Coming off the worldwide success of Real Steel, director Shawn Levy had his pick of projects. And while it seemed like a few other movies might have gotten to the starting line first, after meeting and collaborating with Vince Vaughn on The Watch (which Levy produced), the actor pitched him on the idea of The Internship, and they started filming soon after.
During a break in production on set last year, I was able to interview Levy with a movie reporter from Yahoo. We talked about getting Google to sign off, how he edits what he shoots that day, the soundtrack, filming for both a PG-13 or an R rating, having actors that are great improvisers, why he’s using a digital camera, future projects such Project Aloha, Night at the Museum 3, 39 Clues, Fantastic Voyage, and Real Steel 2, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say, but be aware that there are some spoilers regarding cameos in The Internship.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the trailer, I’d watch that first.
Note: This interview was done on set last year. The status of future projects may have changed.
SHAWN LEVY: First, to answer your question about Alexander, we have a script that’s co-written by Lisa Cholodenko and a writer named Rob Lieber. Obviously, like pretty much everyone who has any taste, I loved both Laurel Canyon and The Kids Are All Right. And the whole idea was to not make this a family film programmer, but to take this beloved book and do something different with it. So we brought in Lisa Cholodenko who really responded to the book and to our ideas about how to make it into a movie. She co-wrote the script, she’s directing, Steve Carrell wants to star in it, and we are trying to put it together to shoot in the first quarter of next year, which would be thrilling. So many family films, I happen to have just been talking about this with Lisa yesterday, but family film now seems to most often mean animation or vfx tent pole. It’s like the days of Parenthood, or even Cheaper By the Dozen, as family film, it’s kind of given way to an era of 8 to 10 animated tentpoles a year, and family films can mean Night at the Museum, or Bedtime Stories, or Men in Black. So the idea of doing just a humanist, character centric family film, about family, and for the whole family, it almost feels like a return to that might be welcomed. And that’s certainly our hope. So that’s the status of Alexander. I hope were inviting you to the set by March of next year.
Was this one easy to get in the studio?
LEVY: This one was pretty easy. No studio green light is totally easy, but this one lined up pretty easy and pretty quick. It was easy for a few reasons. One, it was the first re-teaming of Owen and Vince in what, eight years? That’s something audiences have wanted to see for a long time, and every studio has tried to replicate. So the fact that this was baked into the DNA of this, that was a big appeal. I think the idea of this two-generation comedy is a very timely idea. I think that, if you open any newspaper, plug into any cultural dialogue – the idea of where are the opportunities now and what is the state of our economy and what is the hope on the horizon – it’s very much in the conversation. The movie is about that, and it’s centered around the workplace of one of the world’s biggest companies. So that seemed like a big idea to the studio, and also they have a certain modicum of faith in me, so the fact that it was me, Vince and Owen coming as a package together with this big idea – Vince and Owen as interns at Google – it’s clean, it’s strong, it’s timely, and it was a pretty quick yes.
How did the package come together?
LEVY: It started off as conversations on set between Vince and I. I produced The Watch, and Vince and I spent a fair amount of time together on that set. In fact, two movies came out of that video village schmoozing: one of which has been reported it’s Project Aloha with me, Jonah [Hill] and Ben [Stiller] and the other was, Vince kept telling me about this idea – this script he had written called The Internship. And he always pitched it as “me and Owen, interns at Google.” And at that point, as you know, I was seeing whether Fantastic Voyage was going to come into shoot-able shape or Frankenstein was gonna come to reality or any number of the other things that had been reported. And it felt like this was a big idea at the right moment. I wasn’t committed to another movie and so, from those conversations on the set of The Watch, we quickly moved to a yes, and then Vince, me, and Jared Stern, the co-writer, spent four months significantly re-writing the script together.
LEVY: Yeah. It just feels like, in my experience, there’s always a point in the post process where the movie kind of tells you what it wants to be, and I don’t know what the trends are. Some people argue that we’re in a Golden Age of R-Rated comedies. Some would argue that there have been as many hits as misses this past summer in the R-Rated comedy field. So we’re just going to kind of shoot multiple versions. By that I mean, we do multiple versions of jokes, but we do multiple versions of ratings. So that means, some runs of dialogue are filled with swearing and some scenes in nightclubs are filled with partial nudity, and then we’ll do a version of that dialogue and those sequences that could fit into a PG-13 so that we have the editorial flexibility. That being said, there’s no question this will be right on the edge. It will either be R or it will be a highly edgy PG-13.
