‘The Internship’ Director Shawn Levy Talks When to Say Cut, Why He Doesn’t Relish Sleep & Rolling with the Big Cat

Adam Pockross
Movie Talk

Shawn Levy is a busy guy. As a director and producer, he's currently got seven official projects in various states of completion. And he's also got kids!

Yet even with all that going on, and though he was in the middle of shooting a movie, Levy still found plenty of time to hang out when we visited the set of "The Internship" last year. The comedy tells the story of two out-of-work, middle-age salesman -- Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson -- who land internships at Google and have to compete with other interns to get hired.

On a normal set visit, you're lucky to get 15 minutes with the director. But on this particular occasion, Yahoo! Movies and Collider were able to sit down with the "Real Steel" and "Night at the Museum" director for the better part of an hour. And every time we thought we were done, he'd come back and tell us more.

The following snippets are some of the highlights from a day full of highlights.

(Additionally, we sat down to lunch with Levy and the film's two stars, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. That discussion can be found here.)

On getting the studio green light:

Shawn 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.

On how Levy hopes the film will be marketed:

SL: 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 we show this generational story, that this is much about 20-year-old as it is about late thirtysomethings, 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.

On the multi-generational quality of the film:

SL: It’s just an interesting kind of moment in time, 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 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.

[Related: ‘The Internship’ Set Visit: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson & Shawn Levy Go to Work]

On balancing the funny with the serious:

SL: 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.

On getting cameos for the film:

SL: 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.

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.

On Google's support:

SL: 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 s***ty place would not only be unfair, but inaccurate.

On knowing when to cut and knowing when to roll with improv:

SL: 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.

[Related: Shawn Levy Biography & Filmography]

On making sure the young interns could keep up, improvisationally speaking, with Owen and Vince:

SL: 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.

On choosing to direct or produce a film:

SL: 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.

On finding time to sleep with all the projects he's got going on:

SL: 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 try to savor it.

See an exclusive extended clip from Shawn Levy's "The Internship"...

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