Set Visit: Scott Pilgrim Interviews with Edgar Wright, Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman
Most slackers play video games all day and the closest they get to the girl of their dreams is that poster of Laura Croft from "Tomb Raider" on the bedroom wall. Not Scott Pilgrim. In SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, Scott, (Michael Cera) who is in the mediocre band with the awesome name of "Sex Bob-Omb" meet crazy-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), while she rollerblades through his dreams. But, in video game vixen form, she has seven evil exes that Scott must battle before he can win her.
I got a chance to check out the Toronto set mere hours after leaving San Diego Comic Con last summer. Director Edgar Wright (who I tried very hard not to drool on...I am a huge fan of SPACED) came over to chat with us, and chat he did! Yeah, his answers may be long, but he gave us some fantastic information about the film! About half way through, stars Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, who plays ex Gideon Gordon Graves popped in to hang for a bit. God, I can't wait for this film! And if you haven't read the first five out of the six comic books it's based on, you are seriously missing out!
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD opens August 13th, 2010.
Michael Cera, Edgar Wright and Jason Schwartzman
This is your first film not only your biggest film, but it has a lot of action, but its your first adaptation, so how has that been for you?
Wright: Well, its been great in a lot of ways in terms of the funniest thing that Brian has said in a couple of interviews but the person who cares least about the changes in stuff is Bryan Lee OMalley. Whats been really great about him is that no only has he been heavily involved right from the first draft but whats interesting is he really understands what an adaptation means in terms of what were trying to do. We are putting all six books into one film in a sense. Its definitely in the spirit of the books. Sometimes its completely verbatim and sometimes its just the overall tone were trying to bring across and make it one whole story.
Whats interesting in the way he writes is that he changes his mind all the way through, so even our first draft of the script which is the one that got leaked onto the internet, which people said had loads of things that werent from the books, was all stuff from the books that he later changed and so there are things in the film that are truer to his original plotlines and then he ended up changing his mind and theres even little bits of dialogue that were in the books and then we kept them in the script than he cut them out. The way that he writes, he tends to have a well, weirdly, we wrote the first draft after he wrote the first two books and then we kind of picked his brain me and Michael Bacall came to Toronto and we sat down and he had like biogs for the other exes and some ideas, and we basically picked his brains and he went up and thought about it and wrote out the plotlines for the other four books, so then we had that to work off of.
Some of our script takes stuff from that which has since changed a little bit. So all of us have felt quite comfortable about the idea that people will get their value for money next year in terms of the books will have one ending and the film will have another ending, so its just a Bizarro theres a point in the film where the two things split, but none of them are necessarily wrong or right because all of the sort of things that people will think are more controversial changeseven things like just the genesis of some characterslike youll see the set for the Katayinagi (sp?) Twins who were originally called the Katamari Twins, but what were doing in the film is what he was originally going to do before he changed his mind. Also, Brian as well, you can tell with some of the books that he gets to a point in the book where he cant be bothered to actually draw the fights (laughter).
Particularly in Book 2, you can tell that he kind of tosses away some of the fights cause hes so I think its really fun in a way in terms of that weve been able to pick his brains, so there are things in the film that are from an alternate Scott Pilgrim which is no different from his original sketches, and there are things like even like crazy things that came from the first villain biogs that we went down a path at one point in terms of I dont know.. at one point, Gideon was going to turn into a massive robot at the end. So he just designed it all and just thought.. we just came it to the end of thinking by the time this comes out, it will seem like were making a Transformers joke so we kind of scrapped it all. But hes not even doing that anymore anyways, so its been a lot of kind of this big pool of ideas, both that are in the books and ones that didnt make the grade, or just sketches of other things that weve managed to take things from, so thats been really good. And hes been involved in the process a lot, down to even designing you know the things where we painstakingly went through and all the T-shirts he drew in the comics, we made them, and we got him to do ones or say when Todd Ingram is wearing a Punisher T-Shirt, we got Brian Lee OMalley with Marvels permission to do the Punisher designer, so its the Punisher shirt but its Brian Lee OMalleys version of that skull, so it should be a really good collectors item. Which most of the collectors items in this film are licensed to other people. (laughter)
I understand that its sort of a two-way street because Brian has stole some ideas from you guys.
