Comic-Con Preview: Edgar Wright on Spaced


Years before Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright were collaborating with Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes) on a sitcom called “Spaced” about two young strangers who pretend to be a couple in order to move into an inexpensive apartment. Even before then, the three of them had worked together on a stand-up comedy show called “Asylum” and when Simon and Jess were asked to write a sitcom vehicle for themselves, they realized Wright was the only one with the skills and madness to keep up with their wild vision for the show. It was a strange and surreal comedy with lots of odd satellite characters, and its cult following in the United States has grown as Pegg and Wright’s movies have found more fans.

In the past, American fans of British comedy might have seen an episode or two (or maybe all of them) on various cable channels like Bravo or Trio or most recently, BBC America, but they were always edited for content and time, so the only way to watch them as originally aired was to get an import DVD set for the wrong region (or on YouTube). Finally, the entire two season series is being release on DVD here in the U.S. as “Spaced: The Complete Series,” completely uncut and featuring many brand new commentaries from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody that were never available on the U.K. editions.

Edgar was in New York for the start of Spaced Invasion, a mini-tour of New York, L.A., Austin and San Diego to promote the release of the DVD, so for the fourth time, sat down with Edgar, this time to talk specifically about the origins of the show that started his current string of success. We also had a chance to get an update from Edgar about Ant-Man and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley) two projects Wright has been developing for nearly two years. I remember when you were doing press for “Shaun of the Dead,” and people were asking about a DVD of “Spaced” even then. At the time, there was an issue with the music clearance. What ended up being the hurdle to get over to release them here?
Edgar Wright: Just that stuff takes a long time basically, and we wanted to make sure that the same DVD that’s available in the U.K. was the one available in the U.S., so there was just a lot of work that went into that basically. I guess until “Shaun of the Dead” came out, there wasn’t really a demand for it. The original DVDs have been out like seven or eight years I guess (in the U.K.) but this is the most comprehensive version of the show ever, even more than the last collected edition in the U.K., because we added all these new commentaries.

CS: It was your idea to do that?
Wright: Yeah, you know it literally came up organically. The company who made the DVD said, “Oh, do you want to add anything for this new edition?” And we thought, “Well, you know what? We got this National Film Theater Q ‘n’ A that we did and also maybe it would be funny to do commentaries with American fans so we can talk about some of the cultural differences in the show.

CS: There’s probably a lot more references that only British might get on the show than either “Shaun” or “Hot Fuzz.”
Wright: Yeah, absolutely, there is, and I think that when we did “Shaun,” it was a conscious effort to make it international. There’s probably more references to British snack foods and TV shows than there was, but we make it sort of a point to try and explain those on the commentary.

CS: You had worked with Simon and Jessica before you started doing “Spaced,” right?
Wright: Yeah, I think I first worked with both of them about three years before “Spaced.”

CS: How did it come about that the three of you started doing this show together?
Wright: There’s a channel called the Paramount Comedy Channel in the U.K., and I got my first TV break off of doing a very low-to-no budget film called “A Fistful of Fingers,” moved to London and the first people I met in the industry were the stars of “Little Brittain,” Matt Lucas and David Walliams, whose appeared in “Spaced.” In 1996, they asked me to do their first TV sketch show, which is called “Mash and Peas,” that was on the Paramount Comedy Channel. The second show I did was called “Asylum” and that had Simon in it, and during the development process of that, an actress dropped out and Simon suggested Jessica to come in because he’d worked with her once before. That was the first time the three of us had worked together, and in that show, which was completely different from “Spaced,” but with a very similar visual sensibility, they were so funny in the show together, like a duo, one of the producers suggested they do their own sitcom and that was “Spaced.” I guess that took about two years to write in between other jobs. Simon went off and did TV and then we reconvened, but what was kind of good about it was that I had the “Spaced” scripts a good year before we made it.

CS: They had the first season completely written already?
Wright: No, I seem to remember the first two episodes, maybe the first five episodes, I remember distinctively reading the two dog episodes, which eventually became a two-parter in a very rough form, but it was great having that much time to think about it, and that much of an advance head start. When we started to actually make the show, I had to hit the ground running and I’d really been thinking about it. Usually on TV, directors only come in at the tail end.

CS: Maybe not in England, but here at least you rarely have one director doing an entire season of a show either. Didn’t you shoot almost the entire season at once and then spend time editing it together?
Wright: Yeah, it was all shot as one big block, so it wasn’t the case of doing one episode per wee, so we shot the whole thing all jumbled up like an indie film. That obviously made our money go a lot longer, but it did make it very confusing. I mean usually, if it was a big thing, you’d usually be doing the same episode per day, but there’d be some episodes, especially in the second series where you’d be doing shots from all seven episodes in one day and that starts to get really confusing.

