When Scott Pilgrim vs. the World opened in theaters on August 13, 2010, the box office tracking was not promising. Despite positive reviews, the film opened at #5 that weekend, and it was clear that co-writer/director Edgar Wright’s first American studio film – an ambitious, action-packed coming-of-age story featuring a robust ensemble cast of talented young performers – was not going to be an instant hit. But that same weekend, Wright received a succinct email from Universal’s head of marketing Michael Moses that proved prophetic: “Years, not days.”
Wright took solace in the email at the time given that many of the films he grew up loving, like Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing, were not massively successful upon their initial release. But it’s unclear if anyone involved in the making of Scott Pilgrim knew just how intensely the film’s fanbase would grow over time, to the point that a little over 10 years after its initial release, it’s getting a robust theatrical re-release exclusively in Dolby Cinemas starting April 30th for one week only. The film has been reimagined in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, overseen by Wright and his collaborators who originally brought Scott Pilgrim to the screen, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
As vaccinations surge in the U.S., many are ready to go back to the movies, and what better film to herald the return of cinemas than an unabashedly passionate ode to everything movies can do: the power to transport, to thrill, to empathize, to laugh, and to fall in love are all prevalent in Wright’s colorful adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, and in conjunction with the re-release I recently got the chance to speak with Wright about all things Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
During our interview, Wright reflected on that opening weekend and explained why he wasn’t eager to blame Universal Pictures’ marketing team. He also talked about the enduring appeal of the film, especially among younger people, and how the bevy of Scott Pilgrim merchandise is proof of the film’s intense popularity a decade on. He also looked back on the making of the film, including how the hiring of cinematographer Bill Pope was initially meant to help quell concerns on the studio’s part given his experience on The Matrix. The filmmaker talked about being pleasantly surprised by Pope’s focus on the emotion and the characters during their first meeting, and Pope’s gift for working with actors.
We also dug into the original ending to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, why it changed, and which one he prefers, and Wright also revealed some other now-iconic bits in the film that were part of the additional photography for the film.
It’s a wide-ranging and insightful conversation about a truly great movie from one of the best and most exciting filmmakers working today. You can either watch the interview in the video player above, or read the full interview below. And while you’re here, I must also whole-heartedly recommend seeing Wright’s first-ever documentary The Sparks Brothers when it hits theaters this June.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is playing exclusively in Dolby Cinema locations in the U.S. starting April 30th.
How long as this Dolby version been in the works, and what was the experience like of going back and updating the film?
EDGAR WRIGHT: What has been really nice about Scott Pilgrim is that for a film that did not do that well on its original release, usually when that happens, a studio is sort of embarrassed by it. And it very quickly goes to DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s maybe never spoken of ever again. And the nice thing is with Scott Pilgrim, that didn’t happen. And it’s one of those things that, I remember at the time, people kept asking me to try and point the finger of blame. And people kept saying like, “Oh, is it because of the poster?” People wanted me to point the finger of blame at somebody, and I would never do that, because A, I didn’t necessarily agree, and B, I knew that the marketing department at Universal absolutely loved the movie.
It’s a funny thing. Michael Moses, who’s the head of marketing at Universal, he sent me the best email the Monday after it came out. I was very proud of the movie, but it’s that weird thing where you get emails from people where they kind of think that you might be suicidal or something (laughs). I was like, “Well, I’m still promoting the movie. I’m here in London in fact, to do a premiere. So I’m keeping upbeat about things.” But he sent the best email that I’ve ever had about movie. So it opens it number five. I deliberately that weekend did not read any of the trades. I figured it’s not a good thing. It’s not useful in any way to read Deadline or Box Office Mojo, or any of those things. So I didn’t, and I still never have. But he sent me this email, and all it said was, “Years, not days.” It was just one of the best emails about anything in my career I’ve ever received. Michael Moses sent an email and all it said was, “Years, not days.”
And I was thinking, “Yeah.” I mean, I know because most of my favorite movies didn’t make any money when they first came out, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China. That’s two John Carpenter films, but I can think of a few more, Blade Runner. There’s tons of them that obviously you think were hits, and then you realize, “Oh, that wasn’t a hit when it came out?” It’s funny, when you look at Big Trouble in Little China, it did not even crack the top 10 when it came out, which is insane. But then I think about when I saw it in 1986, I was alone in the cinema watching it (laughs).
