Film Feature: A Few Minutes with Edgar Wright and Ansel Elgort from Baby Driver

by Gordon Elgart on June 27, 2017

           Edgar Wright on set directing Ansel Elgort in the marvelous new film Baby Driver.

Edgar Wright’s newest film, Baby Driver, is a labor of love, many years in the making. The film would be a typical action crime drama were it not made by Wright, who is anything but typical. Instead, we get a creatively inspired film that takes this oft repeated form and adds a magical twist, which is that nearly every scene, from a romantic conversation in a laundromat to a brisk foot chase with guns blazing, is not only accompanied by inspired musical choices, but is also choreographed to the songs. The result crackles with life and bristles with energy. We were overjoyed to be able to spend a few minutes discussing the music and choreography with director Edgar Wright and budding superstar Ansel Elgort.

Edgar Wright on how choreography, and not editing, brought the action scenes to life:

When you watch movie trailers and they cut together gun shots to the beat, that’s done in the edit, but this was done in shot because the songs themselves are the ones we played on the day, so we cleared all of the music before we started filming. We rehearsed with the music so those moments — in particular the gun fights, where it goes in time with the drums or with the guitar — you know, when you’re working with the actors or stunt people on choreographing the sequence — you know that that drum solo in Tequila is only this long, so we planned it out and made a video of it, and it’s almost exactly the same as what’s in the film. It’s not something where you’re shooting loads and loads and loads of stuff and then seeing how it all fits together. It’s like a jigsaw that you’re all putting together.

On the tricky business of timing gun fights with music:

There’s a scene where Jon Hamm is firing his assault rifle in time with “Hocus Pocus,” and Jon is actually doing that. It’s long enough that you can see him actually doing it. The tricky thing is that in most of the cases with music, you could play the music; either Ansel has it in his ears, or you could play it out loud. When guns become involved, you can’t hear anything. So in that case, you have to rehearse with the music and the choreographer would have to give people counts.

Or you would have this amazing thing where you would go up to the stuntman and say “OK so your bit is Bap. Bap. Bap bap bap,” and then you do a rehearsal, and he says “Bap. Bap. Bap bap bap,” and then you actually do it, and it’s (Edgar Wright makes the sound of a gun shooting in the same rhythmic sequence), so they have their counts, and they have to do (Wright repeats his rhythmic gun performance with a much more powerful gun), so it’s crazy. But then, in terms of editing, Paul Machliss, one of our editors was on set, and every day he would cut together the sequence so at the end of the day we could watch the sequence and see what we got, which was pretty amazing.

Edgar Wright on choosing music that hasn’t been “taken” by other movies:

That does happen, but I don’t think there was anything I had to change because it was in something else. Someone pointed out that a Nike campaign used “Hocus Pocus,” and I was like “grrrrrrrrr,” but then I thought, it doesn’t matter because it’s not another movie.

Earlier this year I had a conversation with James Gunn over text because we know each other, and I said “I’m worried. I want to know what your Guardians 2 soundtrack is to make sure none of your songs are in Baby Driver,” and then we had this cagey, very funny conversation with each other. 

He said, “Do you use ELO?” and I said, “No.” And the I said, “Do you use Queen?” and he said, “No.” And then he said, “Do you use Sweet?” and I said, “No.” I said, “Do you use Barry White?” He said, “I was going to use Barry White, but no.” We went through all of the big answers, and then probably realized we didn’t use any of the same tracks.

Quentin Tarantino says something about this. Whoever used it best, last, owns the track. In fact, Guardians 1 uses a song that was in Reservoir Dogs — a song I hadn’t heard before Reservoir Dogs — so when they had that trailer with that song, I was like, “Oh!” But now kids know that song from Guardians, and haven’t seen Reservoir Dogs.

I was a little concerned, but nobody had ever used “Bell Bottoms” (John Spencer Blues Explosion) in a movie before, so I claimed that one, but loads of different tracks can be used in lots of different ways.

Ansel Elgort on working with choreographer Ryan Heffington to create the way his character moves:

When there was music, even if it was subtle things — we had the choreographer every day that there was music playing, even on days when we had very little — he’d tell me to hold my hands a certain way, or you’re sitting at the sewing machine and you’re tapping your foot, maybe look here, and then look there. He was always there to help us choreograph.

For the laundromat scene, every step was figured out, and we went to that location before we actually shot and did a blocking rehearsal probably a week or so before. 

Thanks so much to Edgar Wright and Ansel Elgort for sitting down with us to talk about their fantastic new film. Thanks also to Marco Cerritos and Bernard Boo, who joined me for this interview. Baby Driver opens everywhere on June 28th.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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