Friday, July 12, 2013

Edgar Wright Can Read My Mind

A bit of a geek-out blog entry this time, but it’s worth sticking with it as I’ll relate my brief chat with Edgar Wright towards the end. But first, some backstory. 

I’ve been a fan of Edgar Wright’s work for many years, especially the stuff he’s written with Simon Pegg, but on many occasions I’ve had to question reality a little. It started back when Debs and I used to visit our friend Jason who worked at the local video store. If you remember, he was the guy who introduced me to Conspiracy X all those years ago. Well, that’s not his only claim to fame. We used to chat, and as he got to know us he had a revelation – “Have you guys seen a TV series called ‘Spaced’?”

I’d heard about it, and seen the print ads but knew nothing about it. The title made me think it was trying to be a Channel 4 TV equivalent of Trainspotting, so I wasn’t really interested. I admitted to Jason that I’d not seen it…

“You need to watch it. It’s a TV series about you two!”

Jessica Hynes (Daisy) and Simon Pegg (Tim)

Jason went on to explain how the lead characters were basically me and the wife, and how we must immediately watch the next episode. We’d missed the legendary third episode (“Art”), but tuned in the following week to witness our first exposure to Spaced“Battles”, including the did-it-ten-years-before-Community paintball battle. We watched avidly every week, and bought the DVD the moment it was released.
Substitute "Colin" the dog with Marla the cat,
and basically you have me and Debs...

For those of you who are unaware of the genius of Spaced, the series was geek comedy years before The Big Bang Theory, filled with so many geeky references that the DVDs even came with a Homage-o-meter to help you keep up with the pop culture nods. It told the tale of two people who become friends out of desperation for somewhere to live when they both find themselves homeless. Tim (Simon Pegg) is a video game playing comic artist who hasn’t had anything published but is desperately trying, while Daisy (Jessica Stevenson / Hynes) is a struggling writer who battles with mundane distractions. 

At the time when Spaced first aired, I was a video game playing slacker, who was desperately trying to get into comics. Just like Tim. It was scary. Debs was working in graphic design / reprographics while writing fiction in her spare time. We watched horror movies, Debs shouted at Tomb Raider just like Tim, I played too much Resident Evil 2, we had friends who were painters, knew someone just like Mike, and even Twist. 

It was like the writers had spy-cameras in our house, or were tapped into my brain or something. 

Spaced lasted just two series, but we’ve watched it countless times, and followed the careers of the actors, the writers, and Edgar Wright ever since. 

When we joined with similar-minded individuals and started work on a comedy webseries, my love of Spaced bubbled to the surface. SFX even reviewed the series and said “Ever wondered what a new series of Spaced would look like?” Debs and I finally became Daisy and Tim, albeit with different names. Things had gone full circle. But the tale of the webseries is a whole different story…

While the webseries is in my dim and distant past, a legacy remains. I’d dropped the SyFy Channel a press release for the series, and got chatting to them. One thing lead to another, and I started blogging for them, reviewing movies, promoting series they had coming up, writing about comics that were being unnoticed, and doing features about towns in Stephen King novels. Thanks to this I’ve managed to see a few movies early, and even went to the press conference for The Avengers.

A couple of months ago I was asked if I’d be interested in popping down to London to see the first 45 minutes of Edgar Wright’s new movie “The World’s End”. Initially I thought “Hell Yeah!”, but then there’s always that cost of travel and you’re not seeing the whole film… and then they said the magic words – “Edgar Wright will be there…”

The only problem was I was sworn to secrecy. The embargo on The World’s End meant that not only could I not discuss the footage I’d seen, I wasn’t even allowed to mention that I’d gone to the screening. Not a tweet, not a peep. Anyway, the reviews are out now, and the embargo has been lifted and I can tell my tale…

I’d seen the trailer for The World’s End, and to show that I was keen I dug out my old Sisters of Mercy t-shirt, just as Simon Pegg’s character Gary King wears in the movie (yes, it still fits, even after twenty years), and promptly hopped on a train to the big smoke. 

I was expecting it to be a fairly large affair, but in the end there must have only been twenty or thirty people at most at Universal’s screening room. Drinks and nibbles were laid on, and a lot of the people who were there seemed to know each other. I recognised one of the BBC entertainment people, and a couple of famous faces, and I felt incredibly out of place. What was I doing here? I just wrote for the SyFy Channel every now and then. It’s not like I’m paid for it, I just enjoy doing it. I’m nobody special, and yet there I was, in a relatively small reception area, shaking hands with Edgar Wright’s assistant and lurking in the background wondering when someone was going to throw me out.

Edgar Wright came in and was chatting to various people he seemed to know, when he noticed my t-shirt and came over. 
Edgar Wright - No, I didn't get
a photo, I had to borrow this
from IMDB

“Did you wear that deliberately?” he asked.

Yes. I am that big a fan-boy. I really am. 

