Bill Pope's Cinematography for Baby Driver Has Panavision Under the Hood

Is it a heist film, a love story, a comedy, an actioner or perhaps a musical? Baby Driver is all of them, straight from the genre-bending mind of writer-director Edgar Wright. Baby-faced Baby is a crack getaway driver recruited for a job that threatens a new love. He wants out, but the heist crew isn't so accommodating. And all this plays out to the soundtrack pulsating from Baby's earbuds. The film from Sony Tristar features Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Jon Bernthal and a Subaru.

Photo credit: Wilson Webb

When Baby Driver, long percolating around Wright's head, fell into place, cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC couldn't have been happier. “Baby Driver was the one that thrilled me,” he says. “Edgar is a connoisseur of movies of all genres, and in all of his best work, he will take a genre and mash it up with another genre, injecting new life into something that has been done to death.”

Pope is very familiar with the director's thought processes, having previously shot Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World's End. “As a cinematographer, I'm always looking for a director who is going to bring it home – one that I can count on to make a good movie,” Pope notes. “I have that respect for Edgar. Directors of his caliber come along once in a blue moon, and I am privileged to take part in his career.”

Cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC on the set of Baby Driver with Panavision T Series Anamorphic

Photo credit: Wilson Webb

Panavision has supported Pope's extensive cinematography career, which includes such titles as Clueless, The Matrix trilogy, Spider-Man 2 and 3, Team America: World Police and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. “I don't know if it’s because I have such a long relationship with Panavision, but this much has been true since the very beginning – they give incredibly great service,” he remarks. “They bend over backwards to get you what you want and they make sure it works for you and works within the budget. They work harder and try harder than anybody else.”

Prepping at Panavision's headquarters in Woodland Hills for the shoot (which took place in Atlanta), Pope selected Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras, because Wright only shoots his movies on film. “Edgar loves film and grew up with it – he's a cineaste – and film is what he wants it to look like,” says Pope.

Director Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Photo credit: Wilson Webb

In discussing Panavision's lenses, Pope lights up as he singles out VP of Optical Engineering Dan Sasaki. “Dan is a genius; their lenses are incredible,” the cinematographer beams. “All of their series of lenses are beautiful for different reasons – a great variety to choose from.”

Pope selected Panavision's G Series anamorphics, along with AWZ2 and ATZ zooms for Baby Driver. With two cameras each on A and B units, enough full sets of G Series weren't available at the time, so some newer T Series and C Series lenses filled in the gaps. “Edgar likes a second camera, because he is crazy about continuity,” notes Pope. “It offers the actors a certain amount of freedom, and his cutting is so rapid that without continuity he can't make those cuts.”

Photo credit: Wilson Webb

Wright also wanted a throwback aesthetic, right down to the nature of stunt work. Pope explains, “Director Walter Hill made a movie called The Driver that Edgar really admires, and Edgar's a fan of hard gangster and crime movies, particularly of the 1960s and ‘70s. Our film is a visual and thematic rejection of the current spate of car movies that are so heavily CG'd and fantastical. We want the audience to be in those cars with the actors actually driving them, and all our actors can drive like crazy. It was difficult to do, but you are looking at a labor of love.”

Pope shot nearly the entire movie on Kodak stock. FotoKem handled the film development, and Molinaire colorist Asa Shoul performed the DI. For a car chase scene that was staged in the parking structure of a training complex belonging to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Pope opted for digital. He notes that the structure was only available to the production at night. “I couldn't light it at all. I had to go with the existing lighting, which was dim to put it best, so I ended up shooting on the ARRI Alexa just to get the ISO in order to see it.”

Photo credit: Wilson Webb

When unexpected production challenges like this arose, Panavision Atlanta was there to assist, providing the Panavised Alexa when the digital format was needed. Panavision also furnished an ARRI Mini to mount on a Freefly MōVI for some shots. “There always will be something that I need,” says the cinematographer. “The great thing about Panavision is that they have all those cameras. I go to them for that kind of service.”

Pope explains that the title sequence epitomizes the artistry and craftsmanship needed for the project. It’s an uninterrupted Steadicam track of Baby as he walks down the street to buy a couple coffees, as the world around him is choreographed to the tune playing in his earbuds. “As a great fan of cinema, Edgar likes to involve his audience in the movie and wink at them, because he trusts their intelligence,” Pope explains. “We had talked about this shot for years leading up to the film, a glorious homage to all musicals that show the world as a lovely place. All hell breaks loose after that, of course, but this is a moment of real joy in filmmaking and, hopefully, for the viewer as well. Getting the shot just about killed our Steadicam operator Roberto De Angelis. We did a full rehearsal the day before and spent a day executing it. I think we got it on take 22!”  

Photo credit: Wilson Webb