Summer 2017

Fast and Furious

Edgar Wright directs an action-movie musical fueled by his love of heist movies and crime thrillers


Edgar Wright, center, sets up a shot with DP Bill Pope for one of Baby Driver's ambitious chase sequences (Photo: Wilson Webb/TriStar Pictures)

Edgar Wright's Baby Driver—which generated beaucoup buzz in March when it screened at SXSW, where it won an audience award—might be the first of its kind: a jukebox crime thriller.

You could say Tarantino's been down this road before with Reservoir Dogs, one of Baby Driver's many inspirations. But the difference is that Wright choreographed every action sequence to music, whether it be a harrowing car chase, a foot pursuit or a shootout.

As Wright explains, the conceit came to him more than 20 years ago when he was junking out on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album Orange. "I would listen to the track 'Bellbottoms' in my room and visualize a car chase and think, 'This would be great car-chase music,'" he recalls. "And then that idea turned into this idea of a young getaway driver who is unable to do his job properly unless he had the right music playing."

Marrying music and action is something Wright's done before in his film and television work, which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but he wanted to figure out a premise "where you could do that through the whole movie."

The film, shot in Atlanta over 60 days, is wallpapered with 35 songs, ranging from Golden Earring's "Radar Love" to Focus' "Hocus Pocus" to the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Unsquare Dance." "We had them all cleared before we started shooting," Wright explains, "and they were all played on set, because the stunt guys worked with the songs, so did the actors, so did the choreographer."

But it's the film's car chases that stand out, and Wright, who calls himself a "connoisseur of action movies and car chases," is quick to rattle off several films that made an indelible impression in this regard, including Bullitt, The French Connection, Vanishing Point, The Italian Job, To Live and Die in L.A. and, especially, Walter Hill's The Driver.

"That's a movie I saw when I was a teenager on British TV and I became obsessed with it," he says.

The film's most challenging feat is the opening car chase, involving a Subaru WRX—not exactly a Steve McQueen-type muscle car but, as Wright underscores, the point of a getaway vehicle is to blend in.

The sequence took roughly nine days for the main unit and traversed "at least 20 city blocks before it even gets onto the freeway," explains Wright. The second unit, led by Darrin Prescott, spent an additional seven days, mainly operating over the weekends, when traffic was lighter.

Wright says 95% of the movie was shot on 35mm anamorphic, "and then we occasionally used the Alexa Mini for scenes where we couldn't do any significant lighting. For example, there's one part of this chase where we're shooting in this real underpass and it was impossible to light because it was an active open freeway."

Operating at high speeds and in tight spaces, the filmmaker and his team used every available tool to get it right, including drones and rigs that ranged from the Pursuit Arm to one attached to an electric bike to something called the Biscuit, a lightweight rig designed by Allan Padelford on which the car is mounted, with a pod for the actors. This last contraption would have as many as three Alexa XTs strapped to the car.

"I had boarded the entire movie," says Wright. "Once you've done that, even if things change, you'vestill got a road map for the entire sequence. Since you're cutting it to music, you kind of know how many shots you'll need."

Full Throttle: Some of Wright's fave chase-scene classics

The Driver — Walter Hill

(Photo: Photofest)

Bullitt — Peter Yates

(Photo: Everett)

The French Connection — William Friedkin

(Photo: Photofest)

Vanishing Point — Richard Sarafian

(Photo: Photofest)

The Seven-Ups — Philip D'Antoni

(Photo: Photofest)


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams working on feature films.

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