Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Astor Theatre, Melbourne
July 15, 2013
Interview: Oscar Hillerstrom
Popcorn Taxi: It’s a pleasure to be with you tonight, Melbourne’s select few. I think really we’re all here tonight for one reason, and that’s to hear, not from me, but from Mr. Edgar Wright. I could tell you about Spaced, I could tell you about A Fistful of Fingers, I could tell you all the things you already know and waste your time. I’m not going to do that. Ladies and gentlemen: for the devilishly handsome and supremely talented Mr. Edgar Wright.
Edgar Wright: Hello. There you go.
PT: So, Edgar, what brings you here tonight? Just thought you’d share something you did in your holidays? I have to say one of the most interesting things is that people look at filmmakers and they say, ‘Oh, It’s amazing. You’re this incredibly gifted, talented person’, but in actual fact you’ve been doing this for quite some time. I want you to take us back to Dorset. I know it’s a painful memory for you but take us back to, say, looking at Goodfellas and taking a scene, and then creating your own version of Goodfellas.
EW: Well, Dorset is where I was born, but I moved when I was six to Somerset, which is not too far away. In Aussie terms it’s like nothing. So that’s kind of where I, you know, then I moved to the town that’s in Hot Fuzz, my home town. I guess when I was about 14 my parents bought me and my brother this secondhand Super 8 camera, this beat-up Braun Nizo camera then we started making—My brother’s name is Oscar, in fact. So we started making kind of like little shorts and stuff. But I think, like you said, I think what I used to do is watch movies and try and copy the camera moves on my Super 8, that I actually won on like a Saturday morning kids’ TV show. You can find the footage of me on that kids’ show on the Internet. I think one of the first things I did when I was trying to make my own films—I didn’t specifically do bits from other movies, but I would try and watch these camera moves and try and replicate them—I made my own version of a steadicam, because the camera was like this big, it was like a bag of flour, and I made this steadicam-like thing out of a ceiling tile and a cat’s cradle. So I’d run along with this camera on a, like, a ceiling tile and a piece of string, trying to replicate these slick steadicam moves that I’d seen in movies. So I think that’s kind of how I learned, you know? I sort of taught myself in some respects. I went to art college but I used to just try and replicate things that I’d seen in films and try and figure it out by trial and error.
PT: And how’s that working out for you?(microphone feeds back) Sorry.
EW: You know that cliche you see in films where there’s always feedback on the mic, it’s always true. (audience laughter) It’s good. (audience laughter)
PT: Clearly people associate your films with popular culture references, and it’s one of the most interesting things that they poke out. What I want to know is that, you’ve become associated with your fandom. People look at your films and go, ‘Oh my God, he knows what I know. He puts them in his films and we can share that together’. Clearly there are a lot of things that you’re very specific about getting just right. What I want to know is: when you’re creating a film, do you specifically say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to reference this particular film’, or is it just something that comes out of you organically, where you just can’t help yourself?
EW: I think, it’s sort of slightly different. I mean, Spaced, the TV show that we did, was full of references because part of the point of the show was that the characters were of an age where they were sort of living their mundane lives through popular culture, so they they almost started to, like, ape what was on TV and in video games and in films as a way of expressing themselves. That’s sort of in Scott Pilgrim as well, in terms of like, he has grown up so much on video games that he is living life through that, you know, fantasy. I think in Shaun… they’re just little things that come up organically, or the odd kind of in-joke, like, ‘We’re coming to get you, Barbara’, kind of way of repurposing that line.
I think what I tried to do in this was make it slightly different, you know? In a way when we were making this film, what we didn’t want to do—even though I was a big fan of, say, Evil Dead 2 or, like, Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead—we didn’t want to make it exactly like that, so we tried to do something slightly, sort of. Different and try and make it at least start in a naturalistic way. Sometimes it’s funny, actually, I think The World’s End, the new one, has the least references to anything, but it’s funny when sometimes you read reviews and people have read into it. I read a review the other day where they said said, ‘References to The Blues Brothers‘ and I was thinking, ‘Hmm…’. I was just trying to figure out what exactly they were referring to, because there’s nothing conscious in there. I don’t know. In this particular case it was a sort of an attempt to kind of, like, start with what looks like a normal comedy-drama and then slowly kind of morphs into something else.
PT: I think a lot of the audience will get the references, say, ‘Landis Supermarket’ and ‘Fulci’s Restaurant’. Is there a particular thing that you stopped yourself from doing and thought, ‘No, no. That’s too much’?
EW: I think usually, you know, where all of those things come from is that you have to come up with new names for things.
EW: So it’s usually never written in the script, but there’s a point where they say, ‘Hey, we have to—clearance need a whole bunch of names for this pizza restaurant or this Italian restaurant’, so a lot of them are things that we, like, give names to things just as little nods or tributes and stuff, but not many of them are actually written in the script. I don’t know, I think there’s less references in Shaun of the Dead than there are in Spaced, for instance.
PT: Yeah, of course. Now, this is the most interesting thing: is that the films that you’ve created, whilst people talk about the cultural references, it’s actually the relationships within them that give them the resonance. I guess, this eternal love story between Nick Frost and Simon Pegg that is echoed every time you make a Cornetto film, which for me is, you know, keeps me coming back for more. What I want to know is: when you’re working with Simon and he’s going, ‘Oh, we really need to have this particular moment where Shaun or Gary or Nick has this heroic moment’, and you kind of look at him and you think, ‘God damn it, you’re just a giant ham wanting to steal the spotlight’, can you—I know that the creative process is a little bit back and forth when you’re writing together—are there times when you manage to overcome his desire to be at the centre of the entire universe?
