Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. It's strange, this movie news business. Set visits, embargoes and all that fun stuff sometimes mean it's years between seeing something and getting to write about it. I remember the time between my visit to the set of John Carter and the lift of the embargo was just about 2 years.
If you're smart you write up your visit while it's still fresh so you don't have to rely on notes and fuzzy memories, but nobody ever accused me of being smart, so sometimes the timing difference means I'm freaking out and crying and standing on the ledge of a tall building in downtown Austin threatening to end it all right now.
This is not one of those cases, but the timing of the embargo lift for my visit to the London set of Edgar Wright's The World's End makes me laugh. I got the notice when I was in New Zealand, which meant I didn't have the interview audio files or any of my notes with me, so I grabbed them when I got home, but didn't start typing this up until deep into my next trip... which happens to be to London for the World Premiere of The World's End.
As I begin writing this report, I'm sitting in my hotel restaurant in the early hours of the day, waiting for my spinach and mushroom omelette if you really want to know, the morning of the big premiere. What's crazy is I still don't know much about the movie despite a barrage of trailers and a visit to the set.
They were tight-lipped during my visit to Elstree Studios. All I know is that I saw freaky people with lights around their eyes and Simon Pegg covered in blue “blood.” Plot-wise I didn't know much, but I did get some time to walk around the sets and chat with the folks involved, so there's a little bit about the characters I can share.
The thing that struck me the most was that they're doing a little bit of a role reversal with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's characters. Usually it's Frost who plays into the arrested development/immature category with Pegg being the straight man, but in this film it's Pegg's character who is trying to recapture his youth by finishing a pub crawl he and his mates didn't quite successfully complete in their younger years. I suspect that by the end of the story Frost gets blitzed, but he starts out sober. He's a businessman, a respectable sort in a nice button down shirt while Pegg is still rocking his dirty metalhead gear from his teen years.
When we arrived at Elstree, our group was quickly taken into a studio where a recreation of one of the pubs was built up (this one was The Hole In The Wall). The sequence being shot had a disheveled Pegg behind the bar, quickly finishing off a pint while consulting his pub crawl map, crossing out one of the few remaining locations.
While the set work was gorgeous, I found myself in a conversation with editor Paul Machliss that didn't involve anything Wright-related. In fact, it was a geeky little talk about the history of Elstree. With a gleam in his eye, Machliss told me that if I stepped outside and took a gander at the parking lot next to the stage I'd be looking at the spot Stanley Kubrick's team built the exterior of the Overlook Hotel when making The Shining.
Of course I had to go outside and bask in whatever residual ju-ju remained. I don't have the shine, so thankfully my senses weren't assaulted by the ghost of all the cocaine Shelley Duvall murdered during the making of that movie. It is weird, though... once I knew that was where the front of the Overlook was built I could actually see it. I guess that means I've officially watched The Shining way too many times.
As an aside, here are a few pics that show what Elstree was like when The Shining filmed there, courtesy of the great Shining fansite The Overlook Hotel:
Anyway, it was back into the stage for me and into “the tent.” There's always “the tent” on these visits, but I'm not complaining. It's a little spot on the set to keep us pesky visiting nerds out of the way, but we tend to have our own monitors and the more time spent in these tents means the more filming we get to watch. As I've said many times, that's my favorite part of these visits, watching a scene come together, not so much the sitting in a room and doing big roundtable interviews.
Our tent on this trip had Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in it, so we do get some occasional perks.
We gathered around in a kind of circle as if we were at camp and Simon and Nick were going to start telling us spooky stories. In fact, Paddy Considine stuck his head in the tent within 30 seconds of the beginning of the conversation and uttered “it looks like a fucking séance going on!”
Here are some of the bullet points from the chat with the boys:
- When questioned about the blue on them, Simon and Nick wouldn't say much. Nick did assure us that they weren't shooting a Smurf porno. I replied “Why did I come all this way, then?”
- On returning to work with Edgar: “It's like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes.” - Simon Pegg. He went one step further when talking about the pressures of writing the next film. Simon said as long as they brought it every day they knew everything would be fine. He said the process was very natural and that it was “like a really nice poo.” How could I not include that quote?
