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The post Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Creators on Making Mammoth Changes: “It Felt Like the Only Way to Do It” appeared first on Consequence.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the season finale of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, “The World vs. Scott Pilgrim.”]
The tale of a young Canadian bassist with impressive kung fu skills has been told across multiple mediums: After originating as a series of graphic novels created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim was subsequently adapted by director Edgar Wright as the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. In addition, Scott Pilgrim (as played by Michael Cera) has also been featured in animated tie-in shorts as well as a video game, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, ensuring that fans of the Scott Pilgrim world are more than familiar with how his story usually goes.
Which is why, when O’Malley and writer BenDavid Grabinski took on the new Netflix anime series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off… they killed Scott off at the end of the first episode.
“Bryan didn’t want to do the same story and just redo the books. So it just felt like the only way to do it,” Grabinski tells Consequence. “Our hope is Episode 2 is a big shocking thing where you’re disoriented, and then by the time you’re in Episode 3, you get into the rhythm of the show and are like, ‘Oh, I get this. This is cool.’ There are going to be people who just want it to be the book, and I don’t know how to make them happy because the book is still there and the books are great. We just felt in our gut that this is something that would be the most rewarding version, if you really did love the books and the characters or the movie or any of it.”
Adds O’Malley, “we also had to make it work for a 15 year old who’s never even heard of Scott Pilgrim when they’re just turning on Netflix. We wanted to try to have our cake and eat it too.”
The story behind the decision begins with a fateful dinner between pals: Having met through mutual acquaintances in Los Angeles, O’Malley and Grabinski had been “writing buddies and fast friends” for over a decade, sharing their work with each other for feedback and exploring pop culture together. Notes O’Malley, with a laugh, “He got me into the Fast and Furious movies back when they were good.”
As the creator of Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley had learned about anime studio Science Saru’s interest in adapting the film only after Edgar Wright was approached about the possibility. “So the first person they talk to is Edgar, and then Edgar said ‘The first person to talk to is Bryan,'” O’Malley explains. “When it was just lingering on the table, for me to decide whether or not to do anything with it, Edgar was holding it there for me, as opposed to it just floating there on its own power. Edgar’s really been a great cheerleader and blocker for us — that’s what a good producer does.”
“It was important to Edgar Wright that if there was gonna be an animated show, that Bryan would be heavily involved, and he didn’t want it to be something unless Bryan was happy with it,” Grabinski says.
The problem was that the opportunity might have been amazing, but O’Malley didn’t know what he wanted the story to be. Then came a dinner that Grabinski says “wasn’t supposed to be a meeting — I hadn’t planned on pitching anything, and he wasn’t even looking for a writing partner.” But when O’Malley mentioned the possibility of adapting Scott Pilgrim for another medium, Grabinski “blurted out a bunch of ideas that ended up becoming the show.”
The biggest idea, which kicks off the entire series, proved simple: Take Scott Pilgrim off the table as a character. Or, as Grabinski remembers it: “I was laughing, like, ‘Well, what if Scott died at the end of the pilot and then blah, blah, blah.’ And next thing I knew, it went from being something I was just saying to be amusing to us being like, ‘Wait a minute, that could work.’ We both had the exact same idea of what we thought the show should be, and how we should reinvent the thing.”
What made the idea so exciting for them was that it not only kept the narrative from following the previously-written path, but gave them an opportunity to dive deeper into the other characters. In particular, Grabinski says, this gave them a way “to have Ramona take up more of the real estate of the story, and have her be a driving factor. It’s hard to do that when you have this giant thread of Scott fighting the Exes. And also, we love the Exes and it’s kind of a bummer that they disappear because they get killed off.”
Once you finish the season, of course, you find out that Scott’s not really dead: “There’s so much more Scott than people realize,” Grabinski says. “Like, when you see the robot in Episodes 2 through 6, that’s Scott. And you get to see Lucas’s Scott, you get to see Todd as Scott, you get to see Gideon becoming sort of a version of Scott, because he is like a freeloader roommate. We never lose Scott, even though he is literally gone.”
Plus, beginning with Episode 7, “2 Scott 2 Pilgrim,” Grabinski points out that “you get more Scott than you could ever ask for in your entire life. You’re just overdosing on him. So we knew that if you love Scott and you miss him, that we’re gonna give you more than you ever could bargain for.”
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (Netflix)
This means Michael Cera isn’t on the bench the whole time, but the rest of the cast gets plenty to do, while playing out a new storyline with a totally original take. Having the cast from the film reprise their roles in a voice actor capacity, O’Malley says, was something that was “baked in” from the beginning. “They put such a mark on those characters that it was hard for me even to imagine going back to the pre-movie versions of the characters in a lot of ways,” he says. “To me, it’s like the characters from the books are now in an anime and they just happen to have the same voices as the characters in the movie. So it’s kind of a new version, but it’s the synthesis of all those things.”
Adds Grabinski, “We wanted to tell a brand new version of the story, but it had to be in conversation with the other things. Like there’s the book, there’s the movie, there’s the video game. The composers who did the video game did a lot of the music for the show, which uses the cast from the movie, and we’re using stuff from the books. But we wanted to take all those sort of elements and use those to tell a brand new version of the story.”
Plus, he says, “it’s like the best of both worlds, because the idea of trying to top that cast seems impossible. So we felt so lucky that they were willing to do it, because trying to get 16 actors who are as good as those and don’t feel like imitations would’ve been just such a nightmare. We’re really grateful that they all said yes.”
“It would’ve been way harder not to have them, and we’re extremely lazy,” laughs O’Malley.
A fundamentally smaller change that did occur between the original text and the TV show was that Ramona originally worked as an Amazon delivery person — here, she delivers Netflix DVDs in those now-extinct red envelopes. “Yeah, we just threw it out there, we laughed our asses off and we were like, ‘Oh, we have to do that,'” O’Malley says. “It had nothing to do with actually pleasing Netflix or not.”
“The idea that she delivers Netflix, you’d think would be easy, but it’s not, because it’s not product placement and you have to get different people and a corporate division to sign off on the idea and make sure they can clear it,” Grabinski says. “We had people emailing us saying that they didn’t think legal could clear it, and we were like, this is too funny for us to not do. It was like weirdly actually a difficult thing to pull off, just for a joke that makes us laugh. But it also has a function too, because it lets you know, this is not the present. It becomes this thing where you’re like, ‘Guys, we really like this. I’m sure you can figure it out.’ And they did.”
With the season now out, O’Malley and Grabinski say that they have not even discussed what a second season of the series would look like. “We had a one season plan and I hope we succeeded at it,” says O’Malley.
“Yeah, we kinda left it all on the floor as much as we could,” Grabinski says.
No spoilers for its content, but there is a mid-credits scene in the final episode, mostly so that, as Grabinski says, they could “play with this modern trope of every superhero thing having these ridiculous mid-credit sequences.”
It’s not meant as a tease for what a Season 2 would be, either. It’s instead just the initial joke of an idea — the one made Scott Pilgrim Takes Off possible in the first place. Grabinski says, “It just felt very funny to us.”
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is streaming now on Netflix.