But anyway, so the nice thing was I knew that people there loved it, and also — because over the years there’s never been a call for a sequel because I think that’s something that is financially not manageable, but it kept getting re-released on Blu-ray. I mean, more fucking Funko Pops than you can imagine. You could fill a house with Funko Pops of Scott Pilgrim. And then occasionally you’d get calls from Universal saying, “Is there anything else we can do with Scott Pilgrim?” I can’t speak out of turn, but there’s still some potential things that might happen in that regard.
But with all that in mind, Michael and I had talked at some point. I said, “You guys should re-release it for the 10th anniversary.” Everybody in the cast is now a megastar, and there’s probably lots of people who never saw on the big screen. And he said, “Hey, let me get back to you on that.” And then he came back and said, “Dolby Cinema would like to do a version of the movie.” And I said, “Well, that’s amazing.” So basically, Dolby Cinema and AMC partnered up and that’s how the Dolby Cinema version came to be.
And for me, it was actually — unlike having to remaster some of my other films, this one was a complete walk in the park, because I’m still working with the mixer and the editor and the DP and colorist I’ve worked with very recently. So I could bring back the original team. So what was brilliant was whilst I was doing The Sparks Brothers and Last Night in Soho last year, Julian Slater was in LA and had taken all the original stems and basically remixed Scott Pilgrim in Atmos. Meanwhile, Stephen Nakamura, who’s the original colorist, also did his Dolby Cinema 4K version of it.
So I was in a very privileged position of just watching what they’d done and had no notes. I mean, maybe one tiny thing, but it was sort of incredible watching it. Paul Machliss and I, whilst we were finishing off Soho, went to the Dolby Cinema in Soho Square and sat there and watched a film that we’d made 10 years ago. And we were like, “Whoa.” (laughs) I always have this feeling when I watch films I’ve made, especially something like Scott Pilgrim. I feel this even when I watch Spaced, because I watch it, and I’m thinking, “How the fuck did I do that? How the hell did we make that movie?” It’s like the actual shooting days and what you did on any one day had evaporated from your head. And I’d have to look at the shooting schedule again, just to figure out how that film came to be.
And what’s nice about it is that I was also very aware that there are obviously people that saw it at the time and loved it. There’s other people who discovered it on Blu-ray or repertory screenings. And then the other thing I’ve become very aware of is that kids like it. And I know this because there’s quite a few directors, friends of mine, who say to me, “Hey, would you sign a Scott Pilgrim poster for my son?” I’ve definitely done ones for Sam Mendes, JJ Abrams, Jon Favreau. Jack Black just the other day. It’s like, “Hey, could you sign a Scott Pilgrim poster for my son?” So there’s obviously some 10- and 11-year-olds, who obviously did not see when it first came out, who love that movie. And I’ve heard that a lot from people. So it’s nice in a way.
I think in a strange way, even though it was supposed to come out last summer, the timing of it now… Now the vaccine is making its way around the world, people are like slowly becoming more comfortable with going back to the cinema, and Godzilla vs. Kong has proved that, that there is an audience that is waiting to come back. That the timing of it weirdly is like perfect in a strange way. And in fact, I heard the other day that Bryan Lee O’Malley tried to book tickets in Los Angeles, and it was sold out (laughs). That can only be good news.
Well, it’s kind of ironic because this film that a decade ago was a box office disappointment is now not only positioned perfectly for people to go back to the movies, but also, watching the new trailer it’s like Chris Evans! Aubrey Plaza! Brie Larson! It’s just this packed cast. You can market it as this huge blockbuster event now.
WRIGHT: I mean, the funny thing is is that the trailer that they did and the new poster is my favorite trailer and favorite poster that we’ve ever had. And I did make that comment to the producer and said, “Where was this poster 10 years ago?” (laughs) I mean, Universal did the trailer again. That’s the funny thing is the trailer now, you can rattle off all those names. Back then, there was nobody above the title. Not even Michael was above the title when it came out before. Listen, I have no bitterness at all for how it did 11 years ago. It just doesn’t matter. And I sort of knew that at the time, even though it was a tough thing — basically, when that happens, more what you’re thinking is like, “Will I be allowed to work again?” (laughs) That’s what your main priority is, will they let me make another film? And so, I’ve been very fortunate. Also, I’ve worked with Universal again now three times since and I’m maybe about to do another one with them.
