‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’ Creators Bryan Lee O’Malley & BenDavid Grabinski On A New Interpretation With The Same “Core Elements”

After 20 years, a graphic novel series, a feature film and a video game, it’s no wonder that Bryan Lee O’Malley was hesitant to dive into another adaptation of his Scott Pilgrim series. After what he describes as a “jokey” conversation with BenDavid Grabinski, the two decided to flip the script and take the Netflix series in an entirely new direction for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.

The Netflix series begins similarly to the other tellings of Scott Pilgrim’s story, but diverges when Scott seemingly loses during his battle with Ramona’s first evil ex. Suspecting that Scott may still be alive, Ramona goes on her own journey tracking down the evil exes and finding out what really happened. Both Lee O’Malley and Grabinski were excited for this adaptation to not just feature Ramona as the driving narrative force, but also give a greater backstory to her connection with each of the exes.

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers in ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’

DEADLINE: How did this incarnation of Scott Pilgrim come about?

BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY: I heard at one point that my friend and producer of the Scott Pilgrim movie, Jared [LeBoff] had sat next to the head of Netflix animation at dinner somewhere. And then later on I heard that [animation studio] Science Saru knew what Scott Pilgrim was, and they were really interested in maybe doing a collaboration, and Edgar [Wright] was involved. I spent a year thinking about it, because I had this weird fear of repeating myself or retracing my own steps and that seemed to be the expectation. One day I just was complaining about it to BenDavid at a dinner that we had, and he just kind of started throwing out jokey ideas. And I just really loved those jokey ideas so much that they kind of became the backbone of the show.

BENDAVID GRABINSKI: The intention from everybody was to do a straight adaptation of the books. Bryan had been living with that story for 20 years, and there’d already been a movie and a video game, and I think he felt that it wasn’t creatively exciting to spend several years doing the same story again. But we both were gigantic fans of Science Saru, so the idea of working with them was a dream, and I suggested some really outside of the box ways to reinvent the story.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers in ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers in ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’

DEADLINE: Was that a difficult sell, if they originally wanted just a straight adaptation?

GRABINSKI: I think they were a little shocked at first because it was so outside of the box, and they seemed worried. Once they realized we were passionate about it and we felt strongly about it and had kind of an emotional and comedic POV for it, they started to relax about it. Eventually, there was never another misgiving about it. I think at some point people forgot that it ever felt like a risky concept.

DEADLINE: Where did the idea come from to shift the focus of the story to Ramona instead of Scott?

GRABINSKI: Well, Bryan and I were just discussing how great it would be if there was a way to tell the story, but give her more real estate, and the entire concept of the show was reverse engineered to do that. We wanted to come up with an exciting, surprising premise that felt consistent with the twists and turns of Bryan’s world, but one that would put her in the driver’s seat more.

LEE O’MALLEY: We wanted to explore her and her relationships with the exes and what makes them tick and stuff like that.

GRABINSKI: The things we were excited about were, ‘Well, what happens when the people who die quickly in the other books don’t die? And what will that mean for Ramona? How will they grow and change in dramatic and comedic ways?’

DEADLINE: Can you talk a little bit about giving more backstory to those characters?

LEE O’MALLEY: Yeah, we came up with this whole sort of Trading Places thing for Matthew and Gideon, where Matthew would gain confidence from fighting Scott Pilgrim, and then he would go on to win and lead the evil exes. We thought that was just such a fun reversal, and then it made sense to explore what happens to Gideon when he goes to the bottom. And yeah, one day we were just talking about his backstory and I just threw out the name Gordon Goose and it made us laugh so much that we were stuck with it forever.

GRABINSKI: Yeah, the initial concept for it was purely just me either texting or Bryan calling saying, “Wouldn’t it be really funny if Gideon has the Trading Places arc?” Then we just took it and kept pushing it in weirder and funnier directions that felt more specific than just being us ripping off Trading Places.

DEADLINE: Were any of these new stories things you wanted to explore in the original graphic novels but weren’t able to realize at the time?

LEE O’MALLEY: Yeah, I mean a little bit of both Roxy and the twins. I know I had more backstory that I wanted to dive into and that we got to explore in the show, which was really nice. And then when I was first writing Lucas Lee, it was like 2005 and I had never been to Hollywood. I didn’t know any actors and now I’m so much more aware of that realm. And then of course, BenDavid being a director, he knows all about that stuff. He’s a huge movie nerd. So, it was really fun to get back into that character and give him that additional layer.

GRABINSKI: At the end of the day, we always wanted to feel like if it was something that I came up with that was completely brand new, it still had to feel like something Bryan could have come up with, or it wasn’t contradictory or undercut anything. I think that everything that we added to the characters only makes them more interesting and complicated, as opposed to contradicting. But again, it’s still a new interpretation of these people and the story, but we’re just trying to use a lot of the core elements. It’s not like we’re rewriting the books or rewriting the movie, just it’s like another path with this gang of people.

(L-R) Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter, Julian Cihi as Kyle Katayanagi and Ken Katayanagi in 'Scott Pilgrim Takes Off'
(L-R) Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter, Julian Cihi as Kyle Katayanagi and Ken Katayanagi in ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’

DEADLINE: And Bryan, what is like taking these characters that you’ve created and kind of had living in your head for so long and switching up their stories?

LEE O’MALLEY: I don’t know, I just have to write in the moment. I think that’s why switching up all these characters and putting them in new situations really helped me shake loose and come up with stuff and feel like they were alive again. It’s like, ‘What does this character do when things don’t go the way you expected?’ So, it made every character more interesting. And I do feel like, of course, they’re in different situations, so they don’t do the exact same thing, but I do think they’re all, at their core, they’re the same character. It still really felt like the same world to me.

GRABINSKI: I mean, the thing that was fun and actually relatively easy was that I felt like I had a pantry full of super high-quality ingredients for everything. Once we’d reset the story and anything could happen, we had all of these characters that were already created in different iterations with their interpersonal conflicts and their loves and joys and fears and hates and their comedic voices… And we got to just take all of them and find ways to have them fit into this new story and see just organically what they would do. It just makes it so much easier really, because it’s already a very difficult, complicated narrative show to pull off. But we already have a huge cast of super fun characters whose voices we both already feel like we understand. So that makes the process easier.

LEE O’MALLEY: Well, and we also had the cast, which we weren’t sure at first if we would get them, but we were definitely writing towards them, towards their voices. And we had these amazing Science Saru collaborators. So, we wanted to do something that is fun for them to draw. That’s a big part of it.

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