An Interview with Edgar Wright (Director/co-Writer) and Simon Pegg (Star/co-Writer)...
I don't like jumping on bandwagons, but I've hit the bottom of this one so hard, I'm surprised the wheels haven't flown off and hit you in the face...
Shaun of the Dead; I'm sure you've heard about this awesome monster-bashing show by now. Other various sites have been pimping the sh*t out of it. At a casual glance, I thought it was going to be some mediocre attempted at cashing in on the current Zombie craze. My only hope was that it would be mildly amusing. I never figured it would shove itself into the realm of "Beyond Amazing."
That's exactly what it is, though. The British Zombie experience "is" different enough to change the outlook of a whole genre. I haven't felt this way about a movie since From Dusk till Dawn. This is a lot like that quaint Rodriguez-Tarantino masterpiece. Only, instead of starting out as a heist film that slowly evolves into an all-out Frog Brothers-style Vampire slay-ride, Shaun of the Dead starts out as an idiosyncratic Romantic Comedy (dread of all dreads) that slowly, surely turns into a gut-ripping, blood-drenched Zombie showdown.
It's been on repeat in my room since July 3rd. I don't want to shut it off. I'm a fan...
Shaun of the Dead is my favorite movie of the year. I'm so in love with this thing, I ran about the Internet swooping up all kinds of Shaun related stuff. The soundtrack, the poster, the bootleg. I bought an Airshop promotional T-Shirt for $60.00 off eBay (with the same artwork on it as the one they gave me today at the junket for free). I sought out Simon and Edgar's Channel 4 sitcom SPACED, which is almost as cool, if not cooler than, the movie itself. I can't really tell you what it's about. It defies description...
Then, today, I was rewarded with the greatest Shaun of the Dead gift I could have ever hoped for. A sit-down with its creators. It's not everyday that you get to look the Makers of Awesomeness in the face and ask them stupid questions...
Simon: Hellooooo! (If you've seen either Spaced or Shaun of the Dead, you'll automatically recognize this unique singsong exhibition of the word "hello". It's a Pegg signature expressed through both the Tim & Shaun characters. You instantly realize that Simon "is" that man on screen...For the most part.)
O: How are you guys enjoying it out here?
Simon: I'm really jetlagged. I just got here yesterday, so I'm not having a great time just yet.
O: Have you guys been flying back and forth between here and England? You guys were at the Comic-Con two weekends ago, right?
Simon: Yes, we were. Then I went home, and then came back. Edgar went to Australia, so he's been to more places than me.
Edgar: I went so around the different time zones, and back, that I've come to an even keel. I somehow came back sober and reached an equilibrium again, because I just went through about six different time zones in two weeks. It's crazy.
O: What was the genesis of this project, and how difficult was it to maintain that balance between humor and horror?
Edgar: The initial idea was; we're both big fans of the genre...We wanted to do something in the zombie genre, and also pay tribute...Not just to that, but also to the more paranoid, contemporary horrors like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In a way, also to post-kinds of things like Evil Dead 2 and Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. At first, we were initially thinking, "Well, what hasn't been done in horror comedy?" Because, between Return of the Living Dead and Thriller, and Brain Dead, it feels like every sort of joke has been done. So, actually the genesis was when we came up with the idea of playing the Zombie bit completely straight. And actually having the comedy be about the characters. So, the actual horror element is played completely straight. The problem, the epidemic, is completely serious. What's kind of the joke is; the main characters reactions to what is going on. That was the idea of the interment. Also, that way, we could actually tell a different story through the eyes of a different film. The idea of it being a romantic comedy with zombies is what we thought was fun. The first half of the film could essential be watched without the zombies. You could go through the first part of the script and replace the word Zombie with traffic jam or power car, and it would still make sense. That was the idea of having something that works as both things. It works as a romantic comedy, a drama, and a zombie film at the same time.
O: What do you guys find so fun about Zombies and the Zombie genre?
Simon: I think everyone has a fantasy about being the last person on Earth, or what they would do in that, or any, situation. Be it a tornado or a Zombie epidemic. I think it's one of those fantasies that everyone has. It's: "What would I do?" And that's what we got to play on in the film.
