Between the Lines is a monthly column discussing everything around the craft of screenwriting: from in-depth breakdowns of screenplays to interviews with screenwriters.
Trilogies have become a huge part of cinema over the years, from trilogies comprising of direct sequels telling one large story, to trilogies more akin to anthologies that tell different stories but have thematic links. We have The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, Three Colours, Back to the Future and also The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.
Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, and directed by Wright, each film in the trilogy is a standalone genre film flavoured with comedy and British stereotypes. Wright has described before that each film is essentially a relationship comedy coated with a particular genre: Shaun of the Dead is a zombie movie, Hot Fuzz a buddy cop flick and The World’s End a sci-fi film. After being screened on ITV 2 more than any other film in existence, Hot Fuzz has finally made its way to Netflix; so this month we will be diving into the screenplay to see what makes it so popular even thirteen years after its release.
Edgar Wright films are recognised for their intelligent use of visual comedy and snappy editing styles, where Hot Fuzz is rich with both. Amazingly, all of his trademarks are clearly shown in the screenplay he penned with Pegg:
In one of the earlier scenes, over-achiever, Sargent Angel (Simon Pegg), tells his ex-girlfriend that he is being moved to Sandford, out in the British countryside. The action lines and dialogue are extremely short and snappy, usually only made up of no more than two short sentences. This allows the writers to blast through the plot needed to push the narrative forward, and here it takes less than a page to introduce the audience to Janine (an uncredited Cate Blanchett), establish her relationship with Angel and explain what he is doing there. The comedy shines through thanks to this fast pace too; the miscommunication between the two characters land because the joke doesn’t drag on and it gets to the punchlines quickly.
This style of delivering information and laughs quickly carries on throughout the rest of the scene. We learn more about the history between Janine and Angel, but Angel’s dry responses creates comedy that helps the audience understand his character and the main conflict of his character arc: he can’t switch off from working.
Later on in the script, we arrive at two intercutting scenes: Angel and his child-like colleague, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), are watching classic buddy cop flicks whilst a village resident is attacked by a cloaked figure:
This method of seamlessly transitioning between scenes isn’t exactly a novel concept, but Wright and Pegg make it feel like it is part of their unique brand of writing that falls in line with the lively pace of the script. The comedy is in the juxtapositions presented at the beginning/end of each intersection; the wildly different tones of each sequence clashing with each other but making complete logical sense to us readers. The other benefit of this style, apart from getting some good laughs, is that there is a strong momentum to the scene. The plot keeps driving forward without re-establishing what is happening as the script jumps between two different sequences.
Wright and Pegg also deliver punchlines that takes nearly 100 pages to get to after the set-up:
We first get the set-up when Angel and Danny are recording speeds of passing cars and Danny mentions a Point Break reference. Of course, the scene works on its own: Angel is trying to concentrate on the job whilst tolerating Danny’s outgoing personality as Danny excitedly tries to engage in conversation. The most important part, however, is Danny explaining the reference not just to Angel but to us: Reeve’s character can’t shoot Swayze because he loves him too much.
With that in mind, at the climax it is revealed that Danny’s father, Frank (Jim Broadbent), is behind all of the murders and we get this moment:
The comedy comes from Danny mirroring an iconic moment that he and the audience recognises, but there is real dramatic weight here. Just like Reeve’s character in Point Break, Danny knows it is his duty to stop Frank, but his love for his father is too much. The comedy and dramatic tension seamlessly blend with one another and it works both in the world of Hot Fuzz and also in the real world of the reader.
Hot Fuzz is a modern classic thanks to Wright and Pegg managing to pull off what only the best comedy scripts can achieve: weaving the comedy into the story and characters. Just like any script, no matter the genre, it can only work if the narrative is strong. On a technical level, the slim dialogue and action lines deliver punchy jokes but also pushes the narrative forward at a brisk pace. The writers prove that the best comedy comes from the characters themselves and their arcs. We laugh at and with the citizens of Sandford, which makes Hot Fuzz all the more endearing. No wonder it keeps winning ‘Village of the Year.’
The Hot Fuzz screenplay can be found at: https://indiegroundfilms.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hot-fuzz.pdf