Baby Driver: Wright’s New Genre–Heist Actioner Set to Music

“Baby Driver” is a movie in which the hero is cool but a little naive. Young but with an old soul, goofy at times, but all business when it counts. Though thrillingly good at his given task, but not always aware of the consequences of what he does.

Baby, as played by the handsome and talented Ansel Elgort, a character Edgar Wright created as a way for moviegoers to live vicariously through a criminal, but also experience the very real fallout of that world.

The movie is structured so it opens with the dream of being a getaway driver, and very quickly turns into the nightmare of being a criminal,” says director Edgar Wright. “The opening chase is sort of positioned as a clockwork act of precision. Everything goes right. Then very quickly, with subsequent situations, things start to go wrong, and very visceral consequences start to bear down. The storm clouds have been gathering during the movie. At some point, Baby’s luck is gonna run out.”

The Baby at the beginning of the movie, hidden behind sunglasses, dialed into his iPod playlist, then a hellion at the wheel, is like the greatest gang apprentice ever. “This kid’s a hotshot, but he’s also on the fringes of the gang,” says Wright. “He literally sits as far away from them as he can, because he really doesn’t want to be part of the group. He thinks, wrongly, that he can be a getaway driver but not be a criminal Like, ‘I’m just the courier. I don’t have anything to do with the bad stuff.’ The action scenes are kind of like Baby’s day job, and I think a lot of people that work in a job sometimes shield themselves in a different persona. Then when they’re home, they’re a different person.

Inspired by Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood

When Wright was dreaming up the role, he envisioned a riff on the strong silent type personified by Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, but with the tension that it might all be a front. “You meet him, and he’s a badass in his profession, and then immediately afterwards you start to meet the real kid. It’s an interesting dichotomy, that he’s really good at a job that he should not be doing.”

Twofold Persona

The music that drives the Baby Driver is indicative of his twofold persona. Blasting his favorite tunes while he does his job looks cool, but it masks a defect tied to  a tragedy. “He has this hearing defect, tinnitus, a whine in his ear caused by being in a car crash when he was young,” says Wright. “It has the effect of him not wanting to talk too much, because people with hearing defects can feel more self-conscious talking. But the other aspect of that is to listen to music, to drown out the whine. It becomes a security blanket, and then a full8blown obsession. He literally has to soundtrack his entire life because he can’t really do things without the right music playing.”

Baby is encouraged by his elderly deaf foster father (CJ Jones) to get out of his life of crime. Meeting the friendly, beautiful waitress Debora (Lily James) further demonstrates how misdirected his life is, and how much better it could be. But Baby has to make that leap, and cut ties with his profession. “I just like the idea of a character having to choose between what he does very well, and what he ultimately wants to be,” says Wright.

Edgar Wright was himself a Baby Driver at 21, when he was listening to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and thinking, “This would make a great car chase.”

With Baby Driver, Wright made his chase, and the movie around it, what he now calls “a labor of love and a dream project. Two of my great passions brought together in one movie. I always wanted to do an action movie that was powered by music.”

Uniquely Choreographed Cinematic Experience

Producers Nira Park, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan were excited to take the cleverly crafted themes behind Wright’s action thriller and fuse them into one uniquely choreographed cinematic experience.

“There might be music, and there might be choreography, but this is not your everyday musical,” says Wright about his upended, reimagined heist movie. “At the same time, we had to maintain the right sense of tone that is both intense and suspenseful, but most importantly fun and exciting.”

Postmodern Musical

Director of photography Bill Pope, Wright’s longtime collaborator, notes: “It’s a postmodern musical. So there’s not singing and dancing in the street, but the world acts to music.”

Known for his innovative films, Wright revels in challenges that lead to singular visions on screen. Continues Pope, “Edgar’s movies are always challenging. His movies are complex, especially this one in particular, where you don’t just have a bank robbery scene with gunfire and squibs and cops showing up on time and cars crashing. You have rain. You have lightning. And it’s all set to music, so the windshield wipers act to tempo. People die to tempo. The gunfire is on the beat, and it’s all usually in one  shot. And it’s daring to have all of that choreographed.”

Choreographer Ryan Heffington describes the first day of shooting, which involved one of the largest pieces. “It was a street scene, where Baby would travel three blocks within the city in one take. We had to choreograph pedestrians. We had to choreograph café workers, children, dogs walking. It’s like this great play on reality, where it looks like a realistic scene, but everything happens to be in time and in rhythm.”

Inviting Audiences Inside the Character’s Mind

Says producer Nira Park, “The film is not just set to music because Edgar loves music. It’s a way of inviting audiences inside the mind of the main character, and to see the world through his eyes or ears. In coping with his traumatic past, Baby drowns out the world around him by always listening to music through stolen iPods.”

“It’s an action thriller executed in a way that’s never been done before: there are car chases, intense action sequences, shootouts, all to the beat of over 30 songs that Edgar put together before finalizing the script.”

Character who listens to music the entire time

Four years prior to the start of photography, Wright sat down with editor Paul Machliss and accumulated a playlist of over 30 songs that would inspire the script. “It’s something that’s very much a part of my previous films, and I thought of this idea of  how to take that a stage further by having a character who listens to music the entire time.”

Music Drives the Action

Ansel Elgort, who plays Baby, recalls how singular the project was: “Initially the script was given out on an iPad that had little ‘Baby Driver’ emojis that you could click, and the music would play as you read the script. The music drove the script, which is very much how this movie works. When you read it, you could feel the rhythm of the scenes already.”

Says Jon Hamm, who co-stars as heist man Buddy, “The musical element to it, which is very interesting, allows Edgar to really play with his incredibly developed skill set.”

The film’s second unit director and stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott says, “Edgar is such a visionary and his style is so unique, this project is a true testament to his creativity.  I’ve said since the beginning that it would be a great film school exercise to take a mainstream song and choreograph anything to it, like a fight scene or a car chase. It’s not easy what we’re doing here. There’s a lot of nuance in this. I think you can watch this film a dozen times, and each time you’ll pick out something new, or some intricacy that’s innate in an Edgar Wright film.”

Authentic Heists

Wright met with a technical consultant named Joe Loya, who in the early 90s was convicted for bank robbery and served a seven-year term. Loya wrote a book called The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber, which inspired Wright to meet Loya. “Loya helped solidify the authenticity of each heist.  With all the added elements, Edgar wanted to make sure the heists felt very real and believable.”