Edgar: Yeah, and also it came out of Spaced. When we first started thinking about it was when the Resident Evil games came out. And we both played those Play Station games really avidly. I think that sparked off those kinds of fantasies of going, "What would you do?" The real "what-if" factor of that. And then it became more specialized to our suburb, and where we live, and what would we do if we woke up on Sunday morning and we were really hung over, and there were Zombies outside our door. It's the idea that Shaun is not only ill-equipped to deal with the situation, but he also has a really bad hangover as well. Throughout the film, you see him get less groggy as the hangover wears off. That sort of plays with his other thing where, "Is he becoming a great leader, or has he just stopped having a headache?"
O: I need to know, is that an in-joke with the huge chunk of hair taken out of the back of Nick Frost's (Ed, Shaun's best friend in the film) head?
Edgar: Nope. Nope. It's not a Pulp Fiction thing. It's more inspired by Jackass, actually. That was inspired by Jackass...
Simon: Nick just decided, before we shot the film, that Ed should have a chunk of hair missing.
Edgar: Like it was some drunken thing where they'd been shaving bits of their hair off.
Simon: Nick is like that. He'll just have a silly idea, and we'll say, "Okay."
Edgar: It is neither a Pulp Fiction reference, nor a Tripods reference. He has not been capped. He is not going to die when he's twenty-one.
Simon: He said, "Can I shave a bit of my hair out?" And I was busy doing something else and said, "Yeah, go on."
Edgar: It's one of those things were, in some of the shots, you're looking at him, and you're saying to yourself, "What's wrong with his hair?"
Simon: Half of the crew came up to me and said, "Is Nick alright? He's loosing his hair." No, it was a complete affectation on his part.
Edgar: The other thing that Nick Frost did, which was above and beyond the call of duty, because it was in the script that Nick's Ed character...In the stage directions, he was often described as scratching his nuts. Nick...This is true...Nick decided to shave his pubes off. So that he would spend the whole shoot itching and scratching.
Simon: He just wanted an excuse to shave his pubes.
Edgar: He was clumsily kind of stumbling and walking around in his shorts, scratching all the time.
Simon: And showing everyone. He was actually showing pubis.
O: Did you get any financing through BFI?
Edgar: No. Initially, it was with Film 4, because the show we did in the UK was with Channel 4. Then Film 4 went bust, so we waited for 18 months. We developed the script, and were green-lit, then Film 4 went bust for about a year. They are back now. But, at that point, Working Title picked it up. And it's kind of ironic in a way; because we were really pleased that Working Title really got it, and got into it. Because, initially, one of the points of the film was that it was supposed to be a slightly subversive, Mickey-take of the traditional British Rom-Com. Of which Working Title, that's their main export. It was ironic in a way that we were there making what we thought was a satire on romantic comedies within the company that makes all the big, successful ones. So, it works out really cool.
O: How tough was it to work in all the references, and were you concerned about running into any problems such as using the Goblin music, or any of the records in the garden scene?
Edgar: Some of those things came up later. I think I put the Goblin music on as a temp score while I was editing, and that was exactly the feel I wanted. Sometimes, when you do those temp things, you think, "We've just got to clear this music." Sometimes that's the thing that's more difficult to justify to the musical department, who are not, maybe, such big fans of Dawn of the Dead. They say, "Oh, that Goblin track is going to cost eight grand." And you say, "Yeeeaaahhh!!! But it's going to be so worth it." Because we've got that percentage of the audience going, "Oh, my God, that's the music from..." You know? The other thing with that was, we're real sticklers for "if you can't get the actual thing, then don't have it at all." Like, rather than have made-up video games or posters in the background, we use...Both in this and the show we did, if we couldn't have the actual thing, then there was no reason to have it at all. So, in terms of the clearances, there were so many things in the film that took ages to clear. Like the album covers in the record scene. Or even just the sequence where she's flipping through the different stand-by cards; the test cards with the "stand by for further information" on them...All of those are real channels. That alone took two months of solid phone calls to clear all of those things. We make a rut for our own back by being so specific. There are other ones. Some of the music...Not only the Goblin music, but there's also library music from Dawn of the Dead which only came about because our assistant editor...A friend of hers was compiling...Because you know the Dawn of the Dead soundtrack was half the Goblin's score and half library music...And this guy had been sourcing all this library music from all these libraries around the world to find the missing soundtrack. So he had all of these things. The music that's on the opening logos is from Dawn of the Dead, and the Gonk, the mall music, is just library music. So, it actually takes a long time to find. But because it's canned music, it only cost about four hundred quid. So, that was cool.