I know you guys have some cameos in this film. When you tell Owen and Vince to call at will, how easy is it to get those cameos?
LEVY: I learned fairly early, but especially on Night at the Museum with Ben that talent tends to draw talent, and so when you have Owen and Vince, a lot of these cameos came more easily than I would have imagined. So in the case of Will [Ferrell], you know, he had cameo-d in Wedding Crashers. Vince had cameo-d in, I wanna say, Anchorman?
LEVY: We had this idea. There’s this character that is so funny and we always pictured and discussed, wouldn’t it just be the best if it were Will Ferrell? And, Vince reached out to Will as a friend, and once again it was a pretty quick yes, so he’s joining us in about a week for a couple of days, in what should be an extremely funny character. I don’t wanna say more. We were gonna try to keep it a secret but I think it broke online about a month ago. I feel like nothing is actually kept a secret anymore. Although I was surprised because that one stayed a secret for like two solid months before it broke. So that was Vince calling Will. Rob Riggle came in and did something yesterday. John Goodman came in and did something. Then we have the left field cameo of Missy Franklin. She’s coming to Google next month to cameo in a sequence that I don’t wanna speak about, but it should be extremely funny and strange. And, maybe a few other surprises.
How did that one come about?
LEVY: Missy? Well this is how it came about. If you go to Google, they frequently host great thinkers or athletes or musicians or humanitarians. And they will either tour Googleplex or give seminars, or host symposiums. And there’s actually a big screen where you see all of these great thinkers or celebrities of note who have visited the Google campus, so it’s a true fact of Google culture. And so, as Vince and Owen arrived, part of the paradigm that I alluded to earlier is this Wizard of Oz paradigm, this arrival in the Emerald City. And part of that is like, “Holy shit, there’s so and so leading a song circle strumming a guitar. There’s Missy Franklin giving a motivational lecture. There’s so and so.” We’re populating it with a few cameos, A) because it’s cool, B) because it’s accurate to what happens at the Google campus.
Talk about getting Google to sign onto the project. How much did you have to compromise with them, etc?
LEVY: Well, for one thing, I would say there wasn’t compromise. There was a lot of back and forth, but it started before I came on the scene. Vince had this idea well before me. Vince had written a script and Vince had had a meeting with the Google executives and talked about this generational comedy set at Google. And they were on board in concept. They were on board regardless of rating. They were on board regardless of content. They simply wanted their company and culture represented accurately and not degradingly, ‘cause the truth is, it’s a pretty noble culture. The people who are there are there because they actually wanna make the world better, so to make it look like a shitty place would not only be unfair, but inaccurate. They read drafts of the script, but there was never a moment where they were like, “No you can’t do that.” It was “maybe” and “hey, does your character have to say this? This makes us a little uncomfortable.” And in the case of a good joke, I would fight the good fight and preserve the line. If it were something that was a painless change for me, I would find a middle ground that felt comfortable. They were pretty respectful of the creative process but I in return was trying to be respectful of the fact that Google is much bigger than one movie. I wanted to be respectful and I wanted to honor the fact that they have a value system that should be treated fairly. I never felt hamstrung, I just felt like we were collaborating. Since that day of “here’s our script, we’re gonna get going,” I haven’t felt any interference.
Other than, to give you an example, there’s a whiteboard in the corner, and you see dozens of these at Google, and it’s literally puns, mental games, mind twisters, and throughout Google you will see these huge whiteboards where one Googler will write a riddle for any other Googler to come by and work out. And it’s a bit like that Good Will Hunting thing where the professor writes down the math problem and someone needs to solve it and it really happens at Google where, people will just piggyback on either a line of thinking or solving a riddle. And so, a lot of those very specific elements of set dressing, we went to Google, we took photographs of what was actually on the whiteboards at Google, and we replicated them here. For instance, tomorrow we’re shooting a scene where the kids are working on finding the bug in two million lines of code. Of course Owen and Vince have no freakin’ clue how to do that, and you’ve got four Ivy League interns who are furiously scribbling away this glass wall you see here, Good Will Hunting style and, I have no fucking idea what they’re supposed to write but I know that these actors need to look really goddamn smart. So I called Google and I said, “you need to tell me what these little geniuses would be writing to figure it out.” So Google people are telling me, are you saying come on? I’m being beckoned to go shoot. So Google people helped me out with some of the touches of realism throughout the movie.
