Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
If you’re like me, earlier this summer, you totally fell head over heels in love with writer-director Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER. The high-octane action flick was everything gearheads, music lovers and cinephiles love, wrapped in one, highly electric, highly stylized big screen package. It goes full-throttle!
So it’s with great pleasure that one of our favorite movies of 2017 is finally making its way to the home video market. The 4K Ultra HD™/Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, Blu-ray & DVD combo will hit shelves on Tuesday. That means you’d better clear your schedule so you can watch all the discs highly informative special features – which include commentaries and extra making of featurettes galore!
To celebrate this release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment held a release party at the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles. It was a night of specialty themed cocktails and food, artwork now on sale at Gallery 1988, a performance by Kid Koala and a Q&A with Wright and surprise guest Kevin Spacey. It was here that more details were spilled on the making of the film – and those fun facts were just as revved-up as the feature itself.
The John Spencer Blues Explosion cassette tape Wright owned was a dubbed copy. He no longer thinks of it as stealing from the artist as this film has undoubted raised the profile of the band and paid off their song in hearty royalties. “My apologies to the John Spencer Blues Explosion. I hope now I’ve made it up to them.”
Wright’s BABY DRIVER pitch included a SHAUN OF THE DEAD scene as an example. He explained, “When people didn’t really understand what it was, I said, ‘You know like the scene in SHAUN OF THE DEAD when they’re fighting zombies to Queen. A whole movie like that.’”
All the songs were written into the script and, yes, Wright likes all of them. Wright answered, “We cleared them all before we started shooting and played them all on set. People say, ‘Do you like all the songs in the movie?’ If you’re going to live with this movie for twenty years – even just making this movie for three years solidly and editing it, they better be songs you like. There was one song that was in the script, we shot the scene and then, during the editing process, I started getting sick of the song. On one of the days of the reshoots, I reshot part of the scene to get rid of the song. I’m not gonna say what song. I may use it again some time. I’d say 90% of the songs I wrote into the first script are in the finished movie.”
Gaining music clearances occasionally proved difficult. Wright elucidated, “Sometimes the tracks were un-clearable because they had samples that weren’t cleared. I cleared the original track instead. I went back to the source. If anybody uses that great site, WhoSampled, but it’s an amazing resource. Somethings like the Alexis corner jazz track was because I knew another track that had sampled it and went back to the source and used that instead.”
Clearing tracks took eighteen months prior to shooting. “If you do something that’s mentioned in the film, you can’t sort that out afterwards. We had done that kind of thing before but never at this kind of scale of this many songs. It was partly because we were working with an amazing clearance person, Kirstin Lane, who worked tirelessly probably for about 18 months before we even started shooting – starting with Simon & Garfunkel.”
AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and AMERICAN GRAFFITI served as an inspiration for how music is used in Wright’s films. He said, “When I saw it, as a kid, that really knocked my socks off, probably was AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. The use of pop music in that one was just extraordinary. It’s very clear vision in terms of like John Landis has obviously picked those tracks. AMERICAN GRAFFITI is another one. I can’t really think of another movie that’s completely diegetic. BABY DRIVER is all diegetic in terms of every song is happening within the scene. AMERICAN GRAFFITI is like that – every single song is happening on a radio, in a diner, at the prom – existing in the scene. The other two obvious ones are Martin Scorsese – GOODFELLAS especially. And RESERVOIR DOGS.”
When Wright was pitching BABY DRIVER, he didn’t classify it as a musical. He elaborated, “When people hear musical, they think LES MISERABLES or MAMA MIA. And, well, it’s not that. So I would say it’s an action film driven by music, which I think is an apt description.”
Jamie Foxx thinks his friend Barbra Streisand is “gangsta.” In the film, Foxx ribs Baby and Buddy about listening to Queen. Misunderstanding what they’re listening to, he defensively responds, with a mention to Streisand. “The irony is that Jamie is friends with Barbra Streisand. He’s done a duet with her! I never really asked him about that until we were shooting that scene. In between takes, I said to Jamie, ‘What do you think Barbra will make of the scene?’ Jamie said, ‘Do you know Barbra?’ I said, ‘No.’ He says, ‘Barbra’s gangsta.’ I have no idea if she’s seen it, but I hope she enjoyed it.”
In order to make sure pacing was correct with the timing of the songs, Wright and an editor cut the first read-through to music. He mentioned, “Me and my editor cut the read-through to the music. So then I had this audio file that was a hundred minutes long – it was like listening to a radio play where you can see where the scene was too long for the song, or whether it worked. It was a way to work out the overall flow. We got maximum bang for our buck with the action in the cars. We were never shooting more than we needed.”
Integrating The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” upped the degree of difficulty. Wright further went on, “The only time that failed, and Bill Pope, my cinematographer, was the only person to point this out, is a song by The Damned that plays in the Mike Meyers heist. And that song is like two and half minutes. It was all cut together with the storyboards and Bill said, ‘This scene is too long for the song. The stunts will take longer to resolve – and they’re going to look good. You’re gonna run out of song.’ He was absolutely right. We had shot most of the scene and the song runs out way before it was finished. So then, on the last day of the shoot, I shot this new shot of Ansel [Elgort] rewinding the song. So he gets into a new car and has to carjack the next car and rewinds the song to the last verse or chorus and then starts it again. That made perfect sense because the character has been derailed. His choreography has gone all out of whack. The solution to it is just something that just crystallizes the character.”
There are more music-minded cameos in this movie than you think – like John Spencer, Big Boi and Killer Mike. Not only are the featured players all people who are musically inclined, or who currently have music careers, but a handful of blink and you miss them cameos from musicians also happen. “It was definitely something that I had in the back of my mind. All of these people play instruments, sing, have done choreography. Action choreography is so similar to dance choreography, in terms of the way it’s metered out. I think that was really helpful.” He later went on to say, “I always thought it was an interesting thing to pepper a cast who are not actors first and foremost. It’s just a fun thing that adds to it. John Spencer, who plays the prison guard in the final scene, means that John Spencer basically gets the first and last on screen dialogue. He’s the first and last diegetic voice.”
If you’re looking for narrative explanation of why Doc (Spacey) is dining with Big Boi and Killer Mike, you best look elsewhere. Said Wright, “I just know [Doc’s] connected. I’m not sure that Big Boi and Killer Mike are playing themselves, but they could be. I wanted to do more actually.” Spacey added, “Didn’t we have the conversation that Doc’s other world is in the jazz world?” Wright remembered, “I do think he has another legitimate job. Like the bank robbery organization is something he used to do, but has gone away from, but he still dips his fingers in. Doc’s never staying. He never takes his coat off ever. Body language is he’s not fraternizing with these people.”
Actors were given earwigs to hear their music cues. Spacey said it was fine until it came time to shoot action scenes involving guns. “You not only had an earwig, but you had an ear plug, so you don’t go deaf.” Wright said, “Blank-firing guns are louder than anything. So in those sequences, people taught them by beats. ‘This is your bit.’ It was a very strange thing.”
Choreographer Ryan Heffington hated the sound of gunfire. Wright, who was watching a few of the disc’s special features with us, said after one ended on Heffington expressing his displeasure at the gunfire sounds on set, “I didn’t know that until I watched that. He’s a total pro. He never said anything on the day.”
Second Unit Director Darren Prescott had worked with cinematographer Bill Pope on THE MATRIX. Wright said, “He was one of the Agent Smith doubles on THE MATRIX. When Bill Pope came into the room, he went, “Ah Agent Smith.”