“It goes back almost like 20 years believe it or not,” says Edgar Wright about the Baby Driver idea. “I heard the start of “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and I thought ‘Oh, it would make a great car chase’.”
In 2002, Edgar Wright made a video clip for the track “Blue Song” by Manchester group Mint Royale. It featured The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt and became something of a template for Baby Driver.
“I didn’t finish writing Baby Driver until after Scott Pilgrim. Technically it was the most complicated thing I’d had to write, and it was something where I was initially led by the music, and then just started trying to create a role for the characters and the kind of movie I wanted to see.”
In terms of car chase movie influences, Wright acknowledges Bullitt and The French Connection, but “one that’s particularly influential is Walter Hill’s movie, The Driver, with Ryan O’Neal and Isabelle Adjani. I really loved that movie, and I always think that’s a movie that doesn’t get enough credit. I got to know Walter Hill through doing a Q&A with him at The New Beverly. So I hope, through this movie, it will be rediscovered.”
In the lead role, Wright cast Ansel Elgort, part of the young ensemble in the Divergent movies who also appeared alongside that series’ Shailene Woodley in the surprise YA hit, The Fault in our Stars. “He’s very musical,” says Wright when asked why he cast him. “He’s very charismatic, incredibly talented for someone who was only 21 when we started the film. But, I think the fact that he’s a musician, and he can play instruments, and write music, and he’s a music fan, that was a big element for me.”
“Music is really important to him,” says Elgort about the character. In fact, when the script was delivered to cast members it came with a soundtrack. “He has tinnitus because he was in a car accident when he was seven, where he lost both his parents and he developed really bad tinnitus, so he has to listen to music to drown that out. And because of that, I think he lacks the confidence; because of his hearing problem, he doesn’t really like talking. Physically, he’s awkward, so his music is his shield and his safety blanket, and without his music he feels naked.”
Edgar Wright has 30 songs featured in the movie, most of which were cleared before starting production so that the action would happen to the beat. “It’s not in every single scene,” says Wright. “We’ve got a great choreographer, Ryan Heffington, who does all of Sia’s stuff, and so he’s really good at working with all the actors, whether they’ve got a dance background or not. Not every scene is like that, but there are parts of scenes that do that.”
“Some of it is strict, like ‘Okay, this entire scene, every step is on the beat. Every move is on the beat,’” says Elgort. “The first day of shooting, we did a single, steady cam shot. That was like two and a half minutes. Walking out of a building, down the street, down another street, into a coffee shop, getting coffees, walking out of the coffee shop, backwards and forwards, one single shot, all to beat. We did a bunch of rehearsals for that because, for example, when I see a lamp post, I walk up to it with a certain beat, and then go around the lamp post, and then walk past it, and then see something, and it’s all choreographed. Then the construction guys are walking with a pole, and then I go under it, so that’s all to beat… and that’s a single shot, so there’s no cutting. It’s like doing musical theatre.”
“The movie is very heavily set to music, which is a strange, unique thing,” adds Jon Hamm, who plays the ambiguous supporting part of Buddy in the film. “I’ve certainly never seen anything like it before, and part of that was the reason why I was attracted to the project. When you’re dealing with cars, guns, and all of these things that have so many variables, that can, and often do go sideways at a moment’s notice, when you’re trying to set that to a very rigid beat or choreography or structure, that presents a lot of challenges, and makes for an exciting day! I mean, just today we got a shot of car that’s coming through the garage, it’s spinning around, and coming through, and driving, and parking, and getting out of the car, that’s all set to a specific song, and the music is very much part of what drives that…as it is in most movies, it’s just this one, this particular way it’s set up is specifically choreographed.”
For trainspotters, we are unable to confirm whether Simon & Garfunkel’s song of the same name will feature in the movie, or on the film’s soundtrack – interestingly after popping up on sites such as The Nerdist and Indiewire following the film’s SXSW premiere, the soundtrack and track listing has mysteriously been taken down. “I think that’s where Edgar got the name,” says Elgort. “Because he picked all this music, and put it together, and then wrote a script off the music first.”
But his character is named Baby? “It’s not his real name. I think he named himself ‘Baby’ because he was supposed to have a nickname, like a moniker, and, because he listens to music all the time. The most popular name in music is ‘Baby’, and I think he feels like the songs are always singing to him.”
More on Baby Driver soon, before it hits Australian cinemas on August 10, 2017.