Jonathan Levine interview

So far, Jonathan Levine has directed a coming-of-age movie, a zombie romance, a horror movie, a buddies night out film, a heartbreaking comedy, and now, an action-comedy starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. With five features under his belt, the Snatched director has shown an interest and skill in making a variety of movies.

His newest film, which is written by Katie Dippold (Ghostbusters), is his biggest movie to date. Five features into his career and his priciest movie yet isn’t a comic book movie or a sequel – it’s an Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn comedy. Levine has stuck to telling mostly original and heartfelt stories. The director told us about how his previous work, including his last comedy, informed Snatched.

Below, check out our Jonathan Levine interview.

Were there any lessons you had learned from The Night Before that influenced Snatched? Are you one of those filmmakers who what you do next is almost a reaction to the movie you previously made?

I certainly am, Jack. I learned a couple things. I had gotten sick of my own writing even though that was a collaboration with Evan and Kyle and Ariel and that movie was a pretty collaborative thing. It was about friends, and we’re all friends, so it really made sense for that movie. But that was something living and breathing in my mind for a couple years. I just got sick of my own writing and I was tired of everything that I wrote for a second. So you know, I thought it would be great to read Katie’s script and be able to both love it and also to not be so inside it that I didn’t feel I can have objectivity.

And then the other thing that I’ve learned, and the other thing that was really fun for me on this movie was that … On The Night Before, we did an extreme amount of improvisation. I would say every take, you know how they say you do the scripts once and then you get, in comedy, you do something once, and then you DVD comment it, you know. It makes sense except we didn’t stick to the script because the people were so fun and it was a lot of two cameras at the same time. And what I wanted to do on this movie was kind of take a more thoughtful, formal visual approach to it. Not do as much improvisation, although there certainly was a lot of improv on the movie. It was a more focused comedic visual approach that I took with this one.

What else does that entail? 

You use the cameras less, right? A lot of times when you tend to use two cameras, you let the actor understand that you’re doing that and feel free to just kind of go crazy and go completely off script. When it’s an actor like Seth Rogen or Jillian Bell or Ilana, you just have to do it because it’s always so funny. With this, I was trying to use something more that had more of a ’80s vibe. It was like Romancing the Stone or Outrageous Fortune or something like that and those movies were about the storytelling person foremost, so I was trying to sort of think through what the shots were a lot more.

I was kind of going back to what I did in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and was just like really, really figuring out the best way to execute a scene. And that’s not just in the action sequences, although it certainly was more in the action sequences, but it’s also in the scenes with two people talking. And to really put a lot of thought into the look and feel of the movie which is something I did on Mandy Lane and something I did a lot on Warm Bodies, too, and the last one that I did.

Music is usually a big part of your films, and there are some cool songs in Snatched, but I would say they’re maybe not as central as the music was to The Wackness or 50/50.

Well, it’s interesting because this movie, I said it to my editor at the beginning, this isn’t going to be a music-driven movie. We’re going to use all Latin American music, and we’re going to have it be just blended into the background, and we’re not going to do any montage-y stuff or any of that. And then I found out we were going through it and I started making playlists for myself. Latin dance music or tropical music from Brazil. I started playing that for myself to sort of enhance the vibe a bit.

And then I just kind of reverse engineered this … Gabe Hilfer, our music supervisor, and I, just kind of reverse engineered the soundtrack. I never had this kind of macro feeling of what it should be. As we started to work through it, cues in on a cue-by-cue basis, it started to take on this shape. It became very eclectic, very diverse. Once the soundtrack took shape, it had everything from Major Lazer to Van Morrison. Once I finally watched the final cut of the movie, I was like “Wow, this actually turned out to have a really, really cool soundtrack.” And I was really, really proud of it. And it was never any sort of master plan with this one, the way there was on other movies.

It sounds like you changed up your process a little for this one. 

I mean, yes and no. I think that my directing style is still very much the same. We’re still pushing for the theme to be as great as possible, still trying to get as many jokes in there as possible. Still trying to get as much heart in there as possible. And really, the process is less about changing it up and more about synthesizing things I’ve learned from different projects and putting them all together.

The Wackness and 50/50, I think, were kind of two very similar movies and two very similar approaches. Warm Bodies was a complete world-building movie that really had a more aggressive visual approach and was a real change of pace. And then The Night Before was much more of a straight comedy. So I think this movie very much combines all of that stuff.

So much of directing is really just the way you talk to actors and the way you run the set, and that’s never really changed. Since I’ve been here, I’ve always just tried to make things really fun and really direct and give people the freedom to be their best selves. It can feel that different, but it was fun.

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