The Story Behind Scott Pilgrim

Bam! Pow! Thwack! Pilgrim smashes the big screen…

Scott Pilgrim

“I’ve been very involved. I’ve been much more involved than I ever imagined I would be. From scripts, to art direction, I’ve been there all along.”

So said cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley in an interview with Total Film this June, discussing his involvement in transferring his comic book creation Scott Pilgrim to cinema.

In a sign of just how much authority comics now wield within the movie world, the Canadian writer and artist found himself sucked into Hollywood in order to help director Edgar Wright shepherd Pilgrim onto the big screen.

And by all accounts it’s one of the truest, most source-material-honouring comic adaps ever to grace the screen. Not that it was easy – a gruelling six month shoot nearly had Wright ODing on Espresso shots (alright, not really), while fans were nonplussed with the casting of go-to-geekazoid Michael Cera in the lead.

Still, the flick already has celebrity groupies in fanboys Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, while director Jason Reitman caught an early cut of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and he’s not held back the praise…

“It’s a game changer for Edgar and the genre,” he Tweeted last year. “It’s the first all encompassing film of the joystick generation.”

World? Meet Scott Pilgrim…

Next: Scott Who?[page-break]

Scott Who?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rockery for the past year, you’ll already know who Scott Pilgrim is. If you don’t (shame on you), you’ll soon have his name being yelled at you from every billboard and TV ad in your general vicinity.

A 23-year-old layabout with no job to his name, a gay best mate who lets him share his bed (not like that), and a band called Sex Bob-omb, Scott is the eternal, loveable slacker. Not exactly your typical comic book hero.

“There are so many stories and comics that are pure fantasy,” muses Bryan Lee O’Malley, “and I like that, and I want to do stuff like that, but I also want to ground it in my own reality.”

So even though Scott is able to kick butt with the rest of them, he’s also your archetypal directionless twenty-something. Not only that – he’s a massive hit in the world of publishing.

First appearing in Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, published in 2004, Pilgrim has gone on to head up four further tomes bearing his name, as well as the upcoming sixth and final book in the series.

Created by O’Malley after the writer – fresh from graphic novel Lost At Sea –  wanted to take on a “challenge”, Scott’s adventures blend video game rules with a very recognisably Toronto reality (it’s entirely set in O’Malley’s Canadian home-town).

“The books are not just about Scott’s love life,” says director Edgar Wright, “but his exes and family, and friends. After I read the first book it reminded me of Spaced, in terms of combining the mundane with the fantastical.” Always a winning combination.

It was shortly after the first book was published that Oni Press slipped it under the door of Hollywood producer Marc Platt. And in the blink of an eye, it had caught the attention of Wright, who spied it as a fun and creative piece of work that chimed with his own interests.

“In a weird way, I think the whole film is Scott’s sort of diluted cheese dream of him as a badass,” he says. “If you start in a very real place, you can flower into the fantastical.”

Having optioned the novel with Universal, Wright still had to shoot Hot Fuzz before he could tackle the Scott Pilgrim universe. But it was something of a blessing, considering the rest of the novels in the series had yet to be written/sketched, let alone published.

Still, it’s no secret that Wright has kept his eye on the Pilgrim property throughout his other projects, developing the film’s script with Michael Bacall from as early as 2005.

It was at this time that Michael Cera’s name was first mentioned. And despite the fan reserve that Cera was a one-trick geek, Universal had no problem with him.

“Universal never really gave me any problems about casting bigger people,” says Wright, “because in a way Michael has starred in two $100 million-plus movies.”

For Wright, Cera was the perfect Pilgrim. Having first spied him in TV show Arrested Development, Cera was then too young for the role. But by the time shooting was to commence in 2009, Cera had grown up enough.

“People on the internet say he’s so miscast,” says Wright, “but then the people they suggest leave you going, ‘Yeah, but I don’t want to make the Zac Efron version of Scott Pilgrim.’

“So it’s like whenever people come up with suggestions of who it could be, I’m like are we reading the same books? I mean, shouldn’t he be like an underdog, physically?”

