Shawn Levy on Free Guy and How Ryan Reynolds Adds Jokes in Post-Production - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Shawn Levy on Free Guy and How Ryan Reynolds Adds Jokes in Post-Production

With the fantastic new movie Free Guy opening in theaters this weekend, I recently spoke to director Shawn Levy about making the action comedy from 20th Century Studios. As most of you know, Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds as a bank teller named Guy who exists inside an open-world video game as an NPC (non-player character). In the gaming world, especially shooting games, NPCs are often cannon fodder and target practice. When a mysterious character named Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) catches his eye, his simple existence is upended as he starts to pursue the woman of his dreams. Eventually, he’ll be forced to become the hero of his own story in order to save his world and the people in it. Free Guy also stars Taika Waititi, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Channing Tatum, and Utkarsh Ambudkar. For more on Free Guy, you can read Matt Goldberg’s glowing review.

During the interview, Levy talked about how they pulled off making an original movie when the studios are always looking for sequels and stories based on existing IP, why the film is playing in theaters and isn't on Disney+, the contrasting visual aesthetics inside and outside the game, and more.

But for me, the coolest thing Levy talked about was the way they added jokes in the editing room. He explained that he would be in the editing room with Reynolds and they’d come up with an idea and then shoot something on a Saturday at his house or on the Fox lot. In fact, one of the very funny scenes in Free Guy was a late addition that was shot at Levy's house featuring two of his daughters. He also talks about some of the other stuff they added in late in the game.

Check out what Shawn Levy had to say in the player above or you can read the transcript below. Look for more Free Guy interviews tomorrow.

COLLIDER: It is a hundred times harder now to make something original than it's ever been. How did you guys get the money out of anyone to make a movie like this?

SHAWN LEVY: I think it was a combination of two factors. One, I think when Fox bought this spec script by Matt Lieberman, what was always the case with Free Guy, is it's a clean, big idea, right? Those are rare. But candidly, I think it was the fact that Ryan and I met, linked arms, went to 20th Century Fox and said, we got this. They trust us because between Night in the Museum and Date Night and Deadpool. The things that we've done, Fox knew that Ryan and I, we don't make things frivolously. We take seriously, the studio is giving us money to make something. We want that studio to make money. So I think it was a combination of a huge premise and the right creative parent. It turned out to be a creative kind of brotherhood between Ryan and I, that was way better and more fruitful than any of us had imagined. It was really, really pure kind of symbiosis.

What video games did you play to prepare for making the movie? And was it one of these things where you're like telling your wife and your family, “I have to play video games tonight?”

LEVY: Daddy's doing research. Yeah, it was, daddy's doing research. I'm at home with the wife and four daughters. Suffice it to say, it's not like a hub of gaming intensity, although I'm sure there are homes of all sisters and daughters where that's the case. Not in the Shawn Levy home. So yes, I definitely played more GTA than I had before Free Guy, because the screenplay was so clearly inspired by key elements of that, played a lot of Fortnite. I had already, as you probably can imagine, played a lot of Uncharted as part of developing that movie, so I would say those are the big three.

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You're coming out at a very interesting time, where a lot of movies are doing the Disney, Disney+ model. I'm curious, did you guys have a lot of conversations about doing Free Guy as also a Disney+ movie and what ended up being the tipping point of saying, we only want to do this in theaters?

LEVY: I think, well two things, one is Disney shortly after they bought Fox, they came to a test screening of Free Guy. And I say this as someone who, whether it was Real Steel or Ryan had this experience on Deadpool 2 where, we've had movies that have tested euphorically, Free Guy tested like nothing to a number that neither Ryan nor I had seen and the Disney brass was there. So they always said through the whole pandemic, when we would say, are you sure you don't want to just show people, because it's done. They really always felt that if Free Guy can get its moment in movie theaters and the audience can feel that experience, that it could catch a tailwind and maybe even justify the existence of other stories within a new franchise, it's a big swing. I've seen the movie play in theaters and certainly every director would rather have it seen big and loud. So selfishly, narcissistically, the director of me loves that. But COVID permissive, permitting the hope is that that collective experience can bring the movie to life in the culture the way we feel it can. And that was always the position that Disney had.’

It is a movie that's perfect to be watched in a big crowd. One of the things that I dug about the film is that it's essentially two movies in one. You have the aesthetics of being inside the game and then the way it's outside the game. Can you talk about crafting a visual look for each?