- Things got serious when they talked about the changing film industry, how mid-budget films are being eliminated. The only movies being made are shoe-string budgeted indies and giant tentpoles. Simon went so far as to say that if things don't change The World's End could very well be the last movie of this type and size the trio work on together.
- Nick described his character as being a very angry man inside a calm exterior, dubbing himself “The Pink Hulk.”
- “This movie is like The Big Chill if the corpse was there as well.” - Simon Pegg, his character Gary King being “the corpse.” “Gary doesn't change. We see him in flashbacks and he's wearing the same outfit. He's like a frozen caveman. He vanished. He was the guy everyone thought was going to be a big success. He was the rock star, he's the coolest guy at school and things just went terribly wrong for him. They probably assumed he was dead!” Nick: “That said, he's endlessly positive. He's still as enthusiastic as when he was 16.”
- They stressed how important it is that their films are resolutely British. On Hot Fuzz, they got a note from the studio saying “Maybe Jack Black could appear as a wacky FBI agent?” One of the reasons pubs feature so strongly in their movies is because they're such a central part of British culture.
- The germ of The World's End started as an offshoot of a script Edgar wrote when he was 21 called CRAWL about 19 year olds on a pub crawl gone awry. They decided to essentially shrink the entirety of that down to the first 5 minutes and focus on what that group of kids would be like as middle aged men.
- Two of the 12 bars are completely sets, all the rest were shot inside real, existing pubs.
- Their own pub crawl stories? Simon doesn't drink anymore, Nick doesn't do the pub thing that much anymore, but he claims the pub crawl they did for Simon's stag party (in Belgium) was epic. “We nearly killed someone, James nearly died in a Portuguese restaurant...” - Nick. Sorry, James. Hope you're better now.
- Does the end of Cornetto Trilogy mean the end of them working together? Simon: “I'll be working with Edgar until I decide to stop making films.” However he did stress that while they'll surely work together this trilogy will be uniquely quasi-related to each other. Nick: “It's a marker in terms of who we are as people. That part of our life is essentially now finished in terms of being thirty-somethings who are stoned and pissed all the time. That's gone, that's over now.” That doesn't mean they won't make comedies together again, but they are different people now with families and whatever they do together in the future will reflect that.
- Keep in mind this next bit was well before trailers for The World's End and right in the middle of the “Who is Benedict Cumberbatch playing?” hubbub. Simon addressed the rumor of the bad guys (known as Blanks) being dancing zombies, which an extra tweeted out from the shooting of one of pubs, which was more a nightclub. Nick: “Fired.” (laughs) Simon talks about secrets being hard to keep these days. He paused, looked at all of us and said “Thanks, guys.” with a smile. I retort, “Benedict is playing who in Star Trek, again?” Nick responds first: “George Harrison.” We all laugh. That leads to Simon saying Benedict is playing Amir Khan, the boxer, and Shaka Khan.
- Unlike the last two films, The World's End is light on film references. Aliens is mentioned in one conversation, but no recreated shots or loving homages. “If anything what we've been inspired by in terms of source material is British social science-fiction, like John Wyndham or Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury.” - Simon. Yes, I'm sure he realizes Bradbury isn't British, but you get his point, no?
- On a detour talking about PAUL, Simon said Sigourney Weaver dressed up as Batman to walk the floor of Comic-Con the year she was there promoting the movie. Let that awesomeness percolate a bit.
- Filming was set to end on the day that crazy preacher dude claimed the world was to end. How did they feel about that? Simon: “It'd feel weird if it wasn't such a load of bullshit.”
- Simon broke his hand during filming. Nick tried to convince us he did it wanking. Turns out he broke his hand leaping over the bar in The King's Head. Cracked bone in the back of his hand. Said he didn't want to let Edgar down, so he did 6 more takes leaping over the bar with a broken hand before he said something.
- Fight Choreographer Brad Allan watched Nick fighting in the movie and dubbed him “the white Sammo Hung.” “Fills me with fucking joy every time I hear it!” - Nick.
