Book Review: YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU, The Boy Director Who Would Become King, of The Horror Comedy
This is the story of a boy and his movie. Well, truly this is the story of a young man who looked seriously too young to be directing his next feature film.
Author Clark Collis chronicles the journey of one of Britain’s most successful horror films, a film that has had many imitators but few equals, a film that coined a new genre, the rom-zom-com. It was the beginning of what would be called The Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. It is a loving tribute to the zombie films of George A. Romero, delivered with a British twist. It is the timeless classic, Shaun of the Dead.
You've Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life is exactly what its title touts, how did one of the all time greatest horror comedies get to the screen? It traces the early days of Edgar Wright, a young man from Swanage, England. It regals a tale of how he was influenced by the same things young boys and girls were influenced by in those days. Star Wars. An American Werewolf in London. It tells of the days of agonizing patience needed for consuming mass media, truly an uphill struggle for any keen-ager at that age.
Wright fanatishly devoured anything he could get his hands on, specifically Starburst and Fangoria magazines. But it was Jonathan Ross’s series The Incredibly Strange Film Show and one episode in particular about an American indie horror film and its director that wedged the idea in Wright’s mind that he could become a filmmaker.
It traces Wright’s work in television from the mid-90s where he would start to meet some of Britain’s brightest comedic talent. Folks like Matt Lucas and David Walliams (Little Britain), Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (League of Gentlemen), and one Jessica Hynes. That was just his first show but it led him to meet his future leading man, Simon Pegg on the series Asylum. The list goes on and on. Anyone who was someone in British comedy has seemingly worked with Wright since then. Out of it Wright, Hynes and Pegg would create one of the greatest television series of all time, Spaced, where he would arguably form his style and approach to filmmaking.
You’ve Got Red on You is the story of how much Shaun of the Dead owes its creation to that little show called Spaced. It was then that the idea of Shaun began to ferment. It was also the fans of that show that rallied to support Wright when Shaun of the Dead was being made. It was one official fan site that got the word out to the fans of that show who showed up in droves and for a pound a day would be thrilled to be a part of what would be known as, the Zombage.
The book is not just for fans but also for filmmakers. You’ve Got Red on You chronicles the time between the last season of Spaced, the gestation of the idea for Shaun of the Dead and its production. It is the story of how incredibly easy it was for Wright to get the financing he needed to make his little British horror film. So easy… after multiple meetings with a multitude of production companies and a minor setback with the first company that came on board to finance the project. So easy. Are you feeling the sarcasm yet?
Once production begins the recurring line of tension in the story switches over to the working relationship between Wright and his DP, American cinematographer David Dunlap. Collis gives both sides of the story, of tension between the relative newbie and the veteran, told in equal measure. Call it a difference in filmmaking philosophies, call it the differences the way movies were made in England versus America, call it a breakdown in communication or a battle of wills. Right from the start of filming Dunlap got under Wright’s skin. One side tells the story from a perspective of emotional investment, the other, tells it quite diplomatically, from a perspective of practicality. After nail-biting moments of ‘will they won’t they’ get their film made (spoiler alert, it got made) what readers will want to know is what happened between these two as filming went on.
One thing that everyone all agreed on was Wright’s determination to bring his vision to screen. Everyone will also speak of how absolute that vision was and even if you could not see it at first one you saw the finished product it all came together nicely and you came to understand Wright’s genius. Wright made the film that he set out to make, a feat not often carried through without some interference from higher levels of investment and authoriti.
It chronicles the highs and lows of production from swapping production companies before ever setting foot onto a set, long days covered in gore, in sweltering heat on old sound stages, to hostile receptions from the locals when shooting external shots of the pub. I thought the Millwall joke in Black Books was just that, a joke. How many productions do you know of which have to issue warnings to their crew about wearing opponent’s colors on set? There is also a recurring theme of contact lenses as well. It was a production not without its challenges but it is a story of how everyone rose to the occasion and saw through to getting Shaun of the Dead made.
We now know of how Edgar and his film was embraced by the locals but it doesn’t stop there. Part of Wright’s rise to global fame was the reception and the push from folks here in North America to promote the film. More importantly there was Wright’s acceptance by the geek elite in Hollywood. Collis also recognizes the contribution of another once popular website but is also mindful of its downfall and controversy surrounding it. He skillfully navigates around that by recognizing those from that group, free of blemish, who helped get the word out about this new, little horror comedy from England.
Collis does make the grievous error of lumping the Toronto advance screening in as part of the "American" city tour but that’s okay, I’m one of only four people in the entire city who knows what happened after that screening. Seven, if you count Wright, Pegg and Frost, cause they were there too. I got my copy of Spaced signed, Todd gave away his Firefly box set, and we have a story to tell. That’s all that matters to me.
There is a dearth of information in this book. So many people who were involved in the production, behind and in front of the camera, were asked by Collis to share their thoughts and reflections. Everyone, and I mean everyone, gets a word in on the production, promotion and reception of Shaun of the Dead, both at home in England and from America, specifically.
Finally Collis follows up on the legacy of Shaun of the Dead, the little horror comedy from England that was embraced by the world and immediately achieved cult status. If you haven’t kept tabs on Wright and his leading men, Pegg and Nick Frost, this book will catch you up. You feel the immense sense of pride from everyone involved, knowing now that they’re a part of genre cinema history. Their faith and commitment to the boyish looking director Edgar Wright and his vision eighteen years ago is reflected on that screen every time it plays. It lives on in their memories and now it lives on in this book.
If you’re a fan of Shaun of the Dead or a filmmaker influenced by the films of Wright this is essential reading. In fact, you cannot call yourself either of those and not have this book in your collection at home. It is so good we read it twice before this review.
Editor’s Note: Due to circumstances beyond our control, what started out as full intention to have this book reviewed ahead of its release got pushed back to ‘JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS!’. We thank 1984 Publishing for their patience and entrusting us with this book review.
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