O: When you were writing this, did you go back through SPACED to pull references from your own material? Because, I was watching it last night, and I noticed that you mention beating someone with Pool Cues. Then, you have the guy at the end of Shaun of the Dead getting beat with the Pool Cues...
Simon: No. I saw that the other day, and I thought, "That's a coincidence."
Edgar: That is a coincidence. Very good, though.
Simon: That was real, the incident in SPACED. When I talk about that; that was a real incident that happened to me in a pub in Glasgow.
Edgar: That was where you were filming with Bill Bailey.
Simon: Yeah, I was playing pool with some really nnn...(Cuts himself short.) It was just outside of Glasgow, at a place called Air, and there were these wonderful guys, but they were all ex-mechanics, and they were slightly scary. And they wanted to play pool with me and Bill Bailey, this other comedian. And we did, because we thought, because they were so nice, that if we didn't they would kill us. But then, the fight in the Pub (in Shaun) came about because all through the film, it's like, "What do you have at hand? What can you use?" Obviously, you guys are all armed right now, right? That's what I noticed about being here in America. In England, we don't have any gun shops. There are only sporting gun shops, and they are few and far between. So, it's that thing about "What do you have near you?" At a pub, there's going to be a pool cue.
Edgar: And obviously that scene was the inspiration for having that musical sequence. That comes from being in pubs, and the jukebox, when it gets left for a bit, will suddenly come on random. Then you'll be sitting there with hardly anybody else around, and suddenly ELO will come blasting out of there. You think, "Who the fuck put this on?" That was where that came from, really.
O: So, are you guys a fan of "Extra Cold"? (Guinness Extra Cold is like Bud Dry, and is not sold in the US. There is mention of it in the film...)
Simon: I love Guinness Extra Cold. Yes. In fact...
Edgar: We haven't gotten the crate of free Guinness, actually. Sometimes, when you mention products in your film, you're thinking you might get some...
Simon: I know. I've got free Guinness at reception...
Edgar: That was from Focus Pictures, though. That wasn't from Guinness.
Simon: Oh. But, yeah. Absolutely, just because it's, you know...
O: I've heard that a lot of people don't like the Extra Cold. I don't think they sell it here.
Simon: It's not traditional. Guinness is a wonderful drink. But if you fancy a little bit of extra frost on it, than it's nice.
Edgar: Also, the reason we mentioned Guinness is because Guinness does have those beer coasters with the quotes on them. So, the thing about having a quote from Bergen Russell, not that you would ever find a Bergen Russell quote in a pub, but that is where that comes from. Again, to have that specificity is...To have that brand name is funny. It's the kind of thing where, even though it's a British film, we made it through Universal, because they own Working Title. So, a lot of it with the branding was having to clear things. It was really hard work, but it was really worth it. Because, something about it makes it even funnier.
O: Did your guys TV work have the same sort of sensibility? And what about the Western that you did?
Simon: Well, I'll field the first part, and Edgar, you can do the second...Yes, in many ways. SPACED, the TV show, is much more referential. There are far more cultural references in SPACED. We wanted to make a TV show that wanted to be a film. Where, with Shaun of the Dead, it is a film. But there's the same spirit. The same thematic sensibilities are at work there.
Edgar: It's naturalistic. And fantastical at the same time.
Simon: It's magical realism. That sort of thing. That's Edgar's style of direction. (A baby starts wailing outside the interview room door...) That's the last journalist coming in now.
Edgar: Speaking in tongues, now...
Simon: Um...So, yeah, very much. This is from the same people, so it's bound to be in some respects. As for Edgar's Western spoof...
Edgar: The western was a film I made when I was twenty with my school friend. It only counts as a feature film by the fact that its seventy minutes long. In no other way would that stand up as a piece of film history. That was my mason attempt at ripping off the Zucker Brothers, and stuff like that. They have similar titles; A Fist Full of Fingers and Shaun of the Dead. They come nine years apart, both with terrible lame puns for titles.
