Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the latest film from ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘Spaced’ director Edgar Wright. Based on the books by the Canadian born graphic novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film follows the exploits of the young, charming, jobless and freeloading Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera). The bassist in the unfortunately named Sex Bob-Omb, he soon meets the girl of his dreams…literally. Only it turns out in order to date Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he must defeat her Seven Evil Exes.
I was pretty excited as I made my way through the drizzling rain to a quiet Café in Soho to chat to the man responsible for everything Scott Pilgrim.
(You can read our interview with Edgar Wright and Michael Cera here)
TLOBF: Hi Bryan, how are you doing?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: I’m good, feeling pretty jet-lagged though.
So I really like the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. I got into the series quite recently after I noticed all 6 volumes adorning my friends book shelf and then before I knew it there was this film coming out. But obviously I know things haven’t happened as rapidly as that for you so could you tell me a bit about how it all began?
Well I put the first book out in August 2004, so 6 years ago this month. Then that winter someone must have thrust a copy into Edgar Wright’s hands while he was on his American tour for ‘Shaun of the Dead’; he apparently got it straight away and I spoke to him soon after. He wrote an early draft before getting stuck into ‘Hot Fuzz’ for a year whilst waiting for more books to be done.
Were you aware of his work already?
I hadn’t head of him at that point but they sent me ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and then I saw ‘Spaced’ and we seemed to share sensibilities so it was a perfect choice I guess.
Where did the original inspiration for Scott Pilgrim come from?
It was kind of based on my life at the time. I was in Toronto, in my early 20s, playing in a band and I’d just started dating an American girl. I wanted to do something that reflected my life but almost to an absurd degree – an action packed metaphor for everything that was going on in my relationship.
How was the screen writing process with Edgar?
Mercifully I was mostly kept out of that. He worked with Michael Bacall, another screenwriter. I would say there was a lot of last minute writing. The second draft, which became the main draft for the film, was literally handed in at midnight on the night the Writers Strike was due to begin back in October 2007.
Do you feel there were any bits of the story from the books that should have made the film but didn’t?
I don’t think so. I’ve always seen it as an adaptation with Edgar took the reigns whilst staying pretty true to the book. I feel like if I was writing the script I would have cut even more things out.
There is understandably a fair bit of back-story missing from the film.
I think that’s quite a good thing really, it might inspire people to expand their horizons with the books. Hopefully the weight of the back-story comes across to some degree in the film. I mean for me just actually having real actors play the characters lends some gravitas.
There certainly is a sense of the characters history in the film, I liked how they used your original drawings in explaining some of Ramona’s past.
To be honest I was a little petrified of that! I didn’t necessarily want to see my work on the big screen, especially work that is like from 6 years ago but I think they did a beautiful job with it. Similarly with the on-screen comic titles and the sort of “WHAM!” “BANG!” Batman style sound affects. I never imagined it being so cool!
You famously named Scott after a song by the all-girl Canadian High School rockers Plumtree, did their sound influence Scott’s character or the tone of the film at all?
Well Scott came together in pieces. I worked on the basic idea for several years from 2002 while I was doing another book called Lost At Sea. Then later I just started thinking ‘who is Scott Pilgrim?’ Why is he so great? [The lyrics of the song largely consisting of “I’ve liked you for a thousand years/ A thousand years”] ‘Why is there this song about him? From then on in I just kept adding silly things to it, like you know he is a great fighter and everything.
You’ve shared a stage with Catriona Sturton [a member of Plumtree] before right?
Yeah she played harmonica for me one time, she is great. Last week I invited them all down to the Toronto premier, had a picnic with them beforehand and we hung out at the after party. It was amazing to be sitting on a couch with my high school heroes, who are really only a year or two older than me because they started the band when they were only 14 or something.
‘Scott Pilgrim’ definitely has that timeless high-school rock vibe but it doesn’t sound like it’s sung by highschool-ers.
Yeah, I mean you would think they were at least 19 or something!
How long have you been doing your own stuff with Kupek?
I’ve been doing my solo stuff for about 10 years now. There was a point in my life when comics and music were evenly weighted but comics are a lot more work so for the last 4 or 5 years they’ve come first. I always enjoyed it though, figuring out how to record my own stuff and making it sound like a finished product…at least in my own mind! I guess the thing with music it definitely instant gratification, so I could write down whatever I was thinking, lay it down, slop some keyboards and computerised drums on top of it and have some fun in just a day. It has always helped me with my creative process but comics are just a lot more work.
What kind of stuff did you end up with?
Still probably the favourite music I have written dates back to 2003, when I wrote 6 songs that were full of Nintendo sounds…basically it was a pre-cursor to Scott Pilgrim!
Were you ever a bass player like Scott?
