Edgar Wright gives talk about shaping films through music

Photo from IMDb

As a part of this year’s Red Bull Music Academy Festival, director and screenwriter Edgar Wright gave a talk on the importance of music in film at the Vista Theatre on Monday night. He elaborated on the influence of music on his directing career just days after the DVD release of his most recent film, Baby Driver.

Wright cited his parents’ favorite filmmakers as vital to his creative upbringing, specifically choreographer Busby Berkeley and directors Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. While he believes that large-scale, choreographed scenes are extinct in today’s films, he found the detail evident in Berkeley’s big-budget productions inspirational.

He discussed discovering new music for the soundtrack to his British sitcom Spaced. After filming the episodes, he would go to superstores to find old CDs that appeared to have appropriate songs. He stated that for the series’ original run, he would add music to the finished scenes. This changed in the series’ second run as he received more creative control with the success of the first series’ soundtrack.

“Nobody was really telling me what to do or how to do it,” Wright said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t realize how lucky you are until later, that you were sort of left alone.”

Wright also elaborated on his career as a music video director. He said that most of his videos aired before his first high-budget film, Shaun of the Dead. Ironically, he believes his videos improved as budgets tightened. Directing music videos, he explained, helped him understand the weight of well-placed audio-visual effects.

Wright then screened a clip of a video he shot in 2003 for a record called “Blue Song” by Manchester-based electronic group Mint Royale. The video depicts a getaway driver jamming to the song alone in his car as his crew robs a bank. The concept for this sequence, as it turns out, provided the inspiration for Baby Driver’s famous opening scene. Music videos also provided him with a platform to test out his ideas for film, he elaborated.

“I really do [videos] to try something out,” Wright said. “If there’s something I haven’t done, you basically come up with a treatment basis on something you would like to do.”

A bar fight scene in Shaun of the Dead was the first time Wright had music for a scene playing on-set during shooting so actors could understand the aesthetic he was trying to evoke in a certain scene. Using Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Wright used the song’s bouncy imagery to capture the film’s comedic horror genre.

Wright also cited An American Werewolf in London’s moon-themed soundtrack for helping him understand how common themes in a film’s score can still evoke a variety of emotions. The special effects and makeup in the film were so strong that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the category for Best Makeup for the film in 1981.

For the celebrated music in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright enlisted producer Nigel Godrich of Beck and Radiohead fame. Godrich’s extensive network of studio musicians provided the film with award-winning scoring. As extensive as Godrich’s career is, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World remains Godrich’s only film score to date.

The talk confirmed Wright’s status as a visionary in the new generation of directors who understand the weight of a film’s soundtrack. The rise of music videos in the 1980s was often marked by directors’ efforts to make videos feel like individual films. A similar phenomenon is being observed decades later as directors are transforming their films into music videos. If the seamless soundtracking of Baby Driver and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is any indication, Wright’s possibilities in this area are limitless.