If you’ve been reading the Movie Blog much over the past couple months you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been getting a little giddy over a little British comedy show called Spaced that never got the attention it deserved on this side of the pond and that we’re also getting all worked up about the impending local release of Shaun of the Dead, a film being billed as a ‘rom-zom-com’, that being a ‘romantic zombie comedy’. Why do we care? Because Spaced flat out has some of the best writing and performances that I’ve ever come across as well as being easily the most geek-culture literate show ever made, and Shaun looks to be continuing along in the same vein. Which makes sense considering that all of the principle players in Spaced are also heavily involved in Shaun. And so we were more than a little pleased when we managed to track down Edgar Wright, director of both Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and even more pleased when he agreed to talk with us.
We talked Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, cult film in general and Edgar generally made my own knowledge of film feel paltry and insignificant. Want to know what he has to say? Read on, brave souls, read on.
TMB: I have to apologize because I‚Äôm going to start with a bunch of stuff about Spaced which I‚Äôm sure is really old news to you but nobody‚Äôs ever seen it here.
EW: No it‚Äôs cool; I don‚Äôt mind talking about that. Was it ever shown in Canada?
TMB: Not in Canada that I‚Äôm aware of.
EW: I heard that it was on Bravo in Canada.
TMB: It may have been. There‚Äôs a Bravo in Canada and a Bravo in the States, but they‚Äôre not the same company.
EW: I think it was shown on both. I might be wrong but I think they showed it in its entirety on Bravo in Canada.
TMB: A few of the edgier things have come over from Britain in the last little while but they haven‚Äôt done much with them. They brought The League of Gentlemen over for the first season and nobody quite knew what to do with it. I think it confused people more than anything else.
EW: Right, right, right. I think with the League of Gentlemen in the States ‚Äì it was shown on Comedy Central and I think they cut it because the slots are longer here. Twenty nine and a half minutes.
TMB: Yeah, for a half hour show here you‚Äôve only actually got twenty two minutes of air time.
EW: The Spaced runs in the States were on commercial television so there were breaks. It was about twenty four and a half minutes and we‚Äôd always go over. Spaced episodes would always run anywhere from twenty four to twenty eight minutes which I suppose poses a problem when it‚Äôs shown on network TV in the States. Or in Canada. I think it was shown but in North America there were problems with the music licensing as well. There‚Äôs so much music in the show and when we did the music clearance we had a choice of clearing it for every territory in the world except North America or doing something different and we decided to clear it everywhere but in North America.
TMB: That‚Äôs becoming a big problem lately, even for North American titles ‚Ä¶ Roswell just came out on DVD here and they had to change the music for the DVD because they just couldn‚Äôt get the original stuff on there.
EW: We had to change one track and there were a couple of trailers that we weren‚Äôt allowed to put on the DVDs because of music but other than that we were quite lucky. It‚Äôs a difficult thing because part of the reason why the show works is the music.
TMB: Yeah, some of your stuff is so specific. You couldn‚Äôt redo the Star Wars ones.
EW: No, totally. I remember actually when we did the second series and there was the Empire Strikes Back bit that Simon had written into the script. I said to him, ‚ÄúIf we don‚Äôt have the actual music from Empire Strikes Back this scene will not work AT ALL. If we have to do a sound-a-like it will be really shit.‚Äù And luckily we got it cleared because otherwise we wouldn‚Äôt have done it. It‚Äôs a tricky one. It does pose problems. With Shaun of the Dead there are very specific music scenes but with a film you can make sure you‚Äôve got clearances for everything world wide.
TMB: How involved were you with the origins of Spaced? The visuals are really distinctive so I‚Äôm guessing you were on board fairly early.
