Last year on the set of Now You See Me, director Louis Leterrier talked about his reasons for wanting to make the film:
“I was looking for a great script. I wanted a great script with a great story, some great twist, some great characters. I was looking for it, looking for it, looking for it, and then I found this amazing script. So I was like, “This is it, this is for me.” And what I love about this script is that it’s very respectful of the art of magic but also gives you a little bit of a peek behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz curtain, a little bit. Not too much, but that’s what I want. So it really is a love letter to magic.”
In addition, he compared the tone to Sneakers and Oceans 11, why he wanted to use practical effects and not CG, the importance of having the actors do their own tricks, why they shot on location in New Orleans, New York and Las Vegas, which tricks were the most difficult, how the project changed along the way, and so much more.
- They didn’t do a lot of soundstage work on the film. Most of the scenes were shot on location in New Orleans, New York, Las Vegas, and Paris.
- The actors did a lot of the magic themselves instead of using camera tricks for the illusions.
- Leterrier was looking for a great script with a great story, a great twist, and great characters. That’s why he signed on to direct the film.
- For many of the tricks, they had to shoot with one camera because it was so specific.
- The film became a little bigger once Leterrier signed on because he decided to make the magic in the film bigger.
- Once they cast Jesse Eisenberg (who was the first actor onboard), that changed the whole dynamic of the script. His character was initially written as a David Blaine-like character.
- Leterrier looked to Sneakers, Ocean’s Eleven, Usual Suspects, and a lot of French movies for inspiration.
- Leterrier tried to use as many practical effects as possible in the film.
- The film had two cinematographers: Larry Fong (Super 8) and Mitch Amundsen (Transformers). Larry shot the magic scenes and Mitch shot the action scenes.
- It was hard to cast the film at first because actors automatically thought a movie about magic was going to be cheesy.
Here’s the film’s trailer:
LOUIS LETERRIER: Well, no, we enhanced some of the stuff. But you know, it was done. These graffitis were done. This one, the big one — actually, it’s funny. They changed it. You see that clown face? It used to be Jim Carrey, but we changed it to that. They changed it and enhanced it, but it was there. I mean, people from everywhere come here and graffiti.
What did you need for this scene? Why was this location so perfect?
LETERRIER: Because visually, we wanted a place where thousands of people could converge, New York in the background, several floors, a maze. That’s what I was looking for. It’s a cat and mouse game that ends up in this location and really, this place becomes this. You’ll see afterwards in the 4D projection, there’ll be helicopters flying around with spotlights and the spotlights will shine on the building, almost doing an X-ray transparency thing where you’ll see the magicians running around and the cops chasing them. All that stuff will be projected onto the building. This is a great building, this is unbelievable. And also, it’s very practical to shoot, it’s great, it’s almost empty, and it’s nice.
Did you recreate some of this on a soundstage or did you recreate some of this elsewhere?
LETERRIER: No, actually, you know what, it’s all here. We didn’t do a lot of soundstage. We built an apartment just because it’s easier to film fly away walls and everything, but our thing was, let’s shoot on location as much as possible. So we went to New Orleans, you know, for the tax incentives, yes, but I said, well, it’s New Orleans. It’s magic and voodoo and all that stuff, so let’s really embrace New Orleans for what it is. So we shot New Orleans for New Orleans, we’re shooting New York for New York, Vegas we’re going next week, and then Paris at the end. So yeah, we’re going to the real places. We’re shooting in real places.
What was it about this project that said, I need to make this?
LETERRIER: I was looking for a great script. And then the vision comes afterwards. But I don’t want to have just the title or universe, I wanted a great script with a great story, some great twist, some great characters. I was looking for it, looking for it, looking for it, and then I found this amazing script. It’s been written and enhanced, but it was already amazing in the beginning. So I was like, “This is it, this is for me.” And really, I’ve always loved magic and been a great admirer of magic, but respectful and fearing magic, because I was like, oh, I don’t just understand how you guys do it. And what I love about this script is that it’s very respectful of the art of magic but also gives you a little bit of a peek behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz curtain, a little bit. Not too much, but that’s what I want. So it really is a love letter to magic, and that’s what I loved about the script.