I’ve known so many amazingly talented bass players that make me feel ashamed to ever hold the instrument but I played a few times in high school I think and learnt that it’s pretty easy to fake it on the bass guitar. That is where it came from with Scott Pilgrim, playing bad bass in high school for talent shows.
Where do all the Smashing Pumpkin references stem from?
Well they were one of my favourite bands in high school, along with Plumtree. I’m more embarrassed about one of those now! I wasn’t really into the Smashing Pumpkins so much in my 20s, but I didn’t want to dismiss the fact that I did really love them so I stuck a few things in.
A homage to your own youth?
Yeah, and you know they share initials with Scott Pilgrim so I thought that he could be enough of a narcissist that he wouldn’t even know who the band were, he would just take the shirt because it has his own initials on it!
There is a lot of Canadian music on the soundtrack, was that intentional?
I definitely wanted that. Edgar was also very devoted to that. He met a bunch of famous rock stars when he came to Toronto, one of which was Emily Haines whose confidence sought of inspired the character of Envy Adams.
I can’t get enough of that song either ‘Black Sheep.’ I heard it in the film and really hoped I would be able to hear it afterwards.
That is the other thing really, we got all these amazing songs. In a lot of films about bands they’ll either have terrible music or one person will write all the music for all the different bands. We wanted to do more than that. I think we were relatively successful. I think there is some really great music.
How did Beck become involved in the soundtrack?
Beck is a friend of Nigel Godrich’s who is a friend of Edgar’s. Nigel suggested that we talk to Beck so Edgar and I actually ended up Beck’s tour bus in San Francisco. It was very intimidating being on his bus, in his personal space trying to convince him to write the songs for Sex Bob-Omb whilst showing him the comics, we felt so stupid. But he instantly clicked with it and apparently he recorded like 17 songs over a weekend. We cherry picked like 4 or 5 songs and they’re all perfect.
They epitomise Sex Bob-Omb to me as well as clearly channelling Beck’s own oeuvre.
Yeah, in the film there is that acoustic version of Ramona. Apparently he just made that up on the fly. He did like 5 or 6 different versions with different chords and then went back later to record the full orchestral version.
There are a fair few songs that are mentioned in the play lists that accompany the books, which didn’t make it onto the soundtrack. How did you decide what to include?
Well Edgar and I have been trading mix tapes back and forth from the very first time we started talking. I always try and do a mix CD for each book sort of as a rule board. A lot of songs from my first mix, which was sort of the overall Scott Pilgrim theme mix made it to the soundtrack. Stuff like Beachwood Sparks, Plumtree obviously, and The Rolling Stones. Edgar had his choices too. Coming from London he has much more of a Brit-Pop mentality, so I think that blended with my Americana references and melded nicely into the film.
What were the most important video game references that you wanted to get across?
I feel like Edgar really took this element and strengthened it. The whole basis for the concept is that if someone has played something like Street Fighter or Tekken for years of their lives, then they might be under the illusion that when they get into real a fight they’ll have those skills – you know they’ve spent all that time they must have learnt something! So the film kind of turns that into full-blown reality or pseudo-reality at least.
Were you happy with the casting?
I was privy to the casting tapes even though I wasn’t in the room. I think I saw everyone’s tape. I had my input but Edgar is pretty much a genius when it comes to this so he was able to get it spot on without much help.
You wrote the last volume while they were already filming so do you think the actors’ personalities influenced what went into the book?
I think so.
In what way?
Well even just the process of filming itself influenced what I wrote. That was the most time I’ve spent in Toronto in a few years so some of the places I went and the things I experienced sort of went in. There is this party in the book that was inspired by Edgar’s assistant’s birthday party, so yeah just a few random things like that.
Then just this overall feeling being in Toronto as someone who has made it and come back influenced what I wrote. You know I was kind of looking at it from the other end. I kind of felt like the bad guy at times which is why I sort of made Gideon the same age as me – sort of like I’d become Gideon…although I haven’t really!
And then with the actors – I would try and distance my self from it a bit but there are little things that crept in. I gave Envy Adams one of Brie Larson’s actual outfits. So yeah they definitely had an influence on me.
Who are you listening to at the moment? We occasionally have a download feature called ‘Oh! Canada’ – any recommendations for that?
Coming out of Canada I don’t know. I’m not really in touch with it any more I’ll have to check out your site and get back to you!
I’ve been listening to a lot of Swedish music. I’m obsessed with this band called The Tough Alliance (on Sincerely Yours records) that do a lot of interesting, weird electronic sort of music. I’ve listening to a lot of stuff in that vein.
TLOBF has some proper musical Swedophiles – one of my editors is borderline obsessed with Jens Lekman!
I love him! I live in LA so hopefully I’ll get to see him and some other guys when they come over here.
Well it was great to meet you, thanks for you time.