Pedal to the metal

Edgar Wright’s lat­est heist flick Baby Driver – star­ring Ansel El­gort and Lily James – show­cases some of the best car chase scenes seen on film.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By MUMTAJ BEGUM en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

AMIDST the su­per­hero films, se­quels and re­boots, there’s Baby Driver – an orig­i­nal film writ­ten and di­rected by Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz).

Peo­ple who have seen it, love it – the film has a 95% rat­ing on Rot­ten­toma­toes – while those who haven’t, are cu­ri­ous about it be­cause it of­fers some­thing dif­fer­ent from the usual sum­mer fare.

Baby Driver re­volves around Baby (Ansel El­gort), a young man with mad skills be­hind the wheel, and a fine-tuned setlist on his iPod(s). While he works as a get­away driver for some crooks – played by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm – he is some­one who cares for his adop­tive dad (CJ Jones) as well as the beau­ti­ful girl (Lily James) he just met at a diner.

How­ever, what sets Baby Driver apart from a heist flick is how the fea­tured mu­sic is ab­so­lutely in synch with the scenes, not only am­pli­fy­ing what­ever that’s go­ing on at that mo­ment – be it a car chase scene or the un­fold­ing of a sweet love story – but in­flu­ences the char­ac­ters’ vibes.

Wright, who was in Malaysia ear­lier this week with ac­tors El­gort and James to pro­mote the film, said he pitched the film as a car chase movie driven by mu­sic.

The 43-year-old Bri­tish di­rec­tor ex­plained: “I had about eight or nine songs that were go­ing to be in the movie when I first started on the script about 10 years ago.

“When I wrote the rest of the film, but got to a scene where I hadn’t got a song for it, I wouldn’t write it un­til I found the (right) song.”

It was, af­ter all, a track Wright heard that planted the seed for Baby Driver.

“I had the orig­i­nal idea in 1995 when I first heard Bell­bot­toms by The Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion, the first track you hear in the movie. When I heard it, I started imag­in­ing the car chase (scene).”

Baby Driver is ac­tu­ally a ti­tle of a 1970 tune by Si­mon & Garfunkel, an­other song that Wright loves. “I ba­si­cally com­piled the sound­track I want to hear. The idea that peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to the sound­track all over the world is ex­cit­ing.”

With mu­sic writ­ten into the script, Wright and his team would chore­o­graph en­tire scenes to sync with the cho­sen mu­sic. Watch the movie, and you’d no­tice even small ges­tures such as the clos­ing of car doors is set to the beat of the track.

“This made it a unique cre­ative chal­lenge, and it might have made film­ing more com­pli­cated too. But here’s the thing: the mu­sic is the heart­beat that’s driv­ing the movie. Hav­ing the mu­sic on hand was also in­cred­i­bly help­ful to the ac­tors. It made the en­tire thing a re­ally unique and plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence,” the di­rec­tor said.

Wright knew his cast for Baby Driver had to be mu­si­cally in­clined too.

As it hap­pens, El­gort shares Wright’s pas­sion for mu­sic. The 23-year-old Amer­i­can – last seen in Al­le­giant (of the Di­ver­gent se­ries) – doesn’t only act but also writes and plays mu­sic.

El­gort said: “I love mu­sic. I can’t imag­ine my life without mu­sic. I prob­a­bly got this role be­cause of my mu­si­cal back­ground.

“You know, Edgar Wright and I hit it off from the be­gin­ning. But I think once he re­alised I also had a mu­si­cal and a dance back­ground, that ul­ti­mately tipped the scale in my favour be­cause a lot of this film is chore­ographed – the ac­tion, the gun­play, the cars, or even just sub­tle move­ments.”

Shift­ing gear

Thanks to Baby Driver, El­gort can also add one more skill to his re­sume – driv­ing like a pro. Even though the stunts were done by pro­fes­sion­als, El­gort went through stunt driv­ing lessons to pre­pare for some of the scenes.

“Learn­ing the stunt cour­ses was fun be­cause ev­ery­body wants to learn to spin the car,” El­gort said.

“Also, it was im­por­tant how I was turn­ing the wheel. It had to look be­liev­able.”

Be­sides prep­ping the ac­tors, Wright metic­u­lously planned each se­quence with his team and filmed them on lo­ca­tion (in­stead of against green screen) in At­lanta so the ac­tion se­quences look and feel ex­cit­ing.

“The car chases are just in­cred­i­bly tough (to shoot) in gen­eral ... plan­ning of the stunts and the ex­e­cu­tion of it,” Wright lamented.

“The open­ing se­quence, I think, was tough and the fi­nale was (even harder) to shoot. The night work, the lo­ca­tion, the rain ef­fects ... every­thing was hard.”

He con­tin­ued: “We filmed maybe only 5% against green screen. We wanted to make it more re­al­is­tic. A scene (in Baby Driver) feels real be­cause it is real.”

Hit­ting the brakes

It is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Baby and Deb­ora that at­tracted James (Cin­derella,

Downton Abbey) to the role. That and the fact she is a fan of Wright.

“The scene where (Baby and Deb­ora) are talk­ing about mu­sic and shar­ing about mu­sic that they love, it was just so beau­ti­fully writ­ten. It says so much in such a short scene. The way it was de­vel­oped was so ro­man­tic and ef­fort­less,” James, 28, said.

El­gort agreed with his co-star, say­ing:

“Baby Driver has amaz­ing ac­tion and spec­ta­cle. But what makes the movie so spe­cial is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Baby and Deb­ora be­cause it adds soul to the movie and al­lows the movie to feel more grounded.”

Un­de­ni­ably, all these win­ning el­e­ments make Baby Driver a must-watch af­fair. We asked Wright if he ever thought Baby

Driver would con­nect with the au­di­ence like it has, es­pe­cially when the movie land­scape is sat­u­rated with fran­chises.

“If I wasn’t in­volved in Baby Driver, just as a film fan, I would be thrilled that an orig­i­nal movie is do­ing so well at the box of­fice. I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant for the fu­ture of the film in­dus­try that orig­i­nal film can do well.”

So far, Baby Driver – with a bud­get of US$35mil (RM150mil) – has made US$81mil (RM347mil) in the United States where it opened on June 28.

Wright con­tin­ued: “I have noth­ing against fran­chise movies – I have re­ally en­joyed some of the fran­chise movies shown this year – but there is a lot of it and it dom­i­nates the mar­ket.

“So, when an orig­i­nal movie breaks through, I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant for the in­dus­try. I am very proud of (Baby Driver) and I am so happy that it’s con­nect­ing with au­di­ences in a big way.” Baby Driver opens at cine­mas na­tion­wide to­day. For GSC show­times,

Photo: Sony Pic­tures

Photo: Sony Pic­tures

— GLENN GUAN/The Star

At the Malaysian pre­miere of Baby Driver on Tues­day, El­gort was be­sieged by fans for self­ies.

— Sony Pic­tures

Wright mak­ing sure his ac­tors – seen here in the driver’s seat is Hamm – are prepped in stunt driv­ing.

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