Edgar Wright returned to the director’s chair this summer with The World’s End as he reunited with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
We caught up with Wright in London earlier this week to chat about the film, the inspiration behind it and working with Pegg & Frost as the movie is released on DVD & Blu-Ray.
- I was wondering where this project started for you and who had the initial idea for the script?
It came from a couple of things actually. I had written a script when I was twenty-one - it never got made - that was about teenagers on a pub-crawl; it is very similar to the first five minutes of the movie where you see the 1990 prologue. I never did anything with it. When we were doing the Hot Fuzz press tour I started thinking about it, and I started to think ‘maybe there is something more interesting in adults trying to recreate a teenage night out’.
In fact, I had tried to do that with Simon and Nick once and it was pathetic (laughs). We did a road trip and we ended up staying in my hometown, and I tried to get them to do this pub-crawl with me. It was absolutely pathetic. I thought that there was something in that.
Because I had been back to my hometown for Hot Fuzz, I had had that experience very vividly, of being back in my hometown and yet it is bittersweet as it is changing without you being there. Then we added the whole idea of it being an invasion film, where there is a reason that their hometown has changed. We had that idea back in 2007.
Because it had always been there simmering, when we came to write it, it did come out pretty fully formed. The great thing about writing these films is that they are all genre films and yet we can put so much personal stuff into it; which is quite unusual in a way. The nice way to write genre films is to pack it full of things that have actually happened to you within a zombie film, a cop film and a sci-fi film.
- Was it always the plan to make Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End a semi-trilogy? Or was it the reaction to Shaun of the Dead that led to the other films?
When we made Shaun of the Dead ten years ago, we had no plans beyond that. We felt lucky enough to just make a movie. We have come from a TV background and we had no idea how it was going to do, and if it was going to be released anywhere other than the UK.
Hot Fuzz only came up as the next idea after Shaun of the Dead. Whilst we were promoting Hot Fuzz, Simon and I started hatching that plot for The World’s End.
- You have worked with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost extensively, how have you found that relationship has developed as director, actors and writers?
What is great about it is we all agree on the tone of things. If you are co-writers, director and star then it saves a lot of time as you have all agreed on a tone at the scriptwriting stage. When you have rehearsed it with the actors, everyone is on the same page with what they are doing.
On these films, I don’t really have a lot of discussion with the actors on set about how something is going to be delivered and what the tone is because we have worked hard to get everybody on the same page. That just gets better as we go along. This was something where everyone came to the film knowing what it was and what we were going to do.
- What is the writing process like for you and Simon? Do you ever write separately?
No, I don’t think we have really done anything separately on all three films. The only fancy thing that we do now is to plug the laptop into the TV; prior to that, it was like battleships with two laptops opposite each other and one person is typing and the other person is pacing. On this one, we would write it in an office with a TV, the final draft would be on the screen all day, and we would take turns writing.
On the Blu-Ray is an extra about our flipchart, where we would write the whole thing out; you write a treatment where you write the whole plot out. Then you would write the treatment over and over again until it starts to write itself. We never really start a screenplay without knowing where it is going to go. I think that if you have that, then you can keep on alluding to what is going to happen towards the end; all of the films have lots of clues to the ending all the way through the movie.
The first five minutes of the film in the 1990 flashback pretty much tells you what is going to happen later on in the movie. The pub signs are all tarot cards and the names of the pubs all tell you what is going to happen in the scene.
- The World’s End has more of a tonal shift away from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There are also less references to Shaun of the Dead then in Hot Fuzz, so how conscious a choice was that?
I think so. Hot Fuzz is a bit more reference heavy because it is about action cinema and one of the characters is a film fan. The World’s End is inspired by a certain type of science fiction that we grew up with as kids, but we wanted to make it stand on its own and it doesn’t specifically reference one movie. It is in a particular type of science fiction genre that is not just film but TV and literature and those paranoid and quiet invasion stories that I always liked when I was kid.
What we wanted to make different in this one is that what the aliens are suggesting is actually beneficial to earth; they just want to make earth more efficient. It’s not like in War of the Worlds where they just want to blow the f**k out of everything, they just want to make it neater.
- Are there any similarities between yourself and Simon’s character with the whole sentimentality for teenage youth?
I think I probably have it more that Simon; I think Nick and Simon are both less nostalgic than I am. The element of being overly nostalgic is probably me (laughs). It is almost where the script came from because I am very happy in my life and career and it would almost annoy me how much I would think about my school days and my teenage years.
