Archive interview with the legendary Edgar Wright from the 2005 Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook
More on the books at www.GuerillaFilm.com
Q – Where are you from and were you a film lover from a young age?
Edgar – I was raised in and around Bournemouth and Poole, and my Mum and Dad took me to the cinema all the time. It was a handy drop-off to get rid of us for the afternoon when they were doing craft fairs and stuff! Some summers, my brother and I would see every single movie on release because it was cheaper to just leave us at the cinema than to hire a babysitter. I don’t think I actually got a VCR until I was 16 because my mum and dad couldn’t afford one for a very long time, but when I did, I started watching 6 films a day!
Before we actually got a video recorder, if something like Piranha, or The Howling was on at 3am, we’d stay up and watch the whole thing. From an early age I’d always been obsessed with films and I went through periods as a child and teenager of wanting to do different things. First, I wanted to be Han Solo, then I wanted to be Spiderman, then I wanted to be an actor, then I wanted to be a stuntman, a comic book artist, maybe an animator. I wanted to be an animator or comic book writer or artist until I saw a documentary called The Incredibly Strange Film Show by Jonathan Ross, about Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead. I’ve met Jonathan Ross since, and I said to him, ‘Do you realise how influential that documentary series was?’ He said ‘Oh fuck off, you make me feel so old!’ The truth is, it was a really influential series. I’d heard about The Evil Dead, and I’m not sure I’d actually seen it by that point. The documentary made me understand how The Evil Dead was made. This was something that wasn’t just in the domain of grown-ups.
Q – Did you make any movies while growing up?
Edgar – Around that time, my dad bought us a second hand Super 8mm camera. We started off doing Sesame Street-style animation ‘stop frame’, and moved on to simple live action dramas where we’d shoot the action then dub the entire thing later. That was amazing because it started this run of making films. The first one that I did was five minutes long and it starred all of my school friends. It was all based around that fact that one of my friends could do a really good Rolf Harris impersonation. So we made this film called ‘Rolf Harris Saves The World’. Rolf was like the John McClane character taking on these terrorists. We shot for maybe five days, and it was quite expensive because the Super 8mm reels would be £15 a go. When you used up eight of them, that is quite a lot for a 14 year old and it was all with my own money I’d earned from working at a supermarket. One friend had a 4-track, so I’d go round to his, and we’d do the soundtrack in one day. But that day my friend who could do the Rolf Harris impersonation was ill and couldn’t make it, so I had to do it myself and my impersonation wasn’t as good as his. It was like ‘fuck!’ The whole raison d’être of this entire film is now just rubbish. Still, the good thing about it was that I showed it at lunch breaks at school. Then we did a sequel, ‘Rolf Harris 2: The Bearded One’ and that was half an hour long on Super 8. That took six to nine months to make because of all the trial and error involved. I’d get whole reels back black because I’d exposed it wrongly. I remember vividly having to shoot the same scene three times because I’d fucked up the exposure. I had also figured out that the more people who were in it, the more people would come and see it – all of their friends will come as well!
Also around this time I was quite lucky, I was in the first year of 6th form, and there was a competition on Comic Relief about making a film about one of the causes. The prize was a video camera. Now I couldn’t afford a video camera, so I made an animation about wheelchair access and I ended up winning the competition! It was really cool because it was like this thing that I had made in my bedroom with plastercine was played on Comic Relief on the BBC. So now I had this Video 8 camera, and it was all out then! The films started to balloon in terms of size. One was a western called A Fistful of Fingers. One was a superhero film called Carbolic Soap and there was a cop one called Dead Right. And with each successive one, the cast got bigger and bigger. Not that any of my immediate friends wanted to be actors, but it was just that they were my mates, and it was like ‘you can be the Indian, you can play the cop’. Then it would be like ‘hey do you know there is this other guy, who, I know he is a prat, but he’s a really good actor, I’ve seen him!’ I stopped showing them in the lunch hall and moved up to the main hall at the school. That really got me hooked because I was getting the audience’s reaction. Not so much from gags, but from gore effects. You do the most hand-made gore effects and just getting people going ‘Euurrrggghh!’ It is the best thing.