What makes me very happy is it’s not considered a black mark for anybody. It’s something that they are proud of. Like I said, you can measure it in how much merchandise there is (laughs). It’s ridiculous.
You mentioned not knowing how you did it. I’m a huge fan of Bill Pope. I read that part of hiring him was to calm any concerns on Universal’s part of you handling a budget that big, but I was just curious how that relationship started, because you guys have worked together a number of times since then. And then what was his reaction when you were like, “This is what we’re going to do?”
WRIGHT: Well, it’s interesting you mentioned that. Because Jess Hall, who I worked with on Hot Fuzz, he did an amazing job on that film and is an incredible talent, because we were both up and comers with that film. Universal were nervous about it. Initially, with Bill, initially it was a slightly strategic thing. It was like, okay, so they’re nervous about what this is, but they’ll be less nervous if I hire the cinematographer of The Matrix (laughs). And that is initially the reason that I met with Bill is because then Universal would be like, “Oh, he’s got The Matrix guy. Okay, this makes sense. Now I get it.” Which is sort of how that works.
To answer your question, pitching it to him about this is what we’re going to do. Bill has done every shot that has ever existed. So he is, in the most brilliant way, unflappable. If he has the time and the tools, there’s nothing really that fazes him. But the thing that I really loved about working with him and still love working with him, is for somebody who’s such a brilliant visual artist, his main concern is about the emotion and the characters. So when I met him to talk about the Scott Pilgrim script, we only talked about the emotional aspects of it and about the characters and that side of it. So I came away from that meeting thinking, “Well, that’s unexpected.” It was almost like he was completely unfazed by my visual ambitions and was more focused on what was at the heart of the story. He’s so brilliant with actors, Bill, and he really shoots actors in an incredibly… What’s the word? Kind of like intimate, but it’s something like he gets the best out of them visually in terms of just capturing what they do and making sure they look amazing doing it. And I think you can see that, especially in Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver. I skipped over The World’s End, because everybody’s supposed to look terrible in that movie (laughs).
That’s maybe my favorite of your films.
WRIGHT: Oh, thank you.
I adore that film. I think Simon’s incredible in that movie.
WRIGHT: He is. I think that is Simon’s best performance. I think he would agree with that as well.
A big topic of conversation among the fans is obviously the ending. And the original ending is on the Blu-ray, and I was always just curious from your perspective, I know that didn’t test as well. You shot a new ending. Do you have a preference between the two endings?
WRIGHT: I think the theatrical one is the one. I think the thing is, is that we wrote that ending, and I think when me and Michael Bacall wrote that ending, Bryan had not finished the book. He had an outline. By the time we were making it, there were three books out, and Bryan had the outlines for the final three. But then Bryan didn’t really stick to those outlines. He was just having fun, inventing it as he went along. And I think once he’d read the screenplay, I think in probably a very George R.R. Martin way, it encouraged him to be like, “Well, I’m going to do something different.” Because I think he wanted, and I’d tell him since, he needed ownership of the books. And so he said, “Oh, I know what they’re doing in the films. I’m going to do something different.”
So what Bryan eventually did was different from the outlines that we had. And that was fine, because I felt like, “Well, this is okay for these things to diverge.” It is an adaptation. And then I think the thing is the ending that we’d written, there was one aspect to it which did not land. And I’ll tell you why it didn’t land.
I think me and Michael Bacall originally, we were trying to write an ending that was in the vein of The Graduate or The Heartbreak Kid, where our hero gets what he wants, but maybe that isn’t what he needs. And there was that realization that he’d won the battle, but lost the war. That was the idea of it. But then trying to do that scene or that tone with Ellen Wong, the most adorable actress on the planet, it just didn’t feel right. It felt like trying to do this kind of ending is unfair on Knives and unfair on Ellen. And so, we basically didn’t really shoot the ending that we’d written. So then what we originally test screened was as it was on the Blu-ray, and some people really liked it.
