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Director Affinity: Edgar Wright

When a filmmaker directs a video-game-loving comic book for the big screen, that your clue that we will kowtow before him and give him his own feature at Player Affinity. That’s a lot of love for a lot of departments and Edgar Wright deserves a return of affections.

Most aspiring filmmakers don’t even dare to dream about suddenly rising to fame; Wright is one of the few who has actually lived it. Even the most successful directors today would probably wish they were in his position at the young age of 36. Basically, who wouldn’t want to be Edgar Wright? The British filmmaker is on the verge of releasing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the comic series of the same name, and it’s one of 2010’s most anticipated films.

So, how does one go from directing British TV to sought-after and internationally recognized in the span of just 15 years? The answer lies in his keen understanding of the way images create emotions, set tone and tell stories. Sure, that’s the same way one would answer the question of what makes any director a good one, but Wright is particularly in touch with the modern viewer and how we process motion pictures in the 21st Century.

After messing around with some shorts on his Super 8 camera and filming a 16mm feature-length Western on no budget entitled A Fistful of Fingers, Wright broke into comedy television first. In the mid-to-late ’90s, he directed a number of television episodes, the most important of which was Asylum a short-lived series where he met future friend, collaborator and movie star Simon Pegg. Pegg and Wright’s first collaboration was the Channel 4 show Spaced, a comedy centered in an apartment building (flat, I should say) from 1999-2001.

After that short but award-winning endeavor (two British Comedy Awards and two BAFTA nominations), the two co-wrote their first feature film, a genre-defying zombie movie released in 2004 entitled Shaun of the Dead. Yes, it was that fast. In less than 10 years, Wright went from his first feature-length personal project to drawing acclaim on an international level.

Shaun of the Dead combined elements of zombie films, comedies and romantic comedies. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, “Shaun” was a quick but amusing film about a couple of blokes that stumble upon a zombie apocalypse and must kill a ton of them to survive. It was clearly both a spoof of and homage to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and the first time zombie film with a sense of humor that went beyond the incidental yuks at the corniness of a B horror movie. Arguably, the film paved the way for last year’s small hit, Zombieland, which has helped launch the career of another director, Ruben Fleischer.

For me, the first memorable moment of “Shaun” that indicated Wright had a unique vision was the first getting ready sequence. Rather than show Shaun (Pegg) get up and do some generic things to get ready for the day, Wright films a series of second-long shots that feature intense close-ups on things such as Shaun tying his tie, the toaster popping up, etc. He strings them together with some intense sound effects and suddenly the sequence becomes this humorous and attention-grabbing part of the film while also continuing the mood as it gradually moves toward the zombie outbreak.

These techniques made their way over to Pegg and Wright’s follow-up film, Hot Fuzz, the story of a by-the-book cop who gets reassigned to a small rural town where everything seems completely perfect and free of crime yet people are getting murdered left and right and the townspeople are trying to brush it off like nothing happened. Elements of mystery, comedy, slasher films and action movies all make there way into “Fuzz” and Wright handles them all especially well. The culminating action sequence rivals just about any film’s and the performances are terrific from Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton and Jim Broadbent among others.

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So it should be no surprise that major feature film number three for Wright will cross genre lines yet again, but this time to the extreme. “Scott Pilgrim” mixes romantic comedy, action, science fiction, pop/rock music, video games references and comic book references. It will stretch Wright’s talents as far as making him work with a younger crop of actors for something that specifically targets an age demographic of about 14 to 28. But the pop culture frenzy should suit him and his fast-paced style as well.

In truth, Wright and “Pilgrim” are a good marriage. I think what got Wright from being an aspiring filmmaker in the mid-’90s to where he is now has to do with how in touch his style is with contemporary audiences and younger generations. Although I hate generalizing that all people these days have some kind of A.D.D., if that ‘s indeed true, Wright works well with that. His scenes don’t drag on at all and they all have some kind of momentum. A lot of that credit goes to writing and Wright has had the privilege of adapting or writing every film that he’s directed. Without those two elements on the same wavelength, his films would probably not work, but instead they function like a well-coordinated game plan. The humor and the suspense: it’s all very to-the-point.

The writing prowess also landed Wright a huge gig. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson brought him in to help write the script for their ambitious upcoming motion-capture project The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which gets a big Christmastime release in 2011. Wright is also working closely with Marvel on the script for an Ant-Man film, which would bring his talents into the superhero universe where geeks of the world would embrace him with loving arms, no doubt. He will also collaborate with Pegg for a third time in The World’s End. Any guesses what that’s about?

Regardless, at 36, we can expect to see plenty more movies done the Wright way.

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