EW: Yeah. I actually did a show with them before on the Paramount Comedy Channel which I suppose is the English equivalent of Comedy Central. Or would like to be. [laughs] There was a show that we did called Asylum which I directed and co-wrote. Simon and Jessica were in it and the cast all collaborated together. It was a very different show, it was literally about a mental asylum full of comedians, but the visual style was very similar to Spaced. Simon and Jess were a really good double act within it and it was suggested that they do a show on the back of that so they started writing Spaced and they had me down to direct it right from the start. I was quite lucky in that I was chipping in on things eighteen months before we actually started doing it, which doesn‚Äôt often happen in TV. Usually the director is brought on last but in this case I was helping with the visual development of it. And then on the second series I actually scripted into it as well, did additional material, so the three of us were very heavily involved in it all together.
TMB: Are the main characters as based on yourselves as they seem to be?
EW: Well, there are definitely elements of Simon and Jess in Tim and Daisy and then also ‚Ä¶ you can trace when you watch the show whose references are whose. All of the Star Wars ones are probably Simon‚Äôs. All of the Evil Dead 2 ones are probably me. Everything else is Jess. [laughs] Simon‚Äôs the big Star Wars nut of the three of us and I‚Äôm the big Sam Raimi nut. And John Carpenter nut. All the Argento and Carpenter and Sam Raimi things are my doing.
TMB: Did you have the films in mind that you wanted to reference before you started up?
EW: Some of them were written into the script and then some of them came up as we were doing it. Some of the Star Wars ones were obviously written into the script but the Evil Dead 2 poster joke in one of the episodes is something that came up on the set because we just thought of it right there. Something like the reference to Coppola‚Äôs The Conversation is mentioned really fleetingly in the script, ‚Äúsurveillance man is listening on headphones‚Äù, and I suggested he should be dressed up like Gene Hackman in The Conversation. It‚Äôs things like that. Because there are so many layers to it each layer comes in at different parts of the process. Some are written in, some come during filming, and some come afterwards. Like the idea of using Resident Evil music and sound effects came up in the editing rather than on the set, like ‚ÄúWell, we‚Äôve got all these bits from Resident Evil, why don‚Äôt we use music from Resident Evil to score the entire episode?‚Äù That comes up afterwards. It was one of those things that was just an endless, organic process. And then in the second series all of those things would be written again and we‚Äôd go even further on top of it.
TMB: Have you had any feedback from any of the people that you referenced?
EW: Well, a couple. I met John Woo and Terence Chang and I showed them the episode in season two with the finger fight which was quite amazing. That‚Äôs the episode in Camden when they have the fight with this gang and they do the slow motion gunfire. John Woo and Terence Chang have seen that which was a big bonus for me. I‚Äôm trying to think of anybody else ‚Ä¶ I know Rob Tappert, the Evil Dead producer, has seen Spaced. I don‚Äôt think Sam Raimi has ever seen it. Because we‚Äôve been in contact with George Romero for Shaun of the Dead we sent copies of Spaced to him as well. Just literally the other day we sent a copy of Spaced to him. So that was pretty cool. Roger Avery has seen it.
TMB: I saw that on his website, actually.
EW: Yeah, yeah. I think he was very chuffed by the reference to the gold watch from Pulp Fiction.
TMB: It‚Äôs surprising, I was checking our stats and we‚Äôve been getting hits from Avery‚Äôs website. He‚Äôs linked to us.
EW: Oh, really. That‚Äôs cool. He‚Äôs a good guy. I met him in London when he was there for the premiere of Rules of Attraction and I knew his producer because his producer for Rules of Attraction was a big fan of Spaced and he introduced us. We actually had the same agent and didn‚Äôt realize it. At the time we were prepping Shaun of the Dead and someone said that Roger‚Äôs favorite film is Dawn of the Dead. And Greg [Shapiro, producer of Rules of Attraction] said ‚ÄúHey, Edgar‚Äôs making a zombie film.‚Äù And Roger said, ‚ÄúReally, what‚Äôs it called?‚Äù I said ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs called Shaun of the Dead, Roger.‚Äù He gave me the dirtiest look. It was sacrilege. He ended up being one of the first people I wanted to see it. I don‚Äôt know if you saw the thing on his site ‚Ä¶
TMB: Oh, yeah. It was glowing.
