Edgar Wright on Scott Pilgrim’s Perpetual State of Adolescence
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Despite being a comic book adaptation, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen. This summer hasn’t been the greatest season for wide releases, but with the summer coming to a close, it’ll end with something more unexpected and out there with Edgar Wright’s name on it.
Just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it’s a film that has a heart big enough to win over non-nerds alike. It’s not a full on fanboy movie, and that seemed important to Wright. He hits the right amount of gray areas, has its hero being selfish and reckless and, most importantly, has a yeti fighting a dragon ‐ where else have we seen all of this in one film? Unless I’m mistaken, nowhere.
Thankfully, Wright (a film school reject himself) had plenty to say about his latest and best film thus far:
(Note: This interview contains spoilers)
One thing I really took from the film is that it still had your sensibility that you’re known for, but taken to another level. Some may find that surprising since it is a big studio movie. How did this happen?
The ironic thing about it is that: a lot of people have commented on that this is really crazy for a studio movie and have said, “How on earth did you pitch this to Universal?” The truth of the matter is they kind of brought it to me. In 2004, right after Shaun of the Dead, Marc Platt Productions ‐ who works with Universal ‐ bought the rights to the first book before it even hit bookstores. So I was given it maybe a couple of weeks after it first came out. Six years later we have a film, because basically we’d been working on the script for that long and Bryan [Lee O’Malley] has been writing the books.
Wouldn’t you label it as a film that’s more out there than other summer release?
You know, that’s what attracted me to the source material and the idea of doing it. There’s been a lot of comic book movies in this wave since Tim Burton’s Batman. That sort of started a 20-year wave of comic book movies. It was nice to do a comic book movie a little different and something that straddles the sort of indie comics rather than the big Marvel and DC films. It was really nice to do something that was essentially a comedy, but with this insane action.
Since Scott Pilgrim’s universe is different, how did you want to go about introducing it? Did you just want to throw people in right away?
I feel like all of the separate elements of the film people have seen before. Maybe nobody has seen a fight between a yeti fighting a dragon, maybe not yet. All of the elements like the music, the teen drama, the comedy, the romantic aspects and even the action are all genres we are well aware of, but I think it’s the fact that they’re all thrown together. It’s like having all different flavors of ice cream in the same shake.
How would you label the world they’re in?
I feel like it’s basically the real world. The apartments, the streets and coffee shops that you see in the film are all very real and mundane even. It’s really essentially that Scott Pilgrim is a day-dreamer and he’s a kid that is lost in his own day-dream bubble of Saturday morning cartoons, anime, video games and comic-books. In a way, what you’re seeing is his very fantastical version of events. That’s kind of the joke of the film: in real relationships when you’re going out with a girl and she has an ex-boyfriend, you tend to do everything to think of this ex as a bad person (laughs). In your head this ex-boyfriend, who’s probably not that much different than you, has become this bond villain. It’s really an extension of that kind of fantasy and these type of battles of love taken very literally on a crazy level.
So you want the world to project his immaturity?
I think that’s what is fun about it. You know, it’s just presenting the world through the character’s eyes. This is kind of a pop culture and a media that we’ve seen for like, thirty years. That was apart of the appeal to me. The characters are around twenty-two, they’re post-college and high school, but they really don’t have any direction in life.
It’s really about that state of perpetual adolescence. You don’t really know what to do with your life and I think Scott Pilgrim is in this little bubble of his own making. What the film is essentially about is him growing up. As much as it is about him trying to win the heart of this fair maiden, it’s really about him growing up and taking responsibility for his own actions and doing what he should do and ought to do.
The interesting thing about Scott is how flawed he is. How far could you take that until an audience would lose empathy?
Yeah. I think he is. I don’t think he’s a bad person and there’s been a lot of debate about whether Scott Pilgrim is a jerk or not, but he certainly does some jerky things. He’s even described as a jerky-jerk in the film (laughs). What I think it’s really about is that, when you’re young you make plenty of mistakes along the way and I think Scott Pilgrim is as flawed as any of us are. So as your hero, he definitely makes a lot of mistakes and even him being a gamer makes him necessarily not think about the world around him. He treats some of the people as bit players in this adventure rather than real people and certainly the way he treats Knives comes back to haunt him at the end of the film.
I think that’s what it’s really about is that your hero isn’t perfect himself. Almost the irony of the premise is that he bemoans the trials of fighting the evil exes and yet he has exes himself and baggage. He has as much baggage as Ramona. She’s a character that’s caused a lot of chaos and heartbreak along her way, but so has he. I think it’s people coming to terms with their past before they can move on.