Wright: Theres a couple ideas in Book 4 and 5 that are from our script, only two lines but theyre ones that wed written and then he said, Oh, can I have that? In that respect, hes been a great collaborator, and Im sure weve abused him in some ways when theres a copy of Now Magazine its like Hey, you can think up some funny subheadings hey, Bryan! Write some subheadings for this magazine. Tiny, small print things and he and Michael Bacall get on great so whenever theres been those little details and stuff in terms of fake band names and the stuff you basically will only see on freezeframe on Blu-ray, have kind of Bryans fingerprints all over them.
Will there be some sort of comic book movie adaptation by some other artist?
Wright: I dont think so. I wouldnt have thought so. I just think its a nice thing in terms of they go off in different paths. I think up until very recently, Bryan had three different endings for the book. He was literally sort of.. and also, he kind of changes his stories.. with anythingI think we even had a similar thing on SPACEDsometimes its a bad thing . I remember when we were doing SPACED, the first series, the websites started writing plotlines at what theyd like to see in the future and we had to ask them to stop because if we had read any of them, 90% of them would be terrible and thered be one that would be good and then you cant use it because if someone came up with something that was quite good, we actually said, Dont write any plotlines, please. I think in a way, especially with the books, everybody has their little polls who they want Scott to end up with and I think Bryan wants to keep his cards close to his chest. I think he even liked the fact that our film has a slightly different ending because it means he can have his ending, and its like theyre two different things.
Did you have any disagreements on the way through?
Wright: No, hes been like the . You know we basically just run everything past him, so hes read every draft of the script and he looks at the costumes and stuff not really. Theres even one thing. Whats nice in terms of there are a couple lines we wrote that are in the book, and I say a couple. There is literally like two lines that are in the books that me and Michael Bacall came up with but on the flipside, theres one scene in this film that as we were doing the final draft that Bryan was reading it and we had come to sort of an impasse on one particular scene and he did a little polish on it, so he just rewrote one scene and that seemed like the perfect way to wrap it up, is that the final thing we had done on the script was that Bryan rewrote one of the scenes and came up with a couple of lines. So its a pretty nice back and forth.
Because youre so meticulous with what you want, and because youre so meticulous with each of your shots and you kind of edit the film to some extent in your head already how are you pacing yourself? How are you staying focused throughout this whole four, five month process?
Wright: A lot of espresso, basically. I think I reached me espresso limit. I dont know; just a lot of coffee and not a lot of sleep. I think on both SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, I hit the wall at both points in the production where you work so hard, and you just cant function anymore, and you have a sort of mini meltdown. On this one, its happened, like, twice already. Thats how I take a yardstick of how long the shoot is and how hard Im working, since Ive had two separate espresso-based meltdowns. Its funny, too, because working with Bill I think in the first week of shooting we did 200 slates um, in six days. And everyone was commenting on how much it was and how fast it was, and I said to Bill I said, at the moment, I get to go back and make a film every 3 years, so Ive been waiting 3 years to get back on set. So when I start going, I get out of the gate with a kind of fury and stuff because Ive been thinking about it for a long time But you have to have the patience for this sort of stuff, because weve been doing the second unit as well, which Im usually there for a six-day week sometimes and you cant get through 17 weeks of six-day weeks. Its tough. The thing about this film is that I made it extra difficult for myself in terms of it being not just comedy, and not just visuals, but theres action and music as well. All those four separate things require so much care and TLC, and any one of those things would be complicating in a different film, and this one has all of it. And I think because of the source material and the actors, and some of the collaborators that weve got involved, and the fans as well, its just this huge responsibility in every department and every compartment of it to make it as good as it can be.
Normally on a set visit wed ask about the scene youre shooting today, and I know its the end of the film so you cant really tell us much but what can you tell us?
Wright: Well I feel so bad about this because the timing of it literally, itd be like showing up on the set of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for the Luke, I am your father scene. Its the worst timing. I wouldnt even minded if youd been here yesterday when we were just fighting. Seeing Jason and Michael fighting I wouldve been happy; its a thrill to watch the two of them duking it out.
