If Baby Driver felt like a feature-length, slightly more filled out version of a music video, that’s because it is.
The inspiration for Baby Driver came to Wright a decade ago when Wright directed a music video for the band Mint Royale’s “Blue Song.” The video, which Wright directed after his cult sitcom Spaced came to an end and before he did Shaun of the Dead in 2004, starred British comedian Noel Fielding. In the video, Fielding plays a getaway driver who must wait for three bank robbers — including a young Nick Frost — to return. The entire sequence of events in the video is dictated by the song, not too unlike how Wright uses music in Baby Driver.
Wright told Entertainment Weekly that it was around the time of directing “Blue Song” that he got the inspiration for Baby Driver. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams saw the video, he told Wright it would be an incredible feature, giving Wright the extra boost he needed to really attack it.
While Wright’s extension of “Blue Song” into Baby Driver is an interesting origin story, he’s not the only director to find some inspiration in music videos. Everyone from Spike Jonze to David Fincher have taken some aspect of their early career work on music videos into their feature films.
Take Jonze as an example. The director made a name for himself working on music videos way before he ever did his first feature-length directorial debut, Being John Malkovich. When asked by Mentorless what it was like transitioning from a medium based entirely around one song and 3-5 minutes of footage, Jonze said it was scary but ensuring he worked with people who he knew from music videos and people who knew what his vision was made it easier.
Going from music videos to features was definitely scary because I didn’t know how I would do in terms of working with actors. But that was the main thing I wanted to focus on, was the performances and learning what it meant to direct actors. Also the other thing that helped was all of my friends that I’d made working on music videos with came and worked on our first movie together. And Acord, KK Barrett, Casey Storm, Thomas Smith our first AD, Eric Zumbrunnen our editor, that made it a lot more comfortable and it felt like the first day on set was not as shocking as I thought it would be.
Fincher is another perfect example. Although the director is better known for his work on award-nominated and winning movies like The Social Network, Fight Club and Zodiac, Fincher has a soft spot for music videos. And, for those who like to study a director’s entire body of work, much of Fincher’s work that he did in music videos can be seen in his films and vice versa.
Like Jonze, Fincher came up during one of the most creative periods of MTV’s history, when music videos were still being celebrated and young directors were getting a chance to make interesting shorts for all sorts of artists. Fincher, Jonze, Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) and a plethora of other filmmakers were getting a chance to execute the most conceptual of ideas, eventually taking what they learned working on music videos and bringing them to major motion pictures.
The importance of the music video on film and future filmmakers goes all the way back to 1983 when Michael Jackson, arguably the biggest musician of the time, called up director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Animal House) and asked him to direct the video for his song “Thriller.” That video would go on to inspire Jonze.
“It had some magic that made it shine,” Jonze told The Guardian in 2013. “When I started directing videos myself a few years later, it was like a touchpoint. I didn't have this thought intellectually at the time, but when I watch it now I realize that there's no reason for a lot of it; it's so free and loose. There's the car running out of gas and it's like a movie, then it just keeps going, as if they're saying: 'That'd be cool, let's do that.’”
Wright’s is the most thought out continuation of a music video that we’ve seen, but he’s in no way the only person who was ever left inspired by a four minute short based around one song. He also certainly won’t be the last.
Baby Driver is currently playing in theaters.