting good. And commercial.
  • For Edgar Wright’s direction to Bill Nighy when he slowly saunters into the kitchen, the director told him to act like Clint Eastwood on Benylin.
  • Per Wright, there is a version of the line Ed says when he pulls up to pick up Shaun and the group from Liz’s apartment – I’m not going to write out the line here, because I don’t know if the NAACP reads Commentary Commentary – that was much cruder. Likewise, at one point, Working Title asked Wright if he could shoot clean versions of all the lines. Wright lied and said they didn’t have time. Ed’s “X-rated lines” in this scene were a bit of mockery from Wright to the studio.
  • Wright points out that in certain scenes where zombies are eating people, they are being quite dainty eaters. This is particularly seen in the shot where Snakehips is being eaten. Because of time constraints, Wright didn’t have an opportunity to tell them to dive in and act like true zombies. “It’s like a little zombie buffet,” says Wright. “Like canapes,” remarks Pegg.
  • As part of the costume design, Wright directed Annie Hardinge not to dress the zombies in any primary colors. All of the zombies in the film are wearing muted colors. So zombies = earth tone hipsters. Got it.
  • Hog Lumps were a completely fictitious brand of snack created for the film. However, these were actually created for the film’s premiere. Edgar Wright’s brother designed the packaging for Hog Lumps. Underneath the name of the food, the package said Hairy Pork Rinds.
  • The idea of the nightmare it was to clear all the test cards for the various TV stations comes up. Pegg mentions “clearance” was something he hadn’t encountered until making Shaun of the Dead. Wright brings up that if there are less than five people in the country with a character’s name, they have to get written permission from them all to use their name. “Otherwise they could sue and say, ‘I’ve never shot my mum in the head,’” says Wright. “But fortunately, all five of them had,” Pegg responds.
  • For the part where Shaun is hit in the head with a dart, producer Nira Park’s father, a brain surgeon, was consulted to determine what part of the head you could get hit like that and still survive.
  • Wright says he always viewed Dylan Moran’s David like Dustin Hoffman’s character from Straw Dogs, a pacifist who is pushed to the point of violence. The moment where David is handed the rifle is, according to Wright, when the change occurs.
  • Wright recollects when he decided they should kill off Shaun’s mother. He mentioned this to Pegg, who, at the time, reacted as if Wright had mentioned they kill his real mom. Wright then recalls how writing something like this in the screenplay can be seen as a pert twist in the screenplay but how it all gets very dark when you’re on set ready to shoot it. “We, all of us, had a dark day doing that,” recalls Pegg. He also mentions he and Nick Frost going outside the studio after they shot this scene and crying.
  • Pegg brings up some differences in the way UK audiences and American audiences react to certain moments. Apparently, American audiences clapped when Sean punches David. American audiences also gasped and cried, “No!” when Ed gets bitten. It was probably more a reactionary “No!” and not like a Darth-Vader-finding-out-Padme-is-dead “No!” or at least, I hope so.
  • Pegg has David’s severed prop head in his study, in a bucket of popcorn, with dollar bills hanging out of his mouth. Just in case you wanted to get some decorating tips.
  • Wright mentions Phyllis MacMahon, the woman playing the zombie who bites Ed’s neck, got blood all over face while shooting that moment. “It looked like a vampire bukkake movie,” says Pegg. No explanation. Look it up, if you must.
  • While filming the moment where Shaun goes to retrieve the bullets from the flaming bar top, Pegg’s arm actually caught fire. Wright was so shocked at what was happening, he forgot to yell “Cut.”
  • Wright feels the final moment between Shaun and Ed is like the end of The Terminator. He says the combination of the music, testosterone, and male bonding gives him that vibe. “If only Nick had gone into a lava pit and put the thumbs up,” says Pegg. Wright follows this with a quick Arnold Schwarzenegger impression of, “I need a vacation,” what Wright and Pegg agree is the worst line of that movie, maybe in film history. “Otherwise a great film,” says Wright, “but that bit and the thumbs up can fuck off.”
  • Pegg likes at the end when Shaun has an ax and Liz has a chain. “When the action figures come out,” Pegg says, “the last generation will have Shaun with ax and Liz with chain.” “It’ll be like the Return of the Jedi Star Wars figures nobody bought,” responds Wright. “But then become the most valuable,” Pegg says.
  • Trisha Goddard, who can be seen in the last clip of the series of news clips Liz is watching at the end, is actually a British broadcaster. They filmed these segments of her show during recording breaks of her actual show. The cast members standing in as the zombie and the woman who loves him were improvising the whole bit, and Samantha Day, who plays the woman, began crying, as the crowd began laughing, but she didn’t realize it was a funny situation. “I’m not sure the Trisha crowd knew that it wasn’t real,” mentions Wright.

Best in Commentary

“I’m very proud that we got to do a zombie film. It’s like a boyhood dream come true.” – Edgar Wright

“I am a Prince fan, as well, but even I will concede that Batman was the start of the downturn, although Diamonds and Pearls is quite good after that.” – Edgar Wright

Final Thoughts

Every bit as fun as the movie itself but also incredibly insightful, the commentary track Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg lay down for Shaun of the Dead is a definite treat. There are moments throughout where Wright or Pegg just spout off names, make inside jokes that aren’t explained, or point out where a specific scene was filmed, basically elements that don’t interest everyone. However, for much of the commentary track, the friendship between the two bleeds through. It makes you want to hear more, actually.

Which brings up Pegg mentioning throughout the other commentary track on this DVD. There is a second commentary track for Shaun of the Dead featuring members of the cast, Pegg, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield, and Lucy Davis. Something tells me that commentary track is loads of fun. Having said that, I hope you’re all fans of Shaun of the Dead, because that sounds like one I’m going to cover in the near future. If I can stand to sit through this slog again. Oh, who am I kidding? Next week?

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