What is the limit of takes for you in this movie? Because when you have actors that are such good improvisers, do you know when to stop, or do you think that with more time you might get something else?
LEVY: It’s a really good question, and you don’t really think it through, at least, I don’t really think it through in a formal way. I guess I always have a sense of the clock, but so many times, I’ve learned that if you just go that one more take – you will often sit through 5 minutes of mediocrity. It happens. Everyone’s human and they’ll try riffs that aren’t that funny. You saw some of them today. But then, on the last take, I mean you saw a perfect example. We tried some improvs and it was only moderately funny. Then, three hours later, while we’re doing a close up of the yo-yo character, Vince, whose shoulder was in the frame, started finding a lane of improv. And you saw me recognize that it was happening, change the shot on the take, pan over, zoom in – not a shot we’d planned for, lit for, or prepared for – but I guess from experience you get a sense of when it starts to happen. I didn’t anticipate it, I guess I’m always willing to indulge that one extra take because the worst-case scenario is that I sit through mediocrity and I’m a little bored. The upside is there might be one great joke that makes the scene. And that was a great example because it wasn’t even on Vince, and Vince started coming up with that titty stuff, that will probably be in the movie. You know what happens sometimes? They start coming up with stuff when they relax because they know they’re off camera. This happens to Owen a lot too. I’m off camera. I can letdown. I’ll feed them the lines. No sweat. But from that looseness comes new ideas, and suddenly they’re back on camera and I spring it onto them because of what they’ve stumbled onto. So, I’m always kind of hoping for those surprises.
LEVY: Yeah, that’s why I made them read with Vince. Some people, and I won’t name names – some finalists, including some very famous ones – they gave great auditions. Then I brought them back for the final callback with Vince and I literally saw people choke massively. I mean, I saw one very famous actor just freeze up, and every time Vince tried to lob improv softballs, they couldn’t do anything with it, so I wouldn’t have cast these unknowns if I hadn’t seen that they can roll with the big cat.
I thought Will Ferrell was the big cat.
LEVY: Well Vince calls Will that, we all have, someone’s always a big cat to someone. To Vince Vaughn, it’s Will Ferrell. To me, it’s Vince Vaughn.
I’m gonna ask a nerdy film question. You’re obviously shooting digital, are you on the Arri Alexa or the Red Epic?
LEVY: I’m on the Alexa, and first time on that.
What was your decision making on going digital, and also, why that camera?
LEVY: Two things really: I think the combination of having shot Real Steel digitally, and the fact that that movie looked so good, arguably better than any movie I’ve ever made, sold me on what digital can do aesthetically. Nine months of prep on Fantastic Voyage with Jim Cameron cemented my belief in the future and capabilities of digital. So I never really considered film for this. As far as why the Alexa, that was my cinematographer’s selection and I deferred to him.
There’s been a lot of talk about if someone will ever make a 3D comedy, walking down that path which no one has really done yet. Was there any talk on this one? Is it something you think the audience cares about?
LEVY: I’m really uncertain how much domestic audiences care about 3D, particularly in its application to comedy. You know when I see a guy like Baz Luhrmann shooting Gatsby in 3D, that’s really intriguing to me. I myself am neither for nor against it. I’ve seen amazing 3D movies that benefit massively from it, but it only really benefits massively from 3D when it’s in the hands of a maestro, someone who understands what that extra plane can do. I think Cameron is kind of without peer in his instincts on that front. And then you have people like Nolan who are kind of virulently resistant to it, in fact, resistant to digital, and I respect the hell out of him as a filmmaker as well. So, I think that day will come. Certainly the conversations I’ve had regarding a third and final Night at the Museum, are very much centered on it being 3D, but that almost is semi-applicable, because that’s a VFX comedy, and its really spectacle-based. I’m not ruling it out, however, that I would do a pure comedy 3D. Although in the broader picture, what I’ve learned is that I like going from Date Night to Real Steel to The Internship. I think that I’m never going to want to pick one genre lane and work exclusively in it. There was something really refreshing about bouncing from a comedy to a VFX action-drama to a straight comedy, etc, and I’m going to try and keep mixing it up.
