I’m working on a piece about the upcoming DVD release of Spaced for the next issue but I thought I’d go ahead and share an interview I conducted with director Edgar Wright the other day, who is pretty much the nicest guy I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. He also let us in on the status of his many upcoming projects
PiQ: It’s highly unusual for a single director to helm every episode of a series. Was Spaced conceived as such or did you just grow attached to it?
Edgar Wright: It was designed that way, it didn’t seem like there was really any other way of doing it. The first series we shot without a pilot, we just went straight ahead and did seven episodes. Also, the way we scheduled it, it was shot kind of like a film. The entire series was jumbled up, which made it quite ambitious in places because there were odd days where you were doing lots of scenes from different episodes. But in both cases the series was shot in one long shoot.
PiQ: Comedy is rarely a genre where directors employ inventive visuals. Why do you think that is, and why does your style stand in stark contrast to that?
EW: It’s just how I want to direct. The first series of Spaced was 1999, so next year will be ten years old on that series and I directed it when I was 24. I think when I was a teenager and I first started thinking about being a director I was very influenced by directors who had an overall style and a vision, particularly in comedy, everybody from the Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi to even people like John Landis and Joe Dante. These were people who were slightly before people like Tarantino and Wes Anderson came along, although I’m a very big fan of their stuff as well, but I definitely liked directors who had a particular style. And I would see something like Raising Arizona, which is a favorite film of mine, and the way it’s directed is especially stylish, and think at the time, “Oh, I wonder why other films aren’t made like this.” And the truth of the matter is because it’s really tough. So the thinking behind it is I wanted to reflect the films that I liked at the time, and be a bit more ambitious. At the time a lot of TV comedy was very flat and certainly there was a conventional wisdom especially, I’d done some things at the BBC before where you were encouraged to keep it simple and keep it about the performers, and there is wisdom to that, there’s a reason for that, but at the same time I wanted to push the envelope.
PiQ: What were some of your interests around the time of Spaced?
EW: I remember finishing the first series of Spaced and I came to Los Angeles on holiday in the summer of 1999 just after wrapping, and around that time I saw a bunch of films that I was hugely impressed by. In the same period I saw Rushmore, Election, Run Lola Run, Being John Malkovich… they all kinda came out around the same time and it was funny that I saw it right after Spaced, and maybe those had a bearing on the second season, but it definitely felt like there were directors out there that I really admired, like the Wes Andersons and Alexander Paynes. But I’d be lying if I said that they had an influence on the first series because I hadn’t seen their stuff at that point.
PiQ: Could you describe how you started working with Simon Pegg, where you met and what your working relationship is like?
EW: I first starting working with Simon before Spaced, I met him through two other comedians, Matt Lucas and David Walliams who did the show Little Britain, they really gave me my first break. I did a film when I was like 20 called A Fistful Of Fingers, which was a really, really low budget film I made with school friends, and then I moved to London and Matt Lucas and David Walliams were two of the first people that I met in comedy, and they did a stand-up show once and Simon was there, and Simon had been at college with David Walliams, who plays Vulva in the first series of Spaced. What’s really strange is that I came from the same part of the country as Simon, we probably lived about 40 miles away from each other, but he grew up in the same area as me, which is where Hot Fuzz is set, in the West Country. So we met at the stand-up show and then I did a series with Matt and Dave, and then I did another series with Simon in it called Asylum, which pre-figured Spaced, and that had Jessica Stevenson in it as well. I’d worked with Jess once before but it was the first time I’d worked with Simon, and I knew very quickly working with Simon that he would be, you know… he really felt like a muse and he and Jessica were brilliant together in the show and it was suggested that they write a sitcom together. Because I’d worked with them on Asylum and got on really well with them they wanted me to direct it, so I was involved from a very early stage. It was great, really. I realized even then how fortunate I was to be doing this particular show and what a gift the material was because they’d written something very ambitious and I felt very confident that I could do it for them. So I was in a very good position for my age, and also, in TV directors don’t always have as much sway as they do with film. But in this instance I was given a lot of license to experiment, which is brilliant.
PiQ: How do you look back on Spaced now? You’ve done so many other things in film, how do you think of it in terms of your body of work?
EW: I’m really, really proud of it. Funny enough, I had an instance where I watched the whole thing in one day because last November they did a special Spaced marathon at the National Film Theater in London, and so we introduced it and did a Q&A, and pretty much ended up watching the whole thing. And it was really intense and overwhelming to watch fourteen episodes in one go; it kinda felt like three years of my life flashing before me! But the thing is, it was really hard to make, the second series was particularly tough for me at least, so I’m really proud of it. And sometimes I look back at it and I’m just amazed with what we managed to do with the budget and the time.
PiQ: Are you impressed with the cult audience its amassed, particularly in America where this is the first time it’s officially being released?
EW: I’m very flattered. It was amazing when we did the Shaun of the Dead press tour in 2004 how many people favored it and how many American fans had the British DVD and would ask us to sign it and ask questions about it, so that was always very interesting to me.
PiQ: I remember one of the blurbs on the packaging was Bill Hader saying, “Spaced is the sole reason I bought an all region DVD player,” and I think a lot of people felt the same way.
EW: I think so, or if not that, I know people who screwed up the region setting on their laptop to watch Spaced. It’s nice to finally have it out and also for it to be the original version with no changes made to it. And also we have all this new content on the DVD, which is really fun.
PiQ: You’ve got so many upcoming projects you’re involved with, I kinda wanted to do a rundown and see where those are. How about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?
EW: Yeah, that’s something I’ve been writing. I’ve been involved with that since just before I started filming Hot Fuzz, actually. It’s a very funny series of graphic novels and I’ve written a script with another guy, Michael Bacall, and that’s looking to start filming probably the end of this year or maybe early next year.
PiQ: The World’s End?
EW: Well, that’s something that’s kind of like a working title. Me and Simon are gonna write a third film basically. And it’s gonna be sort of the conclusion to this trilogy of tone with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
PiQ: What about Them?
EW: That’s something I’ve been working on with Mike White, which he wrote, I was working with him on the story of that. It’s an adaptation of a Jon Ronson non-fiction book, which is really funny, and it’s something that’s still in the works.
PiQ: And finally, Ant-Man.
EW: I wrote that for Marvel and I’m in the process of doing a second draft. I had a lot of fun writing that script, I wrote it with this guy Joe Cornish, who is a really funny UK writer. It’s not really an out-and-out comedy. I think some people assume that it must be a spoof, but it’s not really. I guess it’s as funny as something like Iron Man is, it’s on that level of entertainment, really. It’s a big, high concept, special effects comic book adaptation, and very character-led and we found a way of… I guess in a similar way to Iron Man, the thing that worked with that and hopefully will with this is that it’s a different way of seeing a superhero origin, because you’ve seen so many of them and we really tried to figure out a fresh take on that story. So it’s definitely a Marvel film but it’s got a little twist on it in terms of the way that it plays out.
PiQ: So your immediate next project is Scott Pilgrim?
EW: Yeah, it would seem that way. I’m pretty much writing on all those other ones, and I have one other project as well that I’m doing with Working Title, so I’m kind of using this period to write all of these things, and so far Scott Pilgrim and Ant-Man are done and The World’s End is being worked on.