For the narrative itself, since you’re riffing on video games, how do you make sure it doesn’t become that episodic type of storytelling? Where it just becomes Scott fighting ex after ex.
Well, it’s definitely a tricky balance of something like that. Once you set-up there’s going to be seven evil exes it’s definitely difficult to avoid being slightly episodic. I tried to make it so that his emotional story is consistent throughout and even the way he fights the exes is, in some ways, a reflection of his emotions.
In some cases he defeats the foe very easily because he’s powered by this insane puppy dog crush and that humming bird tune where you feel like you have the strength of ten. Once he gets to ex number four he doesn’t really even want to play anymore and tries to opt out of fighting because he’s just had it. I think it’s less about fighting for the girl, but more for making a relationship work.
He’s twenty-two, but sometimes he acts like a twelve year old. I’ve certainly been that guy, and I still might be that guy at thirty-six (laughs). I read something where somebody said, “Well, we don’t know that much about Ramona. So why would Scott Pilgrim fall for her?” And I was thinking, man, I’ve told girls I’ve loved them without knowing anything about them (laughs). I think Scott Pilgrim, sometimes, acts like a bird seeing a shiny object. He’s attracted by the surface level beauty of Ramona and then he has to come to terms with who she really is. Ultimately, he does fight for her, but it’s like an immature person having to deal with somebody having a history. And whether or not you’re going to man up and sort of let love conquer all. It’s about whether or not he can turn a blind eye to somebody’s baggage.
How would you describe Ramona? Is she as flawed or more than Scott?
She’s a very guarded character and I think that’s what is interesting about her. What’s funny about that is how different that is to Mary herself. Mary is, as a person, is very sunny in her deposition. And Ramona is somebody who’s been out with seven douchebags (laughs). She’s completely got this forcefield around here where she doesn’t really want to hurt or get hurt, again. One of the ironies of the story is the way Scott Pilgrim treats Knives Chau in the opening of the film. He likes her, but he’s not in love with her and her keeps her around to sort of…
He likes the idea of being idolized.
Yeah. And also, he says at the start of the film when someone asks him about why he’s going out with Knives and he just says, “Oh, it’s nice. It’s simple.” It’s a relationship he doesn’t have to worry about. In a weird way, that’s what Ramona does to him. Even though she likes Scott, she does say out loud that he’s a break from the bad guys. One of my favorite lines of dialogue is when she says, “You’re the nicest guy I’ve ever dated,” and Scott says, “Wait, is that good?” Nobody wants to be the nice guy. I think there’s a lot of interesting gray areas in it. Especially with young love, the path of a relationship is never smooth and it’s usually fought with obstacles, and in this case, seven big obstacles. Despite the external battles he has to have, he has to figure out what’s going on in his own head and heart.
Do you think Scott makes the right decision by going with Ramona at the end?
I would like to think that the film ends on a question mark. It’s essentially a happy ending. It’s really about second chances and I feel like the film is building up again to the idea of a first date. It builds back up to trying again. I think so many times in relationships you learn things and you make mistakes, and I mean, how many times have you said to somebody, “Can we just start again on this and afresh with everything we’ve learned?”
Things could still go badly for Scott and Ramona.
It’s possible. That’s what the question mark is for. The question mark is a symbol to the audience that you gotta figure the rest of it all out (laughs).
A lot of people have been calling this your first love story, but do you see it that way? Both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead have a very similar type of dynamic.
I think so. I think the love story in Hot Fuzz between the two cops is pretty evident (laughs). I remember somebody said that Shaun of the Dead is like a romantic comedy between the two guys, and I think that’s pretty fair.
How about for the villains? Did you want them to feel as heightened as the film’s style or like people you’d meet in real life?
I hope so. That was definitely the intention. It’s definitely a very stylized world and even the comedy is almost like deadpan screwball. It’s funny, a lot of people have mentioned the pace of the film and some people have even said the movie is too fast, and I always think about thirties comedies being ridiculously fast. That’s why I think Anna Kendrick is born in the wrong era. She’s like a nineteen thirties actress with the contemporary thing. If you look back at His Girl Friday or any of the Marx Brothers films they’re ridiculously fast. Even like Looney Tunes. The pace of those Bugs Bunny cartoons was exactly what I was going for here.
How would you label your style of editing?
I guess I can’t really put my finger on it either. There’s definitely a lot of things that I like and try to do. I’m a big fan of my editing being a part of the rhythm of the piece. I would hope that it’s almost musical in a way where it’s got a rhythm to it and sometimes the way it’s cut is like the eternal heartbeat of the film. I don’t really know. I have a particular way of working and I like it.