EW: Well, we write together, so it’s not like he’s trying to steal all of the scenes. If anything, Simon’s thing usually is he’s always, you know—I remember after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz Simon said, both times, he goes: “Fucking hell. Nick’s got all the funny lines”. (laughter) And he said that like—And we wrote the script together, so it’s like, you know, we created Ed, and—What’s funny sometimes is you give, to get to the cast that you want—see, we wrote the Penelope Wilton role for her—but in that kind of financing thing you have to go through other, you know, more well-known people, even more bankable, you know, before you’re allowed to go to your choice, which was Penelope Wilton.
In one case, I’ll tell you why this story’s funny, is: we went to Helen Mirren to play Barbara at one point. Now, get this. Helen Mirren passed, and she said, ‘I’m passing on the script, but I’d do it, on condition that I play Ed’. (laughter) So I thought that was a pretty classy thumbs down. I respected her for that letter. It’d be a very different version, especially if she was in her Queen costume.
PT: I have to say I would like to see Helen Mirren as a zombie Queen Elizabeth, although—No, I guess I won’t say anything mean about that. Now, Nick Frost in particular is a natural on screen. He’s one of the joys of these movies, but I want to go behind the scenes. There’s a story that he was so, I guess, keen on bringing reality to his character that he shaved his balls and had that ‘must scratch’ feel for his entire character. Can you confirm this, and can you confirm that when he was doing ADR he was actually getting that pube-scratching sound to go with his ADR.
EW: Um— he did—
PT: Sorry, I know you’ve been asked this a lot.
EW: —You know, not for a while. I’ve tried to block it out. (audience laughter) I think, he definitely did shave them. I didn’t ask him to. That was his method, he wanted to be itchy throughout the entire shoot. He didn’t have the sense memory of how to be itchy so he had to kind of just be itchy. I cannot remember in the ADR, I don’t think he did that, but he did shave his balls, it’s true.
PT: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen.
EW: I didn’t ask him to, and I did not witness the shaving.
PT: We’ll have to talk to Simon about that. Now, we’re going to be opening up to questions in the audience fairly soon, so please, if you do have a question, there are microphones all around you—well, not all around you—there’s one down there, I think. Up here. Please form an orderly queue. Some of you may have questions about a particular Marvel film that’s been in development for 10 years. I can tell you now that you will be met with a blank stare and the hatred of our honoured guest, so please, um, karoom it. But do feel free to ask any questions about perhaps any other movies. Perhaps a Universal movie that’s opening in the next week or so. I’m sure that’s up for discussion. But before we go to the audience, I’ve always wanted to know—People call you a genius and I’m wondering whether you feel sad and sorry for them that they have such low expectations of creativity, where you’re just trying to make a movie and they go, ‘Oh my God, he knows it all’. When you’re making a film, the process of it, going: ‘I need this shot, I need this shot, I need this shot’; do you actually stop from time-to-time and say, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to find out that I’m making it up as I go along’?, or do you find the film’s the end result of painstaking thought processes that are finally making it to the screen?
EW: It’s funny, I mean, I try to go in completely prepped because the film thing that you want to do, and especially since, you know, I made a movie when I was 20, but I wasn’t that happy with it, so I always think of this as being my, like, second debut movie. When I did this, I wanted to be super, super prepped so I could answer any question, but it was not an easy shoot just because we were—what we were trying to do was quite ambitious, for the money.
You know, all three of the shoots, this one and Hot Fuzz and The World’s End were all exhausting, but this was the trickiest one because, like, not all of the crew were completely on board and, you know, most of the people that were, which was about 75 per cent of the crew, are all the people who’ve come back for the other two.
But it’s a tricky thing when you realise that, you know, I don’t know if it’s the same in this country but in the UK some crews can get a bit cynical, especially if they’ve worked on a bunch of movies that have never been released. You could sort of realise that, like, the people would work very hard but they’d have this feeling of, like, ‘This film is never going to see the light of day’, and I remember when we were shooting the scene with the zombies outside the pub one of the zombies, in make-up, came up to me, thinking that I was a runner, and looked over at me and said, ‘Phew, straight to video for this one’.
(audience laughter) Which is a horrible thing to hear, especially when it’s from a fucking zombie.
So it was tricky, and you realise that, until people see the finished thing, whether they’ve seen Spaced or not, until people see the finished thing they don’t necessarily have faith in the project. Some people did, and a lot of those people have worked on Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, people we just continued to work with. So, it’s tricky. You definitely have to—Especially when you’re, you know? I was 29 when I directed Shaun… and, you know, you have to kind of just earn your stripes with the crew and you have to kind of prove to them that you know what you’re doing, and they’re not going to believe you until they’ve seen it finished. So it’s not like a walk in the park at all.
PT: Now, you have since then gone on to reasonable success with a couple of other movies, but you’ve fallen in with a bit of a bad crowd in Hollywood, this (Quentin) Tarantino character and (Robert) Rodriguez and you have these film nights where you show each other movies. I want to know, what’s the fun movie that Quentin Tarantino showed you, and what’s the fun movie that you showed him?
EW: Oh, I was trying to get Quentin to watch the Carry On films.