Youve been working so hard on this, but everyone weve been talking to today has been really up and going so are they, like, on painkillers, or is it just like the vibe of the set or, what keeps everyone going?
Wright: Well, firstly the cast are all very young. Theyve got the energy of 20-year-olds. The cast has just been amazing together, and I think its just a really good ensemble. It feels really like having a cast full of ringers in terms of everybody in every tiny part is really great. And so to have like big ensemble scenes with ten of them in the same scene, or five of them in the same scene, its just really good fun. Like with HOT FUZZ how we had great people in every single tiny part, its the same with this. Whats great with this is that theres people you know, like with Michael [Cera] and Jason [Schwartzman], and then we have people who are up and coming, like Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza and Brie Larson, and then theres complete unknowns as well and so to have that mix of people is really exciting.
We just talked to Alison and Johnny, and they seem perfect for their roles, but was there any pressure to get name actors? It seems like you got the right people for the right parts, which is strange for an American movie in some ways; its not like names or whatever
Wright: Universal never really gave me any problems about casting bigger people, because in a way Michael has starred in two $100 million-plus movies, and also a lot of the other people, though their not the biggest names, people certainly know who they are. You know who Jason is, and who Chris is, and Mary has a sort of rising profile. I think, then, when you have 20 of those people in the same film, its really good. We have fantastic people in lots of small parts, so I think its kind of a nice in a way and the thing Im really pleased about with this film, as opposed to some of the other comedies out there and even stuff Ive done before is that it has a lot of funny women in it. Really a large part of the cast, and even the books are not just about his love life, but his exes and family, and friends. Theres this one scene the other day that I would describe as the funny lady relay race, because theres one scene which starts with Anna Kendrick, then switches to Aubrey Plaza, then switches to Mary, then switches to Brie Larson, and its just Michael being attacked from all sides from all the different women in the film. In this case, not literally attacked
One of the things I loved about the comic book was the visual gags where people come on screen with title cards and stuff. How did you incorporate that, or how are you planning to incorporate that?
Wright: Well, Im planning to be pretty true to the books in that respect, because one of the things that intrigued me about the books or one of the things that got me interested was that I felt like there hadnt been a comic book adaptation, aside from maybe GHOST WORLD and AMERICAN SPLENDOR there hadnt been a bigger film that dealt in sort of like a comedy comic book film. There are either ones going for the more fantastical and more gritty, or other ones going for an entirely different universe, and what I liked about this is that after I read the first book it reminded me of SPACED, in terms of combining the mundane with the fantastical. And so I think it came down to why not use those graphics, who not have that aesthetic to it and in a comedy you can do a lot of things that you cant do in a straight action film. In this scene here, Michael fights, like, 20 men and its just an example of what you can do in this film that you cant do in an action film, is that when they die and explode into coins, you can keep using the same sound over and over again. In an action film, you would always have to have 20 different hits, but here if you keep playing the sonic coin sound over and over again, it becomes funnier and funnier.
Does that happen to Chris turning into coins?
Everyone turns into coins. Thats my way of getting around the R rating. You chop off someones arm and it falls into coins, you get the PG-13.
I was wondering about whether or not you were concerned about casting semi non-musicians? I know some of them are and some arent. I know Sex Bob-omb isnt supposed to be the best band in the world, but
Wright: Well, you know they all worked really hard, and theres a mixture of people who can play. Like Michael is a great musician and then theres a mix of people who can play, and then people who had to learn an instrument for the part. But they worked really hard at it, and it shows.
How did you approach the fight scenes in this, because they arent supposed to be brutal and cruel?
Wright: I dont know how to describe it, really um, theyre just really fucking fast. Its just a mix between crazy, sort of superhuman comic stuff and the speed of the Jackie Chan stuff from the 80s. The thing thats funny about Brad Allen and his team is that youll put together a sequence in storyboards that is pretty damn complicated and ambitious, and theyll just raise your game in terms of amping it up another notch. Its nuts, youll ask Michael and Jason and theyll tell you that theyve never done anything like this before. There are some days where weve done 20 shots in a day, but we only have about 15 seconds of screen time.