EW: I know. It was great. It‚Äôs the greatest poster quote. ‚ÄúBest Zombie Film of the Last Twenty Years.‚Äù That‚Äôs cool. We can use that. We had a little screening and the two people that I managed to sneak in, the two directors that I insisted were there, were Eli [Roth, Cabin Fever] and Roger Avery. So that was cool. But I can‚Äôt think of anyone else connected to Spaced that has actually seen it ‚Ä¶
TMB: It‚Äôs too bad Raimi and Bruce Campbell haven‚Äôt seen it. They strike me as the kind of guys who would go nuts for it.
EW: Yeah. I think Bruce Campbell‚Äôs in London soon promoting Bubba Ho Tep and we‚Äôre going to try ‚Ä¶
TMB: Oh, that‚Äôs such a funny movie ‚Ä¶
EW: I still haven‚Äôt seen it.
TMB: Are you serious?
EW: Well, the DVD is out now ‚Ä¶
TMB: You‚Äôll die. It‚Äôs amazing.
EW: ‚Ä¶ but I‚Äôve been waiting to see it on the big screen.
TMB: It is so good.
EW: Yeah, Simon‚Äôs got a copy of it on DVD but I haven‚Äôt watched it yet.
TMB: I saw it back when it played at the Toronto Film Fest and Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell were there to introduce it. And they did a long Q&A after the screening. Bruce is a funny man.
EW: Oh, totally. I really want to ‚Ä¶ if he comes to London we want to kidnap him for the afternoon and make him watch Shaun of the Dead and Spaced.
TMB: I don‚Äôt think he‚Äôd object to that a whole lot.
EW: I think one of the guys from Aint It Cool News has brainwashed him into an awareness of Shaun of the Dead. ‚ÄúYou have to watch this!‚Äù In fact I met the guy at New Line who wants to get the Freddy Versus Jason Versus Ash thing off the ground ‚Ä¶
TMB: Man, I really hope that doesn‚Äôt happen.
EW: I heard that what they‚Äôre trying to do is ‚Ä¶ New Line‚Äôs offering Raimi a blank check to do another Evil Dead film ‚Ä¶ But I met Jeff Katz at New Line who‚Äôs in charge of it and I said that somebody on AICN has been saying that they should do Freddy Versus Jason Versus Shaun. [laughs] When we designed the Shaun character, very early on, we joked about how it would be great if there was a McFarlane Toy of Shaun in his work outfit. Anyway. You were talking about Spaced. I‚Äôve wandered away ‚Ä¶
[small child sounds in background]
TMB: If you can hear my son in the background he‚Äôs just sitting here watching Spirited Away and freaking out ‚Ä¶
EW: That‚Äôs like an early acid experience for anybody. I‚Äôve got to see that again. I saw it at the cinema and I was a little bit tipsy. It was a very strange film to watch half drunk. But it‚Äôs an amazing film. Anyway, we digress again. [laughs]
TMB: The first time I was watching through Spaced I was very surprised by just how specific and tight the writing is. Was there a concern about whether this was going to be able to find an audience because I just can‚Äôt see people outside of a fairly narrow range getting the references at all.
EW: Well, we kind of took the Simpsons‚Äô principle of first making the show work in its own right and then if people get the references great, but if they don‚Äôt get them it shouldn‚Äôt matter. There were a couple places in the series where I‚Äôd say we failed to do that. I‚Äôd say in the second series, even though I‚Äôm really proud of the episode, the one with Fight Club and One Flew Over the Cuckoo‚Äôs Nest and Robot Wars and Robocop.
TMB: That was a great episode.
EW: And we really like it, but if you haven‚Äôt seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo‚Äôs Nest maybe you‚Äôd be at a slight loss.
TMB: But just the idea of fusing Cuckoo‚Äôs Nest with Robot Wars makes me laugh really hard.
EW: Yeah, but that was probably the closest Spaced ever came to swallowing its own tale, you know what I mean? Not that it wasn‚Äôt fun but it almost goes a little too far.