EW: And as a present once I bought him the box-set, this massive box-set, of all 32 Carry On films. And eventually, I said: “Have you watched any of them yet?”, and he goes: “Edgar, I’m terrified”. He goes: “I don’t know where to start; there’s too much”. And I said: “Well, let’s—you know”. I haven’t watched any of them with him but I sort of said: “We’ll do a double-bill: We’ll watch Carry On Camping and Carry On Girls as a double bill”. But, what is it that I’ve shown him? Let me think. I’m trying to think of something that he’s showed me. I know he showed me this cop film before Hot Fuzz that just had the greatest title ever—this Italian cop film called Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man. (audience laughter) Which is an amazing title. So that was pretty good.
PT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, Edgar’s here tonight not for any other reason but because he loves to share the joy of film, so please bear that in mind when you ask your question—if you do have a question. We’re going to start from down—Oh, shit!
EW: Look who it is!
PT: It’s the ball scratcher.
(enormous applause as Nick Frost enters)
EW: I just had to answer a question for you, and I did a very bad job of answering it, so I’m now going to repeat what this man just asked me. Did you—You shaved—Explain shaving your balls for Shaun of the Dead. Go.
Nick Frost: Let me just say, I have vertigo. This is fucking high! Why did you have to build it so high? Are you going to hang a man? Are you going to hang a tall man afterwards? I felt it was important as a Method actor to that I, uh, scratch my balls constantly throughout the shooting of Shaun of the Dead so I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to shave all of my pubis off’. And I did, from about here to about there. And I’ve kept it. I’ve kept it shaved. I realised there was cleaner way, a brighter way. And, yeah, that’s how I roll now.
EW: And listen, Nick’s pubes are under somebody’s chair. If you look under your chair in this theatre—and it won’t get you entry into the premiere tomorrow, but you will have his pubes forever.
NF: I gave—You’ve got my moustache, haven’t you? You’ve got my mustache from Spaced.
EW: I’ve got his mustache from Spaced in a matchbox and it, like, it immediately fossilised into looking just like a caterpillar. Like a ginger caterpillar.
NF: It’s like a ginger dread (lock).
EW: (laughing) Sorry.
NF: I didn’t like the way you held the mic there, it looked weird.
EW: It was a smelly dick. (laughs)
NF: I bet you’re glad I arrived, aren’t you?
PT: Now, some people—not me, of course—have categorised Edgar as an egomaniacal taskmaster on set.
PT: A straight-to-video kind of director. Could you please tell us straight: what’s he like on set? What does he actually give you when you’re there in front of the camera, in front of history, ready to make your move, and he goes: ‘Do it’?
NF: He, uh—
EW: I shouldn’t listen to this.
NF: Yeah, you shouldn’t be listening. It’s—It’s fucking hard, you know; it’s—it’s amazing to watch Edgar, you know? I’ve just come up here and done the shaved pubic hair gag and now now I’m trying to change back down into talking seriously. It’s amazing to watch Edgar. He has the whole thing mapped out in his mind from start to finish, and you can’t argue with that. He’s a perfectionist and, again, you can’t argue with perfection, you know; when he’s pushing and pushing for what he wants, not just from the acts, but from the technical crew. You can’t, in all good conscience, as a friend and, on The World’s End, an executive producer and an actor, you can’t knock off early. You can’t say: “Well, that’s it now. It’s six. I’m fucking off”. You know, Edgar, a lot of the time goes—Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me when I’m talking nicely to you. It feels weird. (audience laughter) We’ll finish, we’ll wrap at eight or nine and he goes to the editing room for two or three hours, then he’ll get up at four a.m. to do shot lists and it’s an amazing thing to watch. That said, you know, that comes at a cost and there is a price for that, you know. And as, being best friends with Edgar for years and years, you have to accept that you cannot have one without the other and it wouldn’t work unless it was like that.
PT: Well, Nick, I’m glad you’re here because I wanted to do this before and I think the question that we all want to know is: who has the best Steven Spielberg story? Whether you, in particular, on set—or Edgar, perhaps, in the writing process—whether there was a moment that you swapped and said to each other: “Oh, hang on; I’ve got something to beat this”.
NF: I don’t think I have. I mean, you know, we worked together on Tintin and stuff, and I got him to sign my first-edition Close Encounters… novel, which was amazing. He’d never really seen one before. When I was like a 16-year-old boy I used to go around all of the Oxfam stores trying to find a first-edition book that one day might be worth something. And when I knew I had the chance to work with Steven Spielberg, the first thing I thought was: “I can get him to sign my fucking book”.
NF: Yeah, so that’s in a little safe at home. But, I mean, that’s it. You know, I forget a lot of things, so I’m sure there’s something better.
EW: I had a thing where, on The World’s End… It was a really exhausting shoot, especially towards the end of the shoot, because we shot for 12 weeks and we were mostly doing night shoots—working six-day weeks—and on the one day off I would usually not be able to get off the couch at all, just not even get out of the house. And like the week before we finished I was so exhausted and I wanted to get out and see some daylight but I sort of couldn’t. And I was just feeling so low and sort of exhausted and then E.T. was on TV and I hadn’t watched it all the way through for a long time and so I was, like, transfixed to E.T. and, probably because I was tired and emotional, I was crying like a little kid. It really got me. And then at the end of the film I thought: “I’m going to email Spielberg and tell him”. So I emailed him—
EW: It’s true, firstname.lastname@example.org. (audience laughter) I emailed him, and I said: “Hey Steven, I’m 11 weeks through a 12-week shoot, I’m so beyond tired, I haven’t seen any new movies—including yours”, and I said, “But I just watched E.T. and it got me like I was eight again, and I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you for being an inspiration’, Edgar’. And I got an email back five minutes later, saying: ‘Hey, E. Good luck on your last week. Finish strong. Phone home. S’.”
EW: And then I showed it to you (Nick Frost), didn’t I?