How are you handling the tonal change of the books, where things go from kind of crazy to really crazy at the end?
Wright: We thought it should play out like a musical in a way in terms of the fights are not dissimilar to the songs. I always thought there were a lot of martial arts films that were like musicals, so we wanted to take that further. Ya know, in a Gene Kelly film when he performs an amazing routine, at the end of the scene no one goes, Oh my god, that was fucking amazing! The song is about something, and then there might be some dialogue at the end that is also about that theme. And thats kind of how this works where people have these huge fights and its kind of like how it is in the books where everything goes back to normal, and theres a little reaction to what just happened, but theres no sort of mourn the dead. All the fights are about relationships, and we start off very mundane, but as soon as Mary enters it as a very literal dream girl, then we sort of start getting into the surreal. If you look at the Scott Pilgrim books, the poses that he does on the front covers are very rarely in the pages, and me and Brian always talked about how the Scott Pilgrim on the covers is who he thinks he is, rather than who he actually is. In a weird way, I think the whole film is his sort of diluted cheese dream of him as a badass. If you start in a very real place, you can flower into the fantastical.
Did you know early on that Cera would be good as Pilgrim?
Wright: When we first started writing it, I was watching ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. I did the first draft of this before HOT FUZZ, and I remember saying that its a shame that George Michael kid isnt older. Its funny and me and Brian have talked about this a lot when people on the internet say hes so miscast, but then the people they suggest leave you going, Yeah, but I dont want to make the Zac Efron version of Scott Pilgrim. So its like whenever people come up with suggestions of who it could be, Im like are we reading the same books? I mean, shouldnt he be like an underdog, physically? I read one thing on the internet where someone said Chris Evans would be better as Scott Pilgrim, and I thought, really? The whole thing about casting Scott Pilgrim vs. Lucas Lee is that youve got two levels I mean, immediately the thing that comes to mind is who wouldnt want to see a fight between Michael Cera and Chris Evans? That to me is a lot more intriguing and funny than to have someone whos like a hottie or a hunk. It didnt make much sense to me, really.
What will the fight sequences look like? There were these rumors that there are going to be animated elements incorporated.
Wright: There's basically a bit of everything that goes into it. Some of it is very real and fast and you'll be surprised by how much the actors do, which is, I think it's a surprise to them as well. They're so game as well, that you really should ask Michael and Jason about it. Jason endlessly amuses me, because you can basically throw anything at him and he'll kind of like for a second go, "Okay, let's do it." There'll be this split second where he's thinking, "I've got to do that?" But the fighting is kind of comprised of an enormous amount of different techniques, really. It's kind of about bringing the artwork to life and also something that would feel-- it definitely feels very stylized, but in a very fun way, but it still feels kind of dangerous. It's not brutal, but it feels painful, so it isn't like necessarily silly fu. It's difficult to explain really. I think Michael takes a pummeling in every single fight, which is just funny. We have a thing as well, it's just funny those things you can do in this film, like people reset themselves all the time, in the sense of, I just thought it would be a bit like a video game, where after being thrown through a wall, somebody has dust on them, but only for the shot just after they go through the wall. Then they just kind of keep resetting. So people's hair just resets and there's never any blood or bruises or broken teeth. There's hardly anything like that in terms of physical injury. It's usually shown by how much their hair is blown back, but it's still kind of brutal in that respect in terms of just the speed of it, I guess, and the amount of gags. It's difficult to explain.
(Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera enter the room.)
Everyone else we talked to said, "We stay close to the books. We stick to the books." You don't have a book yet. There is Gideon's malevolence throughout the book, so have you drawn from that, and how much do you know about your character?
Wright: You had to pick Bryan's brain basically, didn't you?
Jason Schwartzman: Yeah.
Wright: We both did.
Schwartzman: Yeah. You take it and then I'll-- you start it off.
Wright: Well, Bryan did a thing for everybody on this film which was good for us and was really good for the actors, is that he did ten facts about each character. But in terms of Jason's stuff, we had what we'd written already, and then in terms of back story, it was something that was just developing or based on certain people and things that Bryan was still working out. But the ART OF WAR came into it, didn't it?