We’ve seen other movies like The Prestige that tried to show magic, and audiences sometimes are like, “Well, it’s all a special effect.” So how do you deal with that aspect of today’s film-going world?
LETERRIER: By having the actors doing it for real. You met [magic consultant] David Kwong yesterday, he’s a magician, and the actors have been doing the real deal, training and the real stuff. Obviously they cannot do everything, but the magic they’re doing is very real. And often the smallest stuff is the most difficult stuff to do, like training the dexterity. It’s really about training and all that stuff. They’ve been training forever. Dave Franco — have you met Dave Franco? Have you met here on this thing? — Dave has become amazing at throwing cards. He can take a card and throw it across the room. You met Steve Pope, the stunt guy, he slit his eye, above his eye, with a card across an entire theater. I was like, hit Steve Pope, and he was like [motions and makes sound effect]. They really got amazing at it. Jesse, card dexterity, Isla, amazing, she did some amazing stunts, Isla. And Woody has been training with this mentalist called Keith Barry. I don’t know if you know him, he has a TV show on Discovery. And really has been that close to hypnotizing people. But you know, hypnosis is very tough, mentalism is very tough, because you can actually make somebody go down, and if you don’t know how to bring them out, you can actually really be in trouble.
LETERRIER: [Laughs] I don’t know. We have the most amazing cast. When we put this together, I wanted a great group that was happy being on set, was happy being off set, was hanging out, was coming up with great ideas, and I think we really found it. Obviously we have people who know each other, like Jesse and Woody, but the four magicians, they work really well together. Mark and Melanie, the chemistry is unbelievable. Michael Kelly, who plays Mark’s boss Agent Fuller, I love him, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Initially, sometimes I was like, oh my God, this is so amazing. Michael Caine, it’s amazing. I’m having the time of my life. It’s great.
You have a lot of character actors who’ve appeared in indie films and stuff, in kind of an action thriller.
LETERRIER: Yeah. All of them equal to one action star, one big movie star.
So does that change the face of action now? Are leading men now character actors? Do you think that’s a trend?
LETERRIER: Well no, I mean I love action stars. But I think that this was such a different and specific, nuanced script that I really wanted people that really can give me acting. You know, like act their way through a very complex scene, and pretend they’re magicians. It’s very tough, because it’s make-believe onscreen, so it’s an act of playing a part, playing an actor, playing this.
What was the one magic trick that was most difficult to film?
LETERRIER: The card tricks are tough. We had some very complex stuff. We really had some very complex technical stuff, like mirrors. Sometimes, literally, the crew didn’t know what they were shooting. I knew ’cause I was like, this will be used to do this. But sometimes we’re inside a mirror, upside-down, reversed, and the guy on the crane was like, I don’t know where I’m at. Just take the wheels.
Were you shooting multi-camera just to get — I mean, how many times can you repeat that same trick?
LETERRIER: Actually, for this kind of stuff it’s very specific so there can only be one camera. But we’re shooting multiple cameras because it’s very action-y. Today is very big, we have, let’s see six hundred extras. If you have one camera, it’s a waste.
How would you say the project has changed or developed since you first signed on?
LETERRIER: It’s become a little bit bigger, but not so much. I started like, oh, this is my small one, and then it became a little bit bigger just because the magic became bigger. Someone was asking me about the actors — this idea, starting with Jesse Eisenberg. Jesse Eisenberg as the leader of a magic group — that changed the whole dynamic as the script was written. The script was written for a David Blaine character, a guy wearing a t-shirt, in the original script, hitting on women and doing all this stuff. Jesse coming in was very different. So that’s one change, I guess, but it’s by meeting people, not me saying, “I want to do that.” Meeting people, and seeing that that would be the dynamic I wanted. Again, it was very healthy; the development process was very healthy on this one. It was a great script, then we get a great cast, then we rewrite the script for that cast, and then we build it up from there, starting with visual effects and stunts, finding locations, finding this kind of location, costumes, everything.
LETERRIER: Yep. Lenses.
A lot of people are doing digital now. What was your motivation for actually shooting on film?