NF: Yeah, and I deleted it.
EW: Straight in the junk with the gardenia extract.
NF: You want to marry one of those women, right?
EW: (laughing) Yes.
PT: All right. Sorry, I’m entirely superfluous to your experience and please forgive me if I’m going to introduce our first person who’s going to ask a question. Please do. Don’t be shy.
AUD: Hello. My question is for Edgar: I am directing a short film in two weeks. Do you have any any advice for directing actors older and more experienced than yourself?
EW: I think just have an answer for everything. Did you write it as well?
EW: Well, that’s good, because you know exactly what the intention is, and I think if you’re a writer-director then you know what the meaning of every line is and you know what the meaning of every scene is, and I think you just be honest and, like, I think, just stick with your guns. Stick with what you want to do. I think that’s the most important thing is don’t let people kind of improv all around it. If the dialogue is really important to you, you know, make sure you’ve got the dialogue. Even if you let them do something as a different version, make sure you’ve got what you want. But I think the most important thing, if you’re doing a short and stuff is don’t be afraid to fail. You only learn by making mistakes, so if it doesn’t go completely correctly, you’re only going to learn from that.
AUD: Cool. Thank you very much.
AUD: Hi guys. Could you please tell us about the writing process, for lack of a better word, with Simon Pegg?
EW: You know, we write in a room together, we write all of the scripts tighter, we don’t sort of send drafts to each other. Like with The World’s End we did proper office hours and stuff. Simon’s a new father and everything so he needs to kind of be back at home, so on The World’s End we would kind of be, like, work a nine to six day in the office and once we’d done the script then executive producer, Nicholas Frost, has a look.
NF: Hey, fans.
EW: And gives his notes and stuff. We’d just do it like that, really, so we tend to—The first thing we do is that we pool all of the ideas, we get a big kind of flip chart and we get all of the kind of character ideas and then sort of refine that into, like, a story structure. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen on the Shaun of the Dead DVD, we go through the flip chart that we wrote out, where we basically mapped out the entire film. So we sort of try and, like, work everything out beat for beat before we even start writing and, if it’s going really well, it starts to write itself. The dialogue is sort of powered along by the story and it starts kind of clicking into place.
AUD: Hey guys. Well, now that Nick’s here, I was going to ask him to address the rumours of being cast as the next Doctor (Who).
NF: Me? Oh, God. No, no, no. I kind of like Doctor Who and I don’t know if I’d like to watch myself in it.
AUD: But seriously—
NF: No, I was being serious.
AUD: Spaced and Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead all feel like there’s not much room from improvisation on set. Is it all pretty much locked in on the script before you go or is there still a lot of room to move when you’re shooting.
EW: Well, we like to—We write the script and rehearse it, and funny lines come out of that, and then they go in the script and that becomes the shooting script. But we don’t really tend to do a lot of improvisation on the day because, you know, the script is quite tight, or the scene will end with a question which is answered in the next scene. The vogue at the moment in comedy is to improvise a lot, but usually what that comes down to is people arguing and, in most improv comedies, the improvvie bits are people arguing with each other. It’s never usually, like, plot-related because the plot has to move the story along, and improv rarely does. I think the only bit in this film that was really improvised was when you were trying to make Simon laugh.
NF: “Cafe au lait”, all that kind of stuff. “Cockocidal maniac”, I think was improvised. Because that was your mother-in-law behind, wasn’t it?
EW: It was. Well, no, that was my girlfriend’s mother at the time. She’s not dead—I mean, she’s not my girlfriend anymore.
NF: She also died.
EW: Listen, I was nowhere near—They’re both not dead, and I didn’t kill them.
NF: Actors as well. If you allow actors to improvise at the end of a scene, potentially it could go on forever, because an actor never wants to give another actor the last word. Also, you know, as I said before, Edgar has the whole thing mapped out in his mind. His transitions are so precise and swift that you—There’s no need to do it. It’d be wasted. You know, we also shoot on film so when you’re improvising dick-jokes for three minutes that’s money going on the floor. I’m a producer, too, which is why I talk about it now: the cost of film.
AUD: Hey guys, how’s it going? I have a question about Scott Pilgrim. Because the books were being written at the same time as the film was going into production, how do you feel now, three years on, looking back at it and having the two side-by-side?
EW: Well I think Bryan Lee O’Malley, who wrote the books, was involved from a very early stage, even to the point where we’d done this first draft. What happens in Hollywood, which is kind of strange, is that they definitely want you to kind of just go straight away, not really—I remember I stalled on a couple of occasions to let Bryan write more books and I think people get very impatient and they want to just, ‘Go now! Go Now! It doesn’t matter what the rest of it’s like, just make a movie’. I stalled quite a lot so Bryan actually—By the time we’d shot the movie I think five of them had been released. I understand the sixth was being written, but we had written the script with the arc, we had the stories of all of them, and in some cases Bryan had taken little bits from our first draft of the script and put them in, like, books three and four. He was not so precious in that he understood that one was an adaptation and that, you know, the books are always going to be the books and this was the adaptation and it was going to take a slightly different path.
AUD: They work so well together, as well.
EW: Yeah, and the video game, as well, was coming out at the same time which was then another narrative, so, I know some fans want it to be verbatim every time—every single scene, every single line—but Bryan was cool in that he understood that it was going to be an adaptation and, as you probably know, we ended up changing the ending to be more like the books and Bryan co-write that last scene with us. One of my favourite lines in the film is not in the books and is also his line. He wrote it. It was a good collaboration—
AUD: Which line was that, sorry?