Nostalgia is an affliction in the way - why think about the past when you are in the present? The movie became about the dangers of nostalgia and the danger of living in the past - or trying to. It is almost like a time travel movie, if the time machine was beer (laughs). Gary is trying to regress his adult friends to being teenagers again by getting them drunk.
- So, where the characters in the film like the gang you had when you were growing up?
The characters are an amalgamation of friends that both Simon and I had; there weren’t any specific people. In a way, when you start writing you can see yourself in different characters and there are different elements of people’s stories in all of the characters. Eddie Marsan has that back-story with the bully, and there are elements of that that Simon and I both incorporated from out own lives.
The thing about dating the best friend’s sister is something that I did. There are just so many elements that congeal together to create these characters, but they are all things from either people that you know or yourself. I would say that there are parts of me and Simon in all of the main characters.
- The soundtrack to this film is fantastic as there are so any great songs in there. Can talk a bit about putting the soundtrack together and how much you thought about music as you were writing the script?
We made this play list of songs, from 1988 - 1993; during this time, I was at school and Simon was at college. Pretty much all of the songs that are on the soundtrack were on this play list. Many of the songs that were our favourites become structurally important to the film, such as Primal Scream’s Loaded, I’m Free by The Soup Dragons and Step On by the Happy Mondays.
Therefore, we didn’t just clear them but actually referred to them; we liked the idea that Simon’s character has such a goldfish memory that he repeats the lyrics as if he has thought of them himself. We cleared a bunch of them that we were going to refer to on set and then we cleared a few more later on. The Sisters of Mercy is one of Simon’s favourite bands and so we used that band to help determine Gary’s look.
- Was there anything that you couldn’t get cleared for the film that you really wanted in there?
A couple of things. To clear the most expensive one, we sacrificed some b-choices (laughs). We really wanted The Doors and so we decided that this and that where not important anymore. However, there was nothing that I miss. In fact, sometimes when you change things to your b-choice, it actually works out better.
- How did you find filming in Letchworth and around that area?
It was cool. We amalgamated Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth into one town. They were literally the first places that I saw on our location scout in February 2012; initially we discounted them because there were not enough pubs. Eventually, as we started to look at other towns they all just felt too similar to Wells in Hot Fuzz.
Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, because of the architecture, just kept standing out as being a bit more unique. In the end, we just thought ‘we will have to make pubs’. One of the pubs is the train station, one is the cinema, one is a pet shop; three of them in Letchworth were real. The best one is the train station; The Hole In The Wall is Letchworth train station.
- This trio of films became an unintentional trilogy - they don’t actually relate to each other at all - does calling it a trilogy perhaps suggest that this group of people don’t plan…
We would like to work together again. Through our own obsessions we discovered that the movies are linked in a number of ways; they don
’t have the same characters running through them but they are all about growing up, they are all films about an individual vs. a collective and they are all films that have a love/hate relationship with where they live.
We see them as Trojan horses where we dealt with a lot of personal things in a comedy within another genre. If we did something else again - which we would like to - it would have similarities in that respect; where we could write something in a different genre but deal with something else at the same time - if that makes sense?
The thing that runs through all of the films is dealing with arrested development; Shaun is a character who wants to grow up, in Hot Fuzz, it is about Nick Frost’s character helping Nicholas Angel dumb down and in The World’s End Gary King’s character wants to go back in time and escape the present. We deal with slightly different variations of the man-child and the obsession of being that perpetual adolescent.
- Do you think there is a lack of original sci-fi in film these days?
Not necessarily. I could have fewer remakes. I made this joke at Comic Con this year I said ‘we have to start making original movies so there is something to remake in twenty years time’. When I see remakes of films that I went to see I think ‘whatever’ (laughs). I can’t get that excited about the fourth reboot of a certain sci-fi franchise - not mentioning any names.
- What have you made of the sci-fi films we have seen this year such as Gravity, Oblivion and Elysium?
We had Looper last year as well. The more original ones the better. Is Gravity science fiction? Or is it science fact? The more original films the better. I would much rather have an original film that is flawed than another remake.
- So, a remake isn’t something that would appeal to you?
Remakes can be great. The remakes that I like really like usually use the story to say something different. There are great remakes such as The Fly, The Thing, Philip Kaufman’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, usually they take the original story and tweak it.
More of the recent horror remakes and sci-fi remakes don’t do anything different, they are just remaking the original film but with better special effects. If they did something different with it that would be great, but most of them don’t. Some of my favourite films are remakes and so I am not against them, I just think it would be great if they had more ambitions remakes.
The World’s End is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now.