He stood and chatted for a bit, telling me how they contacted Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy for permission to not only use “This Corrosion” in the movie, but to have Simon Pegg’s character wear a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt for the entire film. Apparently, Andrew Eldritch is a big fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and was very happy to allow it. Edgar Wright then went on to tell me how he called Simon Pegg to let him know, as the Peggster is a huge Sisters fan.

I was very good. I didn’t grab Edgar Wright and say “You made a TV series of my life!” or “You inspired me to write a webseries!” I didn’t even stand there and say “Oh my god! You’re Edgar Wright!” despite wanting to. Luckily, before I could embarrass myself, we were ushered into a small screening room to watch the first half of the film.

Before the footage started, Edgar Wright explained that it wasn’t quite finished, that it needed the mix tweaking and some effects finishing, and then explained how Shaun of the Dead was all about your home being invaded by nasty things, and Hot Fuzz was all about being uprooted from your home and put into a completely alien environment. The World’s End is all about going back to your hometown and feeling like you don’t belong.

Again, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg had tapped into my brain. There’s something about leaving a little town, possibly to go to university or art college as I did, and then going back to visit. Things change, but the town looks mostly the same. Maybe it’s something to do with how you remember things from your past, but it feels odd. The locals that you used to see walking the street are still there, heading to the shops, but they seem to stare at you. It’s probably because they recognise you but can’t quite place from where, or are wondering why you’re back, but in that moment you feel like an alien. Or that they have been replaced by Cthulhoid Deep Ones or something…

But when I do go home to my little hometown, I meet up with the old D&D group, and we inevitably end up in the pub and it’s like it’s 1986 all over again.

They stopped the movie just after the pub toilet scene (you’ll understand where that is when you see it), and everyone shuffled out of the little screening room filled with mixed emotions. Elated and excited by the footage we’d seen, yet disappointed and saddened that we’d have to wait another couple of months to see the rest of it.

Debs and I saw the movie this week at the press screening, and you can read my spoiler-free review on the SyFy Channel website here. (Link no longer working as SyFy's Blogs have been deleted). Needless to say, I loved it, and it resonated with me on many levels. It reminded me that I hadn’t watched Spaced for a couple of years, reminded me of the fun of writing a comedy webseries, and once again felt like a part of my life was being adapted for the big screen.

So, thank you Edgar Wright! It was very cool to meet you, and I hope I didn’t come across as a weirdo. Thank you for simultaneously mirroring my life and inspiring my creative pursuits! 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bad At Games IV - Joss Whedon killed my Playstation

Let’s get this out there straight away – I used to hate Microsoft. Okay, maybe not Microsoft as a whole, but I have never owned, and probably will never own, a traditional PC. It comes from my education background going through Art College and then to the “University of the Arts” as they now call the college where I did my degree. Doing graphic design lead you down a very specific route in my day, and that was purely Apple Mac. We have an old Centris in the loft, a G4 carbon tower that hasn’t been switched on in years, and had a variety of Mac laptops from the “wall street” upwards. Bill Gates was not welcome in our house - we were very much Mac-whores.

When it came to gaming, the Macs were never really gaming machines. All you really had was Marathon, so we did all of our video gaming on the PS2. Final Fantasy dominated most of my time, along with the legendary GTA: Vice City with its uber-cool soundtrack of 80’s pop and Miami Vice colour scheme. The wife continued through the various incarnations of Tomb Raider, but all that would change with a simple competition entry.

Buffy the XBox Game (2002)
Wifey and I are huge fans of Joss Whedon. This came originally from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first with the movie, and then with the TV series. The pop-culture referencing snappy dialogue, the cool action, the great plots. We were hooked. I spotted a competition online on one of the larger UK sites to win a copy of the XBox video game of Buffy and I did what everyone would do in that situation and clicked enter without really thinking about it. It was Buffy. So what if we couldn’t play the game, we were devouring all things Buffy and it would be nice to add to the collection.

Typically, we won. The game arrived in the post and we were unable to play it for months. Months and months. The idea of owning an XBox really hadn’t crossed our minds, but we had this game, and the urge to play it grew and grew. Again, the offer of a second hand console cropped up and as it was cheap we thought we’d get it so we could finally play the game. 

Buffy kicking the vamps in the XBox game
And what a game it was! Brilliant stuff, running around decapitating ghouls with a shovel, staking vampires, and running around our beloved Sunnydale. Neither of us actually finished the game though, as the final levels decided to try to become a 3D platformer and it really was not built to be the next Tomb Raider. We just couldn’t get over some of the jumps, and in frustration the game was cast aside. 

But the local Game store had an XBox running in the shop with a demo of a particularly popular FPS called Halo. I’d not really heard of it before, and I had a few minutes to waste waiting for wifey to finish her shift at work, so I had a quick blast…

I didn’t know where I was or what was going on, but I was in a dropship just like Aliens again, jumping out onto a sunny beach with other troops running around. It was intuitive to control, looked fantastic, and I knew there and then that something was different about this game. Little did I know it would change my social life completely.