LETERRIER: I’ve always shot on film, or we shot on anamorphic lenses. Actually, these lenses that you see are very old, very old lenses, they’re like 40 years old. As they say in France, we say, if you drown the fish, like you take something that people know, and are used to seeing — shooting on beautiful vistas or like in French Connection, per se, and then you add the visual effects to it so the magic tricks are the thing. And then it becomes quite special. It really becomes more surprising. I feel like digital right now is getting better, because of the new camera that came out, it’s called the Alexa Studio, so now it’s really good. But three months ago when we started this movie, this camera didn’t exist. And I thought that without this camera, the image I would get would be too digital, too crisp. I mean, we’re shooting every format on this movie. We’re shooting digital. You weren’t here the other day, but the helicopter was shooting Alexa, we’re shooting with 5Ds, we’re shooting with GoPros, I’m shooting tons of formats. But the main format is film, 35 and anamorphic, just because of these reasons. Because it’s a film for me, it’s a feature film.
It’s a good time to be a French director after The Artist.
LETERRIER: [Jokingly] Yeah, I took full credit for that!
LETERRIER: Yeah, absolutely. But you know, in France, they don’t consider me — I’m really in between. I’m stuck somewhere a small island in the middle of the Atlantic where I’m alone. Because in France, they’re like, no, you’re not like us, you’re not a French guy. And in America, they’re like, you’re not like us. I’m really alone in my little thing. But yeah, it’s great. French cinema has always been very interesting and it’s still very powerful. I think it goes to show that it’s great to still have a cinema that doesn’t try to emulate, for example, American cinema. It’s funny, I started by making fake American movies, The Transporter and stuff like that. I was shooting in France, but everything was in English. But then afterwards, I was looking at real French movies like the Jacques Audiard movies. Melanie Laurent, she just directed a movie. Her movie is like, wow, it’s like a real French movie. It’s fantastic. And I was like, I’d love to do that, or a real American movie, and not this in-between stuff that I was doing. But now, I’m really in between. But everybody was like, oh, congratulations, the day after the Oscars. I was like, “Thank you very much. Thank you.”
So was having Melanie on set, was that kind of, like, you got to rekindle some Parisian memories?
LETERRIER: Yeah, but my English is terrible, and my French is worse. I’ve lost everything. Again, I need to create my own nation of people that just don’t speak anything. No, absolutely. I love her, I’ve always admired her. It’s funny, because I knew her as an actress, but when I saw her movie right before starting our movie, I was completely terrified. I was like, “Holy crap, she’s so talented.” Which is good, because then if I break a leg, then I know who’s replacing me. But her movie’s unbelievable. You guys have to see it. It’s fantastic.
Were they easier to handle? Did they take direction easy?
LETERRIER: They take direction easy. And when they see me, they’re like, “Oh, I know what he’s feeling.” Like the first shot of the day when the sun is rising. Or “Oh, I still have sixteen shots in a day.” No, everybody has. Morgan Freeman has directed a lot of movies, so he knows exactly. Great actors are so easy to direct. It’s like they’re big 747s that you just have to move left and right, and I don’t really need to direct. I need to put them in the right costume, with the right haircut, in the right location, and with the right actor to act with. And then my job is almost done, with a great script, obviously. But my job is almost done at this point, because I’ve found the perfect — it’s like cooking, it’s like cuisine. You cannot make a great dish with bad ingredients. I have great ingredients, and I’m putting them together. That’s all I’m doing.
Apparently this is between 50 or 60 million, is that the budget?
LETERRIER: Yeah, it’s a little bit above, it’ll be about 70 to 80.
Do you have enough? Because filmmakers are always say, “I need more money.”
LETERRIER: [Jokingly] I need more! You always need more. When I was making Hulk for 150, 160, I was like, will that be enough? But then it’s fine. I mean, the first Transporter was $15 million, so it’s fine. You always want more, but then you adjust. But it’s great, it’s super comfortable. The studio is so supportive, they’re really fantastic.
Talk a little bit about, if you can, the tone of the movie. People were mentioning Sneakers, Ocean’s Eleven. What are you thinking for the tone of the film and did you ask the cast to maybe watch any films, or did you watch any films before starting?