CS: So when we’d see the various characters sitting in a living room talking, that would all be done in one day?
Wright: Yeah, it would usually be the ones where it would get really choppy is stuff outside the house, so you’re outside the house, so we have these two scenes from episode 2 and they flashback to scene 1, then we do the prologue from this thing. Loads of costume changes and continuity things, loads of linking things, and those would be really tough days.

CS: I hadn’t seen the shows in a while and just rewatched a couple yesterday on BBC America and it’s a pretty strange and surreal show. Was this considered a mainstream comedy when it came out in England or was it more of a cult thing that had to find an audience?
Wright: I just have to point out for the record that if you’ve only seen the show on BBC America, they do cut the show and edit it quite badly for content and time, so the DVD has everything completely uncut. They cut out some pretty good bits as well. I can never sit through the BBC America versions because they’re all chopped up. When it came out in the U.K., it was a network show and it was shown at 9:30 on a Friday night, and originally, it was shown in between “Friends” and “Frasier,” if you can believe that. It’s a very strange kind of bracket to be in.

CS: “Friends” is huge in England.
Wright: Yeah, and I think every week, we would lose like 2/3rds of “Friends”‘ audience. We’d lose the “Friends” lead-in completely and I remember a particularly proud moment was the opening to Episode 3 with the zombies, it came immediately after “Friends” and the episode started with the continuity announcer saying “And next up, ‘Spaced,’ which features violent imagery and strong language from the start.” So we were at home going, “Yes!!!”

CS: How does Kelsey Grammer feel about you losing the audience for his show?
Wright: I think people would come back. I think maybe the older viewers of “Friends” or “Fraser” would switch over to something else and then come back. It would do okay. It had maybe a similar standing to something like “Arrested Development,” maybe a bit better ratings-wise comparatively, I’m not sure, but really well-reviewed, really loyal fanbase almost immediately, and never huge ratings. In a strange way, that’s one of the reasons it’s endured is it became more of a word-of-mouth thing on DVD, because it never became really, really big, I think nobody ever got burnt out on it. I think other shows that were much, much bigger were much more frequently repeated and as such, backlashes begin and people get sick of them, and “Spaced” never really had that because it became more of a DVD cult success.

CS: Ricky Gervais says to never do more than two seasons of a show anyway. Did you want to do more and just ended up doing “Shaun of the Dead” instead?
Wright: A bit of everything really. We had a chance to do a third (season). I wanted to do the film. Personally, and I can’t speak for Simon and Jess, but I was completely burnt out after the second season. It was so ambitious the second season and really hard work to make, and I was just really exhausted after the second one. I personally wanted to move on, and there was a talk of doing a third one, but we started writing the film and I think… what was the original question? Oh, the two seasons. That’s interesting. There’s definitely that thing as well, especially it being a sitcom about young people and we were the same age as the characters, is there was an element where if we had done a third season, we would have started to move away from the original characters. When we did the first season, we pretty much were those people. We’re certainly living in very similar environments to the characters in the show and that kind of changed after the first season, and I’m sure it would change for a third one, but it’s a very British thing to quite while you’re ahead. The famous ones like “The Office” is in a long line of shows that have done that, and the most famous of which would be “Fawlty Towers” which only had 12 episodes and “The Young Ones” which only had 12 episodes, and that was a huge influence to all three of us when we were growing up.

CS: When you started doing the second season, were you able to focus more on one episode at a time?
Wright: No, we still did it like that, and that was the bit that was tough on the second series, because it was much more ambitious. We had a bit more money, but it was much more ambitious in scope and there was definitely a lot of pressures to try and top the first one. Maybe in a couple places we were even conscious of the fact that maybe a couple episodes go slightly over the top, but kind of in a fun way, so it’s all good.

CS: One of the episodes I saw for the first time yesterday was the one with the guys in the bar who want to buy pot from Tim, and it kind of all goes wrong.
Wright: Oh, that’s my favorite episode. I think that one in the second season, that’s one we’re showing tonight, seems to be everybody’s… a lot of the fans say they prefer the first series but the best episode is in the second series, which is kind of cool. Everybody always points to that one with the “finger fights.”

CS: I’ll be really curious to see it with an audience because that’s also something I’ve never done before.
Wright: Yeah, well I saw the whole thing… We never showed it to an audience while we were making it, but in November, we did a marathon in London where we showed all seven hours of it, and we’re doing that in Austin on Sunday. It’s one of the things that inspired some of the events we’re doing this week. I also did a thing at the Los Angeles Film Festival where I showed three episodes, and that was really good watching them, it’s the same three episodes we’re going to show tonight.