Schwartzman: Yeah. Basically, first I had this great script that Edgar and Michael had written, which has so much Gideon in it, and just based on some of the things he was saying, it immediately eliminated a lot of possibilities of who this guy was. Like if he's capable of saying and doing certain things, you have a pretty good understanding of this type of person. And then, like you say, his malevolence-- I'm not going to be able to say that anymore. I tried twice more-- that presence is cast over the books and you can feel him. And I did talk to Bryan. I had some good phone conversations with him and he gave me a lot of really good advice about the character. Shall I tell you that, or just hopefully it will come through.
You dont have to tell us.
Schwartzman: And he said something to me which was nice. He said, "Hopefully I'll learn something about the character too from you guys." So it kind of worked, he's like, "I'm still trying to figure it out too, because I've got a little ways to go on him." So it's nice. My character actually is alive and is still being figured out. I did buy "48 Laws of Power" and the "Art of War." I would listen to those every morning on tape, book on tape.
Michael Cera: I have that on tape too, the "Art of War."
Schwartzman: It's great, it's great. It's a classic. But the "48 Laws of Power" is an incredible book. I'm on law 15, so that's all I've got so far in Gideon. That's all I was able to cram in. I could only get 15 chapters of laws and power into my guy.
Wright: The rest will go on the DVD.
Cera: Is that Donald Trump?
Schwartzman: No. But the guy also wrote the seduction, the book on seduction, which I've also read, and his new book is the "33 Laws of War." So he's a great writer...the last thing I'll just say is, but Edgar is so great, because I have all these different ideas. When I was here, when I first got here, I was here about two weeks early to start training for the fight and I would have all these crazy ideas. He listened to all of them and he's just like welcoming all these wonderful ideas.
Wright: And then just saying, "Just do that."
Schwartzman: Dismissing the ones-- yeah, dismissing the ones that are improper. I'll be like, "What do you think of this? What do you think of that?" No, no, no." "Yes, yes, yes." And then just so encouraging.
Wright: One thing that's been developing through this film which is funny, even in the last couple of days, is that Jason, no matter during the terrible things that he does, he still remains very likeable. And even Bryan mentioned the other day, he said, "I feel like I like Gideon too much. Even after he kicked that lady in the tummy."
Schwartzman: She deserved it.
Wright: But I like the fact that he's kind of like that. He's got to be a charming baddie. He's at the top of the pile.
Jason and Michael both, what's the worst thing Edgar's made you do so far?
Wright: I was explaining to them already the look on your faces, usually when we show you a stunt at the eleventh hour. I show you a new stunt with five minutes' warning.
Cera: I don't know, what do you think is the worst thing that we've done?
Schwartzman: We've both deferred our first questions to Edgar.
Cera: We're in director/actor mode right now.
Schwartzman: What do you think I should say?
Cera: I can't think of anything too dangerous. It's all been pretty safe.
When we were at Sundance, you were talking. It was before you had actually started the training for this and your answer there was, "I'm going to do as little as I can."
Cera: I think I've stayed true to that.
Wright: I think that's true.
There's a lot that looks like you're very involved.
Cera: Yeah. I guess the only things we don't do are like falling from the scaffolding and going through walls and stuff.
Wright: Don't give it away. Don't give away the movie magic.
Cera: But that doesn't happen in the movie anyway, so why would we do it?
Michael, I was wondering, this is a very different character for you. I was wondering if that's what drew you to the role. And also, Scott has a hyperactive energy to him, and I was wondering if you embraced that or went a different direction?
Cera: I can't remember. We shot so much of this in the beginning of the year. I didn't try to go against the energy in the books. I mean, I think I tried to do that, but I really can't remember.
Wright: I think one of the things that's interesting, like-- I was saying about that Bryan did those lists of ten facts about the character.