Before Real Steel you were perceived among cinephiles and among fandom a certain way, and after there was a lot of positive critical, commercial reaction. Did that change you at all? And also, what is the status of possibly doing a sequel, because I know financially it was right on the threshold…
LEVY: Right on the cusp. Yep, right on the cusp. The first question… when you learn, as one must, to not care too much about critical response, you can’t be hypocritical and shut yourself off from the negative and then open your heart up to bathe in the positive. So while I’m human and I absolutely will admit that it felt good to get such positive feedback on Real Steel, I was wary of taking it too seriously, because then Ill have to take whatever bad reviews I get in the future equally seriously. So I’m trying, with only moderate success, to guard my heart from the good and the bad. I’m pretty transparent, it’s been said of me that my heart is well out there on my sleeve, but yeah, it felt good. More to the point, I’m really, really, really proud of Real Steel; it’s very much the movie I wanted it to be. That pride felt good. That pride is something I want to replicate in all my future work. So that’s my answer to that. Real Steel doing $300 million worldwide is right on that cusp of sequel worthiness.
It’s the G.I. Joe number. It’s exactly the G.I. Joe number. They made a sequel. Their distribution of domestic/international was a little more even. Ours was 85/215. So the numbers put us on the cusp. The fact that we’re now on the third round of manufacturing and still selling the toys keeps telling us something. I literally just approved the new line of toys. DreamWorks is still very bullish on the sequel. I’m getting the script in the next three and a half weeks. I saw a first draft that had real promise in some areas and missteps in others. And I’m getting the new draft from John Gatins in the month of September. And it’s one of a number of projects I can count on one hand that I’m really seriously considering to shoot in 2013. The script has to be really good. And DreamWorks is inclined to take that shot.
I spoke to Stacey Schneider about it and she said it was right there.
LEVY: Yep, right there. And look, DreamWorks has been influx as a studio, and we all heard those rumors about Stacey and the future of DreamWorks and all that… they’re very much a studio that’s intact but there making fewer movies and very few tentpoles. So I know, for them to pull the trigger on an expensive movie like Real Steel, they’ll need to feel, as will I, that it will be truly great.
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LEVY: Basically there’s challenges and they are kind of graded and assessed on how they do in the various areas, sales, code, marketing and so Graham leads the rival intern team. There’s like 10 different teams, but Graham is this privileged brat who comes in, probably goes to Oxford, to Cambridge presumes he’s going to win. They’re in the middle of a challenge and it’s Graham sending basically a Skype message saying, “Oh hey, all other interns I fucking solved this challenge, so here’s a link to monster.com so you can find jobs because I’ll be getting the job at Google.” So, it’s him being a dick basically and he’s also ruthlessly abusive to the overweight team member, our team.
LEVY: No, no. Josh plays a really cool part, but no not him. This is a kid, you would known him — Harvey Gian so that’s Max’s like recording of his taunting victory declaration.
What I was going to say is that it’s a lot different watching the comedy, especially when you have like Vince and Owen, really like all-star comedians rather than Hugh Jackman talking to his young son. A little bit of a different dynamic onset.
LEVY: That’s true. Good point. Yup.
I’m just throwing that out there.
LEVY: Good point.
I want to backtrack for a split second. What can you tease fans about the Real Steel sequel? Because I know you have an idea —
LEVY: Well one thing I can tell you is it will trace the origin story of Adam. It will explore the ambiguity of the first movie regarding Adam’s sentient nature and it may or may not include a rematch against Zeus.
LEVY: But it will not be a movie about the rematch with Zeus.
