Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and Co-Producer BenDavid Grabinski On Bringing the Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Anime to Life
This year Thanksgiving has come early – a delectable assortment of your favorite characters, some of today’s best actresses and actors, incredibly sleek animation, bad ass original music, and even a Pilgrim… Scott Pilgrim that is. Of course I am referring to the long-awaited Scott Pilgrim Takes Off which recently landed on Netflix. The new animated series is already making fans of the franchise endlessly thankful.
Awards Radar had the opportunity to partake in the New York Comic Con press roundtable to discuss the series with showrunners Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is based on the characters and world originally created as a graphic novel book series by O’Malley. The anime puts a new spin on the Scott Pilgrim universe which is not a remake, nor a sequel, instead it is a reimagining of the original story.
O’Malley turned Grabinski, a long time friend and trusted creative collaborator, who came to him with some new ideas for the series. “We were trying to find some ways to expand the story and spend more time with all the supporting characters,” said Grabinski. “We were completely on the same page about what the best version of the show would be and just jumped into the deep end from there.”
Once the idea was approved by Netflix, the creative duo worked without limits to deliver an amazing new experience. “It was a 24-7 process for two to three years. If we weren’t sitting and working together, we were texting each other 24-7,” recalled Grabinski. “Some of my favorite stuff on the show would be at 11 o’clock, I’d text Bryan and say, ‘What if we blank?’ He’d usually respond, ‘That’s a really cool idea.’”
Unlike most franchises, the world of Scott Pilgrim has already been visited in several mediums, providing multiple different on-ramps for fans to discover and explore. It all started with the original graphic novels by O’Malley , which were made into the hit feature film, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, directed by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, One Night in Soho) and even a video game from Tribute Games.
With so many options to choose from, where does someone begin their Scott Pilgrim journey? Good question! The answer is one of the most exciting qualities of the Scoto Pilgrim universe, you can choose for yourself. The series is incredibly accessible to fans of all the different iterations and new fans alike.
“There’s no correct order to get into the Scott Pilgrim world,” explained Grabinski. “Movie, game, books, you just can pick anything and they all kind of enhance each other.” The goal has been to find the same tone that would feel like a familiar extension of the Scott Pilgrim content you may have enjoyed before while also providing a unique perspective on the characters.
“We always have the rules, like, does this feel like Scott Pilgrim? Does this feel like the same voice?,” said Grabinski. “Does this feel consistent?” That was not always the case, he explained, “There’d be jokes that I came up with that we thought were really funny, but didn’t feel right for the show… We just tried to follow our gut and what felt organically the same.”
When first starting Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, just how familiar it feels may be the first thing fans notice. Besides the quest to create a consistent voice for the franchise, returning fans will definitely recognize the actual character voices are those of the cast of the Edgar Wright film; Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza and many more. Fans are treated to the original cast in part due to the producers’ all-or-nothing approach to casting. “I wasn’t going to use them unless we got everybody,” said Grabinski. “It didn’t make sense for me to be a mix and match of people.”
In addition, much of the classic dialogue, camera shots and even entire scenes were so painstakingly recreated it all may feel like a bit of anime déjà vu at first… that is until O’Malley and Grabinski deliver a powerful blow that flips the entire Scott Pilgrim story on its head. While we will not share what that means, we can say that anyone expecting just a straightforward animated retelling of the film is certainly going to get more coins than they bargained for.
For O’Malley one of the main motivations was to spend much more time with characters, specifically Scott’s (Cera) hair color shifting, love interest, Ramona Flowers (Winstead). “I always liked Ramona. In the movie, because it’s so Scott’s story, we don’t get to explore quite as much about her,” explained O’Malley, “Ramona’s backstory and Ramona’s motivations. Even in the books, I didn’t go as far as I could have. So that really appealed to me, to get to write more of Ramona and to get to see more of her relationships with everyone else outside of Scott.”
Every episode of the series allows fans to see new aspects of Ramona and the exes as well. “We’re trying to create a lot of fun new dynamics,” said Gabinski “I kind of wished some of these characters who never got to share scenes with each other would get to… there’s people who you never thought would be in the same room, or mad at each other, or love each other.”
What better way to do so than bring the old band back together, literally. Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim film has “one of the ”best ensembles in movie history” boldly proclaims Grabinski. We happen to agree. Talented people like Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman to name a few. The film’s cast has become such a who’s who of Hollywood’s hottest actors it would seem impossible to bring them back for the series… or so you’d think.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of the original cast, that was never a problem needing to be addressed. Even though they live all over the world, they worked with the producers to make it work, bending schedules or leaving directly from one job to make the record sessions. “When we reached out to them about doing the show, they had such a good experience that they just decided to do this as well,” recalled Grabinski.
The producer jokingly gave advice to anyone looking to match the feat to attendees of the NYCC panel, “I highly recommend that one of the EPs put together one of the best ensemble casts of all time. I highly recommend that they have such a good time making the movie that they’re nostalgic for the experience and excited to do an anime show that you were doing at a later date, because that really worked in our favor.” Easy enough. 🙂
The stellar cast and writing are paired with visually striking animation by award-winning animation house Science SARU based out of Japan. ”They’re so fast, they’re so talented, and they make it look like a million bucks,” said O’Malley. “Which I guess technically, it is a million bucks,” he quipped.
After one meeting, the Science SARU animation team was the obvious and perfect fit for the project, explained Grabinski. “They were so respectful of Brian’s books. They went through every drawing he’s ever done of any of these characters.” He continued, “They were just almost like experts on his aesthetic. So we’ve just felt from the beginning that they were going to take everything he did and just turn it into something visceral and cool and new.”
Being a Scott Pilgrim series, the music is often at the forefront and needed to match the vibe of the animation. O’Malley and Grabinski obsessed about it, pushing the limits of what Scott Pilgrim music could be. To accomplish this, they hired former collaborators, composer Joe Trapanese and chiptune band Anamanaguchi to work together for the first time on the score and soundtrack.
The final count of original Sex Bob-omb songs produced totalled more than 60. The ambitious soundtrack also incorporates licensed music that covers a wide range of different styles from Johnny Cash to Dead Kennedys to Stephen Sondheim. “It is a wild mix of music,” said Grabinski. While it became “a huge undertaking,” the producer also called it “maybe the most creatively rewarding.”
You can watch the complete eight-episode season of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off streaming exclusively on Netflix (you can watch the trailer below). Let’s hope O’Malley and Grabinski make this a new Thanksgiving tradition – a new serving of the Scott Pilgrim universe landing for fans to enjoy every couple of years. Until then, let’s be thankful.