Q – You had a media course / film school education, how useful was it?
Edgar – I went to the Bournemouth Art College, on the audiovisual course, and it was really good to be with like-minded people. In the summer, Bournemouth would be deserted, and because I was not very sporty or a big sun-lover, I would think ‘Ok fuck it, I’m just going to lock myself in the edit suite all weekend, and all night if need be!’ I used to make compilations of film clips and stuff just to learn how to edit. I really, really love editing, and editing things to music and stuff. I really got it into my head that ‘I want to be like Sam Raimi. I want to make a film when I’m 20, I’m going to do it, I’m going to make my own film’. So I started shopping around with the stuff that I’d done. I had the idea of re-making A Fistful of Fingers on 16mm. I’d come up to London and met a couple of people through the NPA and Raindance which was good in terms of making some contacts.
I sent a draft of the new version to a couple of people, and I even sent it to Jonathan Ross. I was thinking he would realise how many people he has inspired. I got a rejection letter back from his secretary, along with rejections from everyone else. I was even more motivated by this, and thought ‘well, we’ve done all these things on our own, we can just do this, and we just need to find some money to do it on 16mm’.
Q – So where did the money come from?
Edgar – I began work with a producer, Danny Figuero, but the money didn’t come from the tiny in-roads into the London film scene that I had made. My mum, back in Somerset, happened to mention to a friend of hers, who was the editor of the local newspaper that I wanted to remake the film. I’d made a kind of corporate film for him before and he’d seen the films that I’d done. He had come into an inheritance so he put up the money, which was £11k. Not a lot of money in film terms, to us it sounded like a lot.
Q – To a non-film person, with a nine to five job, it is a huge amount of money to lose or gamble.
Edgar – Yes. It came together really quickly. I realise now, how lucky we were. I literally finished my summer term at film school, wrote a draft of the script, and was then making it in August. It was crazy. It was powered on by its own naiveté and the enthusiasm of the people working on it. It didn’t occur to me to cast any young actors in the area, so I just cast all my school friends again! And it turns out that the comedians that I work with now, like Simon Pegg, David Walliams and Matt Lucas, are all of my own age group and lived not too far away. They went to Bristol University and Simon came from Gloucester. It never occurred to me to think ‘Oh I wonder if there are any good young actors out there’, I just thought ‘well, we will just use the same people as last time, it will be cool!’
I pretty much used the same locations as before, and it was very much improvised. The crew was made up of people from my course, with other friends and a couple of people from London. The DP, Alvin Leong, was the first DP I had ever met, and I’d seen one thing that he’d done, and I thought ‘great, you’ve got the job!’
We had nowhere for anyone to stay, so we had loads of people just kipping on floors, and we shot for 21 days over the summer. During the whole lead up, I kept thinking it was going to collapse at any second. The other thing, which was the biggest shocker of all, was that thing of being slightly in awe of the process. 16mm was a professional format and we had limited stock, big cameras, and we couldn’t afford to have dailies. So we did the entire thing with only one day of looking back at what we had done. You had to just go in and shoot and trust the process. It was difficult because before, when shooting on Super 8 or VHS, if we didn’t get a shot, we’d say ‘Oh we will go back and get that another morning!’ When we had finished shooting, and we started editing, it started to really hit me that I wasn’t as happy with the rushes. That wasn’t anybody’s fault, it is more just my own naiveté. Before when I’d done stuff on video, I hadn’t been so worried about continuity of light for instance, and we just got all the shots that we needed, whether it was sunny in one, and cloudy in another – it didn’t matter. Now though, we are making a film, so we’ve got to wait for the sun to go under a cloud. At the end of it, even though it looked better, when I was editing it, I really started to get depressed as I felt like it had lost some of the spark of the original. There is something about re-making something, a comedy especially. On reflection, I kind of prefer the original video version!
