The feeling on an Edgar Wright set is, says Simon Pegg, "that you're working with a perfectionist. I've always marveled at Edgar's innate talent and his knowledge of cinema. He's matured as a filmmaker, and has immense technical know-how."
Producer Eric Fellner comments, "This is a director who knows what he wants - which angles and what shots."
Nira Park affirms, "During the first shoot I ever worked on with Edgar, we immediately got on because we have a very similar sense of humor - and because neither of us like to compromise unless we really have to. On the fourth day, it was getting late and I said so, but he said, 'I am going to get this shot.' Which he did, and he was right, because it made the scene much better; he knows exactly what he needs for a scene to work."
The director knew he wanted to reteam with director of photography Bill Pope following their previous collaboration on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright states that "you don't find many people who are as good at shooting action as they are with performance and with actors. Bill is so experienced; there's not a shot he hasn't done, but he never has the attitude of 'been there, done that.' He's excited about every scene and has lots of ideas. We've very quickly achieved a shorthand, and he's become a great friend.
"I knew that he would give a more cinematic eye to the British locations, especially as an American cinematographer shooting English pubs."
Knowing that he would be making the movie with Pope, Wright also "fought to shoot the movie on film [stock]. No disrespect to digital [cinematography], but we shot SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ on 35mm, and I wanted THE WORLD'S END done that way as well. The prologue, the 1990 section, was shot on 16mm."
As a fellow director, Paddy Considine remarks that "what I love about Edgar is that he walks the film through in his mind. He has the technical skills like with camera set-ups, but what's important is he enjoys performances and wants the actors to make him laugh."
With the script having been locked well in advance of filming, Wright notes that his mandate during the rehearsals and pre-production period was "to rehearse it a bit like a play. We don't really do a lot of improvising on the set."
The director encouraged the principal cast members to spend time with the younger actors playing the teenaged incarnations of their characters. Movement coach Cal McCrystal worked with all 10 performers, taking them though mime exercises and coordinating physical traits that would bridge the two time periods. Wright remembers, "We did a 'mirroring' exercise where we got the younger actors to copy the older actors, and it was fun to watch them do impressions."
Also charged with devising movement was choreographer Litza Bixler, who with her team rode herd over local and agency extras, dancers, and stunt performers. Bixler had worked on SHAUN OF THE DEAD in a comparable capacity, and Wright again wanted physical movements from on-screen masses to match his vision.
Some players in the cast will come as a surprise to audiences, but far more pop up in THE WORLD'S END as a point of pride after having previously been in SHAUN OF THE DEAD and/or HOT FUZZ. Among those who have now done three movies in a row with the team are Rafe Spall, who made himself available for one day's work in a bit part; Garth Jennings, a fellow film director of Wright's; and a well-known actor who is heard but not seen. Park states, "This supporting cast is part of our family."
Even more so than the cast, the crew was shored up by veterans of the previous movies made by the team. Production designer Marcus Rowland, who has worked on all of Wright's features, was brought in early on. He realized at the script stage that "to fit the budget, we would only build the most essential pub sets. These would be the ones with the best production value, where we could achieve things that we would never be able to achieve on location - moving walls for camera set-ups, setting up breakaway fixtures, sending cars crashing through...At locations, they tend to ban such things!
"For the more dialogue-led pub scenes, or for some of the pubs that the characters are in for only a short period of time, we didn't build but went out to actual locations. One point in the script is that pubs are getting branded with dressing that follows from one to the next, and their old charms and individual characteristics are disappearing. So we were doing much the same d'ecor each time."
Wright remarks, "What we've seen in Britain happening to pubs is that these places from the turn of the last century are being jazzed up with funky signs and fancy menus. A lot of the time, the elements are identical from pub to pub. So is this the homogenization of a culture? Or are people lamenting the loss of something which wasn't that great? Simon and I wanted to discuss both sides of the argument through Gary's warm feelings about his hometown and the others' less romantic memories."
Graphics, signs, and logos in and around Newton Haven were carefully designed and painted since there are script references that edge into plot points. "You'll also see specific imagery on the beer pumps and beer mats," says Rowland.
For the special effects under visual effects supervisor Frazer Churchill, Wright hewed to the tenet that "the best effects are a combination of physical and digital. Even though what happens in THE WORLD'S END becomes insane and surreal, Frazer and our crew ground the effects in a sense of realism. Things were done on-set, and then we would use digital augmentation. This way, the actors could react against something even if they had to not look 'there' or don't touch 'here.' Nowadays, digital effects have gotten so good that people don't have the patience to do practical effects any more. We were really able to use our imagination, but also plan everything out.
"The villains of the piece were an amalgam of half-destroyed action figures that I played with as a child as well as poster images for sci-fi movies such as John Carpenter's [1982 version of] The Thing and the original [1975 Bryan Forbes-directed] The Stepford Wives. I made a compilation reel of influences for the crew, including - and this was a real inspiration - Ray Harryhausen's skeletons work in Jason and the Argonauts."
On the set, Wright regularly conferred with all department heads including film editor Paul Machliss. The latter's time on-set was especially well-spent when fight sequences were being filmed. Wright notes, "Editing on-set was particularly important for the big scenes, when you're just not going to get as many pages [of script filmed] a day."
The editing was also coordinated with the efforts of music supervisor Nick Angel - another longtime member of the team, whose name was used for Pegg's HOT FUZZ character - in part because "Gary's soundtrack is from the popular consciousness of between 1989 and 1993," says Pegg. "It's a mix tape, and it gets combined with [composer] Steven Price's score."
Wright elaborates, "The idea with the period soundtrack of the movie is that it is Gary's mix tape that never goes away; it's in the car, but it also permeates the film. When Simon and I were writing the script, we had a playlist of maybe 300 songs from the years 1989 to 1993 that we would keep running on 'shuffle.' It would get us in the right zone. There are a lot of corkers from the music of that time when we were teenagers, and the songs used in the finished film reflect that."
With or without musical accompaniment, action scenes were edited on set and Machliss would assemble scenes swiftly. This helped Edgar Wright keep the actors on point, hone the action sequences, and keep the filming on schedule.
Simon Pegg marvels, "You'd do a take, walk off the set, and be able to see the take edited into the movie within seconds. During our nearly four weeks of night shoots, this would spur us on and give us the energy to keep going."
The majority of the night shoots on location took place in Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire. With extensive community cooperation, the production filmed both interiors and exteriors in the historically and architecturally significant town - making it the first major movie ever to do so. Grateful to the local residents, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took a break from filming to preside over Letchworth's annual holiday lighting ceremony. A second storied Hertfordshire town, Welwyn Garden City, was also the site of location filming.
Additional locations included Gunnersbury Park in West London; the Blue Fin building in Southwark, London; and the High Wycombe train station, portraying itself in the scene in which Gary collects his reunited friends to drive into Newton Haven.
Among other Hertfordshire shooting locations, the unit spent weeks lensing specially created interiors at the famed Elstree Studios, where cinematic touchstones such as the first Star Wars trilogy were filmed. Pegg states, "As a film lover, to be standing - much less working - there was an extraordinary privilege. I felt lucky, and not a little moved."
All told, says Nick Frost, "Of the shoots I've done with Simon and Edgar, this was the nicest in terms of having a laugh."
Eddie Marsan comments, "I think that reason audiences will have a good night out seeing THE WORLD'S END is because they will see themselves in Peter or Gary or Andy or Oliver or Steven. Younger audiences will identify as well, because they're right now at the stage that the characters are trying to recapture.
"Plus, these characters are played by really hot actors."