Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman do battle on the set of ‘Scott Pilgrim’

05.25.10 9 years ago

When you’re on the set for “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” directed by Edgar Wright, there are a few priorities.  You want to see fighting.  You want to talk to Edgar Wright.  And, ideally, you want some time with Scott Pilgrim himself.

Thankfully, towards the end of a long day on-set, we did finally have some time to sit down with Edgar Wright, Jason Schwartzman, and Michael Cera together to talk to them about the sequence they were shooting, which you can see pictured just to the left of this text.  This is the scene that the whole movie builds towards, the climactic fight between Scott (Cera) and Gideon (Schwartzman), the most Evil of all of Ramona’s Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends.

The set was Gideon’s club, a giant LCD-screen nightmare of blinking lights and weird pyramids.  At first, we just had Edgar, who told us as he joined us that he never ever sits in his own canvass-backed director’s chair, the one with his name on it, as a matter of superstition.  We asked him first about directing something so much larger than anything else he’s made so far, and how he was pacing himself through the epic production.

“There are lots of espressos basically.  I think I reached my espresso limit.”  He talked about how he hits a wall on every film, “It”s like when you work so hard you just can”t function anymore and you have sort of a mini meltdown.  And this has happened like twice already, so that I take as a yardstick of how long I”m shooting and how hard I”m working.  I”ve had two sets of mini espresso-based meltdowns on this film.”

Edgar is a shooter, a guy who knows he needs a ton of shots for his machine-gun editing style, and asking him about how he was capturing all the material he needed, he continued, “In the first week of shooting, we did 200 slates in 6 days and everybody”s commenting on how kind of much it was and how fast it was and I said, ‘My current record is I get to make a film every 3 years so I”ve been waiting 3 years to kind of get back on set, so when I start going we just kind of just get out of the gate with such a kind of fury and stuff because I”ve been thinking about it for a long time.’  But you do have to have the patience for something like this and we”ve been doing the second unit as well.  I’m usually there for six days a week sometimes and you can”t quite kind of like get through 17 weeks of 6 day weeks.  It”s tough.  It”s really tough.”

Asked about his visual style for the film, he said, “The thing about this film is that I made it extra difficult for myself in terms of, like, it”s not just comedy, it”s not just kind of visuals.  It”s action and the music as well.  And all those 4 separate things require so much care and TLC and any one of those things would be complicated in a different film.  But then this film has all of it.  And I think because of the source material and because of the actors and because some of the collaborators that we”ve got involved and the fans as well, it”s just a huge responsibility on every department to make it as good as it can be and that just means working yourself into the ground.”

We tried to ask him questions about the specific sequence he was shooting and he groaned.  “It would be like you turning up on the set of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and being there for ‘Luke, I am your father.’  It”s like that”s the worst timing.  I wouldn”t even mind it if you guys had been here yesterday when we were just fighting.  Seeing Jason and Michael fighting, I would have been happy.  It”s a thrill to watch the two of them working out and stuff but it”s like literally we”re getting into the final moments here.”

Looking at the energy that everyone still had, we asked what pills he’d been feeding his cast.  “They”re all really young.  They have the energy of 20-year olds because they are.  The cast”s just been amazing together and I think it”s a really good ensemble but also it feels like having a cast for ringers in terms of everybody in every tiny part is really great and so to have big ensemble scenes with tenj of them in the same scene or five of them in the same scene is just really good fun.  It’s the same feeling in ‘Hot Fuzz” where we had great people in every single tiny part and it”s the same with this.  But with this there are people that you know like Michael and Jason.  There are people that are kind of up and coming like Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza and Bree Larson.  And then there are complete unknowns as well, and to have that mix of people, it”s just really exciting.”

Edgar’s cinematographer on the film, Bill Pope, is a legend, especially for geek movies, as he’s the guy who shot “The Matrix” and “Team America: World Police” and “Army Of Darkness.”  Asked about their collaboration, Edgar started with, “Bill Pope is an absolute chore to work with.”  He couldn’t keep a straight face about it, though, and started laughing.  “I met him in L.A. and I’m obviously a huge fan of his work and the thing about Bill that”s unusual is it”s unusual to have somebody who”s a great director of photography who”s great at action and comedy and performances and like sort of you know, he really thinks about the whole script.  You can have a director of photography that only thinks about the visuals and nothing else and will not necessarily understand the point of a scene and Bill just isn”t like that.  Right away, his connection to the books and the scripts is that he would talk as much about the story and characters as we would about how it looks.  So that is the clincher really.  That”s why he”s like, you know, the absolute top of his profession is because he”s more than just a director of photography.  And what”s the thing he shot immediately after ‘The Matrix’?  He shot the pilot for ‘Freaks and Geeks’.  I said to him when we were on-set, “Imagine the film that”s right in-between the two.’  That was basically my pitch to him.  ‘Imagine the film that is equidistance between ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and ‘The Matrix’.”