EW: It was Knives’ line: “I’m too cool for you, anyway”, which happens in the last scene. And that was Bryan’s line, and it’s not in the books. It was an interesting collaboration and I definitely tried to involve him at every stage.
AUD: Awesome. Thanks, man.
AUD: Hello. A bit of a self-indulgent question: I’m about to fly out tomorrow morning to go to San Diego Comic Con for the first time and, obviously, as filmmakers you’ve been. What was it like the first time that you went there?
EW: Oh, the first time in San Diego was amazing.
NF: Yeah, it was fantastic.
EW: Yeah, we showed Shaun of the Dead at Comic Con, and it was just a great response. It’s not dissimilar to being in Australia; it makes us feel very proud to show a film like this, which was shot in our neighbourhood. At the time we were all living in North London when we made this movie, so it makes us very proud to be, you know, on the other side of the world and people are laughing at it. It’s the same thing with the other two movies, as well. It’s always funny to me, watching places that I’ve grown up in, on the big screen. It amuses me. It was amazing.
NF: I was nuts deep in Ewok females for three days. So yeah, it’s fantastic.
EW: Sticky Wicket. (laughs)
NF: We said we wouldn’t talk to the Australians about the cricket, Edgar.
PT: Yub nub, indeed.
NF: Stop it!
EW: Let’s go back over here.
AUD: How are you doing, guys? Absolutely love all of your work, but I’m not going to stand up here and bombard you with cliches, but what I will say is this: Thank you, on behalf of everyone here, for making such a bloody fantastic series of films. It’s just absolutely amazing.
EW: Thank you
AUD: I actually do have a question. What is the single most important thing that drives you in filmmaking?
EW: I think not being complacent. In terms of, we were talking about me being a hard taskmaster. I always feel like the day that I go home early or knock off early something’s wrong, have we tried everything we can, you know?
NF: Maybe that isn’t wrong.
EW: Well that’s the thing, I think what drives me is not being complacent, trying to work as hard as I can on everything.
NF: Yeah, I’d say the same, not to sit back on your laurels, and say: “Okay, we made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim and Paul, and yeah—fuck it. People will like what we do anyway”. So, you just sit back and have a money-fight.
EW: Do you have those?
NF: I think that’s absolute insanity. I think you always have to keep pushing yourself and getting up and writing and having a laugh and just keep going forward, you know?
EW: The day that you know we’ve lost it is when you find a Youtube video of us having a money-fight.
AUD: Thank you very much. Please don’t stop.
EW: What song would be on it?
EW & NF: (singing) Que sera, sera. Thanks very much.
PT: You have taken that first step, though, towards money-fighting, which is Cake Flushing. Obviously, this has never come up before and no one has ever asked you about it. Can I just say, ‘thank you very much’ for giving the world cake flushing.
NF: You’re welcome.
PT: Have you though about any variations, or perhaps taking it to new heights-slash-depths?
NF: I think that was that, you know? We did three cake flushes. That was the trilogy, complete, and I can move on now.
EW: Whatever we work on, whatever we do in life, it won’t top Cake Flushing 3.
NF: We’ll never quite be that high ever again. (laughter)
EW: I remember somebody from the studio said: “Um, guys, are you sure you want to put cake flushing on the Internet? Because it’s very obvious that you’re high”.
NF: That was the last day of our Hot Fuzz press tour and we did a Q&A in Atlanta, and we had time for one more question and some guy from the back shouted: “I baked you some weed-cake!”, and then, like, he found us afterwards and gave it to us.
EW: This young lady.
NF: No one’s baked us weed-cake, have they?
AUD: Hey, I was wondering, what was the most difficult scene to shoot for Shaun of the Dead?
EW: I think shooting the scene with Barbara dying was pretty difficult because—sometimes a scene lands in the schedule exactly where it should be, where, I think it was about 80 per cent of the way through the shoot, and everyone was exhausted. Simon’s tears are real in the sense that he was genuinely upset that he had to shoot Penelope, and also it was her last shot in the movie, so there’s something very strange about that shot where she goes: “Rargh!”, with the contacts on. It was her last shot, then she went to make-up, got in her car, and she was gone. Sometimes you shoot out of sequence, but in that case it was in sequence, and then Penelope was gone for the rest of the movie. So I think that was quite an emotionally draining thing to shoot, yeah?
NF: Yeah, you know. And also it’s that thing where one minute you’re shooting a kind of jolly zombie romp and then the next minute, you know, it’s the most serious thing you’ve ever shot. That was, in terms of acting, apart from lying in Simon’s arms dying in Spaced and stuff, having to do that scene was the first time I’ve ever really had to act sad and fucking angry. Those emotions you feel as an actor, they don’t come from a different pool of emotions. It’s the same emotions. So, you know, when you’re mad and angry and upset, you are mad and angry and upset, and during that scene, Simon and I had to take a break behind the scenes and go and cry, because it’s upsetting, you know? So that definitely that was the hardest thing we had to shoot.
AUD: Thank you.
(audience laughter at a photo on cinema screen)
EW: That’s a lovely big Bill Nighy behind us.
AUD: I had a question: in terms of writing, for both of you, do either of you have a particular writer who inspires you or the way that you write your dialogue, your jokes, your comedy?
EW: Yeah. You know, me and Simon we like the scripts of, like, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, like, who wrote Back to the Future, but a lot of their scripts have—You know, they wrote Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and sort of perfected [that style] with Back to the Future, you know? Everything building up to that final scene. They’re great at those set-ups and pay-off. So that was a script that we really liked. Then the other script that we really, really love is Raising Arizona, which is my favourite film, I think; it’s another film with good set-ups and pay-offs. So those are the two that really spring to mind.