Q – Where did you edit it?
Edgar – I edited the film with another Bournemouth graduate, Giles Harding, at Pinewood. We didn’t have an edit suite at Pinewood, but we did have a broom cupboard. For the first two days of commuting to Pinewood we were thinking, ‘wow, Pinewood Studios!’ But then when you had to get three different buses to get there, and in the middle of winter it started getting dark at 4pm, and Giles didn’t have a flat at the time, so he was sleeping on the floor, and we had no money, so we were making teas out of increasingly rancid milk – it became less glamorous! At the end of the process, I wanted to shoot more stuff because as we were editing I started to think of better jokes. I started to think ‘fuck, he should have said that!’
Danny had started to get other people to put in money, to essentially pay for the edit, the sound dub and we needed to do a music score. There was a composer/music lecturer at the college, Francois Evans, and he got his music class to perform and record an orchestral score for the movie. The score is probably one of the best things about it!
The assemble edit was 70 minutes long and too short really so my brother did an animated credits sequence, which turned out really nice and added to the running time. We also made a long end titles sequence too, adding to the length, but it was still too short. Then in the middle of the film, there was a campfire scene where at the end of the scene, the lead guy blew the fire out. So I thought ‘Uh, I could put a scene there in darkness.’ So I filmed some black and I wrote a bit with just two people talking in the night. The end result was a 78-minute movie, and whenever I look at it, all I want to do is take it into an Avid and start tightening the whole thing up!
Q – What happened with distribution?
Edgar – Blue Dolphin, a small distributor, picked it up because they could see that there was a spin on it in terms of it literally being a DIY Western made by teenagers in the country. Rather than make any claims like it being an amazing independent British comedy, it is essentially like a home movie on the big screen. To their credit, that angle got some magazine articles and it got reviewed everywhere – it got good reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter, but Empire gave it 1 star, which I was absolutely mortified about. I was so embarrassed, because I had collected Empire since Issue 1! When critics watched the film I decided to introduce it, and in one review the critic commented ‘the young man who introduced the screening did not look old enough to attend the film, let alone direct it!’ It got released at the Prince Charles and got some OK buzz, but I kind of thought that I’d failed.
Around the same time that I’d been writing, I started to get in with some of the comedians coming through, and the first person that I met was Matt Lucas. He completely blew me away as a stand up comedian. I went up to him afterwards and said ‘I’m writing a film and I think you would be really good in it and I’d love you to have a look at it’ So we got talking and then I told him that I’d done this other film, and it was on at the Prince Charles, and he said ‘I’ll go and see it with David Williams’. They liked it and introduced me to their agent, ICM, who watched the film, read the reviews and signed me up. I then got into TV and started to learn what the fuck I was doing! I remember there was one other director that I knew who had done some independent things and he said to me ‘Oh, we are losing you to TV…’ The thing is, I know that if I hadn’t started doing TV stuff, I wouldn’t have been able to get a second film off the ground.
Q – So it was the success of ‘Spaced’ that really lead to ‘Shaun of the Dead’, as opposed to the triumph of making an £11k film?
Edgar – Yes. I was one of the youngest TV directors working at 21, and started doing comedy sketch shows. I progressed to bigger things, including shows like French and Saunders, where I learned huge amounts. Spaced then followed from that.
Q – One of the industry myths is ‘This hot new, young filmmaker comes out and creates this amazing movie’, but this wasn’t your first attempt of making something. You’ve got maybe 30 or 40 hours of broadcast stuff behind you, and so there wasn’t the pressure of immediate genius?
Edgar – Totally. Spielberg is probably one of the few people I can think of who hit the ground running and kept on going. I remember thinking this at art college, that there was that pressure of the immediate genius thing, where you have got to do a film by the time you are 26, otherwise that’s it! That is just not true though.
Q – How did Shaun of the Dead come about?
