Baby Driver - Baby (Ansel Elgort) in mirror

Baby Driver took SXSW by storm this past March, earning such high praise (it’s currently sitting at a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 22 reviews in) that distributor Sony was inspired to bump its release up from a sleepy August weekend to a prime June spot.

But we didn’t know any of that was going to happen in April 2016, when the studio invited us to visit the film’s Atlanta set. All we knew at that time was that Baby Driver was the new Edgar Wright movie – and considering his track record, that in itself felt like reason enough to get excited. And what we learned on set rocketed the film to the top of our most-anticipated list.

The Long Road to the Big Screen

It was in 2014 that Wright first announced Baby Driver would be his next feature, but the project’s history travels much further back than that. In 2003 – before Shaun of the Dead had even hit theaters – Wright shot a music video for the band Mint Royale which featured Noel Fielding as a getaway driver rocking out to music as he waits for a bunch of robbers to complete a heist.

It’s not difficult to see Baby Driver‘s DNA in that video, but it wasn’t until 2007 (just after Hot Fuzz) that Wright started working on the script. It almost followed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his filmography, until circumstances intervened and pushed The World’s End ahead first.

Still, Wright never forgot about Baby Driver and in 2012, he did a table read with several actors – one of whom made it all the way to the final version of the movie. “I think Jon Hamm was the only actor at that read through who is playing the same character he is in the movie,” recalled Wright.

Wright told us that the project had evolved “a lot” over the years. “I guess it was more of a concept initially. I sort of knew what I wanted to do tonally and what kind of movie I wanted it to be like, instead of what the general premise was,” he said. “It was a nice voyage of discovery in terms of starting to build out the plot and the characters and the twists and things like that.”

One thing that remained more or less the same, however, was the soundtrack. “Actually, the music has hardly changed,” said producer Nira Park. Which turned out to be pretty helpful when it came time to make the movie. “All the music was cleared a long, long time before we started pre-production,” she told us. “Which was the thing, the studio were like, ‘How are you going to clear the music?’ And we were like, ‘We’ve cleared the music.’”

Baby Driver - Baby (Ansel Elgort) with map

The Story of Baby

After all his research and revisions, the story Wright wound up with was this (per the official Sony synopsis):

A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. When he meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), Baby sees a chance to ditch his criminal life and make a clean getaway. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

During our time on set, star Ansel Elgort explained there was a reason for Baby’s obsession with music. “Baby has tinnitus,” he said. “He was in a car accident when he was seven, and that’s probably why he has such a thing with cars. But because he has tinnitus, he has to always listen to music to drown it out.”

Baby, Elgort explained, first came to the attention of Doc (Kevin Spacey) when he tried to steal one of his cars. “Doc saw him do it but was just so intrigued by the balls on this kid that he didn’t stop him, and then he tracked the kid down and said, ‘Okay, well now you owe me so you work for me.'”

However, Baby’s ambivalent about his role in the criminal underworld. “He doesn’t like the violence at all, but I think he really loves the driving, he really does,” said Elgort. When he meets and falls for Deborah (Lily James), he realizes he needs to get out of this line of work before he puts his loved ones in danger. If you’ve ever seen a crime film, you’ll know that’s easier said than done.

Baby Driver - Bats (Jamie Foxx), JD (Lanny Joon), Baby (Ansel Elgort)

The Story of Everyone Else

And it’s especially difficult for Buddy to get out when he’s dealing with characters like these …

Doc (Kevin Spacey): The Boss. He’s the one who pulls Baby into this world, and over time the two of them have developed an odd relationship. “It’s almost a little paternal, in the weirdest sense of the world,” explained costume designer Courtney Hoffman. “He’s steely, he’s cold, he’s unapproachable to the rest of the world.”

Bats (Jamie Foxx): The Hothead. “He’s sort of like the angry dude,” Foxx revealed. “He’s killing everybody.” Eiza González, who plays Darling (we’ll get to her in a bit), described Foxx – and therefore his character – as having a sort of “leadership energy.” The other characters “kind of hate him, but love him because he’s really good at what he does.”

Griff (Jon Bernthal): The Muscle. “He’s sort of like the last guy you want, but you’re glad that he’s on your team, not on the others’,” Bernthal told us. “He’s kind of the guy who’s good to have in a pinch, but like, man, he can be annoying. I think he’s loud and brash and he does not keep his opinions to himself.”

Baby Driver - Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Buddy (Jon Hamm)

Darling & Buddy (Eiza González & Jon Hamm): Bonnie & Clyde. They’re dangerously codependent, but also very competent – in part because they balance each other out. “Her character’s so carefree and fun-loving and mine’s a little more serious and intellectual, so that’s a good combination,” said Hamm. Added González: “It’s, in a dark way, very beautiful to see that relationship because there’s a lot of love and passion in between them.”

JD (Lanny Joon): The Newbie. JD’s specialty is home invasions, so he’s new to the world of bank heists – and he’s very much out of his element. “I’m that guy who is just always trying to play catch up the entire time,” he said. “This is his first time playing with the big boys so once you watch the movie you’ll realize he’s not quite up the par just yet.”

Eddie (Flea): The Nihilist. But not like the one he played in The Big Lebowski. Flea describes Eddie, a minor character, as “a dastardly nihilistic bank robber with no moral compass,” who “just wants to get his fucking money and get home.”

Baby Driver - red car

Practical Magic

Given that Baby’s specialty is getaway driving, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Baby Driver is full of action. What might be surprising is just how much of it is practical. We were told on set that Baby Driver had just a single day of shooting on a green screen. For context, we were on set during day 34 out of 56.

SFX supervisor Mark Byers talked up the return to practical effects, saving some special praise for Mad Max: Fury Road:

It’s a little bit of a throwback to how we always used to do it, right before all the CGI came in. That’s kind of taken over a lot of these movies, where all we end up doing is some explosions and throwing some cars around and everything that actually makes that happen is all some sort of CG monster thing we don’t really interact with – which is a different way to make a movie. But a lot of that’s happened. Movies like Fury Road and some others that really got back to the basics of practical, physical effects with the actors is great. I love it.

Bernthal also waxed enthusiastic about the practical effects of Baby Driver. “I think it just provides so much more opportunity to explore, to create,” he said – though he was quick to add, “not to take away from digital effects artists, because they’re artists in their own right.”

As for how much of the stunt work the actors got to do themselves … well, it depended on the actor. “I don’t think they care much about me around here,” Bernthal joked. “They sort of throw me into the car.” Hamm, on the other hand, admitted that he preferred to let someone else handle the stunts. “I try to do as little as possible because I’m 45 years old and I break easily,” he said.

Meanwhile, Elgort was just happy they’d finally let him take the wheel. “I was so glad I got to do some driving today,” he said.

***

And now that we’ve talked about what exactly Baby Driver is and how it came to be, let’s discuss what makes it so special. Click through for more on its soundtrack, its setting, and its surprising influences.

Continue Reading ‘Baby Driver’ Set Visit >>

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