NF: My brain doesn’t really work like that. I try to think about anything else but what we’re doing at the time, you know? I think if you put something in front of me at the time I’d say: “That’s amazing, I absolutely love it”, and then two minutes either side I’d have forgotten what it was I was looking at.
EW: But why don’t we ask Simon Pegg what he thinks?
EW: Look at this guy!
(applause as Simon Pegg enters)
EW: Did you hear my answer, by the way, or not?
Simon Pegg: No, I didn’t.
EW: Okay, so this can be like Mr. and Mrs. What’s your favourite script, Simon?
SP: My favourite strip club?
SP: Oh, sorry. (audience laughter) Remember that one in San Francisco? Script. My favourite script? Of our three films?
EW: No, no. Other scripts. What script inspires you? If I get it right, I want you (the audience) to stand up.
SP: Um. (Pause) Raising Arizona?
EW: You don’t have to. What? One other script.
SP: Probably Lucky Lady in um—did you say “script” again?
SP: Oh, sorry.
SP: Gremlins? Back to the Future?
EW: Back to the Future!
NF: Jobby in your room? Is that why you were late?
PT: Simon, before you so rudely interrupted with your megastardom, we were just having a chat with a few of our friends from Melbourne. So we’re just going upstairs, downstairs, and who knows what’s going to happen? So I’m just going to throw it open. Please.
AUD: Yeah, no fucking pressure at all. (laughter) I don’t have questions for either Nick or Simon, so I’m sorry.
NF: That’s all right.
SP: Fuck you.
AUD: You took me surprise, I’m sorry. Loved you in Star Trek, I guess? Yeah. For Edgar: in terms of directing, directing a feature’s obviously a hard gig to do, but you seem to take it to a whole other masochistic, scientific level. Aside from coffee, sugar and other such hard drugs, how do you maintain your enthusiasm, your focus, your creativity… you know, your drive throughout the entire shoot? And when you hit that wall, like you did—you’ve said you did it in Scott Pilgrim after 3000 fucking slates. What do you do then?
EW: I don’t know, it’s difficult, like, you know, just email email@example.com and—that’s a callback! But, I don’t know. That’s a good question because you will always hit a wall. I think everybody does. When you’re on a particularly long shoot there’s always going to be a point in the shoot where everybody gets tired. It’s almost like a viral thing, the entire crew and cast all hit the wall at the same time, so you just… It sounds like the obvious thing to say, but you just power through it, because you don’t want to look back at the film and say: “Eh, that scene should have been better, but I was really tired”.
So I just, I don’t know, I caned the espressos like crazy—which is probably a really bad idea, because then, what happens, is that at the end of the shooting day I’m completely wired and I can’t get to sleep. So I don’t know, I don’t think there is any real answer to it. It’s always going to happen and whatever film you’re on there’s always a point where you’ll be so over it and you’ve just got to get the energy up.
The most important thing is—and I’m guilty of this—you have to not let the actors see that you’ve, you know, lost it. But on The World’s End it was really tough, and there were times that I kind of rely on Simon and Nick too much because they’re so good with the crew and so upbeat that I maybe rely on them too much to, kind of, keep morale going.
NF: It’s the first time he’s ever admitted that.
EW: It’s true! It’s true. It’s difficult, though. It’s difficult.
NF: If you were to come on one of our sets towards the end of the shoot it looks like the Somme, you know? Literally, a lot of times in that pub we were shooting at, or if we were shooting in a car, you just fall asleep. And then they say: “Okay Nick, we’re ready”, and then you have to do it, you know? It gets that bad sometimes.
AUD: Hi guys, just wanted to say I loved Spaced, because my name’s Tim, and I also like Resident Evil video games.
EW: Are you going to sue us?
AUD: Yeah, yeah.
EW: We’ve stolen your identity!
AUD: It was like The Truman Show.
EW: We also know your mother’s maiden name and PIN number.
AUD: I just want to ask what was it like to meet George A. Romero after making a film with so many references to his films?
EW: I’ll let Simon answer this one.
SP: The first time we heard he was watching it and so we were waiting for a phone call from him. I was walking around my kitchen waiting for him to call, which is the most bizarre thing ever. Eventually, the phone rang and I picked it up and it was George Romero. It was surreal. It was incredible and it was almost—The only thing we ever wanted, really, was for him to see it as the tribute and the expression of affection that it was for his films and, you know, we met him in Toronto, didn’t we, on Land of the Dead for the first time. But I got very apologetic on the phone to him, because I was, like: “Listen, I’m really sorry because, like, Phillip reanimates really quickly and I know it took, like, half-an-hour for Roger to reanimate in Dawn…. I felt like we really had to because it was just driving the plot forward, and I just thought maybe he should reanimate in the car with Shaun and it would be better because otherwise—’, and he just went quiet for a while and went: “You know, I didn’t mind”. Which is nice.
EW: The other funny detail about that is that George Romero watched it in a cinema in Florida. He was on holiday and they arranged for him to watch it in this cinema in Florida, and he watched it on his own in the presence of a Universal security guard—as if George Romero would pirate the movie. (laughs)
EW: And if he did, he’s be the one person who’d be allowed to have some of those residuals. I love the idea of just thinking: ‘Watch that guy’.
SP: When we met him he had a little badge on that said, ‘Aim for the head’. He had a Shaun of the Dead badge on, didn’t he?
