Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy


One, two, three four Hi my name is Tony and this is
Every Frame a Painting. So today I’m going to talk about
a director whose work I love. but before that let me be upfront.
I think comedy movies today especially American ones
have totally lost their way. I don’t hate the jokes
or the actors or the dialogue or the stories though
there’s plenty of issues there. My real qualm is that the filmmaking the use of picture and sound
to deliver jokes, is just…–What?
–This is booooring.–Delete. Look, everyone’s taste is different. What you find funny is what you funny.
So I’m not saying these movies suck or you suck if you like them.
What I am saying is that these movies aren’t movies.
They’re lightly edited improv. Everyone stands still and
talks at each other in close-up. Almost none of these jokes come visually
They’re overwhelming sound. And not even the full range of sound,
just dialogue. And this is really sad because that’s just a fraction
of what’s possible in cinema. Apart from animation
and some commercials, visual comedy is actually
moving backwards. And that’s why if you love this kind of stuff,
I cannot recommend Edgar Wright enough.–You’re a doctor, deal with it.
–Yeah, motherfucker. He’s one of the only people
working in the genre
using the full range of what is possible And because of that, he can find
humor in places that others don’t look. Here’s an example.
Say you need to move your character from one city to another to get the
story going. How do you shoot it? And can you get a joke out of it?
…Well, no. Not if you send out a 2nd unit to do it,
every shot pans from left to right you include obvious landmarks and signs,
you mix in generic helicopter footage and you put upbeat music under it
so the audience doesn’t get bored. This is just lazy filmmaking and boring.
We’ve seen it a million times. What would happen if you were truly
inventive with this type of scene? There we go! And this isn’t
just a series of quick cuts. There’s a lot of good
visual storytelling here. These two taxi shots tell you exactly
where we came from and where we’re going These two shots emphasize
the move away from civilization. Our main character always faces
forward or to the right so screen direction is respected.
Turning the music down and the sound FX up is funny
because each cut is jarring. And there’s even some nice performances
from Simon Pegg and Ryan Gosling. Okay that was 1 example without context.
You’re right. Totally unfair. Well what if you had a movie where
a horrible apocalyptic event happens, and you want to foreshadow it earlier,
maybe by having the characters not notice something important on TV.
How would you show it? Would you just throw it in the edit
for 2 seconds and 2 frames and no shot shows the relationship
between the characters and the TV?–he’s having a housewarming party,
he just finished building his house. Or would you do this?–Although no one official is prepared
to comment, religious groups arecalling it judgment day. There’s–panic on the streets of London–as an increasing number of reports of
–serious attacks on–people who are literally being
–eaten alive Okay still unfair. What if you had movie
where one character has stopped drinking but the others are disappointed in him
and you want to get a joke out of it. How would you do it? Would they just stand around
and talk about his drinking?–No I appreciate it but I told my wife
I wouldn’t drink tonight–Besides I got a big day tomorrow.
You guys have a great time.–Big day? Doing what?
Or would you do this?
–What?!–I don’t believe this. This is what separates a mediocre
director from a great one. The ability to take the most simple mundane scenes
and find new ways to do them. Great directors understand that you
can get a laugh just through staging. Here’s an example from David Bordwell:
things popping up into frame are funny.–Slow ahead, I can go slow ahead.
Come on down and chum some of this shit! And it’s not just things entering frame.
Consider the opposite.–I said tell Ms. Laura “Goodbye”–Bye, Ms. Laura You can get a laugh from a zoom. –You wanna pop the trunk and roll
the windows down, please? You can get a laugh from a crane up.
–Shirley, I’m so sorry.–I’m going home, Britta.
–I know, Shirley, I know.–No I’m going home, can you help me up?
–Oh You can get a laugh from a pan. As Martin Scorsese put it cinema is a matter of what’s in
the frame and what’s not in the frame. So think about the frame. And this isn’t
a matter of smart or stupid comedy. Really if it works, it works. So here are 8 things Edgar Wright
does with picture and sound that I want to see other
comedy filmmakers try out. #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 you know what, let’s thrown in
#9 Imaginary gunfights So if you’re a filmmaker, work on this.
The frame is a playground. So play. And the next time you go to
a theater and pay $15 to see a comedy don’t be satisfied with shit
that is less inventive than Vine.

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Reader Comments

  1. Péter György Gaál

    Actually I fucking hate action synced to music, but I really like all the rest listed here 😀 but this one thing ruins a lot 🙁

  2. Top Scandal

    Edgar Wright's films are so much fun to watch and usually require a couple viewings to catch all of the details (especially with the Cornetto trilogy). Not many directors are able to make every minute of a film engaging (including long dialogue scenes) like Edgar Wright; the only other director that comes to mind is Quentin Tarantino. Hot Fuzz is definitely in my top three favorite movies, I think I've seen it at least 10 times. I would love for another Edgar Wright directed Sean Pegg & Nick Frost film but I'm excited to see what other films and genres he expands out towards.