Considering he’s going to have to fight seven evil ex-boyfriends, we’re betting Scott wishes he was packing Arnie-sized guns…

Next: Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends[page-break]

Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends

Oh, have we not mentioned that yet? See, Scott Pilgrim’s also a little bit in love. While dating 17-year-old schoolgirl Knives Chau, he falls for Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Promptly dumping said schoolgirl, Scott attempts to charm Ramona into his arms. Catch is – she has seven evil ex-boyfriends whom Scott must defeat if he wants to date her.

Spread out across the six graphic novels, Scott encounters each of Ramona’s exes one at a time – each of them harder to defeat than the last, each with their own calling card.

There’s Matthew Patel, Todd Ingram, Lucas Lee… and the mysterious and terrifying Gideon, who we have barely even glimpsed in the book series, but will be played in the movie Jason Schwartzman.

For their movie incarnations, Wright hand-picked two past and present superheroes in the forms of Brandon Routh and Chris Evans, as well as a raft of little-known actors for the rest of the exes.

“That was a fantastic time,” says new Captain America Chris Evans. “My only frustration with that movie was that my part was so small.  I was there in the beginning doing rehearsals and training with the cast, but then I left for about a month and a half.

“Then I came back and we filmed my character for about three weeks, maybe four, and then I left again, and they kept filming for another two months.  It was so sad because I'd been having such an amazing time.”

The sequential, episodic clashes between Pilgrim and the exes helped Wright feel he was getting somewhere with the titanic shoot.

“The nature of the exes, it feel like more of a TV series because it’s, like, Chris Evans month, and then it’s May Whitman month, and then Brandon Routh month,” the director says of the shoot. “So I guess that’s the way it sort of feels like. But it’s like a seven deadly sins-type film.”

For Scott’s love interest Ramona Flowers, Wright cast Mary Elizabeth Winstead - she of Death Proof and various slasher flicks.

"I think just about everyone is doing something that’s completely different from what you’ve seen them do before," Winstead enthuses. "Like Brandon Routh is so funny, he’s awesome. And Chris Evans is hilarious. I could barely stop laughing on a single take, it was unbelievable. So I think everybody’s going to be really, really happy with all the exes. "

Meanwhile, Mark Webber and Alison Pill pitch up as Pilgrim's bandmates.

Says Wright: “They all worked really hard, and there’s a mixture of people who can play. Like Michael is a great musician – and then there’s a mix of people who can play, and then people who had to learn an instrument for the part. But they worked really hard at it, and it shows.”

He also acknowledges that he attempted to cast “fantastic people in small parts”.  “The thing I’m really pleased about with this film, as opposed to some of the other comedies out there – and even stuff I’ve done before – is that it has a lot of funny women in it.”

With the prep work all done, now it was time to actually shoot the thing…

Next: Scott Pilgrim Vs. Toronto[page-break]

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Toronto

Crushing six books worth of story into a two hour film was always going to be a challenge. Wright’s solution? Stay true to the spirit of the books without being shackled to them.

“After three volumes, it starts to take its own path, but very much within the spirit of the book — and approved by Bryan as well,” he says.

“There are some things that are in the film that are actually from Bryan’s original ideas before he wrote the books. [So] there are some things in there that refer to older ideas which he didn’t end up doing.

“It’s ironic, because there will be a couple of scenes when people will say, ‘That’s not in the book,’ but actually, if you look at these notes from 2005…”

The shoot took place in Toronto between March and August 2009. Considering it was such a long filming period, Wright began to envy his young actors’ energy levels.

“The cast are all very young,” he says. “They’ve got the energy of 20-year-olds. The cast has just been amazing together, and I think it’s just a really good ensemble.

“It feels really like having a cast full of ringers in terms of everybody in every tiny part is really great. And so to have like big ensemble scenes with ten of them in the same scene, or five of them in the same scene, it’s just really good fun."

How did Wright make it through? “A lot of espresso, basically.” As for translating the images originally sketched by O’Malley to the screen, Wright mixed and matched, taking some panels and lifting them directly, and then using his own artistic license for others.

“There are bits where we tried to do specific panels, and I think the two meld together pretty well,” he explains. “There will be bits where you’ll be able to see the page come to life, but I think in terms of the overall flow, it’s probably more similar to the stuff I’ve done before.