CS: How does the show watching all seven hours at once? Are people able to get through it? Three hours yesterday wasn’t bad.
Wright: It’s pretty good actually, just another four hours basically. That was a weird thing doing that, at least for the BBC America thing, because we had to pick six of your favorite episodes, thinking, “Well, that’s kind of half the series.” It’s almost like saying, “Well which half of the series don’t you like?”

CS: But they wouldn’t show the unedited versions for it.
Wright: No, I think because of the half hour… do they have commercials on BBC America? Yeah. I think in the U.K. I think they only have one commercial per half hour.

CS: I’m really surprised how much swearing and other things that television shows are allowed to get away with in the U.K. and there’s a lot that had to be edited or bleeped for the U.S. version. (Note: At this point, a mother with a group of small kids came into the area and sat down right next to us causing us both to be more careful about using swear words.)
Wright: I think also things have gotten even more lax since we made those shows. When we did “Spaced,” we were allowed like two “F”-words per show, couldn’t say the “C”-word, could say sh*t as much you liked, but it was pretty lax. I think the thing that’s more interesting apart from the language is the content in terms of drugs and violence. I didn’t remember there ever being a conversation about it and speaking with friends working in American TV, I can only imagine some of the elements of the show that would just not fly on American network TV.

CS: You’d think that other countries would have the same kinds of standards, but even when I saw “Monty Python,” that had nudity on it.
Wright: But it did and that would be shown quite late at night.

CS: Now that you’re releasing this DVD, you won’t have people asking about the “Spaced” DVD anymore, but everyone will be asking about…
Wright: Blu-ray.

CS: Actually, I was thinking that as people discover the show on DVD, they’ll start asking you more about when and if you’ll ever bring the characters back. Someone’s probably going to ask that at the Q ‘n’ A tonight.
Wright: I think tonight we’ll get three questions… “Is there going to be a third series of ‘Spaced’?” “When’s ‘Spaced’ coming out on Blu-Ray,” we’ll have someone like that. In a weird way, because it’s made for TV, there’s not going to be much more improvement over the DVD. This DVD looks pretty amazing. It’s something that I think some fans think we’re bullsh*tting when we say we’ll “never say never” but it’s kind of the truth. It’s like if there were circumstances and the right idea came up, and there’s times when we were making the “Skip to the End” documentary, which is on the DVD… right at the end, there’s a little epilogue that imagines Tim and Daisy’s future. When we were making that documentary, we did start thinking of ideas for a third series. The tricky thing is just the age thing. It’s like you couldn’t go back to the Tim and Daisy during those two shows. It would have to be something like “Before Sunset,” where ten years or four years have passed.

CS: And these days, both you and Simon are busy with so many other things, too. I also think people will start asking more about whether we ever might see some of the other shows from your hidden past like “Asylum.”
Wright: Yup. Well, “Asylum” people haven’t really seen in the U.K. that much. It was a little-seen show that one. It’s funny to talk about stuff that’s pretty obscure in the U.K. as well. “Asylum” and “Mash and Peas” don’t exist on DVD at all.

CS: By the way, this interview has officially turned into “This is Your Life.”
Wright: Yeah, yeah… well “Spaced” is one of the first things I did that really broke though. I mean, I was 24 when I made that show and it was my first break really.

CS: What’s been going on since you finished promoting “Hot Fuzz” last year? I know you’ve been always juggling a couple different projects including “Ant-Man” and “Scott Pilgrim.”
Wright: We’re in between two different strikes. I don’t think anybody really knows what’s happening with the (actors strike). Yeah, I’ve just been writing. I wrote the first draft of “Ant-Man.” I wrote two drafts of “Scott Pilgrim.” I started to work on a solo project and also me and Simon are… (starts to pause as not to reveal too much.)

CS: It already leaked what you two were doing together.
Wright: Oh, no, there’s two. There’s one that’s me and there’s one that’s me and Simon. Yeah, that one there was a trade announcement about it and that’s sort of the third in this trilogy but we need to start writing that in between everything else that’s going on .

CS: The interesting thing about “Ant-Man” is that after “Iron Man” opened so big, there was this huge Marvel Studios bells and whistles announcement of their movies for the next three years and “Ant-Man” wasn’t mentioned.
Wright: I think having spoken to Kevin Feige, the “Ant-Man” film I have in mind is a bit more stand-alone, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do in a way. I think my take on it is something that may or may not fit into what “The Avengers” would eventually do, but they’re very keen on it and they’ve even talked a release date with me in very vague terms. It looks likely that I will do “Scott Pilgrim” next and then “Ant-Man” straight afterwards.

