Director Edgar Wright Breaks Down His 'Colors' Music Video And How It Got Made [Interview]

Edgar Wright made his most colorful piece of spectacle yet with the music video for Beck's "Colors." The Baby Driver and Hot Fuzz director crafted a music video jammed full of joy and it has been steadily making people happy (and dazzling their senses) since it debuted last year. The director's propulsive style goes perfectly hand-in-hand with the total blast of a pop song.

The filmmaker previously directed music videos for Pharrell Williams, Mint Royale, and around a dozen other bands. With his music video for Beck, Wright told us, "Most of the other videos that I've done have some plot or premise or sort of story concept, but this one was more like, how can I just express how I feel about this song in visuals?"

And he sat down with us to tell us how it call came together.

Origins of a Colorful Collaboration

Beck and Wright worked together on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, with Beck writing songs for Sex Bob-omb and other characters, including "Ramona." Once the duo started collaborating on a music video for the ultra-joyful title track from Beck's lively album, Wright's vision for the video began with the pleasing album cover:

I've been a fan of his for a long time. We've known each other for probably about 15 years. I've obviously worked with him on Scott Pilgrim and used him in Baby Driver, but because I'm such a big fan, when it came up there was pressure because you think, "Oh my God, I can't make a video for one of my favorite artists and have it suck [Laughs]." I really tried to, (a) do the best job I could, and (b) also conjure up exactly what I imagine when I listen to that song. Funnily enough, the color scheme of the video was just based on the sleeve of the album, which is like a black and white portrait of Beck with like a blue splodge and a yellow splodge, and so that's when I wrote the script. I thought why don't I do an entire video like using this as a jumping off point?

It was as simple as white, blue and yellow. It was as simple as the two colors on the cover of the album, so I thought those would be and interesting theme to do. Some people say it reminds them of the Swedish flag [Laughs]. It's also a nice thing to keep expanding it sort of. As it develops it starts kinda blue, then black and white, then parts are in color and then yellow comes in and then at the end it goes fully multicolored. It was a really fun thing to do. It's also nice to do a video where there's no plot, it's just a musical number, which was very freeing and fun to do.

Going From Nike to Beck 

Wright went straight from working with Kobe Bryant and Billy Nye the Science Guy to shooting the "Colors" video. The Spaced co-creator, who often tries out new ideas with commercials and videos, had little time between both projects, which initially made him uncertain. Ultimately, he completed the video in a marathon with some of his longtime collaborators:

The crazy thing with it is that last October, when Colors came out, they had already done videos for "Up All Night" and "Wow" and "Dear Life," and they came to me and said, "Would you like to do a video for Colors?" I knew Beck and I said, "I'd love to." The initial budget they had was pretty low as it was like their fourth video from that album. So I wrote something that I thought was quite cheap too [Laughs], and then when actually the production company budgeted it, they said, "Uh, what you've written is like five times what they have. Do you want to do something cheaper?" And I was like, "Not really."

So what happened then, and with all credit to the label, the label and Beck's management went around to find somebody to sort of sponsor it. So, that's why Apple Music had it for six months exclusively to, because they basically paid for most of the video. I was like, if I get to make this with the right resources and we can have the numbers of dancers we want, then great. So, in October like I was first offered and wrote the script. You know, we even had meetings around Christmas with choreographer Ryan Heffington, who also did Baby Driver with me and Ethan Tobman, Production Designer. But, it all went quiet because they were basically trying to figure out how they could pay for it.

It wasn't until February when I was actually in the middle of directing a huge Nike commercial, and I was about to go back to London, I suddenly go the call saying, "Hey, we have the money finally. Can you do February 12th and 13th? These are the only dates Beck can do." It was literally like the day before I was about to leave to London, and only three days after finishing this Nike job, which I was already doing. But luckily I had sort of storyboarded most of it at that point.

I was about to say that I couldn't do it because I was thinking, there is no way. This Nike job was a 10-day shoot, or eight days shoot or something, including night shoots. Then it would have meant I only had three days between finishing the commercial and actually shooting the video. So my initial response was to say, "No way I can actually pull this off." And it actually was one of my producers, Leo Thompson, and the production designer Ethan Tobman and Bill Pope who said, "Yeah, I think you can pull this off." Ethan and Bill have done like a million music videos, they were sort of like, "Ah, this is nothing, this is easy." We could really choreograph all of this with the dancers and build the set and paint the psyche and everything with the three days we have.

A Bit of Busby Berkeley with Beck 

Beck is well known for his dance moves. Whether in one of his classic music videos or a live performance, the artist brings an infectious joy to his dancing, which has been especially exciting to watch during his recent worldwide tour. While Wright got to let his imagination run wild with the music video, the only suggestions Beck had involved dancing, specifically making a nod or two to Busby Berkeley's iconic musicals:

I think he was pretty open to what I'd done. I mean, I think for his other videos he does have a lot more input. I'd say very nicely he really liked what I had already come up with and was game. He suggested...He likes Busby Berkeley things as well, we had been chatting about that. We both love all Busby Berkeley's films. And he said – he saw the storyboard that was up – "oh, it would be great if we could do those overhead shots," which we then did. And then also he said about this Busby Berkeley bit again, "it would be great if we could do one of those shots where the dancers would fan out from behind the main person," and we did one of those. So I was more than happy to include those but, pretty much that was it, really. He loved the idea, and loved the idea of casting Allison, and it was a very harmonious experience.