LETERRIER: Yeah, obviously I watched Sneakers, Ocean’s Eleven, Usual Suspects, and all these movies, these heist movies. But for me, the movies I was giving my actors were more like French movies, just for the filming stuff, French movies. There’s a movie actually Melanie is in, called The Beat My Heart Skipped, it’s an unbelievable movie. It’s a remake, actually, of an American movie, James Toback’s Fingers. But there’s a levity about the camerawork that is really inspiring. I was talking to actors, I was not talking to crew. I was talking to actors, I was like, here is how my camera is going to interact with you. You will be free, and I will capture moments, but it’s not going to be about the camera. Because I was afraid they’d be like, ugh, the guy from Clash of the Titans is trying to direct me to say these big lines, and it’s going to be terrible. But I was like, “No no no, I’ve done these big movies, but really what I’m trying to do with this one is really to put you in the right mind or space, and then capture these great moments. Put a great group together and capture these little moments. I’m not trying to impose my style on a new film, like it’s just my toy. I’m not interested in this.” So that’s what I show them. It didn’t really have anything to do with the movie or the tone. Yeah, this movie, the tone is funny. All these people, they’re fast. Everybody’s having a great time, off-camera but on-camera too. It’s really fun, fast. It feels stupid to say that, but it really is like a thrill ride. It’s really fun and fast. The movie starts first heist seven minutes into the movie, and then you go in and never stop.
How many heists do we have?
You’ve done two movies with a lot of effects. I assume this movie has less effects. Does this movie have a lot of effects?
LETERRIER: I mean, there’s no creatures, so that helps. But yeah, there’s a lot of effects. Nowadays, effects are just about skill, about tools. You save money by making effects, you get a bigger scope, it helps transition, you just do stuff like that. That’s what it is.
There are a lot of performances at the show. I know you have a lighting guy actually doing the lightings. You’re trying to do as much stuff as possible.
LETERRIER: Yeah, absolutely. I’m trying to get as much as possible real stuff. Then afterwards we’ll do crowd replications. It’s not crazy visual effects, it’s crowd replications and stuff like that. There’s no full CG shot. Again, it’s putting stuff together, putting elements together. But I still try to get the stuff. Like the rig we have upside down. Yesterday we did a shot — I’ll try to find it — but we did the most amazing shot ever. It’s called a basket cam, we invented this. Literally, it’s a camera, a seamless 235 camera, going up a shaft with people, with a SWAT team running up. It’s as low-tech as possible, but it looks like a visual effects shot. I’ve done it before in Hulk, but it was a full visual effect. This time, I was like, “No no, let’s do it for real, I know how we do it, we do it for real.” Same thing, we did another shot at the end of the night which was the elevator again, but I’ve done it in this movie Unleashed, which was a shot down an elevator shaft with them going up, and then you pass by the elevator going up. I’ve done it but it was CG, and now I was like, “No, let’s do it for real.” So we did it for real. We come super close, really close to the actors and they keep on going, and the actors were operating the elevator. It was great. I love that shot. It was amazing.
What about with the magic? How much would you say is a full trick versus effects, whether it’s digital, or they were just explaining to us yesterday, how you flip a card and it just goes where the camera won’t see the card anymore.
LETERRIER: A lot of stuff is real. They know the technique and everything. We’ll smooth it out a little bit, we’ll enhance it, take out the seams, do that stuff and everything, but the tricks are real. And actually we’re doing tricks — I don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I think it will — but we’re doing tricks on the audience. I don’t want to give it away. But I could say, “You guys, look at the deck of cards, [shuffling sound effect] I’m flipping the deck of cards, it’s too fast, let’s do it again, [shuffling sound effect] concentrate, try to see one card.” You’ll concentrate on one card, and I could guess the card that you guys picked. What I’m trying to do, and I think we’ll be able to do it, is that the viewing audience will have picked the same card. We’ll have forced a card on the people sitting in the theater. It’s really cool, it’s a cool magic technique. For me, it’s about falling in love with magic again. When I tell people I’m doing a movie about magicians, they go, ugh yeah, okay, it’s just a guy disappearing wearing a cape and everything, it’s boring. And then when I start explaining, they’re like, “Oh, this is really cool.”
So will you make a romantic comedy next?
LETERRIER: It is a romantic comedy.
What are we going to see specifically tonight? What are you filming tonight?