LEVY: Yeah, I mean several are ones that I’m producing. On the producing front, it’s Alexander and it’s Alone For The Holidays which Seth Meyers wrote and Fletcher is directing. We’re producing it and that’s a Fox 2000, that’s a character-based three-hander after hours on Christmas Eve. That’s one that I hope that we’re shooting this winter as well as Alexander. On the producing front really I shouldn’t say, I’ve done this long enough to know that every time I think I know what all we be doing next — like I never even knew about The Internship, so it seems like curveballs always happen but Night at the Museum 3 is in play, Real Steel 2 is in play. Fantastic Voyage we continue to really, really aggressively toy along the script, but because it is such an expensive movie, it understandably will only get greenlit when we have a script that everybody loves. Various people have liked various drafts a lotm but we have yet to find that draft that everyone’s like, “Yeah, this is the shit and it’s worth a hundred and X million dollars.” But that’s what Jim Cameron — that will be largely underwater 3D and as I’ve told I think Steve when we make it, it’s very much an emerge in the body and not looking out through portholes of a miniaturized submarine which is why it’s such an expensive movie.
So Fantastic Voyage, the other two I mentioned, Aloha. Ironically, it’s not even the title. It leaked. I have this secret project that I hatched on the set of The Watch with Jonah and Ben. It’s a great comedy two-hander that I think really exploits the unique kind of styles of those two and a big chunk of it is set in Hawaii, so because I didn’t want anything to get out in the press, I would jokingly refer to it when I’d email Jonah or Ben as Project Aloha. “Who should we get to write Project Aloha?” and then the story leaked and now it’s called Aloha. There is no title but Nicholas Stoller’s writing it, it’s based on an idea that Jonah hatched and then developed with Ben and I, and I’m very excited about that. That would be a comedy that we’d shoot in Hawaii next summer if that can get real. That’s probably the only pure comedy I’m looking at for next year and then there’s 39 Clues, which is a kind of big globe trotting adventure story based on the best selling book from Scholastic, that’s the Raiders of the Lost Ark global adventure. Then there’s a few of the dramedies that I’ve spoken about Steve at various points, because I’m getting to that point in my career where I’m really hungry to step out of certain comfort zones and try something distinctly different, smaller, more dramatic not without comedy but more predominantly dramatic.
When do you sleep?
LEVY: Well it’s not even the work that keeps me off this, it’s the freaking kids. I sleep. I don’t sleep at tremendous amount, but honestly it’s like maybe this is a weird function of slightly kind of vaguely Jewish neuroses, but I know that the window of time in which a filmmaker gets to truly call shots, it almost never lasts forever. You can point to a few, point to Steven, point to Jim, maybe you can point to Peter Jackson now, but really in top tier directors, the window of time where you can pick and choose whatever the hell you want to do, it’s a blessing. So I’m trying to sleep as little as possible while I have the luxury of choice and I want to really try my hand up as much as possible. Hopefully this run will last a long, long time but I love the job and so I don’t sleep much. I tried to savor it.
What is it like for you when you go in to meet with the studio heads, like when you sit down with Tom Rothman and you’re laying out everything. Could you sort of talk about the collaboration between what you want and what the studio wants and what maybe the studio is pitching you on?
LEVY: I’ll give you a broader answer, because those meetings happen with me at all studios. In the last six months, I’ve been approached by several big tentpole spectacle movies, many of which you’ve heard of because they’re prepping or about to shoot or shooting. They’re ones that I turned down. Those conversations tend to be, “Hey, we have this Behemoth, your body of work suggests to us that you’d be the right choice for it, would you do it?” I read the script and generally I’d say yes or no. So those conversations happened everywhere and I’m curious to see how a bunch of those movies turn out because they’re obviously movies I passed on because I don’t quite believe in them, but maybe in the hands of other filmmakers that’ll work.
With Tom Rothman and my home studio right now, I just spoke to him a few days ago and we were talking about a very, very small almost independent scale movie that would be character-driven and my little kind of different experience and I really want to do something like that. It was the same conversation where we talked about Night at the Museum 3 and Aloha and some other project. So, I find that studios understand I am a director. I have certain creative impulses that are going to need to be fulfilled and I like to play ball but I also gotta get mine. In a perfect world like on Real Steel, like on the experience I’m having here, like on the experience I had on Date Night and the Night at the Museum movies, I’m getting both my creative fulfillment and making a commercial film. But now that I want to do a combination of the two and not always in the same project, I’m asking for certain amount of trust to do this departure steps in return for which I will do kind of mainstream fare as well. One overt example was Peter Berg. It was the twofer, the Battleship twofer.