CS: You have a great cast that’s been announced for “Scott Pilgrim” so far.
Wright: There’s some more interesting people buzzing around as well. It’s going to be a big ensemble, that film, and there’s a lot of fun people we’ve already been talking to, so there’s more to come with that.

CS: Brian O’Malley still has a couple more issues of the story to finish, so have you talked to him about where the story is going to go so you can include some of that in the movie?
Wright: The only book that isn’t written is the sixth, but our film takes on a slightly different trajectory after the second book and it includes elements from books three, four and five. In some cases, Brian has used lines in his books from our first draft of the screenplay (chuckles) which is like strange performance-style transference, and it’s been brilliant being able to pick his brains throughout this. On one hand, it’s a very very faithful adaptation and on the other hand, it definitely molds events from those books into a three-act movie structure, so that’s been interesting.

CS: And you know that Mike Cera has this insane fanbase of women, which you might have seen at Comic-Con last year, but it’s gotten even bigger since “Superbad” came out. Essentially, every single woman wants him.
Wright: Michael Cera? Yeah. I know he’s got a lot of growing up he can do if he wanted to.

CS: Once you figure out if the strike is happening, do you know where you’ll shoot the movie? Would you go back to the U.K. for it or do it here?
Wright: No, it wouldn’t be in the U.K. It’ll either be here or Toronto. It would be really crucial to kind of shoot in Toronto, so that’s what I’m aiming to do.

CS: I want to ask some more “Ant-Man” stuff because besides the release date, there’s been a lot of chatter and speculation about what that movie might be like, whether it’s a straight comedy or not. Did you look at any specific issues or stories to based the movie on?
Wright: It doesn’t really have elements of an entire strand or series, because Ant-Man is a character that over forty years, he’s kind of cropped up in various different guises, and it’s always interesting to me what elements of the character people latch onto. Everyone seems to latch onto the wife-beater elements. I’m not even sure if I read that particular story. I maybe read parts of it. You know, the only thing is that parts of it touch upon is the whole mythos, and basically, it’s the story about Hank Pym and Scott Lang. Our big spin on it is an origin tale for one of them and kind of like a swan song for the other.

CS: Are you going to be able to get the Wasp in there at all?
Wright: In a very roundabout way. We want to sort of leave some things for some future visions or spin-off things as well. It’s difficult to tell forty years of Avengers history in one film, and I’d rather concentrate on two or three great characters.

CS: Ant-Man also had the worst villains in the Marvel Universe.
Wright: Living Eraser…

CS: Egghead…
Wright: Like The Protractor… it always seemed like for the first 12 issues of “Ant-Man,” it was just the contents of a pencil case.

CS: You could probably make up a villain and it would be better than any of the villains in the comic books.
Wright: I don’t think there’s any villains from the original comics, I mean Ant-Man standalone, that are like famous enough to… I mean, in a way, one of the things that was sort of a high concept of characters so much is that you don’t need to have a Marvel super-villain in the film. Ant-Man is enough in an otherwise kind of real world.

CS: The good thing is that the character doesn’t have that many diehard fans, at least not that I know of, although maybe they’ll come out of the woodwork when you’re at Comic-Con talking about the movie.
Wright: “Hey, you didn’t beat his wife enough!”

CS: (laughs) No, no, he really didn’t beat his wife at all when he was Ant-Man. That was like later when he had five different personalities.
Wright: I think you got the sense with the original. I had lunch with Stan Lee and it was very interesting talking to him about Ant-Man because he said to me that he always felt like Ant-Man was a character that should have been bigger, and like they made mistakes, even just in the artwork, that sort of prevented him from doing that. It’s kind of interesting. He said that he always felt that Ant-Man was a character that had more potential than it ever really delivered on. I like that Cold War stuff, it’s great. Ant-Man taking on the Russkies single-handedly, it’s funny.

Spaced: The Complete Series is out now on DVD which you can get in all the finer stores that sell cool cult TV show DVD collections, including Amazon. If you’ll be in San Diego for Comic-Con International, try to stop by Room 6A on Friday at 12:30pm where Edgar, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson will be doing a Q ‘n’ A panel about the show. (Yes, we know it’s opposite the Watchmen panel, but you probably won’t be able to get into it, so why bother even trying?) Then on Friday night at 10:15, same time, they’ll screen three episodes of the show as chosen by you, the fans.