We talk music videos, car chase films, and the joy of casting actor-musicians in Wright’s film of the summer.
Despite beginning our conversation by insisting he wouldn’t call himself a music video director, Edgar Wright has certainly left his mark on that particular industry. Like many of his contemporaries who move freely between formats, Wright’s videography is littered with visual and thematic concepts that would later inform his feature films. Steadicam sequences; synchronized action and rhythmic editing; creative sight gags; even the comic book paneling present in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were all ideas that Wright tested for three or four minutes at a time before bringing them into his visual language as a Hollywood filmmaker. This makes Wright’s music videos more than just a footnote in his already impressive career as a filmmaker. Without the opportunity to experiment with both music and staging in his shorts, he may never have possessed the confidence to bring some of his boldest ideas to life.
Bold ideas like Baby Driver. To hear Wright say it, the idea for Baby Driver predates even the earliest entries in his videography. “Since I was 21,” Wright explains, “I had this idea about an action movie that was set to music that was about a getaway driver who could only operate with the right kind of music playing.” This idea stuck with him throughout his early career, and when Wright was asked to shoot a video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song,’ he discovered an opportunity to bring part of Baby Driver to life. “I couldn’t come up with an idea,” Wright explains, “so I thought, maybe I’ll try out the first scene of Baby Driver… In essence, that video is a dry run for the opening of the movie.”
He’s not joking. The opening scenes of Baby Driver, where Ansel Elgort’s Baby enthusiastically rocks out to music while waiting for the crew to finish their robbery, would be described as a carbon copy of ‘Blue Song’ if we didn’t understand the relationship to be inverted. The opening sequence in Baby Driver sets the tone for the entirety of the film, introducing Baby as an innocent trapped in a world of high-stakes bank robbery and demonstrating Wright’s mission in the film to push the Baby Driver connection between music and movement all the way to 11. For Wright, music videos have been an invaluable way to workshop some of his more out-there ideas. “I did this video for a band called the Blue Tones for a song called ‘After Hours,’” Wright recalls, “and that was an all-in-one steadicam shot. I’d never done that before in anything. But because I did that, it gave me the confidence to do the steadicam shots in Shaun of the Dead.”
That certainly explains the relationship between music and sound in Baby Driver, a film that spends the majority of its running time linking together Baby’s music with the events around them. As the film unfolds, we’re never entirely sure if the music we’re hearing is diegetic — existing in the world of the characters — or non-diegetic, playing only for the ears of the audience. Multiple times in Baby Driver, a piece of music plays for minutes before Egert will suddenly performs a piece of choreography perfectly in sync with the song. It’s a music supervisor’s (and editor’s) nightmare: a movie that adheres closely to the logic of a music video, meaning that any fight sequence or innocuous bit of dialogue could suddenly be required to sync back up with the music playing in the background.
What makes Baby Driver such a unique film, however, is how cleverly Wright draws on both music and silence in the final product. When asked why Wright was so passionate about car chase movies, Wright responds with the simplicity of any true cinephile-filmmaker: he just really, really likes car chases. “The films that influenced me would be the movies I watched before I became a director,” Wright explains, spending the next thirty seconds rattling off an impressive list of classic car chase movies — including Bullitt, The French Connection, The Driver, Vanishing Point, The Blues Brothers, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and To Live and Die in L.A. — that influenced him long before he became a filmmaker himself. “A great car chase is almost like the perfect marriage of visuals and sound,” Wright points out, noting that people keep returning to the care chase movie because it’s a pure “expression of silent action.”
Put another way, Wright found as much inspiration in sequences that feature no soundtrack as he did in films packed with musical cues. “I used to have this dialogue in the film, which I ended up cutting out of the draft, but there was thing about chase music,” Wright recalls. “I had this whole bit of dialogue about somebody saying, ‘Get the chase music from Bullitt.’ And then somebody pointed out, ‘There is no chase music in Bullitt!’ The music leads up to the chase, and then when the chase starts, it’s all just the sound of the engine. That’s the only music you need.” It is not a stretch, then, to describe Baby Driver as existing at the intersection of these two urges. A film operating in a genre that needs no musical accompaniment, but one performed with as much musical flourish as Wright has ever committed to screen. Two seemingly contradictory urges that somehow compliment each other perfectly on the screen.
And just when you think that Wright’s film couldn’t find any more musical inspiration in its production, the director shares a few last words about how his actors were able to slip so easily into the rhythm of their spoken parts. While Wright is quick to point out that the dialogue was written to elicit the sharp rat-tat-tat of classic film noir, he does admit that the musicality of the film was enhanced by the actors he cast in these roles. “It’s not that the dialogue is musical, but it’s definitely supposed to have this kind of poetic patter to it,” Wright concludes. “And then those actors, like Jamie and Kevin especially, they themselves are sort of musicians. They can sing and play instruments, so they find the internal music in it.” There’s music in every element of Baby Driver; not bad for someone who doesn’t think of himself as a music video director.