Making a movie is a kind of magic. A group of talented people, working together to make you believe something that’s not real. Making a movie about magic takes that up a notch, because he audience expects to be wowed not just by the movie, but the magic too, which requires a certain level of awareness. An awareness the director of Now You See Me 2, Jon M. Chu, gave us about the film’s most jaw-dropping sequence.
Now You See Me 2 opens today and continues the story of the Four Horseman, the magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and new addition Lizzy Caplan) who use magic to wow and better the world. In the sequel, they’re framed by a powerful businessman (Daniel Radcliffe) to help steal a super high-end technology.
That leads the Horseman to a ultra-secure room that doesn’t allow metal in or out. Security guards are everywhere. Somehow, under the lights and gaze of several enemies, they have to extract a metal device the size of a playing card. All four characters work together to make it happen by palming it, flipping it, sending it sailing around the room, through clothes—basically anywhere a card can possible go.
What makes it even more astounding is that it’s shot in a way where the audience almost becomes the playing card-sized device—Chu throws, blows, sucks, and flips the camera along with the card, creating a truly electric scene. So how’d he do it? When we asked the director, he almost couldn’t contain his excitement.
“We’re using little lipstick cameras. We’re going through shirts and jackets, making things large so that bigger cameras could go through things that look like bigger shirts and jackets,” Chu told io9. “We’re doing little CG touches. We were doing choreography with the steadicam where we’re using our a7S [camera]. Or we’re using our GoPros. We’re using our drones. We had like, four different types of drones.”
Wait, wait, hold on a second, Jon. Start from the beginning.
Chu explained that the scene was one of the most difficult ones in the entire movie. It, of course, started with storyboards and then went into pre-visualization, which is when lots of problems became evident. “In pre-vis, you discover things that are impossible to do, [or] possible to do and try to get your rhythm down a little bit,” Chu said. “But even in the pre-vis, we didn’t know cardistry well enough. We had to practice before with our cardistry expert.”
You don’t make a magic movie without magic experts, and Now You See Me 2 has a ton. For card tricks, they turned to expert Andrei Jikh. Chu realized the biggest thing that had to happen in the scene was the Horseman would have to palm the card in various different ways. So Chu went to Jikh with an assignment. He said, “Shoot me a bunch of videos of that.”
“Andrei took the night to basically show, ‘You can do it this way, you can do it that way, under the arm, you can do this’ and then I would circle the ones I thought were really interesting,” Chu said.
Those videos then got passed to the main card expert in the film, Dave Franco, who after the first movie, had continued to practice cardistry. He knew how to do some of Jikh’s techniques, but not all of them. So he got to work.
“I would have [Franco] practice and I would take my iPhone and move the camera around how the audience would see the card, or not see the card,” Chu said. “And then we would Band-Aid that to the next sequence and be like, ‘Do we need like a CG tie-together?’ Or can we do things physically? Or how much are we cutting away to? Where are the security guards standing? We made charts and charts of everybody’s placement.”
The other challenge is the whole thing is happening in a relatively small room. So the movements and transitions had to be very crisp. “It took a good two weeks of shooting each section,” Chu said. “And you’re not doing some crazy move with the camera. To our audience, they’re big, but in the room, it’s like nothing’s happening. They’re minute. So that was all a group effort to know this was going to be very [a] unique [scene].”
And here’s when the lipstick cameras, CG touches, Steadicam choreography, cameras going through oversized clothing, GoPros and drones come in.
After seeing the film, what’s even more exciting about the sequence is realizing it’s actually possible. Difficult? Definitely. But all the magic in Now You See Me 2 is based in reality.
“Now, even if it is impossible for us to shoot on camera, we wanted the logistics and understanding of the tricks to be possible,” Chu explained. “We were not saying, ‘Hocus pocus magic exists.’ That was never our intention.”
They could, however, push some boundaries. Just because a trick is in Now You See Me 2 doesn’t mean it’s been done before. It means the magic consultants, among them David Copperfield, figured that given the right time and resources they could potentially be possible.
“Things that magicians would want to do and have thought about doing but maybe don’t have the resources to spent the two years to develop? We could do that in a movie,” Chu explained.
The difference is, when a magician figure out an elaborate trick, they would never reveal their secret. In a movie like Now You See Me 2, the audience isn’t just watching magic. It’s watching magic from behind the scenes, knowing exactly how it’s all working. And for Chu, figuring out when to let the audience see that was hard to figure out.
“In a movie like this, it’s difficult to know when you want to tell the audience how you did it and when not to,” Chu said. “Because no matter what, they’re not happy. It’s so frustrating. ‘We want to know!’ And then we tell them, ‘Oh, that’s so easy it’s stupid.’ It’s just the nature of magic, to be honest. So we have to sway back and forth on what to show, what not to show, how to tell, not to tell, that was more of a headache than anything else.”
Now You See Me 2 is now in theaters.