I think when we started making it we didn‚Äôt even know what timeslot it was going to be on and it was a low budget show, it wasn‚Äôt even as big a budget as League of Gentlemen, so we kind of just made it for us and there weren‚Äôt really any concessions made. Also, the production company that originally made it didn‚Äôt really ‚Ä¶ I don‚Äôt think they entirely got all the jokes, to be honest. The original production company, LWT, would read the scripts and because we were all in our mid to late twenties they‚Äôd just go, ‚ÄúHa ha, yeah, great, yeah.‚Äù And I don‚Äôt think they‚Äôd even question what some of it was about, to be honest. So I don‚Äôt think it was ever an issue because I don‚Äôt think that they ever realized that there were as many references as there were. Which in some cases would be great and in other cases, on the second series, it wouldn‚Äôt necessarily be a good thing that we weren‚Äôt questioned ‚Äòcause they‚Äôd just be, ‚ÄúWell, you guys know what you‚Äôre doing.‚Äù On one hand when you get people questioning things you react against it and other times, when people don‚Äôt question, it‚Äôs almost like a bad thing. You wish they had something to say about it.
Starting with the first series I don‚Äôt think we ever thought or worried about what people would think. There was too much comedy being made, especially at the BBC, where it would all be marred by those concessions. There was this phrase that people would say, ‚ÄúWhat would Auntie Mabel think?‚Äù And it really did this thing with BBC shows ‚Ä¶ they made them different ways and we were just like, ‚ÄúHa ha ha. Suckers.‚Äù
TMB: Ash with a chainsaw or Ash with metal hand?
EW: Ash with a chainsaw. Yeah. You can‚Äôt get better than the end of Evil Dead 2, really. Army of Darkness, even though I love it, when you watch The Two Towers or even Pirates of the Caribbean you think, ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what Army of Darkness should have been like!‚Äù With today‚Äôs CG and today‚Äôs budgets.
TMB: I think Army‚Äôs got better one liners but Evil Dead 2 is a better film.
EW: Oh, totally. Army of Darkness is great but when it got rated a 15 in the UK you thought, ‚ÄúNo! Surely not! How can that be?‚Äù I think if it was made today ‚Ä¶ Army of Darkness is one of those films that was slightly ahead of its time. If you think about films like Kill Bill, those big budget cult films, that‚Äôs exactly the boat that Army of Darkness just missed out on. And you know that if Sam Raimi were to say now, ‚ÄúOh, I want to make another Evil Dead film.‚Äù he would have everything at his disposal to do it and he would be able to make it an R rated film and everything. Was Army ofDarkness an R rated film in the States?
TMB: I don‚Äôt know, I‚Äôd have to look that up. Their rating systems are different than ours. Canada‚Äôs ratings system makes a lot more sense to me. An R is actually an R here. You can‚Äôt get into it if you‚Äôre under 18.
EW: It‚Äôs the same here. You can‚Äôt get into a 15 unless you‚Äôre 15.
TMB: Where in the States you can get into an R film if you‚Äôve got an adult with you. It makes for some weird ratings choices.
EW: We were very lucky, in the UK, that Shaun of the Dead got a 15. The BBFC have started to get a bit lax with things ‚Ä¶ Cabin Fever got a 15. Alien got reissued as a 15. There have been a number of films that literally have gotten away with murder. We were very lucky with that.
TMB: I‚Äôm sure that there were performers that I missed just from not knowing all of what‚Äôs going on in the UK but I‚Äôm a big fan of the League of Gentlemen so I just about died when Mark and Reece showed up in Season 2. And then seeing the guys from The Black Books. Are these all people that you knew prior to doing the show?
EW: Yeah, actually. With the exception of Ricky Gervais, who none of us had met before his cameo. When he did his cameo in Spaced he had just finished filming The Office, but it hadn‚Äôt come out yet. I‚Äôd seen the pilot from The Office and we cast him for that part on the basis of the pilot. The League of Gentlemen guys we knew before. Do you guys get a show over there called Little Britain?
