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Bread still makes you fat! Behind the scenes of “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off”

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

Would the stars of director Edgar Wright's music-infused action-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World be willing to reprise their roles on an animated Netflix TV series? That was the question which hung over executive producers Bryan Lee O'Malley and BenDavid Grabinski like a cartoon dark cloud as they wrote the scripts for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. The movie's cast, which included Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, and Kieran Culkin, have always spoken fondly of their time making the 2010 movie and, at the height of the pandemic, reunited over Zoom for a charity reading of the script. But Wright's tale of a Cera-played Toronto bass-player who must fight the "Evil Exes" of his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers, portrayed by Winstead, was a box office disappointment, grossing just $31 million in the US. Moreover, the star wattage of cast members like Evans, Larson, and Culkin has increased dramatically over the years since the movie's release. O'Malley and Grabinski admit they were by no means sure that the folks now famous for portraying Captain America, Captain Marvel, and the rather less heroic Roman Roy would be lining up to voice characters on a small screen version of a commercial failure. "We started the show before we had reached out to them," says Grabinski. "I can't explain to you the process of Bryan and I sitting in rooms for a year or so saying, 'Well, I hope they're going to say yes!'"

To the pair's delight, every main cast member from the film did say yes, meaning the show also boasts the vocal talents of Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, and Satya Bhabha. "I remember sitting in Bryan's office when we started to see the emails of people saying that they were interested," says Grabinski. "I literally screamed. That was the first point where we felt like, okay, this could be a cool show."

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

Viewers can judge the show's precise level of coolness when Scott Pilgrim Takes Off premieres Nov. 17. Until then, the EPs are keen not to say too much about the plot of the series. They do, however, tease that the eight episodes will seem both familiar and surprising to fans of the franchise, which began life as series of graphic novels by O'Malley titled Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life.

"I wrote this stuff almost 20 years ago," says O'Malley. "I couldn't go back and rewrite it word for word. I kept thinking, I have to tell the story of Scott Pilgrim in a world where the story of Scott Pilgrim has already been told and people know it. I had to kind of splash a new coat of paint on it and f--- around with it."

"It was very important to us to make a show that surpasses any expectations people have," says Grabinski, whose own previous credits include writing and directing the 2021 comedy Happily, starring Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé. "To me, the idea of spending years on a project that is just beat for beat the same thing feels like a waste of time."

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

The chances of there ever being a Scott Pilgrim TV show of any sort would have seemed dim 13 years ago when the film opened and was punched into fifth place on the box office chart by the first Expendables movie. "I remember we had a little get-together on Friday when the film came out," says O'Malley, who acted as a consultant on the film and also visited the set. "By that night we all kind of knew it was just going pewwwwwwww. I saw Michael Cera drive by, and we waved at each other, but he never showed up to the party. It was like, that's it, then! But it has it's own life. It's gone on and on and on and on."

The movie was almost immediately re-evaluated as an underseen gem. Speaking to EW on the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary, O'Malley recalled how "the first article that said it was a cult classic came out maybe three months later." The film has been repeatedly screened at the Quentin Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles and in 2011 was re-released theatrically in a remastered 4K version. The same year, Ubisoft published a new version of the company's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World video game. "The Marvel fan base is rabid, but the Scott Pilgrim fandom is just as dedicated and loyal as any fandom I've ever seen," Evans told EW in 2020.

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

The growing appeal of Pilgrim eventually prompted Netflix to approach O'Malley about working on a Scott TV show with Science Saru, the Japanese animation studio best known in the US for contributing two of the short films in 2021's Star Wars: Visions anthology series. "I love Science Saru," says O'Malley. "So that was the first step." The second step arrived three years ago when the writer-artist started discussing the putative project with his longtime friend Grabinski over dinner. "I sat down with BenDavid and I was like, 'I don't know what I would do, I don't know if I want to do this,'" says O'Malley. "He started spewing out some really left field ideas that sparked a whole new approach. Not to get too deep into it, but he thought of angles that I could never have imagined."

