There Wasn't Much Room For Improv On The Set Of Edgar Wright's The World's End

Some directors encourage their actors to improvise while shooting, but not Edgar Wright. Many of Wright's favorite camera tricks rely on precise timing and blocking, leaving little room for the actors to make things up as they go along.

In 2013, Wright's usual stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost sat down with Collider to discuss "The World's End." The movie, a halfway point between "The Big Chill" and "Invasion of The Body Snatchers," caps off the trio's thematic "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy, previous entries being "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." Pegg and Frost discussed why they weren't able to improvise much while shooting "The World's End," both for technical reasons and due to Wright's directing style. However, according to them, this wasn't a hindrance at all.

Shooting without improv

Even "The World's End" doesn't share a setting with the previous "Blood and Ice Cream" movies, there were still aesthetic guidelines it had to follow for consistency's sake. One of those was shooting on physical film instead of with digital cameras. 

For reference, "Shaun of the Dead" shot on 35mm film with ARRI cameras. "Hot Fuzz" was shot with a mix of ARRICAM and ARRIFLEX camera, while "The World's End" mixed an ARRIFLEX 16SR3 camera with a Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 camera.

Shooting the "The World's End" on film was a big reason for the no-improv atmosphere. When you're working with physical film stock, you don't have the ability to do endless retakes like you do with digital cameras. Unlike memory, the roll of film in a camera eventually runs out.

Even if they had shot "The World's End" digitally, though, the cast still probably wouldn't have improvised. The film's comedy is as much about the blocking and camera movement as it is the actors' dialogue. That's not even getting into the film's brawling action scenes, which of course required careful choreography.

Wright's direction

While they had stricter instructions to follow than if they were improvising, Pegg and Frost didn't feel constrained while shooting "The World's End." After all, it wasn't their first rodeo with Wright, and they easily found a groove with his "precise" direction.

Pegg brought up "This Is The End," another 2013 apocalyptic ensemble comedy, as a counterpoint where there's greater room for improv. In that film, the main cast (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Michael Cera, and Emma Watson) all play themselves. The comedy is thus rooted more purely in the characters and actors, not the visuals, resulting in an atmosphere that encourages riffing and making up jokes as you go along. Pegg further explained, "To do [improv] well takes a lot of work. It's just not the way we work."

There's no wrong choice when it comes to staged versus improvisational comedy, or film versus digital for that matter. Still, Edgar Wright clearly knows what the right choice for him is.