If you’ve been fortunate enough to head out to the theaters in recent weeks on multiple occasions, you’ve likely weathered a barrage of Free Guy trailers. The film, ostensibly a feature-length riff on video games, gaming culture, and video game movies, is finally about to release next week. But some crucial aspects concerning its villain, for instance, turned out to be based on some very real-world examples courtesy of the studio system.
After finding out everything there is to know about Free Guy, /Film had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Shawn Levy. The Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, and Stranger Things director, no stranger himself to navigating the industry’s current obsession with franchises and sequels and reboots, talked about how Taika Waititi’s highly anticipated role as the villain of the film first came into shape. Waititi’s Antwan is a game developer dead set on closing down the Free City game in favor of the next best thing: a bigger and badder sequel. Naturally, this invites a sort of meta debate into the film as to the benefits of original stories against ongoing IPs. Hilariously enough, Levy reveals the actual conversation he had with a certain (unnamed) studio executive that served as inspiration for that particular villain’s motivation:
“…I just thought it was funny, because early on, an executive, who I won’t name, said, ‘Okay, so this movie Free Guy, what’s it based on?’ And we were like, ‘Nothing.’ And the executive is like, ‘Okay, you say nothing, but like, so it’s not a sequel. Is it based on a comic book, graphic novel? What?’ Like, ‘No, no, nothing. New ideas.’ Like, ‘So it’s a movie based on nothing?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. Based on creative originality.’ And it was like such a foreign concept to this suit, that I wrote most of that as dialogue for Taika Waititi.”
The only incredible thing about that story is just how easy it is to believe that the conversation took place almost exactly as Levy recalls, word-for-word. We can’t imagine that essentially making Waititi’s character a stand-in for studio cluelessness went over well with whoever that might’ve been, but it’s an undeniably amusing way to channel real-life frustration into an authentic character. Hat’s off to you, Shawn Levy.
The Great Debate
When asked which side of that original versus sequel/reboot argument he comes down on, Levy responds:
“Well, I’d like to think there’s a place for both. It was very fun to write Antwan, mocking the value of an original story, even as we are making an original story. It’s so rare that studios will give you a big budget to make a blockbuster movie, that isn’t a sequel, that isn’t based on any existing IP. And as the director, I know how lucky I am to get that opportunity. I’ve done it a few times in my career, where you make something new, and then it becomes a franchise. And it’s very, very gratifying.”
Levy’s definitely not exaggerating. As grating as the marketing might have been, the wholly original summer blockbuster is a black sheep amid the ongoing IP-driven craze. Getting these sorts of big budgets stories pitched, greenlit, and finally funded is far from a simple task, which helps explain the need for Ryan Reynolds‘ star power to lead the film and ideally draw in more viewers.
Those very same viewers can expect to catch Free Guy in theaters on August 13, 2021.
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