Interview: Free Guy director Shawn Levy and the creative team on bringing their unique world to life

To coincide with the anticipated release of Free Guy, 20th Century Studios invited our own Peter Gray to chat with the film’s creative team during a roundtable dialogue.  Discussing with director Shawn Levy, production designer Ethan Tobman, SFX supervisor Swen Gillberg, cinematographer George Richmond, and stunt coordinator Chris O’Hara were, among Ryan Reynolds praise, the intricacies of filming such a technical production and the inspiration behind its visuals.

There’s two world created here, it almost feels like you’ve created two separate films.  How difficult was it to navigate that, and for Ethan, I noticed so much detail in Guy’s apartment alone, could you expand on the creation of these two worlds?

Ethan Tobman: I’m so happy you asked that!

Shawn Levy: Yes, I want Ethan to talk about that because I wish we had more scenes of Guy’s apartment.  There’s about twenty different layers of fantastic, witty commentary and jokes about this blank individual.  The first thing we did, during pre-production, was we created a rule book.  There were rules for how the video game world was created and rules for the real world.  I wanted no confusion as to where you were when watching the movie.  The colour compositions and the camera use was different (in both).  For us, it was declaring the lore, and you had to follow that lore.  And that allowed Ethan to have a lot of fun, falling on one side of the fence or the other.

Ethan Tobman: Very early on we spoke about these rules and following them rigidly, but then within those rules being able to expand.  This was one of the hardest sets that any of us in the art department had attacked, because how do you develop a fully realised world around a purposely half-developed character?  It was almost as if the economy that these people gave to him creatively was on a budget where they couldn’t complete a sentence.

For example, (Guy) has pencils and a notepad, but no pencil sharpener.  He has a calendar on the wall, it’s missing Tuesdays.  He has books on his shelf that are colour coordinated but they have no spines or writing…

Shawn Levy: This is just the greatest example of incredible production design.  Ethan built this one room with thirty layers of jokes.  A regular audience might notice four (of these jokes), but if you watch it again you’ll notice nine, and so on.  The layers are really impressive.

With the amount of special effects utilised for Free Guy, what was the most difficult scene to film?

Chris O’Hara: All the scenes were difficult.  Well, not necessarily difficult, but it was definitely a collaboration between the visual effects department, the special effects department and the stunt department, and being that it is this fake, video-game world, the special effects had a lot to do with it.  I remember with one scene involving (actor’s name removed to avoid spoilers) that was very special-effects driven and we had to try and create what they had in their mind.  The blending of being super specific of where those moments were was an interesting challenge, as far as a stunt guy working with visual effects.

Going off that, was there a scene that involved the most amount of stunt doubles?

Chris O’Hara: The scene at the end (probably).  You had Jodie Comer’s stunt double and Ryan Reynolds’.  Ryan is super talented and did most of his own stunts, and Jodie trained really hard, so she did a bunch of her stuff too.  All of our warriors and agents were stunt players, so there was a lot involved.  The beach scene towards the end too involving Dude 2.0, the “bigger” version of Ryan, that was another interesting exercise for Swen, our visual effects supervisor, trying to find the right guy to be this vision that Shawn had in his head.  For that we cast Aaron Reed, who’s just a big, 6″7, 280-pound massive man, and he was just perfect for that new version of Guy (the character).  We can’t really double him, so we had Ryan and Aaron…ultimately we try and put the actors in there as much as possible, but sometimes they have to tap out, and Ryan isn’t afraid to do that.

Given that the character of Guy starts out the way he does, quite naive and clumsy, how is it in coordinating how his mannerisms will eventually update and adapt?

Chris O’Hara: I think when you have Ryan Reynolds…that’s my answer (laughs).  He is a super athletic guy, he’s a super comedic guy, he’s very physically funny…when you read that part, it was Ryan Reynolds.  For him to take that arc of going from point A to point B, “this is what I do everyday”, and then taking that super-power, for lack of a better word, it was just cool to see him turn into a full bad-ass, but still keep that “Oh gee, I’m sorry” about him.

Swen, with the gaming visuals, was there any particular inspiration behind them?

Swen Gillberg:  We went through a lot of iterations.  Grand Theft Auto has always been one main (one).  We headed towards Fortnite sometimes, and then back again, and then because Shawn and Ryan wanted Guy to emote in the game we made it less cartoony.  We needed empathy for the character.  In the end it took a while to get there, but in the end we used a little bit of everything, just closer to reality with a higher resolution.

How collaborative of a project is it? Do you ever work independently?

George Richmond: It’s always collaborative.  No one is running off to do their own thing.  It’s never a good working environment when that happens.  We prep and have our own working ideas, but we all talk together.  Shawn is our leader so everything conduits through him.  There are moments when you’re operating a shot and you see something and it isn’t planned, but no one’s off on their own.

Free Guy is expected in Australian cinemas* from August 12th, 2021.

*NSW release September 9th, 2021.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,