Writing and directing the comedy that takes the cop drama to a whole new level
Edgar Wright is becoming one of those British comedy writer/directors who's being extremely sought after. His quirky zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead, became an instant classic. At only 33 years old, Edgar is on his way to having a very long and steady career.
Simon plays a super-cop in the city of London, but he's transferred out of the city to go work in the countryside where there's a little less crime - or so he thought. When he's partnered up with Nick, one of the laziest cops in London, things turn quite fast as Simon discovers a secret cult who is murdering innocent people. It's up to Simon and Nick to save the day - well, that is if they can ever get along.
Check out our chat with Edgar about Hot Fuzz, and what he's working on next:
What kind of pressure is there to follow up on something like Shaun of the Dead?
Edgar Wright: I think it's good to have pressure on yourself; the worst crime is to get kind of really complacent. Me and Simon worked really hard on the script and we kind of beat ourselves up and we're very kind of hypercritical, and so it's good to have pressure. I mean it was weird in terms of when we made Shaun of the Dead; there wasn't really that much expectation about us making a film. There was from people who liked our TV show, but you know we could kind of do it under the radar and this time it was a bit different. Even just filming it on location was kind of interesting because you'd have people watching the entire time. We had double the budget of Shaun, but even double the budget of Shaun is still a tenth of what Miami Vice costs or Bad Boys II.
What made you want to make a comedy out of a cop drama?
Edgar Wright: Well I think so, but it's definitely got parody elements to it but it's more - unlike spoofs like Scary Movie and that kind of thing and Epic Movie, like what we saw us do is very much kind of like a celebration. It's more an homage or a tribute to those films, a love letter, you know; not only am I a big fan of cop and action films, but also there's no precedent for it in the U.K. and so there just aren't any British cop films at all. There hasn't been one for 30 years or more even, so that really kind of was the inspiration. There've been far too many British gangster films and it was time to kind of let the British bobby be a bit more badass.
Were you trying to cater to a British audience or everyone?
Edgar Wright: I have to say when we did Shaun of the Dead and we did the press tour for Shaun of the Dead here, it was incredibly encouraging in every city - be it like Detroit, Phoenix, Miami - they laughed in all the same places as they did in the U.K. and there was very little that got lost, so that was just encouraged me to write. With all international filmmakers, why make something that's kind of transatlantic if you're making a British film, then it's a British film and you should kind of revel in that. I think people kind of like that aspect because I suppose for audiences over here it seems completely fresh. The thing with Hot Fuzz is different from Shaun is I suppose the joke is on one hand it's very, very British, and then in the last half it starts to become really American and that was kind of the joke. The further it goes along, the more it starts to mutate into like a Bruckheimer film and that was the joke.
How involved are Simon and Nick in not only the characters but the script, and once you're on set, how free do you let them be?
Edgar Wright: Well me and Simon write the script so we're co-writers; what we tend to do is we don't improvise on set at all because we - certainly with Simon and Nick - because we're writing for, we know exactly who the actors are going to be. It's very easy to write for Nick because he's our best friend, so you can totally write what's going to be great coming out of his mouth. What we do is we finish the script and then the first person we show it to, apart from the producer, is Nick and then he kind of brings out some elements to it. I'd say he kind of has up to three zingers and the 'ho, ho, hmmm', they're like his kind of improvisations. But what we tend to do is then we rehearse, first with Simon and Nick, and then with all of the actors; we rehearse with pretty much all of the actors. If there's kind of improvisations that come out of that that are really good, we then write them into the script, so then on the day it's completely locked down because we don't really have the time. There are great comedies that do that kind of thing like Talladega Nights and like 40 Year Old Virgin where they just riff and riff and riff, but because of the way that Hot Fuzz is shot and because there's thriller and action elements to it as well, you can't just be improvising wildly all the time. But what we try to do by doing that rehearsal process which a lot of films don't do; it's quite unusual for films to rehearse which I find absolutely crazy because that's where you really nail it down.
Was it daunting to shoot the action scenes?
Edgar Wright: In terms of the budget, everything that I've done so far has had a bigger budget than the last, but I've never ever felt the benefit of the bigger budget because the ideas always exceed the budget. So we got double the money of Shaun of the Dead, however, the ambition of the film was like five times that. So that was tough and also partly the reason there aren't any British action films is because the weather is absolutely sh*t. And so filming outside and doing the big shootouts and stuff, you're completely captive to whatever the British weather throws at you. But we persevered and also with this one, what was really more essential was everything was on location. There were very, very few sound stage kind of days at all, so pretty much everything was on location which actually made it really fun. But like that shootout in the town square was shot without really having the roads closed off, so every shot you see, you've got to imagine that behind the camera there's like 50 old ladies and school children. It was really strange.
What's coming up in the future?
Edgar Wright: I am going to take the next ten years off; there's things in the pipeline. It's weird we've been asked this question so much on the tour and it's something that's kind of ironic because it doesn't kind of come up like that and people kind of say, 'Ah, you've done zombies, you've done cops, what's next?' We think that both of them came about quite organically in a way like Shaun of the Dead, even though it was a zombie film, is essentially a film about turning 30 and having relationship issues and that's what it was about and living in north London. And in a weird, weird way, even though it's kind of ridiculous, Hot Fuzz is quite - it's not autobiographical, but it's quite personal because it's set in my home town and it's where I grew up. There's elements of that story, even the things with the neighborhood watch that are kind of like based on.
Edgar Wright: I wouldn't do a sequel to Shaun of the Dead; it would be fun to do a sequel to Hot Fuzz, but the weird thing is it's kind of like both films, they kind of wrap up. You could do Further Adventures of Angel and Butterman, but the weird thing is that Simon's character has gone on such a journey and he's changed so much by the end, it would kind of be weird to do a second film where he's in the same mode that he ends up at. That's why the Matrix sequels don't work; when the end of the first film is your character becoming a g-d, where else can it go? The second one starts with like 'well, maybe he isn't a g-d, ok, and now he is.' So when your character becomes omnipotent by the end of the first film, there is no where else to go. And I think the thing with Hot Fuzz is, that's why the title of the film comes right at the end is because it hasn't become Hot Fuzz until the end credits. It's taken two hours to become Hot Fuzz. At the start it was just Lukewarm Fuzz and then it kind of ramps itself up in the last half an hour.
So Point Break, is that one of your favorite films?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and I like Bad Boys II as well; we didn't pick those two as objects of ridicule but they are kind of, and the reason we picked those two films is we thought Danny Butterman, those would be his two favorite films. The reason we picked them is because it's kind of what Hot Fuzz eventually aspires to is being really like dumb popcorn fun, and I mean that as a compliment. You know both those films are about nothing except entertainment and spectacle and smashing things up. You can say whatever you like about Bad Boys II, but if you spend $130 million smashing cars up, it's going to be worth watching.
Did you have to get the rights to or permission to use those movies?
Edgar Wright: You have to clear it, absolutely. In fact, you have to clear everything; with the Point Break clip, you have to get signatures from Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Patrick Swayze's stuntman. You have to get signatures even for the DVD covers. Probably the most expensive shot in the film bizarrely is the one with the DVD bargain bin at the end, because every single film that's on there - and we picked all of the films - they were very specific, all of the films - Out for Justice, Sudden Impact, Extreme Prejudice - you have to get the rights to all of those. So it always makes me laugh when the credits roll up at the end and part of it says 'Still from one tough bastard.' That always makes me laugh.
You can see the boys of Hot Fuzz when it hits theaters April 20th; it's rated R.