Interview (Written): Edgar Wright

An interview with the writer-director of Baby Driver.

The movie Baby Driver is a certifiable hit having grossed $122M in the worldwide box office. We are talking guaranteed sequel territory if writer-director Edgar Wright wants to take up this story world again. To learn more about this success story, here is a Writers’ Guild of America, West interview with Wright.

Step one in discussing this script has to be the music, the soundtrack. I understand that you actually wrote this script to a playlist.
Yeah. The initial premise was to have an action movie that’s driven by the music, and so even before I wrote the words when I was outlining I used some of the big songs. I had songs that I had thought of and figured would be used in the screenplay, in the film but also to actually design the sequences so they fit the songs perfectly. The idea was partly inspired by listening to the first song that’s in the movie and imagining a car chase…
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion song?
Yes. So before I even wrote a word, I had eight or nine other songs that eventually would become 30 songs. But I had eight or nine of them plotted out almost as a beat sheet of what was going to happen in the scenes…so that was essentially me outlining, outlining with the songs and what happened in them, and then when I wrote the scenes in between I wouldn’t start writing a scene until I had the right song, basically.
The only thing that’s crazy is that this hasn’t happened before, to my knowledge. It makes sense, a script has beats, pacing — it’s a perfect structural device.
Yeah. And then within the songs themselves, the scenes can have something that’s perfectly in time with the music — so something happens during that part and then in the verse people are talking, then when the chorus kicks in a gunfight breaks out. So even in that regard I had to time the dialogue so that it would seem like it fit in-between. Once I’d done the first draft of the script, I actually did a read-through and I recorded it for my own purposes just to get a sense of whether the timing was right, because then I could actually cut the recording of the first read-through and sort of splice it into the songs to make sure that it was about the right length.
But I’d be incredibly fussy about it in the first draft. If I was writing a scene, say, this diner scene where Baby and Debora meet for the first time, and I want to use this Beach Boys track for it — The track is 2 ½ minutes long. So the scene should be 2 ½ pages long. It was a very strangely mathematical approach to it all. That was just the way of basically beating out the first draft, and all the other things became more organic later, but a lot of the songs never changed and a lot of the initial musical choreography never changed either.
Edgar Wright, Ansel Elgort on the set of ‘Baby Driver’
But as precise and exacting as you were in the beginning, did this make breaking the back of the script easier?
No, it was very hard. Somebody asked the other day, “What was the biggest challenge bringing the script to the screen?” and I said, “One of the big challenges was actually putting what was in my head down on the page.” Because I still can visualize it and hear it…As you well know, writing action is really difficult and just keeping the reader engaged is even more difficult, and a lot of people just speed read through stage directions or skip them entirely. So actually I think that writing great action on the page is a real art that only a handful of people can do really well and make it interesting.
Because there were some scenes with zero dialogue and just action, I had to find a way to make it jump off the page so that people understood the premise and that it wasn’t just the car chases, it was the car chase and the music together. So that was tricky and if you read the screenplay, the way action was written out was very precise and kept mentioning what the song was doing. There’s also a thing for writers, so a lot of people — Quentin Tarantino included — say you should never put the song in the script because you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you can’t clear it. However, in this case, I couldn’t really get the premise of the movie across without explaining what the song was. Later, when we delivered it to the actors to get the actors onboard, we actually made this special PDF that had the songs burned into it. So it was a PDF with this button. It was literally the logo of Baby and you would press the button and hear the song, because it was something you very much had to do, almost like a child’s reading book — say, “Okay, play this song and now read this,” because suddenly the action would jump off the page in a different way when you were listening to either the perfect accompaniment or some counter scoring.

Here is a clip of the opening sequence in the movie:

Wonderful movie, highly recommended.

For the rest of the interview, go here.