“A lot of the action scenes are longer than they are in the books. So it’s a bit of both, really, and that’s what’s sort of fun about it.”

In May 2010, Wright revealed that he was going back to shoot three days of pick-ups for the film. Reacting to Production Weekly’s “inelegant” Tweets (which broke the re-shoot news), he revealed: “To be honest – I’m excited about it.

“Truth is, some of it, is because we have material from Vol 6 that is impossible to resist and so even after a nearly a year of editing - it’s going to be fun to put some icing on the cake.”

He revealed that no full scenes were being re-shot, just inserts and bits and pieces that would polish the final product. In order to quiet any concerns, he gave us a hint about how he had honed his previous films…

“Both Shaun & Hot Fuzz had two and three days respectively of additional shooting. One of those bits was the granny being kicked in the face. I think we can all agree that was a good pickup.”

Next: We Are Sex Bob-omb![page-break]

We Are Sex Bob-omb!

If the fights and humour are integral to Scott Pilgrim, the music is even more so. Especially seeing as the movie adaptation allows us to actually hear the Sex Bob-omb songs, whereas the novels could only represent them in illustrations.

“Brian had playlists for all the books, in the back of the books,” Wright says, “and he kind of introduced me to some artists that I wasn’t aware of.

“And then there were some songs – like one or two songs – that I had mentioned to him that he put in the second book as they were coming up. So we have this nice crossover of bands that I’ve played him and vice versa.”

The production even went so far as to draft in band Plumtree, whose song inspired Scott Pilgrim back in the day. Wright promises that we’ll see the Plumtree name “splashed all over a huge portion of the film”.

He also reveals that he sees Scott Pilgrim the movie as adhering to the same movie logic as musicals. In musicals, people break into song and then carry on afterwards as if nothing has happened. So too with Pilgrim’s OTT action scenes.

For the film's songs themselves, the production cast real bands as the sound of the fictional bands.

Wright explains his reasoning behind this choice: “Usually in music films you have one composer who does everything. That sets a sort of house style, and sometimes that works great, like Phantom of the Paradise how Paul Williams does all the music for all the bands, but they all sound like Paul Williams songs, which is great.

“But for this we wanted to have a different band for every single artist that appears, and we’ve done that, and that’s kind of really fun.”

For Sex Bob-omb, Beck made the music while the actors provided the vocals. Other bands used include Metric, Broken Social Scene, while the official soundtrack features unreleased songs from Beachwood Sparks, Frank Black, Black Lips, T. Rex, The Bluetones, Blood Red Shoes, Broken Social Scene, The Rolling Stones, and Brian LeBarton.

Meanwhile, a fittingly awesome Scott Pilgrim game is in the works. Tilted Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, it’s a retro Arcade-style game that has been lovingly rendered to fit with the rest of Pilgrim cannon...

Next: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Future[page-break]

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Future

The release of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is now mere weeks away, with this month’s Comic-Con rumoured to be holding special screenings.

Is it going to get it on like Donkey Kong? Kevin Smith thinks so, calling it “spellbinding”. When he caught a screening in March, he had this to say:

“Nobody is going to understand what the fuck just hit them. I would be hard pressed to say, ‘He’s bringing a comic book to life!’ But he is bringing a comic book to life.

“If you’ve ever seen Scott Pilgrim, [Wright] did a fucking damn fine job of taking essentially an anime looking book and putting it into the real world while keeping everything about that book that’s kind of cool and what pops. It’s just a fucking good time, man.”

He’s not the only one raging, with Quentin Tarantino also jumping on the bangwagon as a “true believer”.

As for Bryan Lee O’Malley, it’s been a long journey, but he’s just about ready to bid farewell to Scott Pilgrim. The final book in the series, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, is released on 20 July.

What does he think of the movie? “It’s really, from the very beginning, it’s different in this way that I don’t think I have ever seen," he says.

“The only thing I could compare it to is Edgar’s previous work, like Hot Fuzz. I saw Hot Fuzz at a premiere in Toronto with an audience and it was gripping and great and thrilling.” We expect the same from Scott Pilgrim...

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