The Art of Making Intelligent Comedy Movies: 8 Take-Aways from the Films of Edgar Wright

We’ve post­ed a lot of stuff on this site by Tony Zhou, the cre­ator of the bril­liant video essay series Every Frame a Paint­ing. He deliv­ered an insight­ful essay on David Fincher’s visu­al econ­o­my and he did a tru­ly mas­ter­ful take on move­ment in the films of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa. And, in the piece above, he delves into the work of British direc­tor Edgar Wright, who direct­ed such cult mas­ter­pieces as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pil­grim vs. the World.

As Zhou notes, come­dies are bor­ing these days. In movies like Brides­maids and The Hang­over, the cam­era often­times just records the actors riff­ing. The humor is almost entire­ly depen­dent on the dia­logue. And while that might yield some yuks, in terms of moviemak­ing, these movies are woe­ful­ly lim­it­ed. Film is a visu­al medi­um after all.

Wright, on the oth­er hand, is a ter­rif­i­cal­ly inven­tive film­mak­er who knows how to tell jokes visu­al­ly. One of the rea­sons Shaun of the Dead and his oth­er films are so damned fun­ny is because he is able to cram jokes into moments where oth­er movies would be con­tent with just push­ing the plot for­ward. “This is what sep­a­rates mediocre direc­tors from great ones,” says Zhou. “The abil­i­ty to take the most sim­ple, mun­dane scenes and find new ways to do them.”

Like Eisen­stein and Ozu and just about every oth­er cin­e­mat­ic mas­ter out there, Wright is keen­ly aware of not just what is in the frame but what is not in the frame. Unlike Eisen­stein — who, let’s face it, is not fun­ny – Wright knows how to mine the com­ic poten­tial of the frame.

Zhou ends his spiel with a chal­lenge to Hol­ly­wood direc­tors out there. He rat­tles off eight things that Wright does with pic­ture and sound that he would like oth­er film­mak­ers to work into their movies.

1. Things enter­ing the frame in fun­ny ways
2. Peo­ple leav­ing the frame in fun­ny ways.
3. There and back again.
4. Match­ing scene tran­si­tions.
5. The per­fect­ly timed sound effect.
6. Action syn­chro­nized to the music.
7. Super-dra­mat­ic light­ing cues.
8. Fence gags

And the bonus point

9. Imag­i­nary gun fights.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Learn the Ele­ments of Cin­e­ma: Spielberg’s Long Takes, Scorsese’s Silence & Michael Bay’s Shots

How Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Used Move­ment to Tell His Sto­ries: A Video Essay

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • Ben says:

    So.… where’s the arti­cle? There’s a pre­am­ble, there’s a list of points… then it ends? Care to explain any of them? Talk about them at all? Even a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion of each point would have been nice.

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