We all know that we do our best work when we feel comfortable and properly motivated. In movies, this is no different. Actors need to be able to be properly supported by their directors in order to produce their best performance. Similarly, directors need to be able to trust their actors and have a relationship with them such that they are able to make clear what is required. In order to accomplish this, actors frequently collaborate with a director, especially if they have a good friendship and/or a mutual respect for each other’s work. Edgar Wright is one of those directors who has been able to work with a collection of actors on a frequent basis. Perhaps most well-known is his friendship with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This friendship has so far generated a hit British television comedy series and two well-received films, with another to be released this week.
Edgar Wright’s filmography is meant to play homage to those films and comics that influenced and inspired him while he was growing up. Although all of this work is linked to material that has already been done before, he is still incredibly creative and adept at making exciting, funny, and heart-felt films. Right out of film school, his first feature film was a spoof on westerns, 1994’s A Fistful of Fingers. The film didn’t have much success but it allowed him to become a successful TV director. That period of his career culminated in the show Spaced, which included Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. The three friends decided to do a feature film together, Shaun of the Dead (2004), which was a homage to classic horror movies. Next, another project with Pegg and Frost was Hot Fuzz (2008), which played homage to the buddy cop film. After that, Wright did something a little different with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), based on the popular comic. Although this film wasn’t as popular with audiences as his previous two, it nonetheless solidified Wright as a capable feature film director. Furthermore, it proved that he could deliver on expectations from fans when adapting from a source material, and as a result he is now scheduled to direct 2015’s Ant-Man. This week, his latest film At the World’s End is released, making his collaboration with Pegg and Frost a trifecta (called the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”).
So the question posed is, if you are watching an Edgar Wright film and you don’t know it, what are the things to look for that would identify it as such? Here are five of Wright’s trademarks as director, in no particular order.
The Quick Action Montage
Wright’s films tend to move at a brisk pace, and his method of using quick action montages helps to do this. This technique often features characters doing mundane but important tasks in order to prepare for the next scene. Not only does this technique advance the story, but it is also used for comedic purposes. The actual clips that are used are very short, almost too short to really understand what is happening without enough context. The montages also make use of sound and music. The sounds usually help to explain what is happening but are also a little bit comical and absurd. Finally, the quick clip transitions are meant as homages to action scenes in comic books, which ended up being especially fitting for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Bar or Pub
In all of Wright’s movies, the story has an important scene where the characters or other people in the background are drinking. In the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy these scenes take place in a pub. In Scott Pilgrim the pub is replaced by a bar/club atmosphere. Furthermore, in each of his films, there is a scene in this environment that leads directly into the climax of the film. Finally, in The World’s End the pub is a major plot element and therefore is a fitting way to end the trilogy.
Wright likes to repeat footage of characters saying a certain line of dialogue. He used this technique for comedy but also to remind the audience of something important and connect to an earlier moment in the film. Usually these are deadpan comedic moments.
Fence Jump Fail
This is a sight gag that occurs in each of the films of the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy. A character attempts to jump a fence but fails in doing so. In all three films Simon Pegg is featured jumping over the fences, failing in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, but adding some comedy in Hot Fuzz. It is Nick Frost who falls in Hot Fuzz.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
As mentioned above, Edgar Wright started a friendship with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost while making the TV show Spaced. That friendship has led to a working relationship that has spanned three movies (The “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”). However, Pegg and Frost aren’t the only two actors he has worked with on a consistent basis. Working with actors in more than one film is actually pretty common with Wright. For instance, both Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy are features in all the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” movies, as are Julia Deakin and Rafe Spall.
Previously: Directors’ Trademarks: Television Commercials