I mean, there’s some people I know that really liked the ending as it was. I remember this vividly, we had this test screening where we’d scored an 81. It was the fourth test screening. We scored an 81, which is high, but somebody in the focus group, all I was looking at was the back of her head. And I remember in a focus group, people were saying nice things about it. And then one hand came up and said, “I love this film. I love every frame. I love every scene, and I love every character. I really, really do not like that ending.” (laughs) And it was really like just other people had said it, but nobody had said it in quite that strong of term. So I went away, and I talked to Michael Bacall and Bryan Lee O’Malley about it. And I think Universal thought that I was going to be stubborn and just stick to it. I think they thought, “Well, 81 is good, and maybe the ending’s a bit divisive, but let’s finish the movie.”
I went away, and I think I showed it to a couple of people. Maybe I showed it to JJ Abrams, actually. I think I showed it to him on the lot. And I said to him that I was thinking about a new ending. And he said, “What would you change?” And I said, “Well, I have been talking about a way of him getting together with Ramona, and not in a way that’s very conclusive, but the idea that it’s like, there’s maybe a chance to start over, rather than him just go off with her and it be into the sunset. It’s more the idea that they’re going to start again. And he said, “You should try and write that ending and see how it feels.” So that weekend, me and Bryan Lee O’Malley and Michael Bacall got together, and we wrote what the new ending is.
And this was what’s great. Bryan Lee O’Malley helped us write the new ending, which was also different again from the books, but different from what we’d done. And we were trying to crack it. And the key to it was that Knives lets him go. And the real key to it is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s line. He wrote this line where Knives says, “I’m too cool for you anyway.” It’s like, that’s it. That’s the line! That’s the line.
And then when we were going to do the new ending, I was most nervous about calling Ellen Wong, because I worried that Ellen Wong was going to think, “Oh, so I’m not the romantic lead at the end. He’s going to go off with Ramona. Okay, so that sucks.” But then when I told her, I said, “So we’re going to shoot a new ending.” And then when I told her what it was, she goes, “Oh, I’m so glad you said that, because I was thinking Knives is too proud to take him back. It makes her look really weak that she takes him back after he cheated on her.” And I was thinking, “Oh, thank God.” She goes, “Oh, I love that line, ‘I’m too cool for you anyway.'” So even that, before we show anything, I figured, okay, this is going in the right direction.
We shot that scene. We shot all the new bits. It was some other bits as well. I’ll tell you what we shot was the stuff at the end, including a bit with Young Neil that we never put it in the movie. So Johnny Simmons came all the way to Toronto and we ended up thinking, “Oh, this is gilding the lily. Let’s take this out.” It was literally the idea that as soon as Knives was single, Young Neil came into frame with the bass guitar. It was just one joke too many. The original ending still had the Nega Scott thing with the brunch thing. That was all in there. It was literally the dialogue that they had that was new. So we shot the ending.
And then the other things that we shot was Gideon saying like “Do you know how long it took me to put The League together? Like two hours!” That was new. I think like “You are blowing up right now” was new. The other thing that was new — when we shot Chris Evans going down the rail we had no punctuation. So the shots of Kieran and Michael going “Wow” were new. We actually had to build the top of the steps and we had to build the top of the pyramid. And I think some of those extra things Universal were like, “Whatever. If you can make that work in the budget, fine, but we only want the ending.” And I was like, “We’re going to do the ending, and we’re just going to do these other little bits.” (laughs).
But that’s basically how it panned out. But it was finished. That was shot in May. I remember, because I couldn’t go to my best friend’s wedding in May. And then for an August release. So some long lead critics screenings were with the original ending. I mean, I think the new ending is better by miles. And as soon as we test screened the new ending, the scores went up again, but there was occasionally people saying, “I can’t believe you changed the ending.” And I said, “It wasn’t right. It wasn’t right.” You know?
I believe you alluded on Twitter to potentially re-releases of maybe one or two or three of the Cornetto films. Is that also in the works?
WRIGHT: I didn’t say that! Somebody asked me if that was happening, and I just replied and said, “Over to you, Dolby Cinema.” (laughs) No, I did not say that, but if they want me to, sure.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is back in theaters for one week only starting April 30th, only in Dolby Cinemas.
Mild spoilers ahoy!
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