An Evening With J.J. Abrams, Edgar Wright and ‘Scott Pilgrim’

By  · Published on June 22nd, 2010

The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival is four days old, and I’ve spent most of that time working out interview logistics and avoiding hordes of Lakers fans. I’ve mostly failed at the latter. Still, it finally feels like the LAFF is picking up speed as we get into some of the more exciting fare that’s on offer.

Last night at a packed theater at the Regal Cinemas downtown I had the opportunity to enjoy said fare, as Edgar Wright sat down for an excellent two hour Q&A session moderated by the monstrously talented J.J. Abrams. It was strange seeing J.J. as the guy pressing the questions, putting the focus on another filmmaker; I almost sort of wished the event was a double-whammy of Abrams/Wright goodness, but the evening was more than satisfactory being Edgar Wright-centric.

I’ve always enjoyed the, “This Is Your Filmmaking Life,” events when the venue focuses on great talent. We were treated to a look back at what I believe makes Edgar Wright arguably one of the more adept filmmakers of his generations – which just happens to be my generation.

It was no surprise that, in opening the conversation, one of the first things Wright mentions is his love of John Landis and John Hughes – directors who I only began to fully appreciate in my teens as I was literally born during our entry into the eighties. If you were between twelve and twenty five in 1984, these men were your voice on film. Particularly with Hughes, there was a continuity between films; connections between location, a particular line, something familiar in the background – even if it was something only a real fan that was willing to poke through the embers of these movies would find. Wright noted that this is a practice he himself picked up and used to great effect in his short but lauded Channel 4 series, Spaced, and continued to do with his features. One instance of particular note is the coming full circle from the days of using a Super 8 camera making movies around his hometown, and returning to those locations later during the filming of Hot Fuzz. Granted, we’d likely not be privy to that homage to his past without Wright mentioning it, but it says something that there was a personal need to do it for himself that shows an interesting layer to what the process means to him.

Past that, however, Edgar Wright – to me, has easily taken the mantle as one of the filmmakers that have represented the generation I am a part of. It’s not simply the video game references and the love of all things zombies, or even the music – but the conversation. Brit or otherwise, Edgar Wright understands how my peer group – the folks that are on the cusp of thirty, communicate with one another. We’ve been written at before by the likes of McG, Michael Bay, and a slew of others, but being written for is something that feels rare these days. It’s something that feels like it shouldn’t be that difficult, and perhaps before it wasn’t. Hughes and Landis painted a landscape that was not their own with tact and grace (or captured the lack of grace with grace, perhaps), but I feel hard pressed to find many in the current lot of filmmakers that have come close to, if not equaled that ability to capture what I feel like is my own on film. He’s wrapped my gamer sensibility with my horror kitsch and comedy sensibilities, the weirdness of my social and intimate relationships, and packages them neatly with a tone and quality of language that just – fits. I’ve had the same breakup conversation that Ed and Shaun have at The Winchester Pub, and that conversation has also been directed at me. Wright knows the numb feeling of working a 9 to 5 and sees the humor in having the sharp edges of our minds sanded down smooth simply because we let it happen.

It, of course, helps that Wright surrounds himself with people with a similar ability to capture the aura of the Gen-exer. In Spaced, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes perfectly presented as a writing team the goofy aimlessness that a lot of being a part of my generation was (and perhaps still is) about. We wasted a lot of time, turned angst into a brand just like the hippies did with love, and still managed to create a whole lot of interesting stuff in the process. We’re a generation that, for the most part, raised ourselves and struck out early to go be poor together in small apartments. Tim, Daisy, and the rest of the cast of Spaced would have been right at home on networks here in the states. Edgar Wright, whether behind the word processor or the camera, made everything feel custom made for my sensibilities.

That – is unique.

This was made all the more clear by being able to see Edgar Wright’s body of work throughout the night.

During the two hour event we were treated to clips of films Wright created as a teen. Of particular note was next to no budget cop flick that showed shades of what was to come with not only Hot Fuzz, but gave us a glimpse of Wright’s development as a comedic writer. At one point a gunman breaks the fourth wall, pulls a very young looking Edgar out from behind the camera, and kills him – replacing the director with a bit player who previously had a “shitty part”. It was good times.

Of course, we got a heavy dose of Spaced, which I suggest anyone pick up and watch repeatedly – as well as clips from Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the fantastic Grindhouse trailer spoof, Don’t.

Wright noted that not only did he create the trailer for free (by the way, see if you can pick out Nick Frost’s part), but was later informed by Quentin Tarantino himself that he had just delivered the first few pages of Grindhouse, as he and Robert Rodriquez had yet to write any themselves to that point.

Finally, of course – we were gifted nine minutes of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I was mostly stoked for the film minus one detail, which still bothers me – and may be a big one, but I will definitely be parking myself in a theater seat opening weekend. We’ve seen a lot of it in snippets via various trailers, but last night we were given the entirety of the Chris Evans fight scene, which was a blast, plus some pre-fight Scott/Ramona relationship fun. The clip shows off the super solid comic book/video game integration with the real-world fare, and I’m sort of happy we only got a taste of how over-the-top Scott Pilgrim will more than likely get further into the film.

My only issue, still…is with Michael Cera as Pilgrim. Scott simply had more energy and range as a character on the page, and Cera will forever and always be George Michael Bluth until such point as he moves so far from that persona that I’m sure he can do anything else. Nobody plays awkward better than Cera, but it’s the same awkward – every time. The neurosis is always similar, the stammer familiar; there just isn’t enough there from the little I’ve seen to differentiate from anything I’ve seen him do in Superbad, Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or Youth in Revolt. Of course, the qualifier in all of that is, “…from the little I’ve seen.”

That said, I still feel like I’m going to dig eighty percent of the movie from the casting alone, Kieran Culkin being a highlight of the trailers I’ve seen so far, and standing out in the little time we get with him during the nine minutes of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World we saw at the Regal Cinemas last night.

Keep an eye out, because later this week I’ll be returning with more reviews, interviews, and some other fun stuff from downtown Los Angeles.

Photo by Nikita Purcell for Film School Rejects

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