Simon: We're only ever going to make films with bad titles.
Edgar: I can only do lame puns.
O: Are you guys any closer to getting SPACED released here in the United States?
Simon: Yeah, we hope so. We showed a fifteen minute clip of it at Comic-Con, and it just brought the house down. It was amazing.
Edgar: There have always been some musical issues with the DVD over here. Hopefully it's going to get shown on TV again. Because, Bravo actually owns it. And they showed it once at 2 o'clock in the morning. I think in the wake of the film, and some of the screenings that we've had, SPACED might move to another network, or be shown again. With the DVD, hopefully that's going to happen. That music plays such a big part in SPACED. With North American movie rights, it's different. Some of that stuff is really expensive. Because it's so integral to the show, it's not an easy thing to say, "Oh, let's just do an alternative version." The thought of going back and having to change some of those tracks, which are all mixed is, is like, "Fuck no." Hopefully, we hope to. We're bringing out a new DVD in the UK. A collector's edition with loads of stuff on it. The response we've had to it here, with the people that have seen it, has been great. We'd love to release it on DVD.
O: You guys aren't going to do like The Office, and have them remake it here, right?
Edgar: It was bought.
O: Do you actually think they could do it justice? When I was watching last night, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before...
Simon: We fought it.
Edgar: It was sold that way, yes.
Simon: I didn't want to remake it. It seemed like, "What's the point?" I don't understand why...
Edgar: Part of the reason it works, like with Shaun of the Dead, is that...You couldn't remake Shaun of the Dead in the United States because half of the joke is that it's the British spin on an established American genre. The same why in SPACED. It's kind of charming to see people in a North London pub recreate the Matrix. Because that's part of the joke. I don't think it would translate. There are other things...
Simon: I think that it's not charming to see the guys who made the Matrix recreate the Matrix.
Edgar: Maybe they'll do a fourth one in a North London pub.
O: Did you have to cut anything out that was written into the Shaun script?
Edgar: No. Only for pacing. There's nothing that was too gory or too rude that we had to cut out. It was only stuff for pacing reasons. The deleted scenes on the DVD are all time-caps, really. Just tightening up. There are a few extra things in the first half. Also, it's a balancing act. Going back to your first question about the tone of the film. It goes all the way through the writing, to the making, into the editing...It's about juggling that tone. There are certainly some jokes that we cut out. Not because they weren't funny, but because, especially in the last third of the film, when some of the deaths of some of the lead characters are sort of tough to take, it doesn't feel appropriate to have one of the lead characters die, and then have a joke straight afterwards. So, there was this constant balancing act of getting the tone right. Really.
O: Weren't some of the Zombies references to characters in SPACED also? Like the guy in the biker shorts?
Edgar: He's the only one, yeah. This is the kind of thing...We had a close-up of him. And then I decided not to put it in the edit, because rather than make it obvious, it's better to have a sort of "Where's Waldo?" thing. Instead of having the audience say, "Eh, isn't that...Huh?" There was just that one shot, really briefly. There was one like that, you're right.
O: Why did you set the film mostly in daytime?
Edgar: Because most horror films are set at nighttime. I just think it's scarier, somehow. And also because a lot of Dawn of the Dead is set in the daytime. So are other things, like the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It had a lot of daytime scenes. I just think it looks creepier. We wanted to shy away from what people think about horror films with a full moon, and the graveyard, that kind of stuff. We wanted to get away from that sort of Thriller, Return of the Living Dead kind of thing about it being Gothic. We wanted to shy away from that imagery completely. And make it a lot creepier, because it's just on your street, in your suburbs, in broad daylight. Zombies are there, eating people. We wanted to make it look a lot more striking. You know?
(Edgar's phone rings...)
Edgar: It's George Romero. I gotta take that...
(Edgar leaves the room...)
Simon: Yeah, we wanted it to end up in a pub because the pub is an essential piece of the film. And it's sort of a certain pub that we always used to go to. And, God...That couldn't have been timed better, could it...It's going to look great. George Romero called in the middle of the interview. Uh...
