"Imagine the film is equidistant between Freaks and Geeks and The Matrix ..."
That's the way Edgar Wright sold cinematographer Bill Pope on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and that's probably the best way I can sell it to you. The quote came after a long day on the mysterious Toronto set last summer. It was day 84 of production, but director Edgar Wright looked as if he'd been working on this film his entire life. Somewhat disheveled, his messy mop of dark hair jetted out in all different directions as he delicately walked us through what we'd soon find out were the final scenes of the film. "Well I feel so bad about this because the timing of it ... literally, it'd be like showing up on the set of Empire Strikes Back for the "Luke, I am your father" scene. It's the worst timing," Wright explained as we circled the huge, neon-filled set that would host the film's climactic battle between Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). You can see an image on the bottom of this post.
This is a big film for Wright, and an even bigger film for Universal. Those who've read Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic series (the sixth and final part is due out this summer) swear by it, and even after only spending one day on set, I can tell Wright is giving this film every ounce of his soul. The man is barely sleeping, admitting that his daily diet pretty much consists of multiple espressos and coffee. He doesn't even remember the names of the months anymore, and instead recalls the past year by pointing to the "Chris Evans month", the "May Whitman month" or the "Brandon Routh month", referring to the different actors who appeared on set to shoot their scenes during that time period. I got the sense that if he stopped for five minutes, the dude would literally drop. But the thing is: he doesn't stop.
For Wright, this isn't work. It's an addiction.
It's a good addiction; a fun addiction. Maybe not the healthiest addiction, but if you're a fan of Scott Pilgrim -- and a fan of movies in general -- then this is the guy you want behind the camera. Even on his off days (which are few and far between), Wright is watching movies and hosting screenings for his cast and crew. The man bleeds cinema, and you can't help but feel a little inspired being around him when he talks about why he took on this massive project in the first place. "One of the things that intrigued me about the books – or one of the things that got me interested – was that I felt like there hadn't been a comic book adaptation, aside from maybe Ghost World and American Splendor, there hadn't been a bigger film that dealt in sort of like a comedy comic book film," Wright told us. "There are either ones going for the more fantastical and more gritty, or other ones going for an entirely different universe, and what I liked about this is that after I read the first book it reminded me of Spaced, in terms of combining the mundane with the fantastical."
That combination of the mundane and fantastical is what sets Scott Pilgrim vs. the World apart from any film you've ever seen. Scott Pilgrim is an ordinary slacker who plays bass in a mediocre band called Sex Bob-omb. His life changes, however, when he meets the girl of his dreams ... literally ... and must defeat her seven evil exes in order to win her heart. A simple enough story, but O'Malley peppers it with tons of fantastical video game-inspired set pieces, along with relatable "dude humor" and art that feels like it was ripped straight from a Japanese manga. With Scott Pilgrim, you get a little bit of everything -- comedy, drama, romance, action, suspense, music -- and when it finally came time to turn this beloved comic series into a full-length feature film, Universal -- along with Wright -- decided to piece together what in all likelihood could turn out to be one of this year's best ensemble casts.
Aside from bigger names like Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman and Chris Evans, other people scattered throughout the geeky Scott Pilgrim universe include Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman and Aubrey Plaza, among others. "We have fantastic people in lots of small parts, so I think it's kind of a nice in a way," Wright told us. "And the thing I'm really pleased about with this film, as opposed to some of the other comedies out there – and even stuff I've done before – is that it has a lot of funny women in it. Really a large part of the cast, and even the books are not just about his love life, but his exes and family, and friends."
Defending Michael Cera
Known for his shticky, wimpy humor, Hollywood overdosed on Michael Cera soon after he found his way to the general public via the TV show Arrested Development. Superbad better defined him as the somewhat dorky (and lanky) best friend we all remember hanging out with at one point in our lives, and it was an image that stuck with Cera through films like Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Year One. Cera deviated slightly from the norm in Youth in Revolt, where he starred as the somewhat jaded, risk-taker Nick Twisp in what I feel is his best role to date.
Still, Cera hasn't yet proven that he's more than "the awkward shy type", and, needless to say, fans of Scott Pilgrim weren't very excited when he signed on to play their hero. Even on set, Cera was extremely stand-offish. You could tell he doesn't like speaking to the press -- especially when he's reached day 84 of a film shoot -- and so it never shocked me to watch him awkwardly shift to the side to let Wright and Jason Schwartzman have the floor instead. And when he did answer questions -- like what drew him to the role, or how he made the character his own -- Cera answered in very short sentences. "I can't remember. We shot so much of this in the beginning of the year. I didn't try to go against the energy in the books. I mean, I think I tried to do that, but I really can't remember," he noted.
Cera knows, though, that he's not there to convince us he's deserving of the job. Seeing him in this state proves he's leaving everything out there on set, and the small pieces of footage we were shown shows that he definitely fits the part. Still, we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't address "The Cera Situation", and Edgar Wright was quick to defend his leading actor. "It's funny – and me and Bryan [O'Malley] have talked about this a lot – when people on the internet say he's so miscast, but then the people they suggest leave you going, "Yeah, but I don't want to make the Zac Efron version of Scott Pilgrim." So it's like whenever people come up with suggestions of who it could be, I'm like are we reading the same books?", Wright joked. "I mean, shouldn't he be like an underdog, physically? I read one thing on the internet where someone said Chris Evans would be better as Scott Pilgrim, and I thought, really? The whole thing about casting Scott Pilgrim vs. Lucas Lee is that you've got two levels ... I mean, immediately the thing that comes to mind is who wouldn't want to see a fight between Michael Cera and Chris Evans? That to me is a lot more intriguing and funny than to have someone who's like a hottie or a hunk. It didn't make much sense to me, really."
Edgar Wright vs. the World
Unlike his previous films, Wright has a lot more at his disposal this time. Working with Universal has allowed him to really get out there and sell the movie in a way he's never done before. He's kept a blog throughout production, leaking photos of the cast and posting videos. Wright is also a very vocal personality on Twitter (you can find him @edgarwright), where he's made himself accessible not only to his legion of hardcore fans, but also to the journalists who cover him. In fact, he's become so close with a lot of these journalists and bloggers that they all have his personal email and phone number. As we left the set that night, it was rather comical to see a few of them all separately emailing Wright private messages that we can only imagine had to do with how much fun they had on set.
But Wright doesn't come off as the kind of guy who's using these people to win over good press. He's a man who's genuinely attracted to those who feel as passionately about film as he does. When a publicist asks if he wants to eat lunch during the brief break he's given to chat with us, he waves her off and continues on. He's in his zone, chatting with people who actually "get" him. That's who he surrounds himself with, that's what he tweets about, and that's what oozes out of each of his films. Passion. Respect. And some pretty kick-ass visuals.
Cinematical will continue its Scott Pilgrim vs. the World set visit report later this month with more from Wright and the cast.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World hits theaters on August 13th.