Obviously you packed a lot of features onto the Hot Fuzz DVD. What are you doing for Scott Pilgrim?
There’s so much stuff (laughs). What’s crazy with this day and age is that you have to deliver on the DVD extras around the same time as the film, which is quite freaky. I had seen a making-of documentary for the film before I even finished making it, which is quite strange. We did so much prep and there’s so much rehearsal footage. There’s tapes from the stunt department footage from the band rehearsing, casting tapes, and things. I think it’s going to be an absolutely packed Blu-Ray.
Will we see any deleted scenes?
I think so. There’s only like two whole scenes that actually got dropped and most of it is just extended versions of things. The first time I edited it together it was one hundred and twenty six minutes long. Now it’s one hundred and twelve minutes long. There’s also some alternative scenes, where we did two different versions or even went back to reshoot some stuff. We got all of that on the DVD.
Can you say what scenes were cut?
Nothing major, really. Some of the scenes from the book like Scott and Knives meeting on the bus and little bits like that, but certainly nothing that I miss. There’s certainly not going to be an extended cut.
So there’s no four-hour Kingdom of Heaven cut out there?
No. I’ve never been a big believer in those. I feel like once you chopped your fingers off, you shouldn’t really be able to put them back on.
Are you not a fan of Director’s Cut? Most are usually improvements or are at least interesting to see.
You know, it depends. It’s usually whether or not you’re happy with the cut in cinemas. In the case of Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim I’m very happy with the cut going into theaters. I’m sure with Kingdom of Heaven Ridley Scott felt the theatrical cut was vastly inferior so he pushed for a Director’s Cut.
Now, is there anything about the film that you haven’t been asked about yet? And it’s something you’d like to talk about?
Oh, man. That’s a good question. I can’t think, you’ve stumped me. You’d have to come back to me. I have to do another interview for the DVD and then you can ask me.
Okay, an even bigger question: any notable film school reject moments?
Oh, I was rejected from film school. There’s my film school reject moment. I’ve been rejected from many film schools. So there you go (laughs). I applied for about three different film schools when I was around eighteen or twenty, and I got turned down. I ended up going off and making a film with my school friends with absolutely zero money. That’s what I did instead of film school. I went to art college for two years, but I never went to film school.
You know what’s funny? Here’s the ultimate film school reject’s story. I went to this art school at this art college that also had a very celebrated film course in the same building. The art course was essentially an audio and video design course. And then I applied to the film course, but was denied and they said I was too young and that I should come back in like five years. So I didn’t come back because I started making my own stuff, but in the brochure for that college they used me as an alumni for the course I was rejected from. I was like, “I’m an alumni to a course I was rejected from?”
Lastly, obviously during the film there’s a lot going on in the background. What are some things people you should look out for?
You can watch this film three different ways: the first time, just watch it. The second time, lookout for numbers and x’s. It’s a very numerically obsessed film. As the film goes you’ll notice lots of different numbers saying the ranking of what they are. For Scott Pilgrim, he’s a zero evident by the fact he drinks Coke Zero and wears a Smashing Pumpkins Zero T-shirt. A good example is during the Lucas Lee battle he has a Tibetan two tattooed on his neck and two x’s on his belt. Brandon Routh has an enormous three on his chest. The club where the fight happens is a club called number four. Between battles four and five Scott Pilgrim is wearing a Fantastic Four t-shirt, but with a four and a half. That goes between four and five. Even Gideon’s logo is made up of sevens, because he’s ex number seven.
A lot of people have asked, there’s the question, a lot of people have asked, “Why does he drink Coke Zero, is that product placement?” And no, it’s that Scott Pilgrim is suppose to be zero and Gideon is seven. There’s this ranking seven. If you also look out you’ll notice a lot of those x’s throughout as a way of warning. The craziest one is the scene on the bus where Ramona and Scott are talking, but if you look outside of his side of the window all of the lights are hearts and her side of the window is all x’s. Also, if you have the time, do a third viewing where you just watch Johnny Simmons throughout the whole movie.
I saw one bit where he eats a quarter.
Yeah, yeah! That’s his last shot of the film. He picks up a quarter and eats it. Johnny Simmons is always doing something really stupid. So you should just watch Johnny Simmons the entire movie. Johnny Simmons is an Academy Award scene stealer.
But the previous question about what I haven’t been asked is the one about Coke Zero. Although, somebody did ask me about that once, so I lied.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is now in theaters.
Related Topics: Edgar Wright