EW: We did make, as a ‘thank you’, everybody who gave us press quotes for the movie for the print campaign, and he had a poster quote—George Romero gave us a poster quote—and we made a badge that said ‘George, Assistant Manager, Foree Electric’, and when we turned up on the Land of the Dead set, he was wearing that badge, and if you watch the making of Land of the Dead he’s wearing it, every day, on the set. He has, like: ‘Foree Electric, George, Assistant Manager’.
SP: Didn’t we give Ken Foree one that said ‘Managing Director’?
EW: No, no, no! We gave Ken Foree one that said ‘Assistant Manager’, and he said: “I should be ‘Manager’”.
SP: That’s right.
PT: Briefly, I’ll pop in. I think this brings us to the question, which is: the three of you—can you agree on the best zombie film, or do you continuously argue as to the merits of Dawn… versus Land… versus Night…, or perhaps even your variations, like Zombieland or The Walking Dead or even World War Z? I mean, have you seen these movies? Do you scoff at them? Do you feel that perhaps we’re no quite there yet for the ultimate zombie film?
EW: I’m not sure even Brad Pitt thinks World War Z is the best zombie film.
EW: No, I think me and Simon definitely agree on—
EW: Dawn of the Dead, 1978. You have to say ’1978′ now. But yes, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. What’s your favourite?
NF: I say the one Vhing Rhames did.
SP: For me, any film where they run is not a zombie film. As soon as they start running, they stop being zombies.
SP: Thank you. World War Z was like a sequel to Antz, but funnier.
EW: Wouldn’t it be great if they had the voice of Woody Allen in it as well?
AUD: A little bit surprised at no mention of Evil Dead there, but moving on. I’m a huge fan of Tintin ever since I was a kid—
EW: Not technically a zombie film, Evil Dead; let’s think about it.
AUD: Yeah. What it was like acting as the Thompson Twins or writing on such a hallowed franchise, and can you tell us anything about the future of it?
NF: Yeah, it was pretty weird, right? For a month we shot it in Santa Monica and I think my one memory I’ll take away was having to wear the mo-cap suit, which was horrible. Simon and Daniel Craig looked lovely in theirs, obviously, and I end up looking like a brontosaurus’s egg. So, there’s that. But working with Steven Spielberg, you know, and Kathy Kennedy, and Peter Jackson, was on a big screen so it was fantastic. We were very aware, every day that, you know, if you were going to fuck up on a film set, this was the one to not fuck up on.
SP: Peter Jackson was live on Skype from New Zealand. He was on a little monitor. We wouldn’t see him there, but after a take Steven Spielberg would say: “Do that, do that”; then we’d hear, (accented): “Uh, hello guys, this is Peter. That was really good but uh—”. It was like the voice of God.
SP: God was a Kiwi?
NF: We rehearsed this big scene once, and they said: “Look, now. Peter’s going to come and watch what you guys have been doing”, and, like, Peter and Steven—they never have to wait for anything; they are announced, and they turn up, and you do it, and they go. It’s that simple. They don’t wait. So, you know, someone came in: “Okay guys, three minutes, three minutes. A minute. Peter’s coming, Peter’s coming. Here’s Peter—everyone”, and this film crew bustled in with Peter and we were looking over and an assistant walked in with him, on a laptop, which was really weird. It was like the floating heads in Futurama. But he must do that so much that he kind of does this thing when he talks to the assistant, he kind of looks up. Being held like this (mimes). So they’ve got to a point where they’ve rehearsed, and when he walked in the assistant said: “Can someone get Peter a chair, please?”, and they got him a director’s chair and they put it on and we rehearsed in front of him, and then he said: “Okay, that’s great, guys. Can someone take me back to the studio, please?”, and then they picked him up and took him off. It was amazing.
NF: Also, there was another time we were rehearsing and Peter was talking to a bunch of us and we just happened to be in the room. I whispered to Simon: “Go and shut the lid. Just walk up and shut the lid”. What would have happened?
SP: It was great fun, thank you.
PT: Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have to warn you that we are going to be coming to the end of our evening soon, so if you are queued up, please get ready for heartbreaking disappointment, but we will do a couple of questions yet, so if you’re in, you’re in next or next to go, you might make it.
AUD: Hello. Throughout most genre films, there are a lot of fan theories, my favourite being that Election is the long-lost sequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I was just wondering if there were any really crazy fan theories that you’ve heard about the films you’ve made so far.
EW: Well, are there any like that? I don’t know.
SP: I heard somewhere that someone said that Malcolm in the Middle was a sequel to Breaking Bad, and that the end of Breaking Bad will be Walter White going into the witness protection program with his new family, which I thought was hilarious.
EW: I don’t know if there’s any in our films. Like, we had this one idea in Hot Fuzz where Nicholas would get stabbed. That’s the end of the film—he has this sort of dying fantasy of being a bad-arse. A bit of a bummer ending, so we didn’t do that. I don’t know if there’s any crazy fantasies—
SP: Well you’ve got some crazy fantasies.
EW: People do a lot of slash fiction about, like, Shaun and Ed. We did a whole bunch of Hot Fuzz slash fiction that we really enjoyed. But that’s something different to your question. This is just for our own private enjoyment.
EW: Yeah, I don’t know.
SP: He’s the only one that would know it. So, no.
AUD: Hello. A pleasure to see you all here. I was curious, Edgar: In Scott Pilgrim I had heard there were a lot of lightbulbs used in every punch and hit and things like that, and we already heard earlier about Nick’s shorn genitalia.
EW: Good pun.