Wright: And nearly all of Scott Pilgrim's facts revolved around the fact that he believes he is the hero in his own movie in his head. And so I think that's the thing, it's sort of the character. Until the and, he doesn't really think of the consequences of things emotionally. I don't know. He's like the center of his own universe until it comes crashing down. I've got to say, everybody like, Michael, no exceptions, worked so hard on the fight scenes in terms of-- I think it's because you've both got a musical background, that you're both very good at the choreography. I think thats definitely a thing that people have a dance background, like Mary and Mae, and you guys that have musical training, it actually plays out in the fight scenes in just the timing.
Schwartzman: And then there's the people with no rhythm at all.
Wright: Yeah, the people with no rhythm get their heads kicked in.
I was just going to ask you about that. It seems you have a vast musical background and you're playing one of the few characters who's not playing. Is it strange to be in that kind of musical movie with so much of that is going on, without you being involved in it?
Schwartzman: No, it's fun, it's fun. No, I'm happy. They're all doing good. They're all doing good. They all look like they're playing instruments and I'm happy to watch. I get to sword fight. Yesterday I was hanging--
Wright: Spoiler alert.
Schwartzman: Yesterday I was hanging upside down. I was hanging upside down from a harness and I looked around at everyone's feet, because that's all I could see, and I thought, "Man, if some of my friends in high school could see me now," especially the ones that were mean to me. Those weren't my friends. They're just some of the people in high school, if they could see me now. We've gotten to do so much fun stuff on this movie. I don't know, it's been incredible. I do wish I could have played some music though with everyone. Maybe Gideon could.
Lots of rewrites. Obviously the way this is being shot is very meticulous. There's a lot of precision in terms of what's shot. Do you find as actors you have to adjust your style in terms of how you perform or how you stay consistent in a performance through that?
Cera: Kind of, but every movie's different really, so there hasn't been anything consistent for me really in that way. But this is definitely unique in that there'll be some-- I don't know, am I going to ruin anything? But there'll be certain shots designed for just one line, so you'll do something things line at a time. So that's been kind of new for me. Although yeah, every movie is kind of different, I guess, so I'm not used to any one style.
Schwartzman: Yeah, I'm like Michael. Everything I've ever done has been different, so this is just a brand new great experience and I'm happy to do it. I'm only really in three or five-- I dont know, I can't say exactly-- but a lot of scenes in this movie.
Wright: Three scenes, 2,000 slates.
Schwartzman: But they take a lot of time to do one scene, and that's new for me. The scenes are very long and have many different components and elements and are very detailed. Like Michael said, yeah, you'll just do one certain thing just for a certain line. I don't know, that's the beauty of it. It's really incredible. But Edgar, it actually feels super liberating to have just these certain things we're going for, because then you really can hyper focus and try different things in just in one moment, and just try a different face or a different version of a line, and not have to think about the whole thing, in certain instances. So it's cool, because you can really like be very meticulous with your acting.
When we chatted to the other actors, talking about how each of the exes came onto the set Can you talk about your experiences with each of them?
Wright: Like I was saying, it felt like we'd have a different month with each of the actors. What's great is everybody brought a completely different energy to it, and then Jason, like the master criminal, gets to come in at the end and figure out a way to upstage them all in the final moments. It's what's really fun about it, is that there's I think some of the cast people that you might expect to see together, or you've seen them together in other films, and then what's fun is sort of seeing you do a scene with Chris, who is a very, very funny actors, who's maybe done films of a different genre, would seem to come from another world, but not. He's a great comic actor. That's what's exciting about it, is that it isn't the same mix of people in a film. It's like a radically different mix and it's just exciting to watch actors spar together in both senses of the word.
Wright: Literally and verbally. It's really fun. And so everybody brings a slightly different energy to the exes and I think different actors are very surprising in terms of Brandon is a revelation in some respects. He did a brilliant job. And Satya Bhabha who, it's pretty much his first major part in a film, and then Mae Whitman unrecognizable from previous parts. So it's been really good fun in that respect.
You already played guitar coming into this, but Mark and Allison have to learn their instruments. I was wondering what that rehearsal process was like for you.
Cera: Well, by the time we--
Wright: Less rehearsal for Michael!
Cera: They had to learn their instruments separately before we got together and started doing the songs. So by the time we all got together, Allison was really good at drums and Mark was pretty good at guitar already.
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