O: So, you've been in touch with him?
Simon: Yeah, yeah...We flew a copy out to him as soon as we finished it, because we wanted Daddy to approve. He watched it in Florida, somewhere. In some flea-bit cinema that he managed to get a hold of, to sort of screen it for him... He absolutely loved it. I think he was probably expecting a sort of Night of the Living Bread kind of pastiche. A student film. And he got a full-on movie. I think he was quite...He was touched, for sure. But he absolutely loved it, which was great. That was the only endorsement we ever really needed. It was from him.
O: As far as the mythology of Zombies, was there anything you particularly wanted to preserve? And was there anything you wanted to depart from?
Simon: We wanted the film to be a companion piece to the Romero films. We always say its like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead. It's like; this is what was going on in London while that stuff was kicking off at that mall. Or at the house. Or whatever. So, we wanted to be absolutely true to Romero's Mythology. It's funny; I was on the phone with him, talking to him. And I was waffling away, because I was so excited. I sort of said, "The only thing in our film that is different is that the Zombies sort of reanimate slightly quicker. In your film, a half hour goes by before they finally come around. Where as, in our film, they open their eyes straight away." I was going on, telling him this and that...And he goes, "You know what, Simon? I don't really mind." Which is really sweet of him. Otherwise it was supposed to be...I don't get the whole "Zombies running" thing. The whole root of Zombie, I think, is somnambulist. Which means "sleepwalker". There's no such thing as a sleep runner. So, the very fact that they're running stops them from being Zombies. Zombies are sort of like a bizarre, lava-like encroachment. They are death itself. And they come slowly, but they'll get you in the end. As soon as they start running around, you have to limit yourself. They all have to be between a certain age group. You can't see the shambolic, old Zombies anymore. They have all got to be like a Limp Bizkit audience, you know? So, albeit, a nice take on it. I enjoyed the remake. I think they missed, slightly, the point of the original. With the whole Zombies and the Mall as a metaphor for consumerism. But, it was exciting, and there were some great moments in it. But for us, it was banished by traditionalism. And Dr. Romero.
Edgar: The master of Zombies. He's in LA at the moment. So we were trying to get him to come out to the screening. But they're prepping that Land of the Dead. He's been so great with the press. He's given us the quotes on the poster. He's been so-kinda nice about it. What he said in an interview the other day was that it was his favorite Zombie film, apart from his own.
O: Did you write the part of Shaun for yourself?
Simon: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah...That's the point.
Edgar: The reason we wrote the script was because in the wake of the series...I can't believe I missed the chance to slag off the remake...Anyway, we definitely wrote the film as something for us to do. Because, separately, as actor and director, we get sent other scripts. And we were thinking, "God..." You write what you would like to see, and what you would like to do. So, definitely, it was written as a vehicle for us. And for Nick playing Ed. Shamelessly...
O: How do you set about shooting the perfect pint? Because the pints in this are beautiful...
Simon: All of your questions are alcohol related.
Edgar: We're worried about you...I don't know. We didn't do any sort of pack shots, like commercials, or anything like that.
O: I didn't mean as far as labeling the product...
Simon: They're not real, either. You obviously can't...
Edgar: How do you shoot the perfect pint (laughing)?
Simon: Because we're drinking it, you have to have non-alcohol lager, which tastes like shit.
Edgar: Herbal cigarettes, were they?
Simon: Yeah. They were herbal cigarettes, Aside from Nick...
Edgar: Real pot scratchings. You had real pot scratchings, and Kate had bits of brochette at some point...
Simon: That's right.
Edgar: We'd rather have real pot, but it's not fun doing four scratchings in a row, is it?
Simon: But that does look quite nice, that pint on the screen. It does look fairly appetizing.
Edgar: A couple of people have said they come out of the film wanting to smoke.
O: That scene at the beginning, which is choreographed to the music, did you actually intend to use that music? Was that the music you used on set?
Edgar: No. Weirdly enough, it was something with the exact same tempo. It was something that was always written into the script. It was a different track. In the script, and on the day that we shot it, it was a Cornelius track, which I really loved and wanted to use. But the strange thing was, I was editing and I heard the other track by I-Monster and thought, "Oh, that's great." It was just better. And luckily, the tempo was exactly the same. So it fit. But no, it wasn't actually choreographed to that.