Our time with Nick and Simon was much longer than a typical set visit, but that was that. Off they went to work and they disappeared into the fog like Bogie and Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca. Luckily Edgar Wright came into fill that awful void. Below are excerpts from our chat with him.
- How was writing? “I'd say it's been as easy to write as the film has been difficult to shoot.” Apparently they chose a poor time to film exteriors in Britain and they were freezing their nuts off.
- When writing the script they used a trick from Thomas Lennon's book on screenwriting of writing the actor's names instead of the character's names. There was a draft where it said “Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Martin Freeman.” Apparently that caused some raised eyebrows when friends and producers would visit and see pages.
- Edgar talked about the scale of the movie and laughed about how his eyes are always a little bit too big for his stomach and he's always pushing the limits of whatever budget he has. “It never, ever feels easy. The ambition and time never add up.”
- He described Simon as a “Tasmanian Devil” in the movie. “He's almost like the hero and the villain at the same time.”
- The tone is darker and sillier at the same time. “I like that aspect of people who have been in dark places, had dark things happen to them, yet it still gets increasingly silly.”
It was a quick ten minutes with Edgar and then he was off making his flick.
Like nervous groundhogs we peeked our heads out of the tent and found Nira Park, who has produced all of Edgar's stuff since Spaced.
Here's a little secret I've learned as I've been privileged enough to visit sets and get to know filmmakers on a professional and personal level: behind every successful director is a brilliant producer. Go look up any director that constantly puts out interesting, personal projects and I bet 9 times out of 10 you'll find a common producer that has been with them for the majority of their projects.
Filmmaking is stressful and when you find someone that can get shit done while understanding your vision you hold on to them. Nira is that for Edgar. I don't know her well, but I've been in and out of Edgar's work (be it set visits, screenings, interviews, etc) since Shaun of the Dead and feel like I have a bit of a gauge of her personality. If you like Simon, Nick and Edgar then I'd be willing to bet you'd like Nira. She's definitely a part of the group.
Anyway, she was good enough to not rat us out to the publicists that we left our tent and let us watch the scene from the side of the set. We were standing in a large soundstage which had multiple little sets built inside and we saw the other end to the scene I described above (Simon finishing off a pint and crossing off The Hole In The Wall from his pub crawl map).
This was also our first glimpse at the bad guys of the movie, the Blanks. Now we know all about the robots, but keep in mind they didn't say shit about them on the set. The shot had Considine in a car crashed through the wall of the pub as the Blanks rush in, eyes glowing blue.
One of the Blanks, I'm not sure if it was an extra or a stunt man, walked by inbetween shots and we could see the effect was made by each person wearing what looked like steampunk John Lennon rims with no glass. These rims were lined with bright blue LED lights. The maybe-stuntie/maybe-extra let us look at a pair close up. This did not help our confusion at the time.
Production Designer Marcus Rowland came to pick us up and run us through the last bit of the visit: a trip to the World's End itself.
While the place is named after and based on a real pub for the movie they completely built the one in the movie as a set... and for good reason. I imagine by now a good many of you reading this have seen the movie and know that some shit goes down at the World's End. If you haven't, then you might want to curb your reading of this piece now to save you a little spoiler-poo.
When walking around the set it was a little hard to miss that it was built up a good 10 feet off the ground. Walking up the wooden stairs to the set I didn't think much of it, but once we were up there and admiring the set decoration I couldn't help but notice that there was a large round circle in the middle of the room. It's not like it was a hole, exactly, but the outline of one. At first glance I didn't notice it, but it quickly became apparent that something was going on with this area.
Rowland came clean and did say that they had built an elevator system for a climactic moment in which a circular bit of floor lowers down into “somewhere” (hence why they built the set off the ground).
I suppose this would be a good point to jump off and flash forward a year or so as I returned to Ol' Blightey to see the finished film. The reason I like this place as a segue is because after visiting the fake The World's End pub the set visit was over and one of the highlights of the return trip was heading over to the actual World's End pub the day before the big London premiere.
