A few weeks ago, we saw the launch of The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator, a new series of web-based short animations created by Edgar Wright and graphic artist Tommy Lee Edwards. At its launch we were given the opportunity to talk to the famous English writer-director (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Spaced, among other geek favorites) and ask him what drew him to Brandon, his feelings on digital media, and why Cornetto ice creams keep getting a cameo role in his films. Follow him on Twitter at @edgarwright.
What was it that attracted you to Brandon? And why Microsoft?
Well, they asked me if I was interested in doing a project like this, and initially it was a pretty open brief, with the general idea of creating a comic online, but with a way to allow people to contribute to it. So the crowd sourced element I thought was intriguing, and I'd never really written a comic before. Tommy Lee Edwards was already involved, and I'm a big fan of his artwork. I'd worked in this realm before, with TV and Film, but this was something of a new challenge for me.
Brandon's an alter-ego, of sorts. There've been times when I've written with people that I either don't know very well, and times when I've written on my own and used the outside world for random inspiration. So, I liked this idea of setting up this character where people reading or watching the site can throw curveballs at myself and Brandon.
How will you be able to filter through everything you receive from the viewers?
Well, the best stuff is going up on the site for people to watch, read, and listen to. And some of those we'll find ways of actually putting into future episodes.
What is it about comic book writers in your work — first Tim from Spaced, and now Brandon?
"Anyone who's a writer or an artist could be stuck at the drawing board."
I remember when I was at art college, I had a friend in the year above me who was a brilliant artist, and started drawing for 2000 AD. And I just thought it was incredible that this guy was still in college and was drawing Judge Dredd vs. Batman. But the reality of it, as with anyone who's a writer or an artist, is that it doesn't necessarily mean that you're not stuck at the drawing board. It's the same with movies — no matter what your eventual result is, there's always going to be that period of staring at a blank page or sitting in your living room vexing and pacing.
Last year I wrote a script on my own, and I'm very proud of the end result, but actually getting there was like pulling teeth sometimes. I'd literally have to beat myself up to get myself going during the day, and some of the stuff that's in this first episode is quite autobiographical (though some of it goes a little bit further and is a bit sillier). I do use my espresso machine far more than I should, because it feels like a productive use of time.
It definitely feels like your voice shining through, though.
Julian has a far sexier voice than I do.
How do you feel that online video affects the length of stories you can tell? Do you feel that smaller episode lengths are a constraint?
Not really — I think that 5, 6, 7 minutes is about the right length for the internet, and I don't want to give the animators a cardiac arrest. And going back to comics, if you think about in terms of speech bubbles, it feels like exactly the same length that you'd write for one issue of a Marvel comic.
And did you envision Brandon as frames of a comic as you were writing?
Yes — because that's the way that Tommy [Lee Edwards] works, so I broke down the script I'd written into a comic book outlay.
In a broader sense, there've been a lot of exclusive series announced for sites like Hulu and Netflix. Is that something you can see yourself writing?
There are definitely a lot of great things being made by those companies. I think it's just a different way of doing existing things, and I think it's good — the more ways there are to make films and TV the better.
"Not many people watch TV live anymore, and that's not necessarily a problem."
It's been interesting that the way people watch TV has changed a lot in the past 10 years, that not many people watch TV live anymore, and that's not necessarily a problem. Part of that's down to choice, in the same way that you do with films or music, to view it however you want. I think it's a good thing that something can premiere on TV, but if you want to watch it on your DVR or buy the box set later, it's all good. It's just different ways of consuming the same material in the same way that you used to have a hardback novel and then six months later the paperback would come out.
Cable in the US, with channels like AMC or HBO, have provided an outlet for more adult drama, which is really good, because it's the kind of stuff that doesn't necessarily get made at the cinema.
Do you see yourself doing more projects like Brandon in future, more online promotion work?
I enjoyed doing this so far, and I like the idea of just creating a world and I like the idea of doing it with the readers in a way where they can go on the journey with me. Right now the second episode's yet to be written, so it's dependent on what people contribute to the site. So that's a fun experience for me, because it means that the experience is shaped by the suggestions.