Edgar – We did two series of Spaced, and I was really pleased with how it had come together, how it looked and the performances and the editing. But it left us all completely exhausted. Each series was 7 hours of airtime that took 18 months to make. It was really intensive. I started thinking that if we are going to be spending this much time doing something, why don’t we do a film next instead of a third series? Around this time I’d started doing some music videos again. I’d always tried to keep my hand in with that as you could always try out stuff that you can’t necessarily do on TV. There are things in Shaun of the Dead that I never would have attempted if I hadn’t tried them in music videos first, like the long Steadicam shots, and things with choreography. We started writing and we shopped it around, but we figured that FilmFour was the perfect home for it because they had made Spaced as well.
It was interesting, after having done single half hours, to then write a feature screenplay again. Obviously approaching it in a much more serious vein than I had done previously, so we actually got quite anal about it. We read all the books on screenwriting, and there was one very good one called ‘How Not To Write A Screenplay’ which was looking at it from a script reader’s point of view. We watched films that we liked – not necessarily zombie films – but films that we liked structurally, or films that were tonally similar, and then we’d try to pick them apart by using the Syd Field paradigm (in Syd’s screenwriting books). Pretty much it would always work, you would watch The Birds then draw a diagram and say ‘Ok, what was the first plot point?’ We did that for maybe a couple of weeks – watch American Werewolf In London, or Tremors, or Back to the Future, and try and figure it out on the graph. So we started to formulate our own one. We did this big flip chart thing rather than do it on index cards. A page a scene. Not just ideas for what exactly would happen, but bits of dialogue, little doodles and stuff. So we did that whole thing where we worked out the plot by all the notes we had done so far and we were doing it round at each other’s flats at first. Then we found that we needed to be in a specific space. So we got a little office on Berwick St., which had nothing except for a table, which was perfect in a way because there were no distractions whatsoever.
Q – How long did Shaun Of The Dead take to write?
Edgar – The first draft took about eight or nine weeks. When we were finishing, September 11th happened and there was that feeling that nothing can be funny ever again, especially because we were writing this black comedy about the end of the world. We thought ‘our script is fucked, nobody is going to want to see this anymore.’ Then I thought, ‘actually no’, a lot of the stuff that we had written in the script was the kind of stuff that was born out by what happened in the wake of 9/11. Things like the first thing you do, ring your mum, your girlfriend, make sure everybody is OK. And also that strange kind of daze that sets in when, even like last week (London bombings in 2005), when people don’t really know what to do and can’t react in any other way than just carrying on sort of in a state of shock. As we were writing, things we had already written in there suddenly felt quite significant, even if it was only to us. So we handed in that draft and FilmFour liked it. Then over the next nine months we got through about five drafts and we got to the point where we were talking about casting, FilmFour announced it in Cannes, and then they collapsed! Paranoia set in and we asked ourselves ‘What are we going to do? We probably can’t even go back and do our TV show now as we’ve left it too long’, and ‘Oh shit what’s this Resident Evil film coming out? What is this 28 Days Later film? Fuck! FUCK NO!’ We want to do a British zombie film! Fuckers!’ Then it occurs to us, their films are serious and ours is a funny one, so ‘OK, it is fine!’ We managed to get Shaun into turnaround and then shopped it around.
Q – Was it easier or more difficult to pitch it the second time around?
Edgar – It was a different experience because now we were pitching a finished script. And a lot of people who had been interested in the original idea, passed on the finished script. That was like bringing you back down to Earth. Not mentioning any names, there had been maybe three other companies interested as well as FilmFour, who thought it was a really good idea and wanted to develop it. We went back to these other companies and we heard comments like ‘Not funny enough, not scary enough’, and someone else said ‘Not what we were expecting’. Working Title, who originally had been the first people we pitched the idea to and were a little bemused by it, now expressed an interest. The good thing was that they were really into it. They really got the joke. And as it turned out, they were one of the few companies who could fully finance it. All of the other offers that we were having were lots of ‘pulling people together’ deals. It is better if you can get one person to do the whole thing, because if you have five different partners, every one of those companies is going to want their cut, so you actually end up with less money on screen.