We asked Edgar about the pressure to cast big names in the film versus folks like Alison Pill and Johnny Simmons.  “Universal didn”t really give me any problems about casting bigger people because I guess in a way, you know, Michael is starting to carry 100 million plus movies and then also a lot of the other people are kind of like… if they”re not the biggest names, you certainly know who Jason is and you know who Chris Evans is and you know Mary has a rising profile, and so I think when you then have 20 of those people in the same film, it”s really good.”

Asked how he handles the wild shifts in tone and style in the film, Edgar replied, “In terms of the length of the shoot and because of the nature of the actors, it feels slightly like a TV series.  So it”s like we have Chris Evans month and Mae Whitman month and Brandon Routh month.  It”s like a Seven Deadly Sins type film. So you are going through sort of thick soup basically.”

Since we hadn’t seen any footage yet, we asked if Edgar was going to incorporate the same sort of visual language as the book, including gags like this one:

Or this one:

“I”m trying to be pretty true to the books in that respect because one of the things that got me interested is I felt like there hadn”t been a comic book adaption… aside from ‘Ghost World’ and ‘American Splendor’… there hadn”t been like a bigger film that dealt in terms of a comedy comic book film.  Obviously there”s the whole world of the ones that try to make the fantastical more gritty or you know do something from in a completely different universe.  And what I liked about this is when I read the first book it kind of reminded me of ‘Spaced’ in terms of it combining the mundane with the fantastical.  Why not use those graphics? Why not have that aesthetic to it?  And in a comedy you can do a lot of things you couldn”t do in a straight action film.  There”s like a scene in this where Michael fights like 20 men and there”s things you can do in this kind of film which you couldn”t do in a normal action film.  Like when they die and turn into coins, you use the same sound over and over again.  In an action film you would always have to have slightly different hits.  But if you just play the sonic coin sound over and over again, it just becomes funnier and funnier.”  Someone asked if Chris Evans turns into coins in the film when he dies.  “Everybody turns into coins.  It”s my way of getting around the R-rating.”

Edgar’s always been just as driven by the sound of his films as the look, so it should be no surprise that he’s been so intimately involved in the sound of “Scott Pilgrim,” and talking to him about how he put it all together, his enthusiasm was evident.  “Bryan actually had playlists for all the books, some of which are printed in the back of the books. And he introduced me to some artists that I wasn”t aware of and there are some songs that I mentioned to him which he had already kind of put in the second book.  So we got a nice crossover of bands I”ve played him and visa-versa.  Certainly with a lot of the Canadian music that I wasn”t completely aware of, bands like Sloan.  Then Chris Murphy has formed a major part of this by being our guitar coach and has been fantastic.  So it”s been really nice and a little music exchange really.  And in terms of the band, what we tried to do is find a real band for each of the fictional bands, because usually in music films you have one composer who does everything and as such there”s kind of like a house style and sometimes that works great.  It”s like ‘Phantom of the Paradise,’ where Paul Williams does all the music for the different bands but they all kind of sound like Paul Williams songs, which is great.  But in this we wanted to have a different band for every single artist that appears, and that”s kind of really fun.”

I asked Edgar about working with the Brad Allen fight team, who I had encountered on the set of “Kick-Ass.”  Allen is one of the few Western stuntmen to ever be part of the Jackie Chan stunt team, even doubling Jackie on occasion.  I asked how he worked with Allen to define the fight style for this film.  “I don”t know how to describe it really in terms of… this is really f**king fast is what we really tried to go for.  It”s kind of a mix between just crazy stuff… superhuman comic stuff and I guess sort of like you know the speed of some of the Jackie Chan stuff from the 80″s.  The thing that”s so funny about Brad Allen and his team is that you”ll put together a sequence in storyboards which is pretty damn complicated and ambitious and then they”ll just raise your game in terms of amping it up.  So when you first kind of look at the things they”re rehearsing, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah.  We”re shooting it this year?'”  

