Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” was a bold experiment, a heist film built around a rock playlist that earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for editing. It won the BAFTA for editing on Sunday, putting it in the spotlight during the final week of voting.
Wright made a musical tour de force involving getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort). Every waking moment of his life is driven by music (to drown out his tinnitus): the appropriate track for the appropriate moment. Thus, the world falls in sync with Baby’s playlist, as everything is filtered through his point of view.
Courtesy of TriStar Pictures
Editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos were charged with timing everything to the precise rhythm and beat of the music. It was a symbiosis of production and post occurring at the same time, with Machliss working live on set in Atlanta, while Amos handled the cutting back in London.
Cutting to the Musical Rhythm and Beat
“It’s the ultimate expression for Edgar in combining music, action, and dialogue,” said Machliss. “And for me, of course, it was a unique experience, beginning with being able to edit the film on set, live, as opposed to being in the cutting room for the first six months. Because of Edgar’s approach, the edit had to work for the shot and the shot had to work for the edit. Both elements were constantly at play, because we had this background engine of the music track that would not alter.”
“Baby Driver” is definitely a different approach to a musical, a magical expression of what drives Baby’s personal playlist “You’re inside his head and you take one of his earbuds out and we’d drop the signal out of one channel, because that’s what he would objectively be hearing at that point in time,” Machliss said. “It’s entwined in the fabric of the film and the character.”
It started with a script, which came with a .pdf file of the musical tracks along with a rough sound mix. The entire cast and crew became immersed in the playlist and the music was piped in everywhere. Plus, there was only one source of material: WAV files were sent to the editorial department in Atlanta, and then dispersed to all the other departments, ensuring that all the files ran at the same speed and pitch.
Meanwhile, detailed previs was made to choreograph action sequences to the timing of the tracks. Then, when it came to the actual filming of the stunt action, they had to stick to a very strict playbook, with close-ups of gear sticks, foot pedals, speedometers, and other objects providing a cohesive glue.
Pulling Off the Three Heists
The three heists had their own personalities: The first (set to “Bellbottoms”) introduced the genius of Baby’s driving skills and how music serves as his superpower. The second (set to “Neat, Neat, Neat”) began a downward spiral of failure, and the third (set to “Intermission”) began jauntily, but grew more menacing before ending horribly.
“Of course, the first one shows the complete confidence and command that Baby has, not only of the vehicle but the ability to execute the getaway precisely to the rhythms and the timings of the ‘Bellbottoms’ track,” Machliss said. “And you see Baby a complete success there: Dodging police cars, fooling helicopter pilots, and basically zipping in and out of every street corner.”
The second heist is almost as successful as the first, although they have to hijack a car and deal with the added complication of a baby in the back seat. But it ends with a disruption that unravels the fabric of the crew.
However, the second heist also introduced the most memorable mistake and happy accident: Cinematographer Bill Pope realized that the previs did not match the actual timing of the sequence and they were going to run out of song, so that necessitated some creative thinking.
“And so on the very last day of the shoot, we shot an insert of Baby,” said Machliss. “Once he had gotten into the second heist vehicle, he picked up his iPod and somehow he rewound the track to mysteriously fit the precise length between when he takes off at that point and pulled into the parking lot.”
The third and final post office heist goes faster, faster, and faster, and culminates with Jamie Foxx’s Bats getting killed when Baby rams the car into a rebar. “There were a lot of anchor points and we knew we had to be at a certain point in the action and at a certain point in the music.,” added Machliss. “And that was really the [editorial] challenge that we had to deal with, getting everything in time with the music, and finding subtle ways to apply your editorial tricks to make it happen.”