Posted on Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Peter Sciretta
In July 2009, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to the Toronto-based set of Edgar Wright‘s upcoming action-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. As you know from reading the site, I’m a huge fan of the comic book series written by Bryan Lee O’Malley and have been very excited to see it adapted to the big screen by Wright.
On Tuesday, I posted our interview with director Edgar Wright, and stars Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman. All this week we’ll be publishing interviews our press group conducted on set with the cast and crew. Today you can read the roundtable interview a few members of the press and myself conducted with Michael Bacall, who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Wright. Read the Bacall interview now below.
Question: Were you or were you not in “Grindhouse”?
Michael Bacall: I was. I played Omar, a role that was originally written for a guy named Omar, but Omar didn’t want to play Omar so I got picked.
Question: So how did you get this film, and what was your relationship like with Bryan [Lee O’Malley]?
Michael Bacall: I was sent the book right after book one came out, and I went in to meet with a couple of guys who worked for Marc Platt, Jared LeBoff and Adam Siegel. I had just seen “Shaun of the Dead” and I had been a fan of “Spaced” and the first thing they told me was that Edgar would be directing it. So I shit my pants [laughs], and I asked what I had to do to try to get involved. They said come in and meet with him, put together some kind of story – sum up this first book. Not that that would end up being the story, but just to show that you can tell a story. I did that, I went in and met with Edgar probably about a month later and we started working together after that.
Question: What was your strategy to take all these books, character and villains and smash them together into an hour-and-a-half script?
Michael Bacall: Pray. As we went Bryan was writing the other volumes, so we had an idea right away. He had written up sketches and character profiles for all of the evil ex’s up through the seventh so we had that to work with, and we had a basic outline of where he wanted the whole story to go. As we worked on consecutive drafts, every time we got to the point where we might get stuck or we maybe had to turn something in, he would send us the script for the next draft or the gallery for the books about to come out and that was very helpful. So every time we were about to hit a wall, he would kind of send us something and we would try and integrate everything that we could. Really we did have to find a way to create a kind of filmic structure because it’s a surreal comic so I think we’ve found a good way to do that to kind of compress the events of the book.
Question: How much time was it between you first started working on it and having a script ready for shooting?
Michael Bacall: Edgar’s a maniac, he’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever met. We started working on the first draft just before he went into pre-production on “Hot Fuzz” years ago, and we really hustled to get a very rough draft done before he went off to do that and as soon as he finished and “Hot Fuzz” came out, we kind of picked it up again.
Question: There’s so many cool little things in the comic like the title cards, how to play the music underneath. Did you incorporate any of that into the script?
Michael Bacall: Yeah, we definitely did. I think Edgar will be able to speak to that more specifically, we really tried to keep the spirit of all the fun background stuff that’s in the comic. I think fans will be happy with that.
Question: The graphic novel has some very specific action sequences, how did you adapt it and how close did you stick?
Michael Bacall: We tried to stick very close when we could, at other times where we felt something needed to be expanded, we would just kind of discuss what was going on with the characters and see how we could relate it to the action. We each took a pass at it and kind of see what we could come up with.
Question: Was there a single element you simply couldn’t adapt at all and had to work your way around it?
Michael Bacall: [Laughs] I probably shouldn’t say it. There’s one large sequence in one of the books that was going to be a virtual impossibility. I shouldn’t say… we tried to remain faithful where we could.
Question: Of the five books released so far, which one has had the most cut out and which have you been the most faithful to?
Michael Bacall: Hard to say. We’ve been extremely faithful to the first volume because that’s the setup, it’s really kind of a perfect first act. As far as the volume we’ve been the least faithful to I couldn’t really say, we’ve tried to take things from all of them. Brian’s an absolute genius and so the more of the stuff we can get in there, the better off we’ve been.
Question: Did you have a favorite character from the comic, or a favorite when you were writing the script?
Michael Bacall: I love them all equally [laughs]. Someone else’s children.
Question: This has such a great local flavor and is very specific to Toronto so did you guys come up here to do any of the writing?
Michael Bacall: I’ve been to Toronto a few times and came at least twice with Edgar in the past few years, I believe both times with Bryan and he drove us around and showed us all the spots that were in the book. Showed us where Wallace’s apartment was, we’d go over to Casa Loma… I think that was truly helpful, just seeing it for the later drafts.
Question: How does the dynamic work between you and Edgar in terms of actually writing?
Michael Bacall: All different ways, we’ve worked in the same room…We started working in Los Angeles, he’d be there for a couple of weeks, he’d go to London so we’d work online sending each other stuff, then I’d go to London for a couple of weeks, then he’d come back here… So we would work in the same room, we would do a lot of different methods.
Question: Did you find he had a very set way of working because he’s spent his entire professional career working just with Simon [Pegg] and Nick [Frost] and you’re the first outside guy?
Michael Bacall: It was pretty loose, I mean when we were working in the same location he definitely liked to start earlier whereas I’m more of a nighttime guy so it was a slight adjustment for me. I did get to know what it was like to experience things like breakfast [laughs]. We really did kind of all different methods, there were times he would say lets both write a version of this and then trade so we read each other’s thing. There were times we’d each pick a kind of consecutive scene and work on that. They all kind of had their benefits.
Question: In the comics there were all these kind of day-to-day vignettes. Did you fit any of that in?
Michael Bacall: We had the haircut we squeezed in there, it was such a fun part of the books. I think that the concept of him needing a haircut may make an appearance. We definitely have some runners that originated in the book that we put into the framework.
Question: Were there any elements that were too cost-prohibitive to do?
Michael Bacall: I really think it was more about kind of finding what was appropriate for the story, the filmic structure more than anything.
Question: In the book because of the art style you could go from everyday stuff to totally crazy things. Filmically that tonal change is a lot harder – how do you handle that?
Michael Bacall: That’s something that Edgar could answer, I’ll just say you’ll definitely see it. I think right away Edgar said lets try and set this in a real world tonally much like the first book. So when it goes off, really let it go off, he described it once to me as… in a musical when the emotion builds to a point that people can’t express themselves in normal dialogue so they break into song, whereas in the Scott Pilgrim universe they break into fights.
Question: In the first book it’s relationship story with a few little weird touches, and at the end it really goes nutty. How early do you bring in that stuff?
Michael Bacall: No, I think I really shouldn’t say too much on that point except we really wanted to have a very kind of real feel to it you know. Really get to know the characters first. Get to know who they are.
Question: The film is heavily based on pop culture references, did you and Edgar respond to that?
Michael Bacall: Yeah. We responded to that instantly, the 80’s mythology is kind of the foundation of the books. It’s really enjoyable and it’s nice to be able to say you’re working when you’re really kind of digging out your old Nintendo games and re-familiarising yourself.