A heist movie filled with car chases and powered by a soundtrack that’s integral to nearly every scene, writer/director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is brimming with kinetic energy. Starring Ansel Elgort as the music-obsessed title character, he works as a getaway driver for local crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a long-standing debt, and featuring a rogues’ gallery of rent-a-crooks played by the likes of Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal. With all the high-octane, pedal-to-the-floor action, by the the time the credits roll, you’ll be looking for your seatbelt.
But Baby Driver isn’t the kind of movie that just happened. Wright spent more than two decades piecing it together bit by bit, trying out ideas where he could, and making sure his vision would be realized. We got the chance to talk to the acclaimed filmmaker about how the film slowly came to fruition, and the unconventional production process he developed to make sure the film and its soundtrack were in lockstep every scene.
When asked which came first: the movie or the soundtrack, Wright replies simply that “they sort of arrived together.”
“22 years ago I was listening to the [Jon Spencer Blues Explosion] album Orange a lot, before I was even really a director. I was like, 21, [living] in a flat in North London, completely broke. I had made my first no-budget movie [A Fistful of Fingers], but I didn’t know how it was gonna do and I didn’t really know what was next, but I always had a strong reaction to music.”
The more Wright listened to the trio’s album, the more the opening of Baby Driver started to take shape. “I don’t have synesthesia or anything, but definitely when I’m listening to music I start kind of visualizing images. And listening to ‘Bell Bottoms’ I just start to see this car chase. And I didn’t even know that it was a film or what the story was or what it was about, but it basically is pretty much the opening of the movie that you see.”
Once he had the opening scene played out in his head time and again, the film slowly started to take shape. “Through that in terms of listening to other music and having other ideas, it started to formulate. That moment of that visualization predates Spaced [and] Shaun of the Dead. It goes way back. So it’s like there’s a point with some films where it felt like a dream movie because it combines my passions. And it’s a dream movie because getting to make movies in the first place is like, you feel so lucky to be doing it. It’s something that combines all of my passions of action and music together.
“But it’s also I literally sort of dreamt it,” he added. “So there’s certain point where there’s movies where you think ‘I have to make this movie just to get it out of my head.'”
But there was still a long road before Baby Driver would come to be. In the intervening years, he “road-tested this idea” when he was asked to direct the video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song.”
“I didn’t intend to use that idea in that video. I literally was supposed to hand in an idea the next morning, and couldn’t come up with anything else. [I] thought ‘Oh, maybe I’ll use that Baby Driver idea.’ Then I was mad at myself. I thought I had squandered the idea in this music video, even though the music video had gone down well.”
With the first incarnation of his idea realized, Wright decided to spend a lengthy amount of time on the road, which he lovingly referred to as his “Kerouac time.”
“Ten years ago I drove across the states from New York to L.A., and from L.A. to Vancouver. I felt like I couldn’t really make this movie as a sort of middle class Englishman until I’d actually done my time on America’s freeways. I literally did listen to music the entire time. Drove on my own, listened to music for, like, seven hours a day while I was driving across the States. It was magical.”
Once he’d put some miles on his odometer while immersing himself in music, he was ready to start getting serious about making Baby Driver. “After Hot Fuzz, I first mentioned the idea to my producers, Big Talk and Working Title. I had signed this two picture deal with them, one of which was The World’s End, and the second one was [Baby Driver]. And I didn’t know what the story was, but what I pitched them was a car movie driven by music.”
While writing the first draft, Wright started “talking to ex-cons, talking to ex-getaway drivers, talking to musicians and talking to DJs.” He focused his research to be both “about music and about crime, and those few moments where they intersect.”
“So then, between [Hot Fuzz] and Scott Pilgrim, I was always working on this script, [and] I finished the script before The World’s End.”
Around this time, the Mint Royale video started making the rounds again, in part because the clip’s star, Noel Fielding, had gained some fame in the interim. “Suddenly, it would pop on Reddit or something, people saying ‘Have you seen this video with Noel Fielding directed by Edgar Wright?’ And so, strangely enough, back when I’d done it, I felt like I’d squandered the idea. And then it actually became a benefit.”