This weekend “Now You See Me 2″ appears in theaters across the country, and in honor of its release, I did my own kind of magic trick. I know a good magician would take a moment to show you there’s nothing up his sleeve, but I’m not really a magician, and I DO have something up my sleeve. It’s an interview with the film’s talented director, Jon M. Chu.
While it seems to be the season of superhero movies, Jon M. Chu doesn’t feel that “Now You See Me 2″ is all that far removed. “Our movie has superpowers, but they’re magic storytelling superpowers.” Continuing on, he talks about Woody Harrelson‘s foray into hypnotism. “I love Woody’s being able to hypnotize people. I think that’s really fun. I’ve seen him do it and our mentalist actually do it on set.”
Not sure whether or not he bought into the whole hypnotism thing, Jon M. Chu would challenge them to hypnotize extras, and he saw enough to make him a believer. When asked what superpower he would want if he could have one, he replied, “I would love to do that.”
While he wasn’t really keen to do another sequel, when Lionsgate approached him to do this picture, he simply couldn’t say no. “How could you say no to this cast? [It’s an] absolutely amazing top-level cast – legends and upcoming legends – and the idea that we could change the perspective of the show [made it appealing]. [Instead of being in an audience observing], now we’re with the magicians and we get to be with them as they uncover this magic trick. I loved that idea.”
Jon M. Chu discusses some of the more unique challenges of creating a film like “Now You See Me 2.”
“Magic movies are hard in general. You want to tell the audience how you did it, but at the same time, with magic, you don’t want to know how it’s done. They want the satisfaction of knowing at the end, but they really don’t. We have to balance that. They’ll never be fully satisfied because if they were, that’s not magic. That balance was a big, tricky thing.”
Furthermore, “you have a movie that’s beloved, and you’re coming in and trying to make it your own. You’re working with actors that have their own sphere of influence. They have their own sort of aura as well, and you’re trying to work them into a patchwork, and you have ten different characters that you have to balance in a movie that can’t be longer than two hours. You’re trying to do all these things, and do magic as practically as possible, and tell a very intricate story, and make it fun and light because that’s ultimately what this movie is supposed to be. So, those were huge challenges everyday that we faced, even from pre-production writing to post-production to even just the last little changes of how much humor do we have in there, how much do we give away. All those things to me are what make the difference. It’s really hard to know until you just do it. No matter what a test audience tells you, no matter what the studio tells you, it’s sort of on your own instincts to try to find that line yourself.”
Having directed everything from action to dance to Justin Bieber’s films to this sequel, Jon M. Chu sees a similarity among them.
“As much as a stunt coordinator doesn’t want to be called a choreographer, it’s a very similar relationship. [I say] I need them to get from here to here emotionally and physically. Then they’ll come up with the moves, and we’ll adjust it accordingly. In a very similar way, the magicians [in “Now You See Me 2″] were our choreographers. [I would need the characters] to get from here to here. I need the thing to disappear. Give me five ways that it’s gonna disappear and give me three ways that they can actually do. And then we look at that, and then we piece it all together. You can sometimes get caught up in the physicality of these things or of shooting these things, but it’s really not about that. It’s all about the storytelling.”
Whether it’s a dance movie, action movie, pop music (like in Bieber’s films), or magic, “it’s just a different language other than dialogue to communicate the story.”
Since reading that his father was a chef, I had to ask Jon M. Chu about his cooking ability. Laughing he responded, “That’s the problem. I was cooked for. I’m a horrible chef. I’ve been cooking recently. I feel like it’s inside me. Somewhere. I just don’t know how to do it…fully yet. But I’m working on it.”
Making movies can be as much about personal growth as it is about creating something for the masses. On what he learned during the making of “Now You See Me 2,” Jon M. Chu had this to say.
“I learned a lot. Every actor has their own method and their own psychology and their own currency of why they’re doing this, what they want from this, and what they think about their character especially when they’ve already established their character. I have to read them and understand them. Communication and listening and being straight forward was more important in this process because there were so many brains in on it that only wanted the best for the movie, but it could have easily become cluttered or had too many ideas. It could have easily gone way overboard had we not just been very frank and open with each other.”
Even Louis Leterrier, who directed the first “Now You See Me,” did second unit on this. “I think that kind of spirit, that kind of love for the project across all the actors, the crew, and the studio, I think you feel that on the screen.”
Jon M. Chu discusses collaborating with writer Ed Solomon on this project.
“I’ve worked with a lot of different writers throughout my career. Ed Solomon is a genius. He created Bill and Ted’s, wrote Men in Black, he used to do stand up. He has an amazing sense of humor and an amazing sense of architecture and characters. For me, he was a part of this from the very beginning and we worked really well together. I love working with people who are smarter than I am. They add a lot more and make me look good. Of course, we may disagree, but we just talk it out.”
There are endless reasons why people make movies, and not all directors seem to have a true passion for the art. However, one cannot deny Jon M. Chu’s passion for movies as he discusses his reasons for making them.
“For me it’s about positivity and saying good things in this world, and telling fairy tales. That’s why I loved movies growing up. It was an escape, and it was a way of believing in something bigger than ourselves and also saying that we’re not alone in our struggles. Everybody is going through shit. Everyone feels out of place. Everyone’s trying to find their place, whether it’s in the world of magic or dance or whatever it may be.
“You put your life on hold for two years to make a movie. You lose friends, you don’t get invited to parties anymore. In the end when you’re showing an audience, and you have your friends and family there, and they watch what you’ve done, and you see them cry, you see them laugh, it makes it all worth it, and reminds you that this thing lasts forever and it can spread to millions of people around the world. I think that that’s such an important thing as we go through this sort of information war. Everyone has access to information and stories, and it can either be a great thing or it can be a destructive thing, and I want to fight on the side of making it a great thing. For me that’s sort of my contribution.”
Check out this latest contribution to the cinematic realm. “Now You See Me 2” is in theaters this weekend, and it’s a fun jaunt into the world of magicians.