Edgar Wright hit Comic-Con’s Hall H twice with his Visionaries panel as well as a “The World’s End” (August 23) presentation with his stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They discussed the ice cream trilogy that began with “Shaun of the Dead” and continued with “Hot Fuzz” and concludes with “The World’s End.” They cover three genres–zombie flick, buddy cop, and sci-fi–and themes: evolution, devolution and resolution. This trilogy conclusion will be it, Wright says–if the three chums work together again it will be on something new. (As for Marvel’s “Ant Man,” Wright’s finally ready to embrace the latest technology to excite us “one inch at a time”–in 2015.)
Highlights of the two panels below:
Edgar Wright: I realized what we had done is that three different genres like a zombie film, a cop film, and this one’s a sci-fi film, are really Trojan horses to make relationship comedies. It’s usually that me and Simon [Pegg] take something from our personal experience — in this case the rather bittersweet experience of going back to our hometown and reconnecting with old friends and combining that with a cataclysmic, otherworldly event. Usually it’s us taking something that’s happening in our lives and adding maximum devastation.
The challenge this time, which is something that the actors were really for, because the film starts in a naturalistic place– it feels like a reunion comedy and it explodes into these action sequences– but what we wanted to do is try and do them without cutting so that you believe that the actors are doing it. There’s no obvious stunt-doubling. I worked with this great choreographer Brad Allen and we basically evaluated the cast members – we had six actors who were up for the challenge (Pegg, Freeman, Frost, Consadine, Marsen, Pike). All six are in the action sequences and all six were trained by the stunt team. If you look at a 70s James Bond film, very quickly the camera will go behind Roger Moore’s shoulder and it won’t be Roger Moore. We designed these fights as an all-in-one sequences. I must say that the actors were really up for it. Martin and Simon are both around 40. You have to make it a point of pride. Out of the three movies, I put them through the most punishing action scenes of the three and they really rose to the challenge.
What counts as a punishing action scene?
EW: You’ll see… it was a scene I had cut out of “Hot Fuzz,” where they had a little fight with some teenagers and it didn’t work because we used adult stunt performers and stunt women for the kids. It’s not even on the deleted scenes I think. I asked the choreographer, can we get teenager stunt performers? He said yes. So there’s a fight in this film with 40-year-olds vs. 15-year-olds and the 15-year-olds totally kick their asses. One of the lead stunt performers, who was 15 and turned 16 on the set, changed from stunt boy to stunt man. He was actually Chloe Moretz’s stunt double in “Kick-Ass” as a 12 year old… it just makes the fight scenes so real because you basically have no doubles.
You get a buzz from the crew. Everyone gets invested in the shot because you can see it happening. If you do a sequence in one take, everyone gathers around the monitors. There’s a thrill when it really is in-camera. Audiences now are very aware of how films are made. You can even change people’s face now. When it’s clearly done in one-take, people respond to it. Alfonso is absolutely right. The actor has to sell it. Buster Keaton was a master of physical comedy, but the most impressive thing is that he has a poker face.
We never blew out the walls. We didn’t even have a Steadicam. We had a handheld 35 because the operator is right by. Doing fight scenes is always fascinating because it’s not just choreography for the actor, but the camera operator has to be in the right place. There are lots of elements you can add to it. Modern audiences do know how it’s put together so if you can make it feel as real as possible… Nick Frost did do his own stunts. They all did. It comes down to music as well. If somebody’s a good dancer they can be a good fighter. Then you’ve got to learn the movies and sell the performance so it doesn’t just look like 1-2-3-4. It was really fun to design these fights, with lots of limbs and heads coming off.
You describe how the crew will gather around for those shots. What’s it like when somebody blows it?
On “Shaun of the Dead,” there’s a scene when Simon walks to the store and back. It’s a three-minute shot and the joke is that he doesn’t see the zombies but we do. That was the first shot that we did. Because it was a low-budget film, we didn’t have the streets locked off so out of the corner of every frame – and legally you aren’t allowed to restrict anybody, you cannot even touch them or otherwise you’ll get sued.