Film Four had laid off loads of people, including Jim Wilson who was head of development, so we asked Jim to stay on as a producer because he had essentially developed the whole thing. So he worked with our producer, Nira Park as well as Natascha Wharton at Working Title. This uncertainty went on for six months and I was skint because I had to turn down jobs – I was offered a TV show, and it would have been a big job and good money. I said to the Producer, ‘I’m really flattered that you have offered this to me, but I can’t do it, because I’m trying to get my low budget film off the ground, and it might happen’ and she said ‘If I had a pound for every time I heard a director say that!’
Q – So what was the final budget of Shaun of the Dead?
Edgar – It ended up being £4m. We had done various different budgets for different financial scenarios with better-known actors in it, or with it scaled down. People say ‘Did it feel a lot different to doing TV stuff?’ It didn’t really feel that different to Spaced because the first series of Spaced was really low budget. The second series of Spaced had bigger budgets, but more ambitious scripts, so it just levels out, exactly the same again. Shaun of the Dead, bigger budget again, even more ambitious idea. So again it feels like you never have enough time, never quite enough money, always going home at the end of every day only getting through two thirds of your shot list. When we shot the exterior scenes, we were shooting in the summer and it was still like four seasons in one-day kind of weather. We had an American DP and he was amazed at how changeable the weather was. About 60% of the film is outside, set on the same day, so continuity is extremely important. I remember at some points with Shaun thinking, regardless of what extra budget you’ve got, or people around you, nothing can change that cloud going in front of the sun.
Q – How would describe your directing style when you are on set?
Edgar – I tend to get very intense on set. I’m probably not the best director in terms of being a warm-up man. I relied on Simon Pegg to keep the crew entertained whilst I figure out what I was doing. So sometimes on set I can have a very unreadable face. Some directors at the end of a shot will go ‘Woah! Great!’, just to keep the energy up, but I will be stroking my beard at the end of every single take, so some crew members or cast are thinking ‘Was that good? Was that not good? I can’t tell?!’ Usually it is about getting through the shot list, ‘we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to get this shot’. I’m sure that my method sometimes might seem unconventional, unorthodox and sometimes that doesn’t inspire the greatest amount of confidence.
Q – How many shots were you doing a day on Shaun Of The Dead?
Edgar – Some days we’d shoot 35, 40 slates, which having come from a TV show, was par for the course. You’d hear about people who had been on other features saying ‘You have got to be happier than that, you’ve done 35 slates today!’ With all films, Shaun is the sum of its parts and so with a lot of coverage, it is impossible to see how the whole thing is going to come together. Every now and again, you get a scene, which you essentially can play in one. The crew and actors really get into those. The bit where Dylan Moran gets ripped apart was essentially all on camera. So everybody who was there was thinking ‘Wow that looked amazing’, because it was all on camera, so you could watch back the tape and say ‘Fucking hell that was great!’ On other scenes we would be darting around the shooting schedule so I would be very much ‘I can’t see the wood for the trees’, and I’d be thinking about every single thing at the same time.
Q – When you started editing, did you think you had a winner on your hands?
Edgar – I remember halfway through the shoot, Chris Dickens had been doing an assembly, and I’d look at it and think ‘Oh shit that wasn’t how I imagined it at all’, usually because it had just been put together in the order of the script. Simon watched the first assembly and it freaked him out because there was no music, sound effects and it was very rough. Everyone seems to go through this when they see the first assembly of any film. Working Title were very supportive and pretty hands-off, which is really nice, especially since it was essentially our first film. Eric Fellner at Working Title rang up at one point, and said ‘Are you pleased with the dailies?’ and I was like ‘Err’ and he said, ‘you should be!’ That was the end of the conversation.
Q – Did you show any of the other cast the assembly?
Edgar – Sort of. We were doing six-day weeks for nine weeks, which is absolutely punishing. Halfway through we cut together a couple of scenes, cool shots and out takes and made a little trailer and showed it to the crew. It was a great morale booster.