LEVY: Everyone talked about the Battleship twofer. Without divulging any things, no I don’t have a deal similarly structured nor even a handshake along those lines. Those types of conversations happen often for me lately, which is Peter Berg did Battleship and Pete Berg’s doing Lone Survivor. And let me say that I frankly kind of enjoyed Battleship. So I’m not here to say, “Oh, you do a piece of commercial fare then you do your quality movie.” I don’t know that they are mutually exclusive, but most filmmakers trying to get fulfillment of both kinds and sometimes you alternate, sometimes you combine. We’ll see which one ends up being next for me.
How do you decide on producing, directing, passing?
LEVY: Very, very, very good question. If I don’t feel like I can personally make a better version than the next guy, I don’t direct it. So, something needs to really speak to me on either a stylistic or thematic level for me to direct it. But if I think something can be a good movie, that’s what I need to produce it, if I think neither I just pass. But whether it’s Alone For The Holidays or Alexander, I have really good filmmakers on those. Frankly, I thought Akiva did a lovely job on The Watch. That movie got some really bad breaks for a number of reasons and I’ve heard about a dozen different theories as to why that movie missed at the box office and critically, but if I don’t feel that I have a specific take on something that is uniquely in my voice, I’ll produce it but likely not direct it
So, follow up, what was it that you saw about this that you were like, “Oh this is –”
LEVY: The opportunity for the movie to be more than just crazy funny. The opportunity to be about an underdog story, not unlike the everyman night guard, not unlike the regular married couple, not unlike the former fighter living out of his truck. I have this kind of unashamed soft spot for redemptive underdog tales and whether it’s a 20-year-old in this movie trying to have the life they dreamed of or a couple of thirtysomethings having the life they thought they could once have. There’s something about that aspirational quality that I like in this. Vince takes that shit very, very seriously. He takes that aspirational stuff as serious as he takes the funny. Owen takes the soul for thematic stuff as serious as he takes the funny, so the three of us really bonded over that and that’s why this one.
What did you learn about Google or what was something that you added to the script after learning about the culture there that you were maybe surprised to be able to add?
LEVY: Like maybe many people, I thought of Google as a search engine and still a massive percentage of their business is search. But what I didn’t realize is that underneath search and underneath all the various other things they’re doing, there is a real sincere “change the world” altruism held by the people who work there. People don’t go there just because they want good paying cool jobs. They go there because they actually believe that making information globally available regardless of class and location is empowering and actually makes the world better; that the kind of democratization of information is for the betterment of human life. They really come from a sincerely noble place. It’s not lip service. They didn’t make a big deal about it in a preachy way but I saw it and I heard it, and it informs some of the characters, Rose Byrne’s character most notably in this movie and just the wild idiosyncrasy of the workplace. I mean, everything you’re seeing around here, ping-pong tables, nap pads, massages, micro kitchens within 150 feet of every worker’s desk. It’s all real. As Vince said, I thought that there was something cool about pulling back the curtain on that. It’s not a world most of us have seen.
You also mentioned to other people, when we were talking before about the changing marketplace in terms of marketing your movie. I’m curious, what have you seen over the last few years from the outside that maybe has impressed you or maybe what lessons have you learned recently that you think are applicable for this as well as future projects?
LEVY: A.) the presumed guarantee of a movie star. We don’t live in that world anymore. We’ve seen movies, comedies, starring Channing Tatum and Mark Wahlberg breakout this summer while movie starring Sasha Baron Cohen, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Adam Sandler missed this summer. So, the old adage that “have some movie stars on a poster and your movie is going to open big,” that’s no longer the world we live in. I think that freshness is critical. I think that a clean idea is critical. I wonder personally, this is only my opinion—and yes, The Watch, fell prey to the timing of Trayvon, the timing of Aurora, the shifting marketing messaging—but it was also a hybrid concept. It was an R-rated dude comedy and an alien invasion movie. Retrospectively and retroactively, I’ve heard from a lot of people who’ve found that combination almost confusing and muddy in a way that made it harder to wrap your arms around what you’re buying, a ticket to see. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong but I think that a fresh concept, a clean concept and a kind of a well-executed film is more critical than ever because people are hearing not from a poster and not from a TV commercial, they’re hearing from their friends, if you’ve got Twitter, Facebook you’re online within, what, an hour of a movie opening? And so if it’s working for people, that’s going to spread like wildfire and that’s separate from whatever the studio will spend the marketing. That’s organic and that goes to the democratization of information. Not stray back to the Google thing, but it happens to apply.