  3. Lucid Recluse

    Feel like an idiot. All this time I've been just watching movies. Now, Tony is making me think about them too. What a weird sensation.

  4. Glacier Nester

    An absolute crime that 'leaving the frame in an interesting way' didn't have the "he just left" bit from Scott pilgrim, honestly. Good work though! I agree, more visual bits in comedy films would be lovely

  5. zibbybone

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an editing masterpiece and should be studied in film schools.

    I love all the foreshadowing and reoccurring gags in Shawn of the Dead.

    All the action in sync with music in Baby Driver.

  6. Gnuling

    I swear I've seen a video just like this, but it can't be this one because I'm sure the other one talked about the pub scene in Shaun of the dead. I'm confused.

  7. Kiwi Plays

    I disagree with you truly some films aren't using the whole potential of the medium film but often dialogs are the key which is supported by visual hints.

  8. Laisan Shafikova

    Thank you very much for this video. I've watched for the first time a couple years ago when I knew nothing about Edgar Wright. Now, thanks to you I'm his huge fan. I'm rewatching this video about every time I watch his movies. Thank you!

  9. DiscipleofPentagon

    One of my favorite exit comedy shots was in Monsters vs Aliens. When the blob was shaking the jello in front of the guy's face as he was leaving

  10. Fernando Raigoza

    Miss you Tony, I come back every now and again for a refresher and for inspiration. And I'm never disappointed. Don't know where you are or if you'll ever make another video again but thanks for the quality videos man. Hope all is well.

  11. Leprosu Gnome

    Comedy is the break of expectancy at the right moment, in modern comedies you don't expect anything, because they're mostly cliche, that's also why visual comedy has so much potential, because nobody does it anymore…

  12. Nelson Gonzalez

    Edgar Wright is a genius. There’s an awesome scene in Hot Fuzz when Simon Pegg’s character is being interviewed by his superiors and about to get promoted. The gentle symphonic visual blend comes from the script, acting, shots and sound effects that match the various characters tics or the mood, just absolutely mesmerising!

  13. Matthew Soroko

    I agree with making a comedy with #Signs and #God also apart of my project #TheOrthodoxyOfEI #Agriculture + #Art. Found #Instagram: eupho.intell #Twitter: Eupho_Intell. #PowerOfHydrogen #ThePoolOfTheHumanBody

  14. sign543

    I agree with you that this is phenomenal filmmaking, but I also just want to give my perspective. You are correct in that his style is fantastic, but I’ve read where some people do not like it because it becomes wearisome after awhile…or it draws too much attention to itself. It’s a great stylistic choice, and it works for some stories. I don’t know that it would work for all stories without actually upstaging the story. I’m thinking of those videos where they do satirical “trailers” of things like horror flicks done in the style of certain directors. Friday the 13th wouldn’t work if filmed like an Edgar Wright film. And if any other director used these choices, they’d almost certainly be accused of just trying to mimic wright. One of the great filmmakers of the last 50-60 years said something along the lines of…simplicity is often best, because it tells the story without drawing attention to the process. Yeah, panning left to right while showing overhead scenery and transitions might be a lazy way to show a character traveling from one place to the next…but if the point of just establishing that that’s all the character was doing…does it really need a super-fast, edgy, stylistic edit? Maybe…maybe not. Sometimes I feel like if I am aware too much of the director while watching…then we’ve sort of lost the point of the story. That’s why I think that it works for certain stories, because then the stylistic filming and editing is actually part of the story…you’re actually paying to see Edgar Wright do his thing. If all movies had superfast edits and cuts…that would get tiresome after awhile.

  15. GrizzlyAdams94

    When you were talking about characters leaving the frame in a funny way, I'm surprised you didn't show Scott jumping out of the window when Knives was at the door talking to Wallace. Granted, it's in the background and I honestly didn't notice it until my second watching

  16. Bret

    Sean of the dead is still my favorite comedy movie. I love re-watching that movie from time to time! It's also pretty nostalgic and brings back good memories

  17. Nick Onufrak

    I'm disappointed in myself that I'm just seeing this. Great work. Have been a fan of his for a really long time. His foreshadowing in his films is so subtle yet extraordinarily loud in retrospect.

  18. hoodedmexican

    Wow. I wrote a whole paper on Edgar Wright and the Auteur theory when I could have just copied the script for this video. I love it seriously great work anD WOW THIS IS FROM 2014

  19. Çhïčkēń Kèbáb ãñd Ćhîpš

    How could u include a fence scene, but not include the one from hot fuzz where fat man is inspired by Simon peg and just falls through it while copying

  20. Shouvik Roy

    Wes Anderson
    Quentin Tarantino
    Coen Brothers
    David Fincher
    Martin Scorsese
    Edgar Wright

    Living the best years of my life..
    What more can I possibly ask for.

  21. Jeramy Porter

    You missed the best example from scott pilgrim of leaving the frame in a funny way. Where Scott jumps out the window to avoid knives. He then briefly re-enters the scene to grab a coat.

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