On the new one, the whole film is set in one night and we shot it in about 12 weeks (About the same as Hot Fuzz). It’s really grueling, but it tends to add to the performance. When you watch it, you realize that it really adds to the characters and to the performances. There was one thing in the film where Simon jumps over this bar and by the third take, I could see he was wincing. But we did another five takes. But the next day he said we went to the doctors and had broken his hand. He was a producer of a happy accident. He suffers in silence for the rest of the night and has to wear a cast for the rest of the movie. If the actors look authentically beat up in the movie, it’s because they were. They’re all such pros and really want to push it as far as they can. When there are stunt guys around, the actors always want to show off, so that keeps raising the stakes of what they’ll do. Once you see Nick Frost in the film, he’s just insane.
In our film, our heroes stumble into this sort of social science fiction, like a quiet invasion. When I was growing up, a lot of films like “Village of the Damned” and episodes of Doctor Who. Before Netflix, you would watch what you were given. Now when you have so much choice but now you can watch anything. As such, I saw decades of science fiction b-movies, a lot of those kind of movies were an influence on me.
Simon Pegg: Gary is a bit of a dick. He’s the villain of the film as much as the hero. he’s fun to play, a nutcase, there’s a dark truth to him that I hope the audience will understand, it explains his sickishness. He got stuck in 1990. He’s still dressing like a sad Goth. His friends have all moved on, and he drags them back in time.
Nick Frost: I got to be an angry buttoned-down hard nut.
Explain the concept of the Cornetto trilogy. It’s loosely tied together by ice cream?
EW: Ice cream features in all three. Shaun asks for a cornetto on Sunday morning. When I was in college and hungover a strawberry ice cream felt a lot better. Strawberry represented blood, in “Hot Fuzz” blue was for the police, and choco-green was for the aliens.
When we made “Shaun” we were lucky to make a film full stop. I don’t think beyond the home country, the first time we opened up to the world was at Comic-Con 2004. I was proud we made a British film, to see audiences over here laughing at it, encouraged us to keep it British.
SP: It’s nice to go away and do other stuff. We haven’t made a film together in six years. We made “Paul.” When we all came back together it was like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers. We’ve been friends for 20 years, Nick and I, it was great to get back with the group and bring in Eddie Marzan and Rosamund Pike and some interesting cameos as well.
NF: It’s like having a brief love affair.You come back to the marriage stronger.
SP: It’s makeup sex.
SP: These three films, there’s a reason we call them a trilogy, they follow set criteria, they’re all set in the UK, they’re about friendship and growing up, a small group facing against a big throng. The next thing won’t have to abide by that, of course we’ll work together again. But it’s a solid trilogy, a box set.
EW: We wrap things up. There’s the theme of perpetual adolescence. The joys and dangers of that.
SP: We had the idea for “The World’s End” on a press tour for “Hot Fuzz” in the air between New Zealand and Australia. Edgar and I were were writing this film whilst I was shooting “Star Trek into Darkness.”
EW: We made the idea stronger. We wouldn’t have made the same script six years ago. It’s friends reuniting after a long time. “Hot Fuzz” was shot in my home town. It starts off like a reunion comedy, friends coming together, going back to their home town. It’s bittersweet, they’re not connecting with each other or the town and discovering the other worldly reason for this.
SP: Films need marketing. [A trailer] requires you to give things away. Ideally with any film you shouldn’t know anything, be surprised by every turn and twist as the filmmaker intended. It’s rare that that happens these days.
NF: Anything we find in rehearsal that’s funny goes into the shooting script. We shoot the script. We don’t have time to hang around and improvise. Edgar has a sense of where the scene is going to end. There’s no time. We have a laugh, we don’t improvise at all.
SP: We come to set with the script nailed down. Nick sprinkles fairy dust on the script.
NF: It’s dandruff. There’s no time for fooling around. It needs to flow, we think about the big picture. We’re very anal.
EW: Martin Freeman is fantastic. When he was shooting, he had two months left to go to in New Zealand and a worldwide press tour and came back the next day when [“The Hobbit”] hit number one and finished his scenes for us.
A lot of the action scenes on location were challenging. We tried to push ourselves with the fight scenes. Simon and Nick show their prowess in the action scenes. We went for it.
SP: It took days to shoot. We devised a new martial art called pub fu. It was grueling but fantastic fun, I broke my hand, a spiral fracture of the fourth metacarpal and did six more takes. It snapped.
EW: His expression was wincing. He had a temporary cast for the rest of the shoot.