LEVY: Well, for one thing, I think that there’s really a clean idea here that is titillating. I think that the reunion of Owen and Vince is a big part of it, but it’s not the whole story. I’m going to be insistent as people get exposed to aspects of the movie that A, we show this generational story, that this is much about 20-year-old as it is about late thirtysomething, that is critical and a big part of the movie and what I hope will be the messaging of the movie, because it’s very much about those 20-year-old’s perspective on the world as much as it is about Vince and Owen’s perspective of the world. I just think that that aspirational quality in addition to the hard funny, that’s part of what we’re making and I hope it’s part of what we’ll be selling.
That bridging the gap, is that one of the themes like or is that —
LEVY: Yeah, I mean because there’s a moment in this movie where you get a bit of it in the scene that Stewart character, right? He’s on his cell all the time, day and night. On the one hand, he has disdain for these older guys who are attack ignorant, but that same character midway to the movie gets taken out on a wild night to San Francisco and Owen takes the kid’s chin and lifts it, says, “Big road out there kid. It’s just six inches out,” that’s very much the theme of the movie.
It’s interesting though because I’m sure that you’ve seen this first hand with your family and kids and all of us, you look around now wherever you are and everyone is looking down at their phone.
LEVY: Even on the movie set you know. My friend Ben is doing midi and he has banned cell phones on the set. Because if you just walk around the movie set, like if you walk around the café or a sidewalk, well over 50% of the people are staring down at their screen. They are neither connecting to other human people other than through their screen nor are they connecting in as direct a way to the world surrounding them. So that’s a big theme in this. It’s one of the things that maybe these older generation guys are able to impart these younger generation guys whereas these younger — and there’s a funny kind of almost rivalry between like these kids saying like, “You’ve no idea how hard life is now. We’re coming out of college. We did everything fucking right. We aren’t guaranteed jobs. We aren’t even guaranteed paid internships.” You’ve got these guys who have literally lost their jobs. Look at these 20-year-olds, there’s nothing but potential and a horizon of promise. It’s just an interesting kind of moment in times, there’s been a lot of press in the New York Times and other major newspapers about kind of the fact that people who are 40 are going through as their own tough moment in many cases in this economy. But people who are 20, even those coming out with all the education and what not, they’re similarly nervous about their prospects. So that ends up being kind of the intersection point in the Venn diagram between the generations in this movie.
LEVY: There’s no part of me of that tells the economy “don’t get better.” Sadly, I don’t know that we’re at risk of things turning around so radically in the next 10 months that these themes will become inapplicable. I wish I were wrong but regardless of what happens in this upcoming election, I don’t know that things will be significantly different in 10 months.
Some filmmakers like James Cameron when he’s making a movie, everyday he cuts what he shoots so he can see everything.
LEVY: That’s right, yes.
So on the last day he has a rough cut of his entire film.
LEVY: Yeah. I’ve had the same editor for about four movies now. For the last three movies—like when I wrap today I’m going to the editing room and I’m going to see the last week, edited already. So it allows me to kind of weigh in. It also allows me to notice, “Oh, you know what? I missed a shot here,” or, “You know what, I had so and so play that scene too angry,” or “Shit!” like we had a moment where Josh Gad did this bizarre improv where he was talking to our team and he goes, “You guys are collaborative, smart,” and then he did this improv where he looked right to Owen, he goes, “Pretty.” It was just this weird Josh Gad improv and I saw it in dailies and I realized, “Oh no, that’s it that’s a joke opportunity.” So I went back with Owen and the camera and I just shot Owen in a close-up humbly nodding.
