Baby Driver, a surprise hit among summer blockbusters

  • Movies
  • Thursday, 20 Jul 2017

Wright making sure his actors – seen here in the driver’s seat is Hamm – are prepped in stunt driving. — Sony Pictures

Amid the superhero films, sequels and reboots, there’s Baby Driver – an original film written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz).

People who have seen it, love it – the film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – while those who haven’t, are curious about it because it offers something different from the usual summer fare.

Baby Driver revolves around Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young man with mad skills behind the wheel, and a fine-tuned setlist on his iPod(s). While he works as a getaway driver for some crooks – played by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm – he is someone who cares for his adoptive dad (CJ Jones) as well as the beautiful girl (Lily James) he just met at a diner.

However, what sets Baby Driver apart from a heist flick is how the featured music is absolutely in synch with the scenes, not only amplifying whatever that’s going on at that moment – be it a car chase scene or the unfolding of a sweet love story – but influences the characters’ vibes.

Wright, who was in Malaysia earlier this week with actors Elgort and James to promote the film, said he pitched the film as a car chase movie driven by music.

The 43-year-old British director explained: “I had about eight or nine songs that were going to be in the movie when I first started on the script about 10 years ago.

“When I wrote the rest of the film, but got to a scene where I hadn’t got a song for it, I wouldn’t write it until I found the (right) song.”

It was, after all, a track Wright heard that planted the seed for Baby Driver.

“I had the original idea in 1995 when I first heard Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the first track you hear in the movie. When I heard it, I started imagining the car chase (scene).”

Baby Driver is actually a title of a 1970 tune by Simon & Garfunkel, another song that Wright loves. “I basically compiled the soundtrack I want to hear. The idea that people are listening to the soundtrack all over the world is exciting.”

With music written into the script, Wright and his team would choreograph entire scenes to sync with the chosen music. Watch the movie, and you’d notice even small gestures such as the closing of car doors is set to the beat of the track.

Check out our review of Baby Driver

“This made it a unique creative challenge, and it might have made filming more complicated too. But here’s the thing: the music is the heartbeat that’s driving the movie. Having the music on hand was also incredibly helpful to the actors. It made the entire thing a really unique and pleasurable experience,” the director said.

Wright knew his cast for Baby Driver had to be musically inclined too.

As it happens, Elgort shares Wright’s passion for music. The 23-year-old American – last seen in Allegiant (of the Divergent series) – doesn’t only act but also writes and plays music.

Elgort said: “I love music. I can’t imagine my life without music. I probably got this role because of my musical background.

“You know, Edgar Wright and I hit it off from the beginning. But I think once he realised I also had a musical and a dance background, that ultimately tipped the scale in my favour because a lot of this film is choreographed – the action, the gunplay, the cars, or even just subtle movements.”

Baby driver
Edgar Wright made sure his actors were prepped in stunt driving to make the car chase sequences believable.

Shifting gear

Thanks to Baby Driver, Elgort can also add one more skill to his resume – driving like a pro. Even though the stunts were done by professionals, Elgort went through stunt driving lessons to prepare for some of the scenes.

“Learning the stunt courses was fun because everybody wants to learn to spin the car,” Elgort said.

“Also, it was important how I was turning the wheel. It had to look believable.”

Besides prepping the actors, Wright meticulously planned each sequence with his team and filmed them on location (instead of against green screen) in Atlanta so the action sequences look and feel exciting.

“The car chases are just incredibly tough (to shoot) in general ... planning of the stunts and the execution of it,” Wright lamented.

“The opening sequence, I think, was tough and the finale was (even harder) to shoot. The night work, the location, the rain effects ... everything was hard.”

He continued: “We filmed maybe only 5% against green screen. We wanted to make it more realistic. A scene (in Baby Driver) feels real because it is real.”

Hitting the brakes

It is the relationship between Baby and Debora that attracted James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) to the role. That and the fact she is a fan of Wright.

Baby driver
The relationship between Baby and Debora (Lily James) what grounds the film, says Elgort.

“The scene where (Baby and Debora) are talking about music and sharing about music that they love, it was just so beautifully written. It says so much in such a short scene. The way it was developed was so romantic and effortless,” James, 28, said.

Elgort agreed with his co-star, saying: “Baby Driver has amazing action and spectacle. But what makes the movie so special is the relationship between Baby and Debora because it adds soul to the movie and allows the movie to feel more grounded.”

Undeniably, all these winning elements make Baby Driver a must-watch affair.

We asked Wright if he ever thought Baby Driver would connect with the audience like it has, especially when the movie landscape is saturated with franchises.

“If I wasn’t involved in Baby Driver, just as a film fan, I would be thrilled that an original movie is doing so well at the box office. I think it’s really important for the future of the film industry that original film can do well.”

So far, Baby Driver – with a budget of US$35mil (RM150mil) – has made US$81mil (RM347mil) in the United States where it opened on June 28.

Wright continued: “I have nothing against franchise movies – I have really enjoyed some of the franchise movies shown this year – but there is a lot of it and it dominates the market.

“So, when an original movie breaks through, I think it’s really important for the industry. I am very proud of (Baby Driver) and I am so happy that it’s connecting with audiences in a big way.”

Baby Driver opens in Malaysia today.

At the Malaysian premiere of Baby Driver on July 17, Elgort was besieged by fans for selfies. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

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