In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Edgar Wright about the final chapter of his, Simon Pegg's and Nick Frost’s Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End (out November 19).
At first glance Edgar Wright’s coda to the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End, seems like an entertaining romp that follows five guys (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan) who try to recapture their youth, and friendships, as they return to their hometown to take on a brutal pub crawl that local lore has dubbed “The Golden Mile.” However, we soon realize this buddy comedy has a bit more to it—like robots filled with blue slime that are attempting to take over the town.
This all comes to a head in a terrific fight scene set in the bathroom of one of the pubs, where Gary King (Pegg) discovers there are robots in town (by decapitating a teenager), leading to an all-out brawl between Gary and his friends against a group of badass teenage robots.
For Wright, this scene stands out not just for its entertainment value but that most of it was done by the actors themselves, leading to more freedom in how he shot it, having to not worry about hiding stunt doubles. Here he explains the attention to detail in setting it up and how even some knocked-out teeth didn’t slow down production.
“…this is taking it to a natural end, by having a proper all-out war with teenagers.”
"I think it was one of the first ideas [Simon Pegg and I] had; to have quite a brutal fight scene come out of nowhere. In this one the idea was that these kids were teenagers. It’s a theme that me and Simon keep returning to in many of our TV and film ideas, they are always people that are younger than the main leads. So I think this is taking it to a natural end, by having a proper all-out war with teenagers. We had done this scene in Hot Fuzz that we ended up cutting out of the movie where Nicholas Angel arrests a gang of hoodies and they get in a scuffle. It didn’t look that convincing mainly because we had to use adults to double as kids. I wasn’t that happy with it so I cut it out of the movie. So when this idea came up and we were planning to shoot it one of the first things I asked the stunt coordinator, Brad Allan, was “Do you think we can get teenagers to play the teens and do all of the stunts?” And he said, “Absolutely. We can get acrobats and tumblers and young martial artists.” So the cool thing in the scene is that the kids do all of the stunts. There are no stunt doubles and those kids are from the ages of 15 and 21 so that helps the shock factor of the scene, that suddenly these fresh-faced kids are completely kicking ass.
Most of the actors had done some kind of choreography before, including Eddie. Nick had just come off a dance movie, Simon had done action before, Martin had done stuff in The Hobbit, Paddy is a boxer, so everyone had done a little bit before. But they still trained for a month and worked with the stunt team. The other thing I’m very proud about in that bathroom scene is the lead actors are doing nearly all of their own stunts. I think there’s only three shots in the whole thing which are not the actors, but other than that they’re doing the whole thing. So once you do that it means you can design the shots to last longer. Usually one of the reasons action films are so cutty and you deliberately obscure the action is usually because you’re trying to avoid the fact that it’s not the lead actor doing it. Sometimes when you see a Bond film or a Bourne film and the action is cool but it’s so fast, it’s usually because it’s a mix of the lead and stunt guy doing it. The cool thing with this is all the actors were doing it. You can look right at Simon Pegg’s face and not cut away because he’s doing it."
“This kid’s tough.”
"With these things, and it’s the same with previous films, you usually space out the fight scenes in your schedule so that the stunt team has time to prepare everyone. So we shot for three months and I think the action was evenly spread out for all of the fight scenes. We sort of did the film in order, to be honest, so this was the first fight scene we did. If you look on the Blu-ray you can see the stunt tape, which basically is the stunt team shot a rehearsal tape that features the stunt performers playing the parts. It’s like a road map to the sequence. I would do the storyboards and then they kind of did a video based on the boards and expanded it further and then I came back and edited that tape with them. So it’s a great way to do it. And you can see in the Blu-ray that the actors are occasionally in the stunt tape; they would come in and do their bit on video. When we were on set we had a video version of it in front of us. “We’re doing this piece right here.” So all the crew and everybody can watch it and know exactly what’s happening. The first time I did this was on Scott Pilgrim. It’s incredibly useful if you have the time because then everyone knows what they’re doing.
One of the kid characters at one point knocked his teeth out. It was an accident and true to form, and this shows you how keen these guys were, he was back to work the next day. I think he had a gap in his mouth, but he came back and he wasn’t so worried about his teeth, he was terrified he would get recast. You know, he’s 19 years old and he was like, "There’s no way I’m dropping out of this movie." So he came back the next day and got a nice round of applause. We were like, “This kid’s tough.”
“Once you get it you move on.”
"With this particular scene we edited it on the set. Even though we were shooting on film my editor basically edited it as we went along. And you can’t really do that with dialogue scenes, because with those you want a bit more time to work with them, but usually with an action scene you get one good take. Once you get it you move on. With dialogue you possibly can have a bunch of different options. So with this sequence, because it was designed to be kind of all single shot, it’s like a jigsaw you can put it together quite simply. So at the end of the shooting day you would actually have the sequence, which was great.
I’m really impressed with the effects in that scene, especially the decapitated people fighting. When you look at the raw footage there’s a head there, there was no green screen. It would be Nick fighting a kid and then when you see the finished shot he’s fighting a decapitated kid and to me it looks amazing, it’s completely seamless."
“It’s always fun watching that with an audience because they don’t see it coming.”
"It’s quite a slow burn out of the three movies before the fight stuff really kicks in. I think people are lulled into a false sense of security so when this scene happens it’s a big shock. That’s always fun when you see it with an audience because when there’s the first dismemberment people are like WOOOW! It’s always fun watching that with an audience because they don’t see it coming.
This aspect of action is different from what I did on Scott Pilgrim and Hot Fuzz, you want every fight scene to be organic to the scene. You’re definitely learning all of the time what you can achieve with action and what you can do with digital effects. So it all helps, but you want to make each film feel slightly different and the action to feel different. "
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