Wright once praised Berkeley's choreography as a "mathematical art with the human form," and the same could be said of Ryan Heffington's precise and animated choreography in the "Colors" video.

All Hail the Brie

If there's one actor that feels more than right for a project involving Beck and Edgar Wright, it's Allison Brie. Her charisma, quickness, and energy are exactly on the same page as Wright's exuberant style and fast pace. Brie and Beck make for a delightful combo and both perform hypnotic, precise movements and dances – which Brie learned in (literally) almost no time:

So this is what's even crazier, Allison Brie, we shot on a Monday, Tuesday, Allison Brie did not come on board until Friday night because between October and February, and Allison knows this, there was another actress who was on board to do it. Then when it came down to it, suddenly we go the call, she wasn't available anymore.

So we were trying to find somebody, and it was actually Leo Thomson, one of our producers who said, "What about Allison Brie?" I've never worked with Allison, but I know her socially. So I was shooting this commercial on a Friday night, I texted her at about 9:30 at night – and this was a conversation entirely in text – and I was like, "Congratulations on Glow. Do you dance?" That was the text I sent. And she replied, "Oh, thank you. Well you know, I like dancing. I'm not a professional dancer, but I've danced in film and TV and on stage sometimes. Why?" So I said "Well, I'm doing this video for Beck. I'm directing, Ryan is doing the choreography and we thought you'd be great for the lead." And she's like "Oh. What track is that? I love Beck." I said, "It's Colors."

She goes, "I know that really well. I actually, strangely, I listened to it in the gym today and when we were wrapping Glow season one, we were playing that album in my trailer and having a little like, sort of wrap party in my trailer." And I said, "That's great but there is a catch, however." And she says, "What's the catch?" [Laughs] And I said, "We have to shoot Monday, Tuesday and I need you to rehearse tomorrow and Sunday." And she was like "Oh, wow!" And I said, "I know it sounds crazy, I will be completely honest, there was another actress who had to drop out, but we thought of you." But here's the thing, the other actress was quite an A-list actress so Allison was flattered by the fact that she was the next person I thought of and happy [Laughs].

So anyway I said to her, "I'm gonna send you the script and you tell me within half an hour if you can do it, 'cause I've gotta find somebody for Monday." And she texted back in 15 minutes and said, "I'm in!" So Allison Brie, it's funny 'cause some people wanna see the video asking, "How long did Allison rehearse for?" Like, 10 hours over two days. So it was crazy. She came in and she obviously completely aced it and we were so lucky to have her.

I wish I could claim credit for like thinking of her immediately, but it was actually my producer Leo who said, "Allison Brie should do it. She'd be great." And she was amazing and it was great fun for ... You know, Beck as well hadn't really done too much choreography in any of his videos and hadn't danced in his videos for a long time, so he was game and wanted to work with Ryan and was excited to work with Allison.

The One Unplanned Shot 

Wright and his collaborators "planned everything down to the millisecond," so there was "not a single shot that we shot that's not in the video." There is, however, one shot Wright didn't have in mind before filming began:

One funny thing is that everything was choreographed and everything was boarded out. The only thing we didn't really have, we didn't really have an idea for the last shot. And the final shot of the video, which is actually my favorite shot of the video, was because, we have this reflective floor and some of the dancers are changing into their yellow costumes, so we had a 20 minute wait and all of the dancers are sitting there on that reflective floor and they looked so cool, I took a photo of it and I showed it to Ryan and said, "Hey, this is a cool image." And he said "Yes. Maybe this could be the ending." So, that whole bit at the end where she's playing the pipes, that was the only bit that we improvised on the day as in, it was just like, "Okay, this is the shot." It's like one of my favorite shots of the video, and it's hilarious because that's the only shot that we had not rehearsed in the rehearsal room.

No Room for Green in Colors 

Staying in touch with classic musicals, Wright had Beck, Allison Brie, and the 20 dancers all performing their moves on real stages. When we asked Wright about the shot of Allison Brie and the blue and yellow figures marching towards the camera, he went into why he was opposed to using green screen for the shot and the rest of the tactile video:

The thing that was funny about that was, again I had boarded it all out, but when Ethan Tobman had painted the psyches in the studio... Sometimes with these things especially now people say, "Well, why don't you just do green screen?" And it's like "ah, because I want it to look like an old musical." Like you have massive psyche and one side of it was all painted black, the other side of it was painted yellow on one side and blue on the other side.

So, whoever had painted it, they had done the line between the blue and the yellow so precisely it was like a dead straight line. When I looked at that, I said to Bill Pope the DP and Ryan, I said, "That's where we should do the marching bit and that's where we should have yellow people on the blue side and blue on the yellow side. We have to do that." So, we had already worked out that choreography, but then it was literally that thing where, you know, it's these happy accidents where you say, "Okay, in this shot I'm going to need seven of the yellow, seven of the blue and that's where we're gonna do that bit." Yes, that shot of her is amazing.

Also, the other thing that's not done with green screen, any of it, is the Beck and Allison, when they're black and white, they're rotoscoped in every frame. It is a very time consuming process and The Mill in LA, they did that, but that is something you could do that with green screen, but it's more like an old MGM musical where you can see the psyches, you can see the shadows of the dancers on the floor and you can even see the curve of the set. It's always just more fun for me to actually do it. There's something about green screen. It's like too much like cheating. I'd rather make it more difficult for myself than it look immediately impressive.

(Storyboards by Danelle Davenport)