LETERRIER: We are doing the moment when all the cops have converged on the last show. They know where the magicians are, they’re a little ahead of them, they’ve always been behind them, but now they’re ahead, and they will arrest them. There’s a moment when one group of cops is going where the show is, and Melanie Laurent stops Mark Ruffalo and says, “Come the other way, trust me, come this way, I’ll show you, towards this crappy pushcart, this food cart thing, that’s where they are, that’s where we can stop them, that’s where we can come ahead.” And he has that moment where he hesitates, and he’s like, should I trust her? Because they’ve been trying to work together, but sometimes she was — it’s two people working together for the first time, being attracted or being mistrusting and everything. So that’s the moment where really, it’s the crossroads between, do I go with these guys and keep my job, or do I risk losing it all and go with her?
How do you deal with the trains when they’re going overhead?
LETERRIER: Oh it’s fine, the trains have been great. It’s free. We shot on Bourbon Street. We were on Bourbon Street, we have a scene on Bourbon Street where Mark Ruffalo chases them, and we’re like, okay we need extras. We can only afford whatever, like two hundred. And I was like, with the AD, let’s go on Friday night and shoot on Bourbon Street. So we had twenty thousand free extras. And we have, you know, free trains. We did some amazing shots the other day with the helicopter with the trains. It’s amazing. You saw it from up there, it’s like an S around the building. We did some great rotating shots with the trains underneath. People will see that, and that’s the thing, people will be like, “Visual effects.” I’m like, “No, that’s real, that’s real, let’s find a real location, that’s real.” No, it’s fine, you do that and then you loop.
LETERRIER: It’s CCTVs and stuff. A lot of stuff is seen through CCTV. That’s stuff that we’ll see full screen. Yeah, I’m using it because it has that very specific look. I’m really using for that specific look. But it won’t cut from a 35 anamorphic lens to a 5D lens, a 5D shot. I wouldn’t be able to cut it this way.
The other thing is, if I’m not mistaken, you like to use cranes.
LETERRIER: No. The cranes use me! [Laughs]
I’m curious, compared to your other films, are you using the crane more in this one, is it about the same, and what is it about the crane you love?
LETERRIER: [Looks at crane] That’s the only way I see life. [Laughs] No, I mean, this is a great tool. This is so easy to operate. And when you know how to use it, it becomes the fastest, the easiest, the most dangerous tool you’ll ever use on the movie set. It’s great. It’s fantastic.
Was it love at first sight when you first saw it as a kid?
LETERRIER: The crane? No, because this crane didn’t exist. That’s the techno crane, the super techno crane with the extending arm. But I’ve always loved it. I mean yes. I’ve always liked, it’s true, I guess you’re right, I’ve always loved crane shots. I thought they were the most amazing stuff. You know, like in I Am Cuba. I love those crane shots that evolve into something else.
Going back to the question about the magic tricks each actor has to do, was it specific already in the script, or as the actors were kind of going through boot camp, each one kind of developed a sort of line and you just incorporated that for their characters?
LETERRIER: It was written in the script. And meeting people, I said, alright, so you will be a mentalist, you will be a pickpocket, you will be an escapist, and everything. So we tailored it, but it was like it was written. [Takes the interviewers to show them a shot] All right, let’s go here. I want to show you that shot if we have it. So that’s super low tech, but pretty cool. Literally, it’s like this thick, the hole.
He’s showing the movement of the camera.
LETERRIER: The movement of the camera. It keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going. It’s super low-tech, but it’s pretty fucking cool.
Is that the shot in here?
LETERRIER: Yeah, I’ll show you the staircases right here, and you’ll be like, what? You fit a camera there? [Asks crew member to pull up specific shot.] Come come come. You see?
LETERRIER: Yeah. I’ve done this shot full CG before. But this time I was like, nah nah nah, let’s do it for real. That’s the elevator. So that’s a crane down a shaft coming really close, like 25 mil anamorphic, and then coming really close. And then see, the actors are here, and we keep going. That’s a cool shot. [Laughs] I’m super proud of that shot. Costs 10 times more, but you know.
So why not do it CG?
LETERRIER: People were like, no, that’s impossible to do. I was like, no. It’s possible to do.
Is it the fitting the camera in the space that’s so hard to do?
LETERRIER: Well, it’s the techniques. The R&D stuff, and whatever.
Who was your DP this time?