Q – Did you shoot anything chronologically?
Edgar – The pub scenes were shot in chronological order. Some of the more emotional scenes in the film were shot when the cast and crew were exhausted. They almost hit the same point in terms of emotional exhaustion.
Q – Did you have a second unit?
Edgar – For the most part we were doing 2nd unit as we went, and these are shots that are SO important. Close-ups of things, things that are going to completely power the editing along, any of the stunt stuff, we were doing it at the same time. Occasionally we’d have two cameras, but we were essentially doing stuff that was very time sensitive, but didn’t necessarily involve the actors. We started to have two camera crews, with different call times. One crew would start at 8am, and the next crew would start at 9am. I’d work with the 8am crew for an hour, and by the time the other crew had started we’d already done eight shots of people closing curtains, knocking on doors and slamming money down. Chris Dickens, the editor, would tell us what he needed and we would shoot it. That is always a problem with independent films, not enough shots, and you can only edit if you have got the shots.
Q – Sometimes when you know exactly what you want you can accomplish more with a skeleton crew.
Edgar – Absolutely. On the last day of the shoot, we were shooting dialogue stuff on the main stage and on the other side of the stage, and cut-aways on the other side of the stage in some other existing sets. Chris Dickens, our editor and our B Camera operator were doing shots of people zipping up, getting their tie, looking at their badge. We had everything ready Chris just did shot after shot. In between main unit shots I’d check Chris’ shots and say ‘OK that’s a good one, let’s do the next one’. In the space of two days, we’d helped the edit enormously by adding 50 shots or so. That was the problem with A Fistful of Fingers, I was scuppered by the low budget. You can’t cut out the scene because you can’t afford to cut out the scene. You can’t cut into the scene as you have no cut away shot to bridge the edit. What are you going to do? You can’t really go into jump cuts unless it is the style of the film. These close-ups are really important. I remember I overheard some crew saying ‘why are we doing a close-up of this?’ and the other guy said ‘oh, we did close-ups of everything!’ I was thinking, wait till you get in the edit, you need all this shit. There is not a single close-up shot that we didn’t use. I could have easily shot another fifty shots, and they would all be in there.
Q – So tell me about what happened when the film was completed?
Edgar – We did a proper test screening, which I had never done before. I had to cover my eyes! It was in High Wycombe, and it was a play out off the Avid and projected onto a massive screen. We didn’t have all the shots from the end of the film where the army turns up, or the credit sequences, so the end was pretty lame. Also none of the effects were finished. The test screening went pretty well, though you could tell that some people in the audience had never seen a zombie film before, and that was really quite exciting. It was really quiet for the first twenty minutes, then people started to get into it, so that was cool.
We had done almost everything we could, without doing extra shoots, but we knew the end was still weak. Luckily the test screening results said the same thing ‘What do you think of the ending?’, ‘I think it is a bit abrupt, the ending was a bit lame, it seemed to end really quickly’. So Working Title said ‘Write a really expensive version, an ideal world ending, write a medium one and write a lowish budget one’. The big budget one was like ‘OK, it has got a car smash in it, Lucy comes back as a zombie, Bill Nighy comes back as a zombie, there are more head shots, we do more stuff outside the Winchester, and we do all the army things’. The second one is just the army turning up, and we do another crowd shot. The third one was literally just guns, and trucks pulling up, zombies being shot at, and we do this one shot with Pete’s head exploding, which was the one bit we hadn’t got. We found a shot, a wide shot where we could make it look like the storyboard version, and they said ‘OK, low budget version!’ So they let us have two days on a stage, doubling for outside, with just some army extras and all the zombies we could get together for nothing. As many squibs (bullet hits) as we could do. We spent two days shooting guns cocking, people jumping out trucks, boots, squibs going off, as much as we could! Even though, the end is still a compromise and only 15 seconds long. But it antes up the ending enormously. If we hadn’t have done that, fucking hell!