TMB: No, but I‚Äôve had it recommended to me a little bit.
EW: Yeah, I think it starts on BBC America soon. One of the guys from that is in the show as well. A lot of the guys we knew before and the League of Gentlemen guys were very keen to be in it, so that was cool.
TMB: Last Spaced question. Is there going to be a third season?
EW: It seems doubtful now. I mean the second season ran in 2001 so it‚Äôs been a while. When we got to the end of the second series it was such an epic undertaking that we were all, in various ways, exhausted. Even though it was a big cult hit it never quite hit big enough to guarantee that it would continue and now we‚Äôve lived slightly beyond those characters. When we wrote it we were all sort of living those characters and now our lives are quite different. When we did the show part of the thinking behind it was that we wanted to represent our age group properly where a lot of other shows like that were actually written by people in their late thirties and early forties. I suppose now, if we did any more, we can‚Äôt return to that age group. We have to see the characters as older. We‚Äôve talked about doing a special at some point but I think the idea of us doing a whole third season is unlikely, to be honest. We get asked about a third season every single day. Even today I bought some DVDs at HMV and the guy behind the counter said, ‚ÄúThird season of Spaced?‚Äù And I said ‚ÄúHow did you know who I was? Did you look at my credit card?‚Äù ‚ÄúOh, no. I‚Äôm just a big fan.‚Äù And I go, ‚ÄúWell, no. Probably not. Sorry.‚Äù
One of the things with Shaun of the Dead was wanting to take the same sort of sensibility but continuing it in terms of the characters getting slightly older. On one hand I think we‚Äôd all like to do more stuff but on the other hand we know we wrapped it up quite nicely at the end of season two. I wouldn‚Äôt want to make something that was a pale shadow of the others.
TMB: I think you‚Äôve just answered my next question. You look at the people involved in Shaun of the Dead and the obvious assumption is that it rose out of Spaced. Is that fair to say?
EW: Oh, yeah. Yeah. One of the things that‚Äôs great about doing a film is that you don‚Äôt have to return to the status quo at the end of the episode. So most of your cast can die. [laughs] But we definitely wanted to take elements of the show. It‚Äôs similar in some respects but it‚Äôs not that similar. Even despite the title there are less film references in Shaun of the Dead than there are in Spaced. There are less dream sequences and inserts because the time frame of the film is much more in real time so there‚Äôs less, apart from one sequence, capacity for inserts and things like that.
TMB: Did the work environment really change getting into features out of TV? Was this your first feature?
EW: I did one when I was twenty. It was very, very low budget. So low that it probably shouldn‚Äôt even count on that sort of scale. It kind of felt the same. We had most of the same crew. Even though the budget was bigger and it was on thirty five mil it felt just as tough, if not more tough, than the series. There‚Äôs a lot more time pressure dealing with a film than there was with TV. A lot less capacity to fuck around and mess about because you‚Äôre much more aware that you‚Äôre burning up thirty five mil stock instead of video. I‚Äôd say it wasn‚Äôt any easier. You don‚Äôt feel the benefit of the bigger budget that much. In that sense it was a bigger challenge. We‚Äôre keen to do another one to improve on what we learned this time round.
TMB: Was it well received in the UK?
EW: Yeah, very. It was great. The critical reaction was eighty percent great, which is fantastic especially for a British film because the British press are notoriously tricky about home grown product. I think our proudest moment was that on the day it came out we got really good reviews across the board from the dailies. We got four stars in the Guardian and four bulldogs in the Sun, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as the newspapers are concerned. It was great.
TMB: Is there any word on a US release date beyond the Fall 2004 that they‚Äôre giving?
EW: Not yet, but we should have an announcement very soon. I was talking to Focus earlier today and it‚Äôs been a bit of radio silence just because they‚Äôve been finalizing the date, but there should be an announcement very soon.
TMB: Are you looking at any festivals at all? This is the kind of thing that would get a monstrous response in the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto Film Festival.