LEVY: The director in me would love to spend a full half hour talking about that because that was rigorous and completely intentional. I wanted people to always know what world they were in. So we made kind of a Bible early in pre-production and the Bible was like, okay, Free City is going to be on a large format camera with wide angle spherical lenses. Composition is going to be symmetrical, clean, tremendous depth of field, Dolly moves or robotic arm moves and a poppy color palette, the real world, where Taikia’s character exists and Joe Keery and Utkarsh’s that was going to be on a completely different camera. Longer lens is handheld, foreground messiness, and blues and grays and blacks. The goal was every single visual choice was going to be distinct between worlds so that hopefully there would be no confusion and there would be enjoyment and toggling back and forth.

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I am curious if you can talk a little bit about what were some of the things that you almost made it, things that almost made it into the movie, but were cut because of budget, time, whatever it may be.

LEVY: I have not thought about this for a while, but there was in the third act of the movie, there was, I'm literally blanking on what it was, but I remember there was an entire other additional action set piece. I always say to myself, I'm like, okay, is this sequence worth five precious shoot days? I kind of questioned the narrative value of a sequence because I know that everything I spend time on is taking time away from something else. I remember that it had to do with a hotdog truck. The world itself opens up that were in the sky box, which is the kind of blue sky, white cloud environments of the video game design. And it's it involved a hotdog truck leaping over a ravine with the Skybox all around. I was like, okay, it reads cool and big, but I think we're already going to have set piece fatigue. We don't need to bludgeon them with action. Some movies do successfully, right? That's not my thing, I always want to get back to character and warmth and humor. And so I got rid of the hot dog truck, like grand canyon, Evil Knievel sequence. I recall it. And I know now the world is sobbing, hearing me describe it that way.

Like I ask every filmmaker, how long was your earlier director's cut or assembly cut versus the finished film.

LEVY: This one came together really quick. I think this, all my movies tend to start at two hours and 40 minutes. And this one, we just stayed on story, stayed on character. And this is the interesting thing about Free Guy. We still indulge a lot of Easter eggs and jokes, but we don't step away from the narrative to do there in the background of frames. Sometimes there's two, three layers of inside jokes or video game references restraints in a simple frame. So it came down quick. I will say just because this must be said, like no one I've ever met Ryan Reynolds is a true producer. And when I say that, it's like, when I had a director's cut, Ryan was in that edit room with me and we were coming up with ideas and Steve, I wish he had more time, but some of the biggest laughs in the movie were ideas that Ryan and I had sitting on the couch in my edit room and then taking a RED camera on a Saturday, shooting it at my house or at abandoned offices, which were increasingly common on the Fox lot.

So for instance, you know the scene where like there's two girls and the little girl is like, “he's just an NPC waste that mother f’er?” That was a Ryan joke pitch. And I was like, should we just go to my house, grab two of my daughters and shoot it. We shot it in my daughter's bedroom. It's still in the movie. The other big example is…

I have to just pause there and say, that's a very funny scene.

LEVY: This is the thing about Ryan…because of Deadpool…Ryan had no limit on the ability to add jokes late, because he was in the mask. So there's hundreds of late breaking, late added jokes in both Deadpool's. He brought that same attitude. So like Alex Trebek in Free Guy, that was an idea we have in the edit room. The character who lives with his mom and was eating licorice and was a little bit shall we say odd? And his avatar in the game was a very famous movie star playing him. That was an idea we had in the edit room. I shot it in an abandoned office on a Saturday morning on a red camera. And when studio was like, okay, now do you want to shoot it for real? We're like, no, it works. Let's go to release print on it. So all of these little things.

And you shot that on the RED cam, is that you doing the camera or do you actually have a crew?

LEVY: I had my VFX. Nope. It was me, my editor, Ryan and our VFX editor operating the red camera. It was like, and then everyone, we did all the paperwork to make it all legit and legal, but it was all down and dirty and we loved, and we're doing the same thing on Adam Project, that kind of film school. Do it yourself. Just come up with an idea and try it. That's the spirit that Ryan and I tend to collaborate with.

When you got your daughters to be in the movie, I'm sure they're over the moon. But was this one of these things where it's like…I don't want to say bribing them for something in the future, but you're like, you owe me one for being in the movie.

LEVY: Well, especially the littlest one, Coco. Who I'm like, okay Coco. You need to say “waste that motherfucker.” And she is there going, “I won't.” So I'm like “daddy is telling you it's okay, say it.” She goes, “I'll say waste that mother ffff.” And I go Coco, “just say motherfucker.” She's like, “didn't you say, you're going to edit out the swear word anyway. So can I just start with the letter mother f?” And that's what she did. I couldn't negotiate her down.

Well, you only have one F-bomb in the movie anyway.

LEVY: And it was a Ryan Reynolds F-bomb.



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