Q – Did the re-shoot effect your release date?
Edgar – They had the release date set for 1st April, which UIP had said this was a good time for comedy. But we hadn’t finished and we’d only just done the re-shoots in December, and you need eight weeks before it comes out for the press to see it. Suddenly, after all this time writing, shooting, and editing, you are in a race to meet this date. By the first press screening, we’d only got through grading half of it and many digital effects were missing. Even after we had done all that, Eric Fellner watched it again and said we needed one more belly laugh at the end! We actually realised we could film a new TV bit. So we came up with this idea of Vernon Kay interviewing Coldplay, because Simon knew them. We just shot that video and dropped it in. It was done eight weeks before it came out. They said we had to do this, otherwise we won’t get any long lead reviews (magazines etc). So that was a really nerve-wracking experience because you kind of have to come out and make some apologies for the film. It had no end credits.
The first press screening was pretty cool and two thirds of them really liked it. Then we had it finished and then we had a bigger one in the West End with 400 people. We actually re-invited some of the original people and there was one reviewer from a magazine where I was particularly upset because one of the things that they criticised the film for was something that wasn’t finished when they had seen it – they were saying ‘where is the flying blood, where is the gore?’ There were two or three big gore effects still to go in when he had seen it, so at our final screenings when it was complete, I rang the PR company and said ‘please re-invite that person to come and see it again properly with the finished grade and all the effects.’ He came and changed his review, giving it an extra star!
Q – Did you watch the screening with the audience?
Edgar – I watched bits of it, but I get so nervous I couldn’t actually sit through the whole thing. I suppose at that point we started doing quite a lot of industry screenings and getting some really nice responses back. This was weird because the release date was coming up and we’d only just finished it. We had no experience of doing the markets and film festivals. It was out, and it felt like it was still like wet paint. Still, we got good buzz from the press and especially on the internet. The week before it came out, I flew out to the States to the Ain’t It Cool News people, because they had been really keen to see it. That was a really fun experience because I went over on my own, to Austin, Texas, to meet Harry Knowles. He asked if he could bring some people along. I said ‘sure’, and he brought fifty people! It was really cool because it was like we were with mates. We were in this cinema after midnight, so the rest of the thing had shut up and the owner of the cinema had come to watch too. Also around that time we showed it to George Romero. He really liked it, and that was really important for me and Simon. The greatest gift of Shaun has been getting to travel the world with it and go and do press in other countries. Especially with something that didn’t really make any concessions to an international audience. We did a PR tour in the States, going through 17 different cities over a 4 week period. For the most part, people would get every single joke, and they appreciated it on that level.
Q – What kind of opportunities have opened up to you, and how do you decide to play those opportunities?
Edgar – The world suddenly got smaller. We were meeting directors that we admired – heroes of yours that have responded to your film. Getting to meet your hero is an amazing thing. A lot of people in the States, and over here as well, responded to it. That is great in terms of getting lots of offers. The downside to it is you write stuff as well, so people ask what’s next? We’d been working on the film for three years right up until release, and in the first interview you do, ‘So, what’s next?’ I had no idea. I hadn’t done any writing since this. So that is the down side, and I think there are lots of people who get into that kind of hole. I’ve been trying to be proactive in terms of trying to write a couple of other things or getting someone to write something for me. I don’t want to be in that position again, working for two years and then going ‘Now what?’ They are obviously higher-level problems to have, and nothing to really cry about. People that do first films can get that festival fever, where you can do the festival circuit for eighteen months, or two years. You get to travel the world, but you might lose momentum in terms of getting the next one going. On the other hand, last time I met Sam Raimi through the film, he said I should travel the world whilst I’ve got a chance and I am young. I suppose we have been doing it, as we’ve not only been to the States now a bunch of times, but Australia, and New Zealand, which I’d never been to before.
Q – What mistakes do you think you made?
