After making beloved trilogies with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, skirting through the Marvel Universe, and leaving us with Baby Driver, Edgar Wright has finally done something difficult: made his first documentary!

What did the iconic filmmaker learn? Break the mold. Unless you’re following the mold to entertain us with a savvy parody of the mold. But in this case, Wright wanted to tell a story that didn’t necessarily spoof documentary, but did right by his favorite band, the Sparks Brothers.

In a conversation between Wright and Ron and Russel Mael at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, he gave a few glimpses of his creative process making his feature documentary The Sparks Brothers. No Film School tuned in to share those takeaways with you.

Dig in!

1) Once you say you’re going to do it, you have to do it!

Why and how did Wright get started down the road to non-fiction?


“How it came about is I always wanted to do a doc, and the idea was thrown back at me,” Wright said.

“I was at a Sparks gig in 2017, and I had become such an evangelist for the group. I thought they had never been as big as they should be because they hadn’t had a documentary about them to tell the whole story. I was telling this to Phil Lord, and he said, ‘You should do that documentary.’ I pitched it to Ron and Russel [Sparks]. Once I said it out loud, it was a vocal contract I couldn’t go back on!”

And so he did.

2) Forget about routine structure

As he joked about in the conversation, the familiar music documentary follows this predictable arc: band comes from nowhere, gets a hit song, gets famous, hits dry up, everyone gets drug a addiction, ending with a few minutes of wrap-up with where they are now.

That is not what Wright set out to do.

“I’ve been a Sparks fan over the years. I was amazed what they were putting out in the last 20 years was as good as what they put out in their first 20 years,” he said. “Music docs are usually about bands that are resting on their laurels or not with us anymore. But not the Sparks Brothers!”

Luckily, Ron and Russel Sparks felt similarly about Wright's work. They had never wanted a doc made on them before because they were worried it would fixate on the 70s or lack the drama.

“We took a chance on [Edgar Wright] and couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Ron Sparks.

“We did not want to do it at all if not the right person,” added Russel Sparks. “Based on Edgar’s films, we saw that his sensibility would coincide.”

3) The creativity in non-fiction storytelling should stem from the subjects

This is Wright’s first documentary, but he has learned a thing or two about storytelling before this after all. One of his takeaways was that the visual creativity of the documentary has to be in service of the true story of the subjects, Ron and Russell.

“For the visual gags and interstitials, I thought the doc should feel like a Sparks album cover or a Sparks video,” he said. He added about a running bit in the film with brief moments of classic movies.

“[In an interview] Ron, you said something about how your dad would take you to double features, but just not at the start of the feature. That seemed to inform the storytelling in your songs, the fractured narrative. So that made a lot of sense… The B plot of their story is their filmmaking aspirations.”

Ron Sparks added that the frustration of not being able to get films made in their career definitely contributed to “making music that was cinematic.”

The-sparks-brothers'The Sparks Brothers'

4) Forget about biopic if there’s no one who could play the lead

Because of Wright's penchant for action-packed narrative, the question came up—would he have liked to make this story a biopic in the Bohemian Rhapsody vein?

“No,” he answered. “Who would play the Sparks Brothers other than themselves?”

5) Have you got two subjects? Then two-shot interview set-ups

A signature style of this film was that all the interviews with the Sparks Brothers were together.

“I didn’t put a lot of thought into that,” said Wright. “I’d only ever seen them together. It occurred to me to have them together. Then it struck me that you’d never have Noel and Liam Gallagher sitting in a shot together! Being together, it was great to hear [the brothers] talk about the whole story, or slightly different versions of the story, where one is smirking when the other is not telling the whole truth. It didn’t occur to me until editing how unusual and charming it is.”

6) Always keep in mind the sequel (or trilogy?)

The Sparks Brothers mentioned in the conversation they were about to start on their 26th music album next week. When Wright was asked if that spelled a new ending to the film, he said he considers something down the road!

“Weirdly, when we were editing the movie, I’d shot the concert footage for the Hippopotamus tour before the lockdown. I thought, ‘They are gonna have a new tour and they will have new costumes and my film will look out of date.’ But then the lockdown happened, and so I had the last concert to date! I’ll revisit it in 50 years, and do the next 25 hours of the movie.”

What do you think about Wright taking on non-fiction in The Sparks Brothers? Tell us in the comments!

For more, read our ongoing coverage of the 2021 SXSW Festival.