Both “Scott Pilgrim” creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and screenwriter Michael Bacall attended the Thursday screening of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Having a chance to reflect on it, they both continued to be enthused by the response. “I’ve been to several World Cups, I’ve seen Korea play in Korea in a 60,000 seat stadium — I’ve gone to Slayer concerts — this was right up there on the decibel meter. It was crazy,” said Bacall.
“I heard a roar like that during the last game of the World Cup, when the whole town was freaking out, but [this] was 1,600 people,” added O’Malley. “Playing a movie like this at Comic-Con is like a hometown crowd; Bruce Springsteen in Jersey.”
Though the Universal Studios produced film had a big response with the Con crowd, both believe the film has an even wider appeal. “Everyone’s probably had a relationship in their lives, that they can kind of intuitively understand what these relationships mean to us,” O’Malley explained. Though the film bursts with references to video games and other staples of geek culture, it is that core aspect of the film that should cross the lines to a mainstream audience.”[It’s] like a historical drama where you’re not completely familiar with the time, or even the setting. If you can understand the human emotions at play, then hopefully that’s what becomes important in the story,” Bacall added. “Everybody can relate to having their heart broken. Everybody can probably relate to wanting to punch out a former ex of your current lover.”
For the creator, the journey to the screen began as he was still working on the second book, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” when director Edgar Wright called him from a cab. “[Wright] couldn’t even sit down in one place to call me, because he’s always on the go,” joked O’Malley. “It was early on in the process. I didn’t really think that anything would come of it. I was getting calls from Hollywood guys, and I was like, ‘Oh sure, that’s great.'”
O’Malley always expected the film version to lose most of the geek references and in-jokes that permeate the series. “I think at the time we started, it was around the time that ‘Sin City’ came out. So [the process began] before this new wave of movies that are strongly based on the graphic novel, that use it as a storyboard. So that kind of has changed everything gradually,” he recalled.
“I think we were more protective of a lot of Bryan’s stuff from the books than he was,” Bacall interjected. Referring to a specific image from the books the team decided to cut, the screenwriter admitted, “I would have liked to see a brain crack in half and a baby bird come out and go ‘Peep!'” Both Bacall and Wright wanted to keep O’Malley isolated in order to allow him to continue working on the series unmolested by the constraints of filmmaking. “Edgar and I had a lot of discussions about trying to protect Bryan’s process and not influence him too much and screw up something we were huge fans of.”
Despite his early interest, Wright was not initially signed on to write the film. “I was going to write the screenplay while he worked on preproduction for ‘Hot Fuzz’,” Bacall recalled. “[One day] he said, ‘Would it be cool if we both wrote this?’ So I did a backflip and then calmed down and said, ‘Of course. Yeah that’s cool, that’s cool.'” The two began writing together even as work continued on Wright’s previous film. “[Wright] would be in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks for some meetings, then fly back to London to do prep for ‘Hot Fuzz’, and also to work on the production draft for that. So he was multi-tasking at a pretty intense level. So we would work in Los Angeles when he was here, and then we would work via email when he was in London. Then I would fly to London a couple of times and we would work there,” Bacall said of the process. “So we were kind of all over the place, and we just would use every co-writing method known to man. We would trade off scenes. We would write the same scene at the same time, and then trade and rewrite each other’s thing until it kind of became one. It was a blast. It was a kind of keep-you-on-your-toes method of writing that was really challenging and enjoyable.”
Though O’Malley wanted to stay out of the film’s way as much as Wright and Bacall wanted to keep out of the books’ way, he did offer some help when asked. “It seems like almost every morning, Edgar and Michael would email me and be like, ‘We need more jokes for today!’ We would all just kind of riff and make new stuff up,” he remembered. “There’s a part where Todd turns to the camera and goes, ‘It sounds like it’s time to get funky,’ or something like that. We wrote like ten jokes for that, and probably shot all of them. Even when I was at home, I would be getting these emails; it felt like I was involved.”
As the movie was being filmed, O’Malley was working on the sixth and final volume of his series, “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour.” The two projects did intermingle, according to both O’Malley and Bacall “I stole a few lines of dialogue because I felt like I was entitled and also Book 6 came out first, so I could pretend that I wrote them,” joked O’Malley. The creator sent along a script of the sixth book so Bacall and Wright could incorporate material while he continued to draw. “We tried to integrate as many things as we could, as many gags as we could. Then, obviously, the ending moment of Book 6 was highly influential in figuring out how to end the movie,” Bacall explained.
O’Malley is impressed with Wright’s sense for casting. “I think that’s one of Edgar’s gifts, one of his many gifts. He just has this eye for it. When he said that he wanted Chris Evans and Brandon Routh for the movie, I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ And then it totally happened. It was dream casting all around,” he said.
“I remember when Brandon Routh walked in for a casting meeting and I was sitting there with Edgar,” added Bacall. “He walked in and he was standing there in front of us, and I kind of looked at Edgar, and I wanted to say it but I didn’t, but in my mind I said it. And what I said was, ‘Holy shit, it’s Superman!'”
Asked if the comic-to-film transition could be hurting the form, O’Malley responded, “I feel like a lot of people come into indie comics because it’s a cheap and easy way to get something that looks like a movie and show it to movie producers. Which I think is a crappy way to do comics. It’s not a way to make a good comic anyway.”
“I’d prefer to see everything look exactly like ‘Scott Pilgrim’,” he joked.
“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” opens August 13. For more news and info, visit CBR’s Scott Pilgrim hub!