Edgar Wright is the comedic auteur of the people. His sense of humor and feel for comedy can appeal to the masses, and yet his technical prowess and depth of comedy appeals even greater to the most seasoned cinephile. His films contain an identifiable and unique perspective and his style is unmistakable. Wright is the bridge that spans the gap of the two sides of comedic film.
Wright’s films have high appeal to the typical cinema patron. Just take a look at the base construct of his four feature films. Shaun of the Dead is a comedy centered on a zombie apocalypse. Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop comedy. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a comic book adaptation. And The World’s End is a pub crawl, buddy adventure, sci-fi action movie. All of these concepts are simple when broken down and easy to market. Wright builds layers upon layers onto these base concepts, weaving clever writing, inventive camera techniques, and masterful visual comedy.
Wright’s skill at visual comedy is the pinnacle of the current cinema culture. Typical comedies rely on the delivery of verbal jokes to get their laughs, but Wright uses visual jokes in addition to the verbal quips. Using simple examples of sound effects, camera cuts, and shot composition, Wright is able to pull laughs out of scenes that would otherwise just be normal exposition. This ability to mine comedic beats out of every second available is what sets his films apart from typical comedies.
Let’s take a look at some examples of these from each of his four features:
Editing: Shaun bends down out of frame to pick up a pen and then reenters the frame from the bottom instead of the expected diagonal angle. Wright uses a jump cut here to get a comedic moment in an unexpected place.
Sound Effects: Cut to a pair of feet shuffling toward camera. Cue the odd moaning sound effect. The viewer knows it isn’t a zombie. It’s too early in the film for that. As the camera pans up the moaning sound is clearly a yawn attached to Shaun’s contorted face. And that yawn–with a calculated camera movement–just created a comedic moment other comedies would have missed.
Shot Composition: Angel (Angle) is getting grief from his colleagues and then receives a call about an escaped swan, from one Peter Ian Staker (P.I. Staker). He obviously thinks it is a joke and calls PI Staker out on it, except cut scene to Angel helping P.I. Staker by taking down his real statement about a real swan that is lost.
Sound Effects: Angel and Danny are working hard at cracking a murder case as they sit in their police car on speed patrol. They are so engrossed in the investigation they don’t notice car after car speeding by, with the speed gun going crazy. I was too busy laughing to hear what they were discussing.
Shot Composition: Gary takes Sam into the bathroom to ask about the twins who are acting a little weird. They talk in front of a mirror, each of their twins reflected back at them as they discuss the twins. It’s a subtle chuckle.
Sound Effects: As the group gathers at the arriving train station they discuss which one of them is the dumbest for deciding to come along on this journey. Whistle. Pan left to Gary. Speeding bus sound effect.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Editing: Wright blends scenes together with mirrored transitions. In one scene Scott is standing and staring at Ramona, before the scene is blended into Stephen entering the frame from the left yelling into Scott’s ear as he continues to stare. Now Scott is standing in a living room practicing with his band. Stephen then walks away from Scott to frame right before the scene shifts into an outdoor setting with Stephen turning around to answer Scott’s question. This swift three scene transition keeps viewers’ attention as several settings and points are covered, and it also gets a chuckle.
Shot Composition: As Scott is telling Ramona where his band will be playing the next night, Wright cuts to an exterior shot of the venue with the sign displaying the name, just as he is about to yell it. This creates a clever comedy moment where other movies would use normal exposition.
Sound Effects: Wright consistently uses video game sound effects to accentuate funny moments. Here he uses them to accentuate a bar detailing Scott’s urine level.
All of these examples serve as just a basic set of highlights from Wright’s prowess for comedy and his skill with visual filmmaking. For more examples of how these techniques are applied, check out David Chen’s video here, and Tony’s video here.