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Shawn Levy Reveals How Free Guy Gets Gaming Right - Exclusive Interview

As the Ryan Reynolds-led "Free Guy" makes its way to theaters, the people involved are already staking their claim on what makes the film special — it's actually a new story. Yes, it stars a non-playable character living inside a video game, but the game he's in, "Free World," isn't available to play here in our world. However, despite the film's lack of connection to any existing IP, director Shawn levy went to great lengths to bring an element of video game realism to the big screen.

Behind the scenes, "Free Guy" is one of several movies that found itself plagued by delays due to extended theater closings and pandemic restrictions. Yet while "Free Guy" may have been locked into its final edit, that doesn't mean there weren't ways the film could still be improved upon while it waited for its release.

Looper sat down with Levy to learn more about his process for making a video game movie that actually feels connected with gaming culture. He revealed the advice he got from people in the gaming community, and which Taika Waititi scene nearly made it into the final film. We also got a small update on Levy's plans to remake the John Carpenter classic "Starman."

How Free Guy improved with the help of gamers and time

You talked with a lot of gamers and people that operate in the world of gaming to get "Free Guy" to a place that was more accurate. How did the story transform as a result of those conversations?

Wow, there's so many conversations, and meetings, and little collaborative moments along the way that affected "Free Guy." We consulted Zach Penn, who is one of the screenwriters, he and I spent about two months doing a pretty substantial rewrite of the script. We consulted with several game designers, and one person in particular named Mike Mika. We really kind of got into conversations about builds, and original builds, and how might that be in the code, but concealed in game play. We talked about the sky box, we talked about collision meshes, and some of the nitty gritty and the granular of coding and game design. Frankly, what it gave me was a deeper understanding of game creation. But also, it gave me certain key concepts, and the language to be accurate, but also comprehensible. There was some stuff that I got from game designers where I was like, "Bro, not only am I struggling to understand, I know an audience won't understand that." So finding that middle ground between authenticity and comprehensibility, that was my daily challenge.

Your movie was locked, but then it didn't come out for a while because of COVID. Did you at any point go back or feel tempted to go back and take another pass?

So we never had a rushed post-production, so no, the edit of the movie was locked, and to my satisfaction when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. What I did do is take advantage of that spring to bump up the VFX to the next level. So what we did do, I mean, it was always baked into the idea that I wanted every frame to have foreground, mid-ground, background. For it to be packed with Easter eggs, and details, and jokes, and gaming references that may be two out of a hundred people would get. So what we did do is I empowered my small army of VFX artists to just add more. It's like, "You know what? They don't need the movie now anyway, let's add more layers of visual humor, and visual detail to these frames." So a lot of those graphical interfaces that happen in the movie both in terms of the poppiness of the visuals, and the inside jokes of those graphics. Those were added as a result of having a little more time.

The hilarious Taika Waititi scene you didn't see in the movie

Speaking of having an opportunity to have additional elements in the film, you talked about Taika and how much he improvised on set. We know that there exists a super cut of some of his improv — is there something you can think of that was so funny on the day, but just didn't make sense in the film, that you had to cut but you wish you could have kept?

Yes, and it was in my cut for quite a while until I realized, man, I can't indulge all his genius, I can't ... The story can't support treading water this long. But there was this whole riff that he did where Joe Keery is sitting at his desk, and his little cubicle has four-foot glass dividers. But the divider ends here, and so Joe Keery was trying to say something to Taika, and Taika's like [miming that he can't be heard] and Joe's like, "What are you talking about? There's no glass, the glass ends." Taika started doing literally a whole mime show. Then he created a little window in the non-existent glass and he's like, "What?" He'd close it, and he would do basically an incredibly skilled mime act, which I will always treasure. I will put ... I think some of it might be what I put on social media a week ago, but it was nine minutes long. It was Marcel Marceau-level mime skill.

It's wild that you have Taika and Ryan Reynolds in this movie — they're two of the funniest human beings, and, yet, at no point did they appear together onscreen.

I know, it does feel tragic, and maybe if enough people go see "Free Guy," perhaps Antwan and Guy will interact in a sequel, either as nemeses in-game or allies in-game. That has always been a very tempting lane to pursue.

Ryan Reynolds, Deapool, and a Jedi, oh my!

There's a moment when Guy holds the Captain America shield, he's got the Hulk hands, he's got a lightsaber, there's all these things that happen towards the end of the film. Hand on heart: if Ryan Reynolds can only be Captain America or a Jedi, which one would he be?

Which would I chose him to be? I think it would have to be a Jedi, because Ryan's already gotten to play in the MCU.

I mean, I agree with you. So Ryan — he faces off against that cartoonishly buff version of himself.



Dude versus Guy.

If you could have it so that Guy could have faced off against any other character that Ryan has ever played, who would it be and which of the two would win?

Wow, I do think that if Guy had to face off against Wade Wilson, it would be the most bizarre ... I don't even know if it would be entertaining, but it would be such a radical contrast between the cynical, jaded, bruised worldview of Wade and the just adorable, innocent, childlike optimism of Guy. Frankly, that's part of why I knew this movie would be interesting to make and to watch is we know Ryan's awesome, but I haven't seen him play the innocent in this way. An innocent that is kind of, we talk about Guy being a descendant of Buddy the Elf, Tom Hanks in "Big," Peter Sellers in "Being There." This innocent in the face of a cynical world, and that was always a big part of the appeal to Ryan and to me.

Shawn Levy on the status of his John Carpenter Starman remake

Many years ago, a story dropped that you were going to be involved in a remake of a John Carpenter movie called "Starman." It is such a brilliant story and it's ripe for a re-interpretation, but there hasn't been an update in around five years. Is that something you're still pursuing?

That was true, and it's one of my favorite movies too. The short answer is it is not happening now or close to happening, because we have not been able to get to a script that deserves remaking a great movie. I am not going to touch that masterpiece unless I'm sure I have something new to say, and a new way to say it. If I don't see it on the page, I am not going to mess with it.

"Free Guy" is in theaters now.