It was an interesting trip in that there were no formal interviews. It wasn't really a junket at all, actually. A group of the internet's biggest and brightest somehow got let into the fancy Claridges London for an informal hang-out session with Simon, Nick and Edgar, which ended up being less about The World's End and more just a room full of geeks talking while sitting in a circle while servants offered Coke Zero and tiny sandwiches in a room that looked like it was made to house royalty.
The conversation was very fluid and jokey, which made sense because most of visiting press know these guys beyond a professional level. Edgar and to a lesser extent Simon and Nick regularly keep in touch with the blogging press. I know the cynical interpretation on that is going to point to some sort of political gambit to get good reviews on their films and I know a fair amount of that does go in this business, but I don't believe that's the case here. When you talk about geeks made good, these guys are the textbook example. They are one of us, not guys pretending to be into geek culture to get ahead in the business.
Edgar in particular is a sharp cinephile that can hold court about any kind of film, no matter what the genre or era it was made. Simon and Nick, too. The point is they love movies the way critics love movies (at least the good critics) which naturally makes for easy acquaintances and fast friends within the movie lover circles.
One of the highlights of the conversation was Simon taking the opportunity to formally apologize for blatantly lying about Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. He said he was caught off guard by the question and in the heat of the moment his gut said it'd be better to lie than spoil the movie. In hindsight a no comment would have been better, but he promised to never ever do that again.
Naturally that spurred a line of questioning about whether or not he was going to pop up in JJ's Star Wars. The regret was immediately apparent in Pegg's eyes, but he laughed and said in all honesty that as a fan he would hate to watch the new Star Wars and see a bunch of well known people. One of the great things about the original trilogy was that most of the leads were relative unknowns, Sir Alec Guinness aside. He hopes that JJ will do something similar. I think it was Faraci that asked if Simon would appear in the movie if they made him up as a creature or put him in Stormtrooper armor. Without a second's hesitation Pegg said absolutely, yes.
From there we were escorted to the actual World'd End pub for a pint. Edgar met up with us there to drink with the geeks and talk about how he and Simon used to live really close to this pub and would regularly have creative meetings there during Spaced and while hashing out Shaun of the Dead. In fact, he said, the infamous finger-gun showdown from Spaced was filmed in the alley behind The World's End.
Because we were all super nerds we naturally had to go out into the alley and recreate the fight. This is what that looked like:
Don't ask me why Drew McWeeny (on the far left) is so excited about shooting Harry's head off, but there you have it.
The premiere itself was the next day at the Empire Leicester Square theater and it was a massive theater that sadly will soon be split down the middle and made into two separate auditoriums. There's a whole other article about the death of the immersive cinematic experience, but we'll ignore that for now and I'll just say that it's a beautiful theater and the premiere was wildly fun.
In the interest of objectivity I'm going to refrain from writing a full on review, but having seen the movie twice, the second time in a triple feature with Shaun and Hot Fuzz, I can say that there's a chemistry at work when Simon, Edgar and Nick work together. I've liked or loved the work they've done apart (Tintin, Scott Pilgrim, Attack the Block all come to mind), but there's just some element that is only there when they're all together that is front and center in The World's End. It could be my favorite character Nick Frost has played in the Trilogy... Oh, and Eddie Marsan is brilliantly used. Instead of being creepy or cold they make him meek and sympathetic. It's a great turn from him and I hope to see more of that kind of performance from him in the future.
Great, I said I wasn't going to review and I ended up doing a mini-review anyway. I'll stop, I swear.
So there's my whole World's End experience all wrapped up in an article that I began writing in London the morning of the premiere and finished as I sat in a humble second hand recliner in my living room having seen the film twice. Hope you guys got some good tidbits out of this piece!
I'm not quite done with the boys just yet. I have a lengthy interview I did with them when they came through Austin, but we talk a whole lot about the very end of the movie so I'm holding it until next week so more of you guys can read without getting all nerd raged out because we spoil the shit out of the last 5 minutes.
Stay tuned for that!