Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead is a particularly beloved film. Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, host of the venerable Midnites for Maniacs series, where Wright appeared over the weekend, reported that several of his students at the Academy of Art University believe Shaun is the greatest film ever made. (We think it's good, but we also think they need to see some more movies.) One might surmise that after such a success, Wright would entertain a sequel. But he made it clear that won't happen with any of his films, including Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the other two of his features that screened.
"Our time on this Earth is limited," Wright said.
It was among the several behind-the-scenes items he discussed with adoring fans who filled the Castro Theatre.
Wright is England's answer to Sam Raimi. His Shaun of the Dead (2004) gave a comic spin to the zombie movie, Hot Fuzz (2007) gave a comic spin to the cop buddy action film, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) offered up a fairly faithful filmic version of the indie comic series.
Wright described Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as "personal" works. Hot Fuzz was shot in the same small English town Wright grew up in -- the film is a "love-hate letter to my hometown," he said. Shaun of the Dead, meanwhile, was shot in the working-class district of London where he and co-author/film star Simon Pegg were living at the time. Pegg still lives there, and in September Wright and Pegg will begin writing what will be their third film together. (They plan to reunite with various other members of their Brit stock company.)
The supermarket where one of Hot Fuzz's several shoot-outs was filmed recently closed, and Wright made it a point to purchase a giant letter from its locally iconographic sign.
A highlight of Wright's introduction to each film was his vocal rendition of the "plot key words" provided for the works on the Internet Movie Data Base. The key words for Scott Pilgrim? "Band," "dating," and about 300 others. For Hot Fuzz? "Sarcastic clapping," "stabbed through the chin," and "gay subtext" (Wright asked, "How can it be a subtext when it's fully intentional?")
Some directors rely heavily on improvisation in their scenes, but not Wright. He said the screenplays are worked out in detail beforehand.
"Me and Simon Pegg are superanal," he said.
Working out the crime conspiracies in Hot Fuzz gave him great admiration for writers such as Agatha Christie.
"It's like working out a maths problem," Wright said.
As for Shaun of the Dead, what makes the film work is the seriousness with which Wright treats the zombies and the social collapse that goes with their rise. Wright is a traditionalist, and his zombies are the slow-moving ghouls made famous by George Romero. Wright sees his film as taking place in the universe and at the same time as other famous (and remade) zombie films, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
"It's the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of zombie movies," he said.
Coming out of Shaun of the Dead late at night, in the cool air of the Castro, with drunks staggering down the sidewalk ... well, it felt like Wright's slow-moving zombie universe was alive and well in San Francisco.