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Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright Talk About "Shaun of the Dead"


Simon Pegg and Kate Ashfield star in Edgar Wright's "Shaun of the Dead"
Photo © Focus Features
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Any doubts about the potential popularity and acceptance of “Shaun of the Dead” were erased when, at the 2004 San Diego Comic Con, 200 people were turned away from the movie's first screening. An additional screening was added on and it also quickly filled up.

“Shaun of the Dead” writer/director Edgar Wright says the Comic Con experience was just crazy. Wright and “Shaun of the Dead” co-writer/actor Simon Pegg were both overwhelmed and surprised at just how much interest was generated in their romantic zombie comedy (rom zom com for short) by what had mostly been a word of mouth campaign introducing the film to American audiences.

Interviewing writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg at the Comic Con was an almost surreal experience. The San Diego Convention Center was packed with comic book/movie geeks (I use that term affectionately) and because Wright and Pegg were due at an autograph signing at one of the exhibition booths, we had to stay relatively close to the main hall where all the action at the Con was taking place. Finding ourselves a spot on the floor in the lobby of the Convention Center - and hoping not to get stepped on by preoccupied fans dressed in assorted bizarre costumes – we did our best to be hear each other over the steady din of hyperactive Con-goers.

INTERVIEW WITH SIMON PEGG AND EDGAR WRIGHT:

What's your writing process like? Do you just toss ideas back and forth?
SIMON PEGG: That's what we kind of do, really. We sit in the same room and we just sort of go over stuff and gradually, through different drafts, through like flip charts and index cards, get it down to a writeable premise.

Who reins who in? If you're going too far out, who pulls the other back?
SIMON PEGG: Edgar's quite disciplined whereas I'm quite flaky. So in terms of actually getting to work and getting down to business, Edgar's the motivator.

EDGAR WRIGHT: We don't really rein each other in, particularly. I suppose because we come from a sort of comedy background, I suppose we certainly discuss things in terms of joke logic.

SIMON PEGG: Just never tell two jokes at the same time.

EDGAR WRIGHT: Yeah, the Rule of Three and all that kind of thing. It's interesting coming from a comedy perspective and then applying that to drama and genre as well.

You guys developed your own sort of genre with this movie.
SIMON PEGG: Although we're not, strictly speaking, we're not actually the first romantic zombie comedy because I mean “Brain Dead” – there was a romance in there. “Return of the Living Dead Part III” is a bit of a love story.

EDGAR WRIGHT: But the difference is, what we wanted to do with this which hadn't really been done before particularly, was the idea of having a horror comedy which doesn't really feature any horror until like minute 30. Whereas with maybe like “American Werewolf in London,” kind of like the shit starts happening about 7 minutes in. “Brain Dead” has a prologue which is extremely violent. We loved the idea of easing you into a false sense of security. It's actually kind of nice watching it with audiences, because they get into it almost to the point where they've forgotten that there are zombies about to come. So kind of having that first half hour with no zombies is something that we really wanted to do, and try and pull off, really.

SIMON PEGG: But actually, there are zombies. If you look for them, you can see them.

EDGAR WRIGHT: But not in terms of the killings.

SIMON PEGG: Right, [it's 30 minutes before] the main characters actually realize what's going on. And also we wanted to take a very sort of British style of romantic comedy, in the vein of Richard Curtis and stuff and people in London – and then subvert it. In that respect, it was a kind of first.

You don't have to be familiar with your previous work to get “Shaun of the Dead.” It translates well without prior knowledge of your work together.
EDGAR WRIGHT: I would hope so. It's the same in the UK as well. It wasn't just fans of our show that went to see it at the cinema. It's kind of like a bunch of people who'd never seen [our show]. The show we did in the UK was kind of a big cult kind of success, so it has a big and diverse following but it wasn't like “Friends” kind of ratings. But in that case, it was great because all of our fans came to see the film and a whole bunch of people who were new to us as well. And then over here it's great because it just works in its completely own way.

SIMON PEGG: In some respects, it's good that perhaps people over here will go see it and then maybe go and see “Spaced” because they will not have come across our style before. It's nice they're coming to it completely fresh here.

When you're writing, does one of you ever think something's funny and the other doesn't?
SIMON PEGG: It's more about things being appropriate. Generally speaking, if something's funny we'll both find it funny to a lesser or greater degree. It's more about time or if it's appropriate, or if it might reduce the dramatic tension or something such as that.

EDGAR WRIGHT: Yeah, you more get into a thing writing a film where you think – in fact it's different from doing the show – where you kind of think, “Is our character witty enough on the spot to say it?” And one of the things that was different between doing the show and doing this is we wanted to make it kind of realistic, so people don't come out with smartass lines. So a lot of the comedy comes from the naturalism of it and their reactions. Sometimes you think of a really cool line or a funny joke, but you actually take it out because you think you wouldn't be able to say that. You wouldn't think of it, you wouldn't be that sharp. It was more about keeping it real.

SIMON PEGG: Yeah. We didn't want our characters to be particularly sassy or clever. We didn't want Shaun to be like Ash in “Evil Dead,” you know, constantly coming out with these fantastic little one-liners. He's not that clever and he's not that bright. So I mean, we had to rein in the humor, and it came from them. They're not particularly self-aware. They're not very knowing, these characters.

The character development in this movie will probably take audiences by surprise.
EDGAR WRIGHT: That was the other thing. One of the inspirations for doing it was because we'd always been big fans of the genre, and when we first thought about the idea of doing a zombie film, we wanted to find the thing that hadn't really been done post-“Brain Dead” and even “From Dusk to Dawn,” doing a different spin on a comedy horror film. And the thing that we kind of thought is that a lot of horror films, you kind of get thrown into the situation very quickly so you only really see the characters in them in an after-the-fact kind of thing. Especially in zombie films. “Night of the Living Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” you don't see any of the characters lives before shit happens. The main thing we wanted to do with this is to get to know everybody, so that then the whole comedy and the drama just comes from not how much things change but how little things change. That's kind of the joke and the central conceit. And also that's the kind of thing, you know, in a crisis whether it's in war or whatever, people don't suddenly change what they're like. Just because the world's ending doesn't mean that people who are idiots stop being idiots (laughing). Do you know what I mean?

Yes, dumb people don't suddenly become brain surgeons.
EDGAR WRIGHT: Exactly.

SIMON PEGG: The same thing happens with [your life]. There are people you don't like, you're still frightened of spiders. Your life remains exactly the same it's just that there's this new thing going on. Weirdly enough, when we were writing, 9/11 happened during the writing process and it galvanized that sort of suspicion that we had. This massive thing could happen but nothing happens. This cataclysm is going on and yet reality isn't changing, and it's quite a strange thing. I mean, that's at the most serious analysis of it.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2: Character Development, DVD Extras, and the Rules for Killing a Zombie

"SHAUN OF THE DEAD" RESOURCES:
"Shaun of the Dead" Credits, Trailer and Websites

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