O: Did you have a choreographer?
Edgar: Yeah. I love doing that sort of thing. That comes out of having done some music videos. Scenes like the Queen scene, and the early credit scene. And also some of the steady-cam shots. With the Queen scene, we had a fight choreographer, and a balance choreographer. Which at first, for the first hour of the rehearsal, was probably a bit confusing for everybody. But then it was great.
O: You can go back to the remake if you have something to say.
Edgar: (Laughs) Ah, no...I met the producer last night, actually. And he really liked Shaun. And, also, strangely, I ran into a friend of mine the other day and I was looking at his DVD, because the Dawn DVD is out in Asia, or something. The Universal release of it. And I was looking, wondering, "I wonder what kind of extra features are on here?" I saw, "Shaun of the Dead" trailer. So our trailer is on the Dawn of the Dead remake DVD. How wild is that? That is crazy.
O: On your DVD you have comic strips that fill in the plot holes, is that right?
Edgar: Yeah, we have those...
O: Did you guys write those?
Edgar: Yeah. That was an idea for an extra that we'd never seen before. We thought it would be funny. Because, sometimes, on the Internet, people say, "Yeah, but what happened to so-n-so." So we thought we'd answer some of those things. It's almost like a "frequently asked questions" thing. They're in black and white. My brother drew them, and we did the voice-overs.
Simon: There's also a comic in the UK called 2000 AD, which is probably the most famous UK science-fiction genre comic. And we did a special story for that. It's called "There's Something About Mary", which is all about how the girl that is in the garden, in the morning...How she gets there. How she goes from being a checkout girl to being a Zombie. She actually gets bitten by the homeless guy that asks Shaun for money. And she actually bites the mouth off the big guy that comes into the garden.
Edgar: So, there's this Ramon Carver-style, trying to tie everything up. We did another one as well, with the guy that's dressed as the best man. The guy that comes in wearing the wedding suit. It's the story of how he becomes the one-armed best man. It was sort of fun writing in the others...Because we designed the film for people who watch it a second or third time, to spot things they didn't spot before. In the first part of the film, there are a lot of background details that will relate to the Zombies later...
O: Like the sign by the door of the pub that says, "Don't leave the pub screaming..." Or something...
Edgar: Yeah. "Please leave the pub quietly." And then Dylan gets pulled out and ripped to pieces. There are things like that, and then there are things in the choreographed sequence. All of those people are important later. The most obvious one is the check-out girl. But there are also the clubbers that attack Phillip, and stuff like that. There are a lot of things like that. A lot of referential dialogue. Some lines are more subtle than others. It's a foreshadowing of events.
Simon: The one-armed guy, who really did only have one arm...His name is Tim Bagley, he was very good. And the first one to make jokes about his arm not being there. I did go up to him and say, "Do you mind if I shout at you? He's got an arm off!" He was like, "Eh, that's fine." You see him in the shop, in the morning, buying aspirins, on the day that I go to work. Everything is fine in that first steady-cam shot. He's actually in the shop buying aspirins because he's go a headache. Which is another little thing that we dropped in. People having headaches.
Edgar: Yeah, people being ill. And people being off work.
Simon: Those things you won't notice until you do see it again. It's like having the punch line before the set-up. That's why I think it will bear up to repeated viewings.
Edgar: One of the things that is based on is one of mine and Simon's favorite films. Which is Raising Arizona. Which you can watch five times, and still see little bits that you missed. That's kind of half of it, and also half being kids of the DVD age. You're able to pour over things again and again.
Simon: We might be the first generation of filmmakers, although we have read Sid Field, and those sort of screenwriting books, to structure our film in DVD chapters before we filmed it.
Edgar: So the three act structure is now the twenty-chapter structure.
And with that, the lady from Focus Features comes in and calls the interview closed. "Bye. Thanks."
So, yeah...Go see Shaun of the Dead when it comes out on September 24th. It'll be your next most favorite movie. And that's the B. Alan promise...
Dont't forget to also check out: Shaun of the Dead