The Baby Driver auteur and 1917 co-writer reveal the tips and tricks that helped them craft their acclaimed new supernatural thriller Last Night in Soho.
When Edgar Wright had an idea for a time-traveling thriller about a modern-day fashion designer with a spooky connection to 1960s Soho, one of the first things he did was make a playlist. “These songs were like post-it note reminders – the stickers on the fridge telling me to make Last Night in Soho,” the revered writer-director behind smash hit movies like Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver explains, remembering how from that moment on, any time the R. Dean Taylor track "There's A Ghost In My House" came on shuffle, his mind wandered to that story idea and ways to unlock it on the page.
When the Londoner finally found himself in a position to make Last Night in Soho, enlisting BAFTA-winning writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who was also a ScreenCraft Feature Competition judge) to help him tackle the script, he relied on that playlist again. “All the songs are tonally in sync with the movie. In terms of the structure of the plot, there are songs you could almost pin to the board like they’re an index card in themselves,” he says. “If a scene was very visual, more of a visual set piece than a dialogue scene, then those scenes would come to me like a movie version of synesthesia. I’d hear the song then be able to see the scene in my head.”
To make one of the year’s most arresting thrillers, Krysty and Edgar used music to guide their writing and inform scenes. But what other writing techniques helped lead to Last Night In Soho? Here are a few of the best lessons to be learned from their recent appearance on my podcast Script Apart, supported by Screencraft.
There’s No Story Too Fantastical for Elements of Autobiography
Neither Edgar nor Krysty presently have supernatural powers. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t room to enrich the material in Last Night in Soho by bringing parts of themselves to the story. “We both had so much in common with this idea of moving to London in pursuit of a dream that’s slightly impossible,” says Krysty. “That just felt like something so universal, but at the same time intensely personal.”
As a result, they poured parts of their experience – and in Edgar’s case, sense of imposter syndrome – into the script, to make the main character Eloise feel as real as possible, even amid a fantastical plot.
Find Urgent Societal Fears That Will Elevate Your Story
Krysty describes Last Night in Soho as a film about the exploitation and endangerment of women – a very real theme at the heart of what could otherwise be a fantastical premise. Rooting your horror movie in real-life issues that disturb and upset us, as seen in movies like Get Out, brings an urgency and weight to the material, as well as provides a springboard to highlight and address those issues. “When you’re trying to write a horror story or thriller, creating something you hope to be genuinely scary, it’s helpful to use scary things,” says Krysty. “The exploitation of women, the danger that lurks for single women alone is very frightening and touches at least 50% of the population. So I thought a lot of those dark notes were integral in making something that felt honest and truly scary.”
Root Your Audience in Your Character’s Experience
Originally, in Edgar’s original outline for Last Night in Soho, he’d imagined that the ‘60s sections of the film “would be silent, almost like musical numbers,” he says. When Krysty came onboard, she implored him to build out those scenes. “She convinced me that we need the audience to fall in love with Sandy like Eloise falls in Sandy. And to do that, we need to hear her speak.”
Another way in which Last Night in Soho underlines the importance of aligning your audience with your protagonist is its treatment of Eloise’s power. “Even she doesn’t understand what it is. In those situations, you have to let your character guide you – your audience can’t know more than the character,” says Krysty.
Listen to the episode above for the full conversation, and let us know your biggest takeaways below.
Al Horner is a London-based journalist, screenwriter and presenter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Empire Magazine, GQ, BBC, Little White Lies, TIME Magazine and more.