Scott Pilgrim's director on his film's unusual path to success
With a new Scott Pilgrim series out on Netflix, Edgar Wright looks back on his now classic film
Thirteen years after its release, with its cult classic status now firmly established, it's easy to forget that when Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was initially released, it was a box office disappointment. The studio had hoped that the movie, which is based on a popular comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, would be a blockbuster. Instead, it debuted at number five.
In an interview with Q's Tom Power, Scott Pilgrim director Edgar Wright says that in Hollywood, stars and directors often try to put as much distance as possible between themselves and underperforming projects, but that didn't happen this time.
"We were still doing press in Europe the weekend that it came out," says Wright. "Really what it became very quickly was, 'Well, we're proud of the film, so we just need to keep getting the word out.'"
And in spite of its underwhelming numbers, the film also had supporters at Universal Studios.
"I remember the head of marketing at Universal, Michael Moses, sent me this email on Monday morning after it came out," Wright remembers. "It was sort of the best email I've ever had from a studio. The email just said three words: 'Years, not days' … so many films considered cult classics were not hits in their day.… The Big Lebowski wasn't really a big hit, John Carpenter's The Thing wasn't really a hit, or Big Trouble in Little China, Citizen Kane. By the way, I am not putting Scott Pilgrim in the same sentence as Citizen Kane. Even though I just did."
In reality, it only took a few months for the movie to start becoming a cult favourite.
"It came out in August, and by the end of the year it had already become a midnight movie," he says. "I feel very fortunate that the cult sort of aspects started pretty quickly.… The New Beverly — the [Los Angeles cinema] that Quentin Tarantino owns now — started playing it at midnight. Over the course of the year, whenever it would show at the New Beverly, it would be an excuse for the whole cast and me to get back together. So sometimes there would be midnight [showings] of Scott Pilgrim and the entire cast would be there."
WATCH | Official trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World:
Wright says that the film has also benefited from the after-the-fact star power of its cast. At the time of its release, Michael Cera — then known for Arrested Development and Juno — and Chris Evans — a budding action star, but not yet an Avenger — were probably its two biggest names. In the years since, however, Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza and Brie Larson have all become massive box office draws. Wright says he still remembers their early auditions.
"Aubrey Plaza — I met her in New York — she did an audition, and she was great," he says. "Then we flew her to L.A. to do a second audition, and when she flew to L.A., she booked Scott Pilgrim, her first film, and then in the same week both Parks and Recreation and Funny People. She went from no roles in film and TV to [having] three in the same week. I remember Brie Larson's audition vividly.… It was exactly what she does in the film. It was so strong and tight and so funny and really distinctive. It was one of those things when somebody leaves the room and you're like, 'She is in!'"
The entire cast are revisiting their roles in Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, a new anime-style Scott Pilgrim series — executive produced by Wright — which debuts on Netflix on Nov. 17. Wright says that for years, people had asked him about the potential of a sequel, and he'd usually try to avoid answering.
WATCH | Official trailer for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off:
"When people would ask me about a sequel, I would always say 'Well, that's not my decision. That's Bryan O'Malley's,'" he says. "And it was a deflection, but then it became a real thing. Like, 'Oh, Bryan does have an idea? OK, let's do this!'"
He adds that the new series feels like kind of a "funhouse mirror" version of the film.
"In the movie we're doing a live-action version of his manga, and trying to make it look like live-action anime. And now there is a real anime based on his illustrations, with the same kind of character designs and everything. So to me it feels as authentic as it gets."
And authenticity, more than anything, is what Wright says he values in a project.
"When [people] would say 'What advice would you give to young filmmakers?' I would say, 'Do what you want to do. Don't do what you think you ought to do,'" he says. "Even if it's [not] a 'personal' film — it could be a horror film — make it with sincerity, like you actually want to make this film. This is the kind of film you enjoy, not just that you're making a film because that's the kind of thing that would do well."
WATCH | Edgar Wright's interview with Tom Power:
The full interview with Edgar Wright is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Edgar Wright produced by Catherine Stockhausen.