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Moving to Baby's Beat

Writer/director Edgar Wright and actor Ansel Elgort discuss the musically infused, high-octane heist film, Baby Driver

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Ansel Elgort and director Edgar Wright on the set of TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

To quote the film’s opening song “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: “Ladies and gentlemen, right now I got to tell you about the fabulous, most groovy” film of the summer—Baby Driver. Written and directed by Edgar Wright (of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy), Baby Driver is a thrilling action movie that’s uniquely in step with the music being listened to by talented getaway driver, aka “young Mozart in a go-cart,” Baby, played by actor Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars).

In the film, Baby, who following an ill-fated car crash that resulted in tinnitus or “a hum in the drum,” as charismatically explained by his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), is constantly plugged into his rotating iPod collection to drown out the noise. Driving to settle a debt with Doc, Baby is teamed up with gun-toting pros Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to help pull off a string of audacious daytime heists. “Driven by the music,” the unabashedly genre-crossing Baby Driver makes for quite the action-packed cinematic experience. Academy Art U News recently had the opportunity to sit down with both Wright and Elgort during their recent press stop in San Francisco to discuss the film and its noteworthy musicality. 

Baby Driver started with a song. In fact, the aforementioned “Bellbottoms” opener was the track Wright said he was listening to 22 years ago when he first imagined how great a car chase scene would be set to the tune. While beginning to work on the script 10 years ago, Wright started with selecting tracks for “the big set pieces,” including what would be the stellar opening car chase sequence. When it came to writing the additional scenes and dialogue, the director wouldn’t begin writing until he had the right song, which resulted in 30-plus songs needing to be cleared before the movie began filming.

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Courtesy of TriStar Pictures.

“It was just the idea of taking our relationship with music in our daily lives and sort of combining it with an action film,” said Wright. “I thought it would be really cool to do a movie where every song you hear is either playing on a stereo, on the radio, in [Baby’s] ears. It’s happening within the scene. There’s never a point where the song is just scoring the movie.”

One of the tracks in the film—"Easy" by The Commodores—was added by suggestion from the film’s young star. “[The song] was not in the original draft,” shared Wright. During Elgort’s audition, the director asked him on the spot what song he knew by heart and could lip sync to. Wright said Elgort, without hesitation, responded: “‘Easy’ by The Commodores.”

“I was so charmed by that response,” said Wright. “I was like, ‘Oh, I love that song!’”

Elgort added: “That millisecond inside my head to figure out what to sing felt like an eternity. He thinks it was no hesitation, but I was definitely thinking about it.”

When it came to figuring out the choreography to stay in step with Baby’s music, Wright shared that a lot of the time it came down to their shooting location and cited a door that they wanted Elgort to walk out from during a sequence where Baby walks down the street to a coffee shop, but first they had to fit it to the music.

“This revolving door was great, and literally with my iPhone, started playing ‘Harlem Shuffle,’ and me and AD Walter [Gasparovic] and the cinematographer Bill [Pope], we would try and walk to where [Elgort would] get to at a certain point of the song. Because I knew by what we worked out was when it gets to the chorus, he needs to be in the coffee shop. So anybody watching us must have been thinking, ‘What are those guys doing?’ 

“We did about eight different routes to try and find where we can get to. We can get to this, it’s not even a coffee shop, it’s a pizza place that we turned into a coffee shop, and I remember Bill Pope said, ‘Remember that Ansel is taller and is going to walk faster. He’s got longer legs than you,” said Wright, laughing.

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Director Edgar Wright on the set of TriStar Pictures' Baby Driver.

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Baby (Ansel Elgort) on the way to the post office job in TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

Elgort shared that the first scene with Baby walking down the sidewalk was fairly difficult to do, because they needed to use a large rehearsal space. “We would go from room to room to room to rehearse it, because we didn’t rehearse it on location,” he said. “We only did one quick run-through on location the day before we shot.” 

The young actor enjoyed working on the choreography for the film, as it reminded him of doing musical theater, which he noted was how he got his start as a performer. 

When it came to learning the movements, Elgort worked with choreographer Ryan Heffington during rehearsals and eventually on set. “[Ryan] was really cool and fluid, he had a film of himself doing ideas and doing choreography,” he shared. “Then I did rehearsals with him, and Edgar would always be there, usually filming, and just tried to figure it out—either do exactly what they did or change it a little bit.”

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(L-R) Baby (Ansel Elgort), Bats (Jamie Foxx), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm) decide on doing the heist in TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

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Doc (Kevin Spacey, right) tells Baby (Ansel Elgort) he has another job for him in TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

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Director Edgar Wright (left) and Ansel Elgort on the set of TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

Not only were the lead actors keeping pace with the soundtrack, Wright would elevate the background details using the sound effects happening within the song. For a particular scene, Wright worked with DJ Osymyso on the sound effects for one of the songs. “What’s crazy is that in a lot of places, we got actors and elements in the shots to match what we’ve done on the track,” he said. “At one point, there was somebody on an ATM going, ‘boop, boop, boop, boop,’ to the music. We were going down this hall, and I said, ‘The ATM needs to go over there,’ [laughs] because when we were playing the track, you get to that point and you go, ‘OK, that’s where the ATM goes.”

While recalling that moment from the making of the film, Wright added, “It was such a great thing to do that as literally the first shot of the whole shoot, because you know the crew is either going to go, ‘Oh, this is going to be really good,’ or ‘These guys are f---ing crazy.’”

 

Experience Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver in theaters on June 28.