EW: Yeah, we‚Äôve been looking into it. Personally I‚Äôm very aware of things like Fantasia and Toronto. It‚Äôs just a matter of tying in with the release date, basically.
TMB: Other than Romero who were the key influences on Shaun of the Dead?
EW: Well, Romero and Carpenter. Probably not so much Raimi. Spaced is very Evil Dead 2 inflected but when we were writing Shaun of the Dead, when we initially had the idea of doing a zombie comedy after that Spaced episode, one of the things that we wanted to avoid was making it too much like Evil Dead 2 or Braindead or even Dusk Til Dawn because even though I love those films that kind of thing has been done and been done brilliantly. After Braindead in terms of slapstick horror gags ‚Ä¶
TMB: How do you top the man running around with a lawnmower through the foyer of his house?
EW: Exactly. Exactly. So the idea that we had was to make the film more realistic and naturalistic. And the comedy comes not out of the zombies or out of the look of it, it‚Äôs not that cartoony, it‚Äôs more about the context of the humor and the reactions of the characters. So probably more the Carpenter films and the Romero films and also Philip Kaufman‚Äôs Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Those were the big influences. And the look of it, it‚Äôs shot in 2.35 so it‚Äôs in the same ratio as The Fog and The Thing. It‚Äôs got more of a Carpenter feel to it in terms of it being a bit more brooding. That‚Äôs more the feel we were going for, that ominous dread even though it‚Äôs very funny. I‚Äôd say Carpenter and Romero were the two biggest influences. And the soundtrack is very much the bastard child of John Carpenter and Goblin.
TMB: Did you have a hard time hitting the balance between the horror and the comedy?
EW: Yeah. It was something we worked on a lot in the script and we established rules for ourselves. After watching Return of the Living Dead again which I remember, as a kid, actually loving, and when I watched it again I must admit I was quite disappointed after the first fifteen minutes, which is brilliant. And then the thing that both me and Simon noticed ‚Ä¶
[insert loud thud and crying noises as my child demonstrates once again that the law of gravity is indeed a law, and not merely a suggestion]
TMB: Hold on just one second. Kid just fell off the couch ‚Ä¶
[insert further scuffling, crying, and comforting sounds as I restore order to the universe and in the process completely lose the thread of what we were talking about]
TMB: I was curious ‚Ä¶ I know that if I was making a film that had a need for hordes of the undead I‚Äôd be grabbing as many people I knew as possible and throwing them in there. Is there anybody recognizable doing zombie cameos?
EW: Well, there are but they‚Äôre mostly UK cameos, really. I don‚Äôt know how many you‚Äôd recognize. The director and producer of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy do cameos as zombies. Tyres from Spaced has a cameo which we don‚Äôt make a big thing of, but there‚Äôs a kind of ‚ÄúWhere‚Äôs Tyres?‚Äù thing in there. I‚Äôm not sure if you‚Äôd know the other people ‚Ä¶ people like Joe Cornish and Paul Kay who are both UK comedians. They‚Äôve got zombie cameos, but they‚Äôre very brief.
TMB: Are you going to do anything more with Shaun or is he done?
EW: Well, we‚Äôve got a couple of ideas actually but it probably won‚Äôt be the next thing that we do. We‚Äôve got a couple of things but if we do them next we‚Äôll end up being derided as one-joke merchants. Simon wrote, kind of as a joke, an idea for doing a sequel and once you‚Äôve seen the film you‚Äôll see it‚Äôs quite obvious that it‚Äôs a difficult film to do a sequel to because of what happens to a lot of the characters. But I had an idea for a very strange way of doing a sequel that wouldn‚Äôt involve zombies but I think we‚Äôll probably leave him for the moment. We want to do something that shares the same sensibility as Shaun and Spaced, that could take place in the same universe but is not a direct sequel.
A wee addendum: you can bank on The Movie Blog having some Shaun of the Dead related contests and giveaway once the release date gets a little closer. Good times will be had be all. Trust us.