Getting back to the nature of the film and the wild disparate ideas in it, Edgar talked about how he approached the material.  “I kind of think that it should kind of play like a musical in terms of the fights and not dissimilar to the song sequences where people perform a song.  To take that a step further, in a Gene Kelly film, when he performs an imaginary scene and everybody at the end goes ‘Oh my God.  It was f**king amazing.  How did he do that?’  If the song is about something and then they might have a bit of dialogue at the end which is also about that theme.  That”s kind of how this works.  People have huge fights and like in the books but then it kind of goes back to normal as a bit of reaction to what just happened but there”s not much time to mourn the dead.  Because all the fights are essentially about relationships.  It”s so similar in the book in that it builds up from the kind of mundane but then, you know, as soon as Mary comes into the picture, she is the dream girl in a very literal sense.  As she appears, you”re starting to move into a more kind of surreal world.  It”s a funny thing… if you look at the Scott Pilgrim books, the poses that he does on the front covers are very rarely within the pages, and me and Bryan always talked about how the Scott Pilgrim on the covers is who he thinks he is, rather than who he actually is.  I think in a weird way it”s almost like the whole film is his deluded cheese dream of him as a bad-ass.  We make a lot of analogies to the idea that like there”s some bits where you kind of hear people gossiping about previous scenes when they just say, ‘Oh my God, you know that Scott Pilgrim had a huge fight last night?’ and you just kind of bring it back down to this sort of exaggerated version of events.  Like this enormous f**king fight scene could have actually just been a dirty look across a bar in reality.”
We asked him to describe the fights visually to us.  “There”s basically a little bit of everything that goes into it.  Some of it is very real and fast and you”d be surprised by how much the actors do which is a surprise to them and they”re so game.  We should ask Michael and Jason about it.  Jason endlessly amuses me because you can basically throw anything at him and he”ll kind of look at you and go ‘Okay, let”s do it.’  Like there”d be this split second where you”re thinking, ‘I”ve got to do that?’  But the fight scenes are comprised of an enormous amount of different techniques really. It definitely feels very stylized in a very fun way.  It”s not brutal but it kind of feels painful.  It”s difficult to explain really.  Michael takes a pummeling in every single fight, which is just funny.  It”s just funny the things you can do in this film, like people reset themselves all the time.  It”d be a bit like a video game where after being thrown through a wall somebody”s got dust on them only for the shot just after they hit the wall and then they kind of just kind of keep resetting so people”s hair just resets.  There”s never any blood or bruises or broken teeth and there”s never hardly anything like that in terms of physical injury.  It”s usually sort of shown by how much their hair has grown back.  You know?  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.”
At that point, Jason Schwartzman joined us.  After geeking out over the recorder one of the reporters was using, Jason talked to us about playing the one character that hasn’t really appeared in any of the books yet except as a rumor and a vague presence.  “Well, first I had this great script that Edgar and Michael have written which has so much Gideon in it and 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 his presence is cast over the books and you can feel him.  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.  He said something to me which was nice.  He said, ‘Hopefully I”ll learn something about the character from you guys.’  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 The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of War and would listen to them every morning on book on tape.”  Someone asked him about the books and he stopped them.  “The 48 Laws of Power is an incredible book and I”m on Law 15, so that”s all I”ve got in Gideon.  That”s all I was able to cram in.  I could only get 15 Laws of Power in my guy.”
Michael Cera wandered up, not wanting to interrupt Jason, who continued, “I”ll just say Edgar is so great because I have all these different ideas and when I first got here I was here about two weeks early to start training for the fight, I would have all these kind of crazy ideas and he listened to all of them.  He”s just welcoming all these wonderful ideas and dismissing the ones that are improper.  He”s so encouraging.”
Edgar told us how Jason was making Gideon more likeable than he expected.  “It”s funny… even doing the terrible things that he does, Jason remains very likeable.  Even Bryan mentioned the other day, ‘I feel like I like Gideon too much.  Even after he kicked that lady in the tummy.'”
Jason shrugged.  “She deserved it.”

We asked Jason and Michael both about doing their own stunts and what they’ve had to do in the film.  I reminded Michael about out conversation at Sundance where he said he was going to do as little as possible.  “I think I”ve stayed true to that.”  Even as he laughed, Edgar agreed with Michael, who continued, “I guess the only things we don’t do are falling from scaffolding and going through walls.  Stuff like that.”

Wright explained, “Everybody worked so hard on the fight scenes.  I think both of you guys, based on a musical background, you”re both pretty good on the choreography.  I think that”s definitely a thing that people that have a dance background like Mary and Mae and you guys have sort of a musical training actually plays out in the fight scenes in terms of just the timing.”  Schwartzman pointed out that there were cast members with no rhythm at all.  “Yeah, and the people with no rhythm get their heads kicked in.”

At that point, everyone had to get back to shooting the super-secret ending to the movie, so we were ushered off so we could chat with Michael Bacall, Edgar’s co-writer on the film, as well as the lovely ladies in Scott Pilgrim’s life.  We’ll have those conversations for you a little later in the week as our coverage of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” continues right here at HitFix.

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