Welcome to a new feature, Spotlight On, where we do a deep dive into the careers and styles of our favourite actors, directors, writers, cinematographers… anyone who excels in their craft of making movie magic.
This week, Edgar Wright – British writer/director, pop culture aficionado, and overall brilliant filmmaker. With the release of his musical action opus Baby Driver this week (check out our gushing video review here), we thought it was high time to showcase the man, just in case you weren’t familiar (and really, you should be).
A Brief History
Wright first came to prominence with the TV series Spaced, an irreverent UK comedy series about flatmates starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes. It was the first glimpse of what an “Edgar Wright” project would look and feel like, featuring all manner of pop culture references and stylistic flourishes whilst still keeping the story and characters front and centre.
Following the end of Spaced, Pegg and Wright teamed up again to write their first film together, the zombie romantic comedy Shaun Of The Dead. A love letter to the zombie genre pioneered by George A. Romero, they also roped in their Spaced cohort Nick Frost to create an epic partnership.They next moved their laser-like comedy instincts to the action genre, upping the stakes and the scope with the buddy cop pic Hot Fuzz. Although it started as a joke, Fuzz became the second pic in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (so called because of a running joke the characters make about the titular ice cream). The third and final chapter in the trilogy came in the form of The World’s End (also written with and featuring Pegg and Frost), a riff on the alien invasion/apocalypse genre centering on a group of old friends trying to finish an epic pub crawl.
Moving past the Cornetto Trilogy, Wright turned his stylistic flair to adapting the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Although a bit of a commercial disappointment, the Michael Cera starring pic was a critical hit and has grown a fervent fan base since it’s release. After a brief detour into Marvel-land, where Wright developed but ultimately left the studio’s Ant-Man (ceding the director’s chair to Peyton Reid), he set about writing and directing the film that would ultimately become Baby Driver, a ripping riff on heist/driving movies, slash romance, slash musical.
Style And Substance
If the hallmark of a great director is whether you can recognize his or her filmmaking style, then Edgar Wright is definitely one of the greats, and amongst the most stylish directors working today. A huge movie buff, he borrows liberally from his influences, remixing them into a glorious array of blink and you’ll miss them nods and homages.Highly technically proficient with camerawork and effects, he’s as equally at home with small scenes as he is with big action set pieces. Wright has also figured out the perfect way to marry his technical skills with a focus on characters, making even the most fantastic elements of his films ring true.
Whilst most comedy directors are happy to point the camera and let their actors riff endlessly, Wright uses his camera to punctuate and even create jokes. This is nicely summed up by this video essay by Tony at Every Frame A Painting:
Another hallmark of Wright’s style is an abundance of close-ups, rapidly cut together to move the action forward, or even make the mundane elements of his characters’ lives seem exciting. As he explains himself to /Film’s David Chen:
Hit The Beat
Lastly, and most importantly for Baby Driver, Wright has mastered the subtle art of matching scenes with a soundtrack. The whole of Baby Driver was built around its soundtrack, making sure the action and dialogue synced to the 35 tracks that were used:
My favourite example of this from earlier in his career (which was also pointed out in one of the videos above) is a scene from Shaun Of The Dead which is elevated to the sublime by the cracking use of a Queen track:
Whilst Edgar Wright is officially yet to make a bad movie, nobody is counting his first movie, a Western called A Fistful Of Fingers, which never got a proper release and is basically your standard student film, except with Wright’s stylistic flair already starting to shine through. The director himself can’t even bear to watch it.
I’d recommend all of Wright’s work to be perfectly honest, there’s joy to be found in any of his outings, but if I were to choose one to start off a newbie I’d go with Hot Fuzz. A brilliant mash-up of British stiff-upper-lip and bombastic American cop movies, it’s hilarious, violent and endlessly quotable. Here’s a taste:
That about wraps it up for this edition of Spotlight On. Are you an Edgar Wright fan? What is your essential viewing? Let us know in the comments below!