I’m pretty sure it will be a really good laugh in a scene that isn’t even comedic scene, all the more reason why you want to laugh in that kind of scene. I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t seen a rough cut of the scene. So yeah, I watch cut as I go and within days of my wrapping, I’ll have an assembly. So what it allows you do is you’re doing your friends and family screenings early. So, if a director goes 10 weeks, it used to be the kind of formal law or way of things, you realize you have 10 weeks for your director’s cut then you start previewing. Most people I know, myself included, you’re doing your first friends and family by week five. You’re doing a second at week seven, and a third friends and family during week nine. So by the time the studio is seeing the movie at the first recruited preview, I have already learned what my movie is with audiences and I’ve reedited it based on my friends and family screening. So, that’s the advantage of getting ahead of the curve of editorial line.
How do you balance such serious themes with the comedy?
LEVY: Well, A) I don’t treat the serious themes ponderously. They’re in it and a lot of really good comedies. And I would certainly put Bridesmaids as a good example, that movie was balls-out funny and it also was about some really warm-hearted humanist relationships and themes. I think most of them are. I think Crashers had some really good heart – I think The Hangover, as much as we often quote Wolf Pack and this and that, but really that’s a movie about male friendship. Nobody’s trying to be pedantic. We’re not trying to write some kind of Jerry Maguire-esque mission statement, but if some of these aspirational themes come through while you’re laughing your ass off, that’s exactly the goal. And after Real Steel, and after working as long as I did on Fantastic Voyage and Development, the fun of being able to do thematic stuff within a form that allows me to come to work and laugh every day, that’s why I’m doing this. And that’s why I love it.
You had some good music on Real Steel. What are you thinking about for soundtrack on this? Have you already reached out to some people?
LEVY: I have not started reaching out to people yet. There’s a lot of music in this, particularly because, as I mentioned, there’s this centerpiece sequence where basically, Vince and Owen take our gang hostage and say “we’re leaving the office. We’re leaving Google and you kids have gotta remember that your life is fucking bigger than your job search. Your life is bigger than your internship.” And with this huge sequence all around San Francisco – it ends up at a Gentlemen’s Club – there’s a lot that happens. I realized that I’m already editing it out and I need like 12 songs just in this seven-minute centerpiece. So it’s gonna be a mix. Gosh, I don’t wanna give things away. There’s classic rock that is resonant and invoked by our guys that is age appropriate for them and there is a lot of either dubstep or hip hop that is current to the taste of our 20-year olds, so I don’t know what artist yet. I really had a ball putting together the soundtrack on Real Steel, and my hope is to similarly put together some original tracks of known artists that I like. It’ll be a mixture of old and new though, that’s for sure.
I know you’re a music guy. I’ve been listening to mix tape stuff lately where, I don’t know if you guys have noticed this but, music is almost moving towards the Twitter generation where people are only listening to one minute of a song-
LEVY: Isn’t that crazy? Now where are you listening in that forum? Like, do you just click to the next track?
No, there’s an artist someone pointed me to called Girl Talk. And he literally mixes songs. His recent CD is like 300 different things and it’s all mixed on top of each other, and I just sort of noticed.
LEVY: Combining or shifting quickly?
LEVY: That’s literally the definition of postmodernism, like, a kind of collage of all that came before.
I’m literally calling it Twitter music for the Twitter generation. People just want it instantly and I was wondering if that’s something you were thinking about.
LEVY: That’s really interesting, because we had a lot of fun. I don’t have any shots here otherwise I’d show you. Part of the way I decided to shoot this sequence is with a thing called a squishy lens because it has a kind of kaleidoscopic effect where you literally can manhandle the lens and it shifts the focal plane in and out. It gives this impression of like one image bleeding into another so that you almost have this feeling of simultaneity, which is exactly what you’re talking about musically. It’s blending and it’s simultaneity so I came to Twitter two years after you told me to. Maybe in two years I’ll be listening to music for the Twitter generation.
For more on The Internship:
- 20 Things to Know About Shawn Levy’s THE INTERNSHIP From Our Set Visit
- Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Director Shawn Levy Talk Working with Google, Reuniting on Screen, More on Set of THE INTERNSHIP