AUD: I was curious if there were any details in films that that the two of you act in, or the ones that Edgar directs, that you fear might get lost. Are you afraid you put a lot of detail into your films and your performances that people might not notice?
SP: Somebody always does, you know, even if it’s just one person. That part of the joy of this kind of thing is that, when we were writing and making Spaced we always thought, ‘One person is going to get this mention. Somebody’s going to remember the episode of The X-Files where Scully’s dog gets eaten by a crocodile’, and it turned out that was more than one person. So, even if it’s… there’s stuff in The World’s End that you won’t see until the fourth time you watch it, but that’s part of the joy. You owe it to audiences these days to make the viewing experience very rich and bear up to repeated viewing. Even if there’s things very deep in there, I’m very confident that the audience is smart enough and patient enough to get it all. We purposely bury them deep sometimes, I think. Very serious answer, wasn’t it?
NF: When we say: “The fourth time you see it”, we’re hoping it’s the fourth time you see it at the cinema.
SP: Yeah, you won’t spot it on DVD. It’ll only be at the cinema.
AUD: Hi, I’m a big fan. At my birthday last year, heaps of my friends hadn’t seen the film—
SP: Not this year?
AUD: And I’m like: “How can you not have seen Hot Fuzz? It’s like my favourite movie”. So I proceeded to play it, and then my mum walks in. It’s an MA movie and I was turning 15, but none of my other friends were 15 and then it proceeded to happen, at that church scene, where they push the pillar off and the guy’s head explodes everywhere. My mum walks in and she goes: “What’s this going on?” and I’m there going: “Uh oh, this isn’t good”, and I was wondering if I can grab a photo with you guys, because none of my mates gonna believe me that I’ve actually seen you.
SP: A lot of boys your age have got stories like that about their mums coming in.
EW: I think we should do a photo with you just to confuse your mum.
AUD: You want me to come down?
EW: Why don’t you just come back to the hotel with us?
SP: We stopped doing that on the Shaun of the Dead press tour, really.
EW: We’ll do a photo with you, but only to confuse your mum.
AUD: Okay, thanks!
AUD: My question’s changed about four times while I’ve been lining up, but since you’re all here now I’ve settled on one. It’s obvious that Shaun of the Dead was influenced by a lot of different films, and Edgar, you said we can’t believe everything we see on the Internet, earlier. I was just wondering how much truth there is to the fact that Shaun of the Dead was inspired by that one early episode of Spaced where there’s that two-second shot of a zombie, or a few zombies?
EW: Yeah, that was not the story inspiration, but when we shot that scene, which I think was the last day of the shoot on Spaced—it’s like the third episode of the first series—it was such a fun day. I remember being in a cab with Simon, and saying: “We should do a whole zombie film”, and it took us—We were trying to think of what the angle would be, of how to do a comedy horror, but like I said before, wasn’t quite like Evil Dead 2 and wasn’t quite like Brain Dead or wasn’t like An American Werewolf in London—something that was tonally ours. So, it was definitely the seed of the idea of doing a film, but it took us a little while to actually figure out what that idea was.
AUD: Cool. Thank you.
AUD: Hi. I just wanted to say I’m a film student and I’m really inspired by all the films and TV shows you guys have done. I feel like it’s hard to get into the industry, but making a feature film is something I can actually see myself doing. It’s just that distribution thing that seems like the hard thing to do, so I was wondering how you guys went about getting Shaun of the Dead out into cinemas and actually, you know, released?
EW: It’s difficult to get any film released, and it was difficult to get Shaun of the Dead made. We were lucky in that we had done Spaced, but even with that behind us it was—(microphone feedback) I feel like I’m about to contact the dead. (audience laughter) It was… I don’t know. The answer is that it is difficult and all you can really do is have faith in the quality of your movie. It’s not easy, but don’t give up.
AUD: Aww, thank you.
PT: Ladies and gentlemen I’m going to—
EW: Oh, I saw the look on that guy’s face, you’ve got to let him ask the question.
PT: I have to say, you’re a natty dresser, so you scrape in. Make it a good one.
AUD: Hello everybody. I love your work and your films. The way your movie is shot—all your films—it’s very stylistic. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to develop a style and your own feel to your movies.
EW: It’s just trial and error. I think you’ve just got to experiment and that’s the only way you’ll—I started, like, Oscar was saying at the start, looking at my favourite films and trying those shots using, like, shopping trollies, using handmade steadicams and stuff, but you’ll just develop your own style just by experimenting. I think too many people who want to make a feature film or even short, they expect—or they think people expect—Citizen Kane, out of the gate. That’s not going to happen, and that’s absolutely fine. The thing to do is just trial and error, is to just keep experimenting, especially if you’re just starting out. The best thing you can do is just keep experimenting and don’t be afraid of failing. It won’t happen first time out, and the times when it does are extremely rare so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out first time. But I think that’s the only way to find your style, is to just keep experimenting.
AUD: Thank you.
EW: And as this man said, he’s already a natty dresser, so you’re okay.
NF: I think I’d like to apologise on behalf of Simon and myself, because we’ve crashed this event. It meant some of you people didn’t get to ask questions so we apologise for that.
NF: Truly. Honestly. I mean that. I know I come up here and have a laugh and a joke, but I mean it.
PT: On behalf of Popcorn Taxi I’d like to sincerely apologise to all of you tonight. We do the best we can with what we’ve got.
PT: And I think we’ve muddled through. Edgar Wright: thank you so much for your time. And Mr. Nick Frost and Mr. Simon Pegg. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together.
EW: I think we’re going to see the Peggsters and the Frostitutes tomorrow. Thanks for coming along.
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