I didn’t really get to see so much of Scott Pilgrim’s precious little life.
Last summer I hustled from Comic-Con to Canada, visiting the Toronto set of Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s brilliant comic series. But the vagaries of timing being what they are, I ended up arriving on a day when Edgar was shooting the final, climactic battle between heroic Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and smarmy record company A&R douche Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). This is stuff that’s in the final moments of the movie, and it’s stuff that hasn’t even been covered in the comics yet – the last volume of O’Malley’s six part opus hits stores this summer, just before the movie hits theaters.
‘Sorry we’re being so secretive but you guys landed literally on the last moments of the film,’ Edgar explained. ‘I said to [the unit publicist], “It’s not so much that I don’t want them seeing it, I don’t think they want to see it.”‘
He was right. Spoiling the end of not just Scott Pilgrim the movie but Scott Pilgrim the comic was the last thing I wanted on that set visit. So while we got to sit down with most of the cast – including a very shy Cera – and saw a couple of sets, we barely had a chance to see any filming. What we did see took place on the sleek, obsidian set of Gideon Graves’ Club Chaos, where Cera was swinging a red sword. That’s the same sword he’s using in the film’s first promo image, but there the FX have been added in, and the sword is flaming.
I guess it’s possible that you’ve just read about a battle between Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman and about a flaming sword and you’re saying to yourself ‘What the hell is this movie about? I thought it was another Michael Cera teen comedy.’ You couldn’t be more wrong.
The six part series tells the story of Scott – slacker, bass player in a band called Sex Bob-omb, and all around cool guy – as he battles against seven evil exes, all to win the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is literally the girl of his dreams. O’Malley’s world includes copious video game and comic book references, tons of excellent supporting characters, sweet but edgy humor and plenty of kung fu fighting, fireball blasting and bad guys getting punched into coins. It’s video games and comics and movies and music and honest, emotional storytelling all rammed together and turned up to 11 – essentially the perfect material for Edgar Wright.
Wright’s been working on the movie a long time. A long, long time. At the Comic Con before Hot Fuzz, Edgar and I talked extensively about his plans for the film. And by the time I got to set in July he had been in Toronto more or less all year. And as you’re reading this, in May of 2010, he’s still editing the movie. Working 20 hours days to get it done. Yet I bet that if you met him right now he’d be chipper. He’d be upbeat. He’d be laughing and filled with energy. He’s scary that way.
‘I’m just kind of in awe of him every day,’ Mary Elizabeth Winstead said on set. ‘I sense the huge pressure that must be on his shoulders, and it’s amazing just to see him come to work and be able to laugh and be carefree and have a good time and still have that kind of enthusiasm about making the film on a day-to-day basis, when it’s got to be extremely stressful. I don’t know how he does it. But yeah, he has that kind of child-like excitement about just getting to make a movie, so I think no matter how big or little it is he’s always going to have that, which is really great. ‘
‘Edgar’s a maniac, he’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever met,’ said Wright’s co-writer, Michael Bacall. ‘We started working on the first draft just before he went into pre-production on Hot Fuzz years ago, and we really hustled to get a very rough draft done before he went off to do that* and as soon as he finished and Hot Fuzz came out, we kind of picked it up again.’
Besides watching Cera do some action work – and he looked surprisingly great, very lithe, very energetic – we had a chance to visit one of the few remaining sets. So late in production many – most – of the sets had been long struck, but the crew was getting ready to move into a large warehouse space that had been converted into a club. Here Sex Bob-omb would duke it out in a battle of the bands with Japanese brother DJs, The Katayanagi Twins, who happen to be among Ramona’s evil exes. The twins had a high tech, heavily lit, dual turntable set up on one side of the club. On the other is a dingy stage with beat up amps and a crappy drum kit – this is where Sex Bob-omb will play. We got a chance to take pictures here, and of course everybody who has read the comics wanted to get behind the drum kit and be Kim Pine for a moment.
With so little available to actually see (Edgar kept going back and forth on showing us footage. In the end he opted to bring out his Macbook and show us the entire movie – fast forwarded at a rate of speed that made it last about six seconds. My eyes could almost make out individual images. Almost), we were taken to the art department to get a better look at the design of the world and characters of Scott Pilgrim. Essentially it all boils down to ‘faithful.’ They even had Bryan Lee O’Malley come do concept artwork, including t-shirt designs so that the actors could wear the same clothes as the characters in the books.
As with most production offices every inch of wallspace was taken up with concept art and other drawing. Among the many items were mock-ups of fake movie posters; one of Ramona’s evil exes is Jason Lee, a skateboarding superstar who is also an action movie actor. My favorite was the poster for Action Doctor
, which had the tagline “The good news is you’re going to live. The bad news is that he’s going to kill you.” I liked it so much that this was one of the six notes I took on the whole visit (another was “18 FPS” and I don’t know what that’s about. Was Edgar shooting the final fight at 18 frames per second? Probably).
Here’s some of my other notes:
So anyway, faithful. That’s the watchword on Scott Pilgrim… to a point. ‘We’ve been extremely faithful to the first volume because that’s the setup, it’s really kind of a perfect first act,’ said Bacall. But the reality is that work on the movie began when the series was just halfway finished. ‘As we went Bryan was writing the other volumes. He had written up sketches and character profiles for all of the evil exes up through the seventh so we had that to work with, and we had a basic outline of where he wanted the whole story to go. As we worked on consecutive drafts, every time we got to the point where we might get stuck or we maybe had to turn something in, he would send us the script for the next draft or the galley for the books about to come out and that was very helpful. So every time we were about to hit a wall, he would kind of send us something and we would try and integrate everything that we could. Really we did have to find a way to create a kind of filmic structure because it’s a surreal comic so I think we’ve found a good way to do that to kind of compress the events of the book.’
‘The funniest thing that Bryan has said in a couple of interviews is that the person who cares least about the changes in stuff is Bryan Lee O’Malley,’ said Edgar. ‘What’s been really great about him is that not only has he been heavily involved right from the first draft but what’s interesting is he really understands what an adaptation means in terms of what we’re trying to do. We are putting all six books into one film in a sense. It’s definitely in the spirit of the books. Sometimes it’s completely verbatim and sometimes it’s just the overall tone we’re trying to bring across and make it one whole story. What’s 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 weren’t 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 there’s even little bits of dialogue that were in the books and then we kept them in the script than he cut them out.’
To Edgar the differences between the book and the movie are actually a major selling point. ‘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. There’s 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 changes [were things] he was originally going to do before he changed his mind. There are things in the film that are from an alternate Scott Pilgrim which is no different from his original sketches… It’s been a lot of kind of this big pool of ideas, both that are in the books and ones that didn’t make the grade, or just sketches of other things that we’ve managed to take things from, so that’s been really good. ‘
And that went both ways. ‘There’s a couple ideas in Book 4 and 5 that are from our script, only two lines but they’re ones that we’d written and then he said, “Oh, can I have that?” In that respect, he’s been a great collaborator,’ said Edgar.
Over the rest of the week we’ll have an exhaustive number of interviews with most of the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and almost an hour’s worth of assorted interviews with Edgar Wright. We’re just starting our coverage of this movie, and I hope you guys are as excited about the film as I am. As a fan of both the comics and of Edgar Wright, this seems like one of the summer movies with the most potential.
* This, for the record, is the draft that leaked online a few years back and that led to some negative script reviews. The reality, as Bacall says here, is that it was a rough draft intended to get the structure down and give the writers something to work with when Hot Fuzz was done. Of course no one who got the leaked script understood this at the time.