Edgar – There were thoughts like ‘I wish I’d got that other shot. I should have done that other angle now’. That kind of stuff. On the end sequence there was supposed to be a lot more action, and it was supposed to get a lot more Evil Dead. That wasn’t in the first draft, but with each draft we got bigger and bigger with the action.
I remember when we were on set, and we had to cut two days from the schedule, I just got a big marker and said ‘cut all that out!’ Sometimes you have got to focus. There are lots of ways of working on set, in terms of not only directing everybody, not only leading the troops, but also keeping the crew going. Recently I was very honoured to see Tarantino directing a CSI episode. I was watching him direct, he’s just brilliant in terms of he was just a little bundle of energy. We had lunch afterwards, and I said ‘I should have been a bit more like that on Shaun.’ I tend to let the weight of the world show on my face. Sometimes that isn’t good for morale. It is a difficult thing, sometimes you have really got to focus. I remember reading an interview with Brian de Palma, and he was questioned about being famously grumpy, the crew complaining that he didn’t even say good morning, no chit chat, and he said, ‘forgive me, but, these are films I have to have on my shelf for the rest of my life, if I lost concentration because I’m having a cappuccino with the gaffer at the start of the morning, then . . .’
Q – Eddie Murphy once said he’s worked on films where it has been a bundle of laughs, and other times it has been absolute hell, and you can not tell whether the film will be any good, or terrible based on the experience.
Edgar – There is that other kind of school of thought, the tougher the shoot, and the harder everyone is working, the better the film is going to be. I don’t think that is always true, but I don’t think any film where people having gone home early was necessarily going to be any good. The day that you go home early is the day that you become complacent. With a comedy as well, you can’t get hung up on making the crew laugh. Especially if you are doing a lot of takes where on the first take you might get a giggle out of the grip, but by take ten, nobody is even smiling. It doesn’t mean it is not funny any more.
Q – Equally what is funny on set, is not necessarily going to become funny when you see it on screen.
Edgar – There are some comedy actors, who may be from a stand-up background, who when it gets to doing a second or third take, start changing the material because they kind of want to get that first reaction out of the crew. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is counterproductive. “You are a great improviser, but that thing you did in the first take, that is still the best”. So that is an interesting thing, set dynamics. Lots of different performers working in lots of different ways. Especially if you have got an ensemble cast. You almost have to do strategies to think, ‘Ok, they are best on their first take, the other performer needs a couple of takes to warm up. Do the other guy first, and then do him on the reverses because by then he will have learnt his lines.’
Q – Do you think the making of movies are as mystical as they used to b
Edgar – No. I noticed a downside to DVD when we did the Shaun of the Dead disk. I’m really proud of the DVD that we did because we self-produced it, but I was thinking back in the ‘70’s how a film like Eraserhead would come out and would be speculated over. It has been a cult film for like 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and all through that time people speculate ‘what is it actually about?’ But now pretty much within six months of a film coming out, everything you would ever want to know about that film, you can get off the DVD or internet. It removes some of the magic.
Q – What advice would you offer a filmmaker?
Edgar – Try every aspect of it. I didn’t really want to do my own camerawork, but I had to for my video films. I only did it as a means to an end, and I learned a lot about directing from using the camera. I was also forced to edit, which again taught me a lot. Then when you meet collaborators in your career, you can hand the responsibility to them, but you will have an understanding of what they do. Try and do your own stuff, rather than wait for it to come to you. Even when I did the AV course, at college, I did the stuff on the syllabus, but I nicked the equipment, and went off and abused the editing suite, and tried to do lots of extra curricular things. I watched all my favourite films, and tried to rip off the same shots on a video 8. I failed a lot, but I still learned through those experiences. The people who are now coming through the digital generation have an amazing opportunity. Everybody has non-linear editing facilities on their laptop so I think that the only thing to do is to get out there and do it. There are enough films where people have just done it. Look at The Blair Witch Project. No matter what people think of that film, nobody can ever take away from them that they made a cheap and simplistic film, and that it made maybe $200 million all over the world. That is incredible.
Onwards and upwards!