"I wasn't really pitching, I was just talking," says Grabinski. "I came up with a bunch of ideas on the spot that he immediately liked. Next thing I know, Brian reached out to Netflix and said, 'Hey, I know what we want to do and I want to do it with this guy.' And then now we're here!"

Well, not quite. For one thing, of course, O'Malley had to convince Cera, Winstead, Evans et al to reprise the roles they had played for Wright, who is also an executive producer on the show. "I was very nervous," says O'Malley. "I didn't know we would get anyone, or especially everyone. We just started asking, and Edgar asked, and I wrote a really nice letter, and everyone just very very kindly and very promptly said yes."

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

O'Malley believes their cause was aided by the revival of an old email chain which had been set up around the time of the movie's release to connect the film's principals. "The cast have spoken about this email chain a lot but there's one detail that I don't think anyone has mentioned," he says. "We were exchanging emails when the movie was coming out and then this thread went dormant for about nine years. Then, before this anime was even on the docket, Michael Cera responded to a meme someone had sent as if no time had passed. He just said, 'Oh, that's funny.' Chris Evans responded like, 'Michael, what the f--- are you doing responding to this email from nine years ago?' And then we all started chatting again." O'Malley explains that working with the cast on the TV show felt like reconnecting with family, in a good way. "We were all pretty young when we made the movie," says O'Malley. "We all felt like family and I think we have ever since."

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

The pair had a similarly happy experience collaborating with Science Saru. Grabinski enthuses about the manner in which the studio brought the show's action sequences to fantastical life. "We would write a fight scene and encourage them to do whatever they wanted with it," he says. "Next thing you know, you would get thousands of storyboards that would blow our mind with stuff that we never expected, and we would start rewriting based on their boards. Everything just kept on getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Each one of these episodes, if they were live action, would cost $100 million."

"I'll just gush about Science Saru and especially our director Abel Góngora," says O'Malley. "He's a madman. He's from Spain and he moved to Tokyo to become an animator. Who does that? He's brilliant. He storyboarded two of our episodes all by himself, every single frame."

Scott Pilgrim is a member of fictional indie-rock band Sex Bob-omb and music has always played a big part in his story with Beck, Broken Social Scene, and Metric contributing tracks to the film version. O'Malley and Grabinski recruited the New York-based band Anamanaguchi to come up with the songs for the TV show and to work on the score with composer Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton). "We were very fortunate to hire Anamanaguchi, who are the band that worked on the video game soundtrack, and they've blown up since then and have become a very beloved institution," says O'Malley. "We hired BenDavid's good friend Joseph Trapanese, who is a noted film composer, and they all worked together, and I just f---ing love everything they did."

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Netflix 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'

When O'Malley was writing the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels they were set in the then-present day, one with lots of record stores and far fewer cell phones. That era is now historic although O'Malley says viewers should not overly trouble themselves with the show's temporal placement. "I always say it takes place in 'Scott Pilgrim time,'" he explains. "It's become its own mythological realm. The movie did that. Edgar always called it 'the Amelie version of Toronto.' The show is building off that beautiful dreamy version of the city."

Regardless, there is a certain retro quality to the show's take on the profession of Ramona Flowers who, in the books and film delivers packages for Netflix's corporate rival Amazon, but, on the TV show, distributes DVDs for, you've guessed it, Netflix.

"Bryan and I and were writing one day thinking, they're never going to let us have her deliver packages for Amazon," says Grabinski. "Then one of us thought of this idea. When we first sent it in [to Netflix] someone said, 'Well, we don't know if we can clear that through legal.' I was like, 'Are you kidding me? You cannot do this joke that she delivers DVDs for Netflix? Come on, you're Netflix! Figure it out!'"

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off premieres Nov. 17 on Netflix.

Make sure to check out EW's Fall TV Preview cover story on Gen V — as well as all of our 2023 Fall TV Preview content, releasing through Sept. 21.

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