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The Songs That Made Edgar Wright Make “Baby Driver”

The acclaimed British filmmaker’s SXSW debut was a smash success–and it was guided by a soundtrack that tells its story.

The Songs That Made Edgar Wright Make “Baby Driver”

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver had its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday night. The sold-out crowd filled Austin’s 1,200-seat Paramount Theater to watch as a singular filmmaker who made his name on the action-comedies Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World made the jump to a straight action picture. Baby Driver has its funny moments, but the movie–which stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a young getaway driver who navigates frantic car chase after frantic car chase with a gang of hyped-up bank robbers in tow, while guided by the propulsive sounds of his own personal musical score–is more about mind-blowing driving sequences and its nonstop soundtrack.

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Those music cues aren’t incidental to Baby Driver, either. From the very inception of the idea to the screenplay itself, every song that appears in the film was carefully planned in advance. (During the post-screening Q&A, Wright told moderator Robert Rodriguez that they actually cleared the rights to all of the music before they even started filming.) Here’s how some of the more prominently featured songs in the movie factored into Wright’s creative process.

“Bellbottoms,” Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

“There was a point in my life when I couldn’t stop listening to [the album] Orange. I remember very vividly. It was just when I first moved to London. I was 21. I was living in a house with some friends in an area called Wood Green. I had a cassette of it, and I just listened to ‘Bellbottoms’ over and over and over again. I started to visualize a car chase that would go along with the music. At that point that’s all that I really had. Then I was trying to think of what story could sort of service this kind of dream that I was having. Then I started to have this idea: I’m very much like the main character, in terms of how I use music to motivate myself. I use music to focus, like an internal motor. If you’re on a road trip you need driving music. When I’m writing, even outside of this movie, I have to write the music playing, and it has to be the right kind of music. Whenever I’m writing a script, I’m scoring myself by playing the right kind of music. So I thought there was something in this idea of a character who can’t operate without the right kind of music playing.”

“Radar Love,” Golden Earring

“Eric Fellner, who’s my longtime executive producer–his one beef with the movie is that ‘Radar Love’ isn’t in it enough. It’s in there, but he said, ‘Aw, you could have used “Radar Love” more.’ I said, ‘Everything could use “Radar Love” more.’ It’s interesting because the car guys on the movie–the real gearheads in the stunt department, they were like, ‘”Radar Love” is my favorite–I’m glad you put that in the script.’ It’s one of those interesting songs because it would seem to be the classic American FM driving song, except it’s by a Dutch band. It sounds so American–the lyrics are sort of the American auto dream–they mention Brenda Lee. I love that song. If I ever did a sequel, I could find an excuse to get ‘Radar Love’ in there again.”

“Nowhere to Run,” Martha and the Vandellas

“There are moments in the movie where the lyric is telling you exactly what’s happening, and the point when ‘Nowhere to Run’ comes in, Baby is in a fix. He’s stuck with this gang that he doesn’t want to be with, and there doesn’t seem to be an immediate exit, so the lyrics fit–‘Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.'”

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“Harlem Shuffle,” Bob and Earl

“I had an idea for this in the script right from the start. My idea was that the opening scene, you see this big fuck-off car chase. Baby is the driver and he’s very young, but he does his job with aplomb–and then in the next scene he’s the gopher going to get the coffee. So I always had this idea of doing like a steadicam shot where you follow him to the coffee shop and back in the course of one song. I always had that song in mind. ‘Harlem Shuffle’ is the perfect length. It’s a great walking song, and also I tried to use a lot of older R&B and soul tracks that have been sampled a lot in hip-hop. When ‘Harlem Shuffle’ starts, a lot of people immediately think it’s going to turn into ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain. The funny thing about this, and this is genuine because this shows how bonkers the preparation was, is that was always the song, so when we were scouting for locations, my cinematographer, my location scout, my AD, and I would have ‘Harlem Shuffle’ on my phone and we would play it and then we would see where we could walk to and back. Then you really have to think about it. It would be like ‘Oh, we like this door. This is a good door. This is where, like, Doc’s hideout could be. Let’s play the song and see where we could walk to from this door that we like.’ Eventually it’s like, ‘Well, you can kind of get to this coffee shop, but you really have to run, and I feel like he wants to strut along. If we strut along or we walk a bit slower we can get to this place, which is a pizza place, but we could turn it into a coffee shop.’ And then Bill Pope, my cinematographer says, ‘Remember that Ansel has longer legs than you, so he’ll be able to do it faster than you are.’ Because Ansel is 6’4″. So it was a bananas and fascinating thing. I’m sure people watching us were like . . . so there’s a guy walking around playing ‘Harlem Shuffle’ on his phone.”

“Neat, Neat, Neat,” The Damned

“I realized the song was too short for the action that we’d actually shot for the scene, but I didn’t want to change the song. So I ended up doing this thing, because what happens in the scene is that the plan goes wrong, and Baby has to take a route that is not planned. Once they do, he rewinds the song to the point it was at before it went wrong and starts again. We shot that scene and we edited it before we finished filming the rest of the movie, and I knew that I didn’t want to start a new song, and I didn’t want to end the scene without music, because then it wasn’t the same as the rest of the movie, so I had the idea of showing Baby rewind the track, and I shot that on the last day of the shoot.”

“Easy,” The Commodores

“At the time that I first auditioned Ansel Elgort, he was 20. He turned 21 on set. Our choreographer, Ryan Heffington, had this amazing idea to ask them what song they know by heart, and we started springing it on them, rather than telling an actor to have a song prepped. So at the second audition, I asked Ansel if there was any song that he could lip- sync by heart, and he goes, ‘Yeah, “Easy” by the Commodores.’ I said, ‘Really? I fucking love that song,’ and I had it on my iTunes, so we just did, like, a scene, and he was not wrong. I hope we can put that audition clip on the DVD, because it’s incredible footage of him lip-syncing to the Commodores. So then I had this idea that developed, and I did a draft of the script where that’s a song that means something to him–it’s almost like his security blanket song. It’s something he remembers his mother singing, and he has it on his iPod as his song to banish out all darkness. So he plays ‘Easy’ after something traumatic has just happened as a way of banishing the clouds. I owe that to Ansel. I love that song anyway, but I owe it to Ansel that he gave me the inspiration for it.”

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.

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