LETERRIER: We had two DPs. We had Larry Fong, who shot Super 8, who’s a magician himself. And then Mitch Amundsen on these sequences. I shot Transporter 2 with him, and he did Transformers. He did all second unit for the Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy and all that stuff. He’s a very good DP. I know him very well. He’s loud and annoying, but I love him.
So why the two DPs?
A real magician, like a real guy who does magic?
LETERRIER: He will do stuff that will really wow you. Unbelievable.
So you did the elevator shot in CG before, and you did the stairwell shot like that before too?
LETERRIER: No no, just the elevator. But they did the stairwell shot in Matrix, CG, and here we did it for real.
Do you storyboard any of that stuff?
LETERRIER: Everything, yeah.
Is that your go-to tool or do you bring anything else with you?
LETERRIER: Well no, I’ve got my shot list and everything. I shot list everything and do everything. I don’t approach a scene like eh, I’ll find it on set. I come in with a plan and then better it up on set.
How many extras do you have for this scene?
And these are people who’ve gathered for the magic show and they’re watching the cops come? All these people are people who came for the magic show?
LETERRIER: Yes, exactly.
And the show would’ve been happening right there, not inside.
LETERRIER: There are three shows, in fact. There’s a projection, that’s for the projection, there’s a projection up in the clouds, that’s another show. There’s one show here where that light is and we shot that on the first day. And there’s a last show all the way on top and that’s where the real magicians appear.
Are you using all the cranes for the show?
So the audience has been standing out here the whole time.
LETERRIER: They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.
And now they’re watching the media and the cops show up.
LETERRIER: We’re shooting some speeches and the speeches will be projected onto these things. And we’ll change them, we’ll change their faces to make them look like they’re coming out of the graffitis and evolving into real faces and coming out projection style. It’s cool. It’s what we’re doing. Kind of magic. All right, let’s shoot. See the thing, because there are 650 extras, we have to plan the moves before. I blocked with the actors before, obviously, and then we move the crane around because we don’t want to swing and hit an extra.
So this is the part with Mark and Melanie in the front with the camera towards the end?
LETERRIER: Yeah. We did some really cool cable cam shots in New Orleans before. We did like four points cable cam. That was pretty cool.
Was this one of these projects that came together? Because sometimes it takes a long time to get a project off the ground, and sometimes they happen so suddenly. What was it for this one?
LETERRIER: It’s funny. After I shot Titans, I had two projects going. I had The Fantastic Voyage with James Cameron and then this one. Both were in the casting stages and eventually, this one was resolved first. Literally the order was like, Jesse, Mark, Morgan Freeman, and then eventually it became a real movie. It’s about casting. We have casting and they don’t finance anymore, and then once we get the casting it’s on and it goes fast. We took seven months to cast, so a long time. Again, it’s a movie about magic, so you know, like, ehh. Everybody, anyone, actors, anyone, is terrified it’s going to be corny and full of visual effects and everything. But when they understood what we were doing, that’s how I was able to get these guys, because they understood they would do the real stuff. It would be a funny movie, it would be a movie about humans, it would not just be tricks, and they understood.
Sometimes with casting, you get one name and then all of a sudden all the foreign financing comes through.
LETERRIER: Yeah, exactly.
What was the name on this one that got everything going?
LETERRIER: None of them. It was all of them. I needed all of them to be able to get to the level of financing that we needed. It’s not like if I had Will Smith, he would have been the one, that’s it. But because I wanted to have this weird ensemble — not weird, but interesting ensemble. It’s not like, “Oh, it’s a Mark Ruffalo movie, of course I’m going.” It took a long time.
Catch up on the rest of our set visit coverage below:
- 35 Things to Know About NOW YOU SEE ME From Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap
- Jesse Eisenberg Talks Learning Magic, Reuniting with Woody Harrelson, Why He Signed on to the Project, and More on the Set of NOW YOU SEE ME
- Isla Fisher Talks Performing Escapist Tricks, Her Chemistry with the Cast, THE GREAT GATSBY, and More on the Set of NOW YOU SEE ME
- Mark Ruffalo Talks Being Hypnotized by Woody Harrelson, Working with Louis Leterrier, Filming in New Orleans, and More on the Set of NOW YOU SEE ME