Video Essay: How Edgar Wright Sets Up Baby Driver – First Scene

CC image from Baby Driver by Ma_Co2013 at Flickr

Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright, has an opening scene that is 5:30 minutes long and sets up a lot of main parts of the story with no exposition or dialogue. How did Edgar Wright add in vital details and film the scene, all while making it interesting? Keep reading to find out.

Part I: The Setup

The first thing you hear when you press play is a high pitched tone that fades into a music note. The viewer doesn’t find out until much later that Baby listens to his music because he has tinnitus. As pictures start to roll in you can see cars driving by, a bank, and a sign that tells what city they are in, which happens to be Atlanta. Baby’s red Subaru then fills up the screen, quickly portraying itself as one of the most important things in the scene. These first few shots already establish some key elements of the plot and character development.

After that the movie cuts to a shot of Baby’s iPod, and then a close-up of Baby’s face. As Baby presses play on his iPod, the next four cuts happen on beat with the music and show the audience each of the other three characters in the car along with Baby. Along with that being on beat there’s the opening/shutting of the trunk, the slamming of the car doors, the chewing of gum, each of their footsteps as they walk to the bank and even the honking of cars on the street. This sets the tone for how the rest of the movie will be run and its connection to music.

As the three other characters walk in the bank, the camera stays with Baby. This is an important decision because the action is following the other three characters into the bank they are robbing, but the camera stays with Baby to show that the story is from his perspective and to give insight into what kind of character he is. The next few shots are of Baby dancing and singing in his car to his music, showing that he may be a getaway driver but he acts more like a bored intern. It also provides separation from Baby and the crime in the bank.

At the end of Part I of this scene, Baby stops listening to his music and there’s a shot of him looking into the bank with a startled expression as gunshots start to go off. The camera is closer to his face in this shot than any other shot in the scene because this is later identified as one of Baby’s largest internal conflicts of the story, and the close-up is used to emphasize the moment.

Part II: The Getaway

The second part of the scene consists of a getaway car chase, and Baby is the driver. It consists of 164 shots spread over 3:05 minutes. The longest shot, other than the final tracking shot, is 6 seconds long. The shortest shot is 4 frames long. These fast cuts work well because it is more of a musical montage of a car chase than a real time depiction.

The car chase is choreographed to go along well with the music, and the music doesn’t just compliment the scene but also drives it forward.

Even though the scene might be moving fast, it never loses direction or a sense of geography.

As the scene continues, you notice that Wright prioritizes showing the feeling of the scene over the clarity of the physical action. For example, the camera will be facing Baby and the other three characters in the car and the car will swerve. The audience didn’t actually see the car swerve, but could almost feel it swerve because they could see the movements of everyone in the car. Exactly 59 shots are of Baby and the passengers, while 78 shots are of the actual cars. This gives the audience more of a sense of what it’s like driving a getaway car or being in a real car chase, rather than just watching one.

As the scene plays out, you notice that the majority of the shots incorporate Baby or his car. This sets up the main idea of the story, Baby and his driving.

Also, in most car chase scenes it seems as if the car is just following a predetermined path, while in this scene you constantly see Baby having to make decisions about what to do next, which adds more depth because you can see he’s actually using his cleverness to get away.

All in all, the opening scene of Baby Driver is not only flashy, fast-paced and a good way to hook the audience, but it also subtly feeds the audience information that is vital to the rest of the film.

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