It's interesting — when we did Spaced, the internet was just starting to really blow up, and I noticed that people tended to throw in suggestions for episodes really quickly, before the series had even ended. At the time we felt we really couldn't read them, and we needed to keep the writing pure from outside influence. The great thing about this premise is that it's absolutely the point of the whole exercise, that myself and Brandon get to feed off people's responses.
While we're talking about Spaced, it's packed with cultural references and at the time there wasn't really anything like Wikipedia to let people look them up. Do you think that, if it came out today, that would change the way it was received?
I'm not sure that me and Simon [Pegg], or Simon and Jessica [Stephenson], would write something like that now. It's definitely a product of the age we were and the time. And it was basically supposed to be appreciated on two levels — you could watch it and enjoy it as a sitcom, and the cultural references were there for you to pick up on a first or second viewing. It seemed to work very well when we had a DVD, and you could bone up on it later, so I don't know if it would change it necessarily. In a way, I'm trying to move away from pop culture references in a sense.
Can you describe your writing process? Has technology changed the way you write and direct?
Well, if you've seen Brandon, you've seen my writing process. I think it depends on whether you're working with somebody and whether you're doing it alone. If you're working with someone, say when I write with Simon, we meet in the same office, and we usually share one laptop and plug it into a bigger screen so we can both see it while one person types and the other one paces. We literally write the whole thing in front of each other. There's a thing some people do now, where they write scripts when they're not in the same room or even in the same country as each other. But when I'm writing with Simon or Joe Cornish, I've always been in the room with them.
"Every time I've made a film, technology has massively moved forward."
Each film I've done has been once every three years, so every time I've made a film, technology has massively moved forward. When I was shooting Scott Pilgrim, I'm not sure that the iPad was even with us yet. There are a lot of things now that are making huge advances on how you can make movies. The biggest thing I noticed when I did Scott Pilgrim, which was shot three years ago now, is that things can be edited very fast — much faster than ever before. And that's a real asset, in that you can really get a sense of what you're doing as you're doing it, and not have to wait until you can get back to the edit six months later.
Considering that it's a big influence on a lot of your work, would you ever go into scripting video games?
Yeah, I think so. I've been asked a couple of times over the years, and the experience of making Brandon has let me get my head around exactly how this might work. I think it'd be fun to do something like that, yeah.
I was slightly involved with the Scott Pilgrim game, but not particularly hands-on, because I was in the middle of making the movie. But I was kept abreast of how that was going and saw that being created in tandem with the film, which was interesting. The game gives you a lot more options, in some ways. We saw it that there were three different adaptations of the same story — the original books, the movie, and the game — each of which had slightly different outcomes. So I think that the game gave you more of a chance to play out different views based on which character you played the game with.
Making a movie is a very different thing to writing animation or planning a game, because the physical hardship on set can throw up a lot of random things that you'd never normally think could go wrong.
Did the interactive element of the Scott Pilgrim game influence your work on Brandon?
Well the interactive idea was the whole inspiration for the project — it came together well before the actual character of Brandon. Every part of the premise is designed to be a way to collaborate with people using the site. Then I thought, "What if you had a character that was a writer who was stuck?" And his experience of getting very frustrated is the same thing that happened to me last year. So I thought it would be funny to have something where I'm asking the public for their random interjections.
Cinema viewing numbers have been declining over the last few years. Do you see a future for movie theaters?
Yeah, definitely. I think that people always want to see something with a crowd. Even though there are now more annoyances about watching a movie than before, like high ticket prices or people using their iPhones in the theatre, but I certainly still want to watch a movie on the big screen with an audience. And when that's right, there's nothing better. That's not to say that the home viewing experience is wrong, but I like going to the movies — it's a totally different experience to watching something at home.
One final question: rumors are suggesting that the mint chocolate chip Cornetto makes an appearance in The World's End. What can you tell us?
I think that the whole series has become rather weighted towards the ice cream factor. Basically, the Cornetto thing in Shaun of the Dead was a joke within the first film, and then at the premiere Walls gave us free Cornettos, so Simon and I decided to write Cornettos into Hot Fuzz in the hope of getting free ice cream. Sadly that didn't actually happen, so I think that if we write Cornetto into the third film it'll be the final time. It's just an excuse to get free ice cream.
Perhaps you need to drop bigger hints to Walls?
I think they're well aware of it!
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