While all bad movies are bad for different reasons, the best films are all built on the same solid foundation of visual storytelling. Edgar Wright is one example of a director that excels at showing us a good story rather than only telling us. He uses camera shots, editing and physical performances to create a well-rounded movie that doesn’t rely on talking.
Here are three examples of how Wright creatively uses visuals to convey character, plot, and comedy in his films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Baby Driver.
1. Introducing A Character
The way that Wright opens Baby Driver shows us everything we need to know about the main character as well as the tone of the movie. The studio agrees with this statement so much that they released the full five and half minute opening of the film on YouTube:
Without any explanation or backstory, we know that the driver doesn’t seem focused or serious when the robbery begins. Less than a minute in, we see the driver in the car while the others are entering the bank, letting us know that while he works with them, he is separate from them. When it is his turn, he focuses and is unflinching in his driving. The chase scene is as much in the car with the driver as it is depicted from an outside perspective of the car. This gives the audience more of a feeling that we are in the race, rather than just watching from the bleachers.
This is all accomplished without any talking. It relies on the audience’s understanding of how the music, shots and characters’ reactions all fit together in way that drives us into the film. Plus, it has the added benefit of being super fun to watch and an updated take on the car chase trope.
2. Showing Us The Character’s Faults
At the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, we see Shaun leave the house, head to the market, and return to his house without noticing anything. The next day, he repeats the same actions, not noticing anything outside of the usual, except this day his inattentiveness has led him to look past the zombie apocalypse.
Earlier in the film, Shaun’s girlfriend breaks up with him and says “it’s not like you ever do anything about it. Nothing ever changes.” This feels a bit harsh to both Shaun and the audience. However, this scene reinforces her statement 100%. His routine and (lack of) awareness to his situation remains completely unchanged. The world gets completely overturned overnight, zombies surround him, and he doesn’t even realize there is a problem.
While the scene shows the character’s flaws, it’s also hilarious. No matter how much you paid attention the first time around, you notice something has definitely changed this time. The most subtle and perfect detail in this scene is the little slip that Shaun has on the blood. Even though we don’t see what he is slipping on, we have enough visual clues to make the assumption. This is what Wright excels at.
3. Getting Us In And Out Of Mundane Moments Quickly
Since his first major film, Edgar Wright uses a series of close-ups in quick succession as a mini-montage to move the characters along.
“I’m a big fan of getting into a scene late and leaving a scene early. That’s what they always say in writing… Come in late and leave early. I think using close-ups for me is a good way of doing that.” – from Interview “Edgar Wright and the Art of Close-Ups“
Wright uses this method in all his films, giving him a distinct style that is easily recognizable:
These quick sequences cut down the time it takes for characters to travel from one point to another, make mundane tasks like paperwork seem more impressive, show how one character is not drinking beer, etc.
This type of editing also makes the visuals of the movie more varied, so it isn’t all a standard mix of wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, rinse, lather, repeat. Short little bursts break thing up to keep the audience from getting too bored.
Visual Storytelling Done Wright
Movies are inherently a visual experience, yet a lot of directors waste their screen time with images that don’t add anything to the dialogue. Edgar Wright conveys his stories by showing us the characters through cinematography, editing, and visual gags that move both plot and character forward.
His unique style makes him both recognizable and inspiring to other filmmakers. In a world of sequels, prequels, franchises, and adaptations, Edgar Wright is making new movies with classic sensibilities.
Which of Wright’s movies is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments section.