If you were ever given the talk about how indispensable mind maps and other such charts are in planning creative ventures, and had a healthy sense of skepticism regarding them, who could blame you? It is not absurd to assume that these learning/planning tricks are meant to help quell the hyper-active and forgetful minds of young students, and once you hit a certain age, that it’s time to leave highlighters and doodles and so on behind. And yet…
This video, filmed as a featurette for the at home release of Hot Fuzz, is of writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, pouring over their initial notes (on a large flipchart), explaining what preparations they had made before setting out to type a single word of the script. And as you’ll see, they’ve made great
use of these mind-maps, doodles, etc. The most important takeaway, however, is in their use of these to help compound their ideas into a workable state, to ease the process of typing out the story.
The plot of every film in the Cornetto trilogy is an incredibly tightly run ship, the scripts are dense with consistent characterization, running gags, set-ups and pay-offs, Easter eggs, etc. These ensure that the films are satisfying and cohesive watches, but it can be daunting to try to build this from the ground up, or to keep track of every idea and it’s later pay-off whilst working non-linearly on the script. As such, Wright and Pegg brought an “arsenal of ideas” with them, and set out to lay it all out,
as a pool to draw from.
Some of the material they’ve placed into their notes is hardly fundamental (such as the typical crimes in the film’s small town setting, many of which we never see and which are never referred to), but these concepts are great for fleshing out living, breathing communities. The better you understand the people populating your world, the more ideas and natural reactions you’ll be able to parse from them.
Even if these tiny details are left behind, they inform your decisions, and keep you from getting writer’s block when you encounter a character you may not have planned for, but who you now need for story purposes. And that sort of fringe character can be all-important in keeping your film dynamic, as it can get boring and stagey if every interaction in your film revolves around the main characters, and everyone else in your world stands about and doesn’t get involved at all. Pegg and Wright provide tiny biographies for all the town’s folk, so that they’re never short on bumpkins with clearly predesigned personalities to select from, should they need a new bit part.
If the background characters receive that sort of treatment, you can imagine what the creative character breakdown for the film’s protagonist, Nicholas Angel, is like. It’s clear that the duo had a fully-fledged understanding of the person their film would revolve around from an early stage (enough to also provide a description of his sparse suite), and sketching out this personality on a page helped cement his all-important disposition, and keep them on track. Facts about his parents, education, religious preferences, etc. which don’t affect the plot, but absolutely shape the character in a writer’s mind.
The all-important first scene gets its own very busy page, and Edgar makes note of an important piece of advice from Robert McKee and Syd Field: Set up the main premise of the film in the opening scene. Wright and Pegg include a multitude of set-ups in their opening scene, which were weaved naturally into the dialogue. In a film as busy as this one, having your bearings is vital, and as such the opening scene, despite being relatively short, is planned out almost completely.
Also of interest throughout the video is the amount of gags which were cut between the conceptualization and first draft, so many that they’ve begun to forget entire subplots they had considered at one time. This obviously suggests much trial and error.
Simon Pegg leaves us on a valuable note; “By the time we got here… to write the film, we had all this ready to go. So, when we say we wrote it here… this is what we had as our arsenal of ideas.” So, if you’ve been inspired recently, and your head is ablaze with ideas, consider setting out your own intricate arsenal, before settling down for the long haul. It’ll probably save you a fair amount of hassle.