'Now You See Me': The Magic Behind the Movie

'Now You See Me': The Magic Behind the Movie

Sep 03, 2013

Now You See Me Blu-RayNow You See Me may have opened at number two with a modest $29.4 million, but three months later, the film is still in theaters, has accumulated over $300 million worldwide, and earned itself a sequel. And that’s all before the Four Horsemen wow the crowds on home video. In honor of the film’s September 3 DVD and Blu-ray release, we take a look back at some of the best behind-the-scenes magic tricks, straight from the Now You See Me 5 Pointz set.

Producer Bobby Cohen pointed out, “If I do a magic trick in front of you right now, if I pull a rabbit out of a hat, it has power, right? Because it’s right in front of you. But, a movie audience, if they see you pull a rabbit out of a hat, they go, ‘Well, you know, you did a CG thing or you turned the camera off and then you put the rabbit in and turned the camera back on.’” Sounds pretty accurate, right? That’s one of the major challenges Cohen and company faced with Now You See Me, but the filmmakers also had a plan to ensure they pulled it off. Cohen elaborated, “The way to make a movie about magic work is that the whole movie itself has to be a trick, and so that’s sort of what we’ve done. We’ve constructed the whole movie as if it has sort of the three acts of a great trick, and that was really fun to do.”

Now You See Me stars Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco as Atlas, Henley, Merritt and Jack, or, better yet, the Four Horsemen. With the help of their benefactor, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the Horsemen pull off the ultimate magic trick, robbing a bank in Paris while performing for a packed house at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They’re arrested by the FBI and interrogated, but how can you convict a group of people of robbing a bank when they were in an entirely different country? With the assistance of famed magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an FBI and Interpol agent (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent) are tasked with taking the Horsemen down before the magicians can complete their string of elaborate and costly illusions.

From Three-Act Movie to Three-Act Magic Trick

It’s one thing to have a snazzy idea for a card trick or for a movie plot, but it’s another to turn either into an effective magic show. While on the film’s Long Island City, New York set, Cohen recalled working on the script and talking to top magicians and illusionists, “You hear again and again that there are these principles of magic, about misdirection, about that the magician has already done the trick before you know the trick has been done.” When it was time for a rewrite, the goal was to make the original scenario more complex by infusing it with those rules and concepts. Now You See Me is meant to function as a trick itself. Eisenberg added, “You’re trying to figure out how these magicians are doing these elaborate and very complicated tricks, and over the course of the movie, you start to piece things together.”

Movie Magic vs. Magic Magic

Just like it takes a certain degree of natural talent to perform magic, it takes a certain kind of director to make a movie about it. The Now You See Me head magic consultant, David Kwong, recalled, “One of my favorite things that Louis ever said to me is, he always says that he’s a magician, too, and that filmmaking really is all about illusion.” Beyond being a “movie magician,” director Louis Leterrier also admitted, “I've always loved magic and been a great admirer of magic, but respectful and fearing magic because I was like, ‘Oh, I just don't understand how you guys do it.’”

Louis Leterrier on the Now You See Me Set

Magic 101 and Beyond

Not only did he have to be able to understand it to a degree to bring Now You See Me to life, but his cast needed to be able understand and perform. Eisenberg admitted, “I feel very guilty doing magic because you’re deceiving somebody.” When watching Kwong perform, he recognizes the fact that his audiences love and enjoy it, but when he wraps up a trick himself, Eisenberg admitted, “I just feel immediately guilty that I tricked them and tell them how it’s done and then David gets upset and the night ends pretty early.” Fortunately for the film, Eisenberg ultimately accepted that in order to be a real magician, you need to get past the discomfort that comes with lying. “You have to get over that because the truth is, people seem to like being lied to in that safe context.” Speaking of which, the first thing Atlas does in Now You See Me is play a trick on a helpless girl at a bar. Eisenberg explained, “In the first scene of the movie he is with a group of people at a bar outside in Chicago at night and he asks this girl to pick any card from the deck. She takes a card and then he has the card appear on the face of the Sears Tower.”

While Eisenberg worked with Kwong on his sleight of hand skills and card tricks, Fisher was busy studying and practicing holding her breath, training that came in handy when she was handcuffed and dunked into a tank of piranha for her first scene of the film. Fisher recalled, “The only thing I watched to prepare for this was a documentary called Make Believe, which is about teen magicians, and then I watched all of Houdini’s work and Dorothy Dietrich, who’s a female escapologist.” Study all you want, but there’s nothing appealing about essentially being drowned until you can escape your chains. However, Fisher proclaimed, “It’s surprisingly hard during rehearsal, but once they’re shooting, something about the presence of the camera and the pressure -- or maybe it’s just you’re lost in your character, but it becomes startlingly easy and you just go into a zone.” However, she did admit, “They did heat the water before you think I’m that crazy. It was like a Jacuzzi. I mean, please. It was like Hollywood’s idea of roughing it for the day.”

Isla Fisher in Now You See Me

Meanwhile, Harrelson was hard at work with famed mentalist Keith Barry. Cohen noted, “Woody totally dove into it.” After spending weeks working with Barry, Harrelson insisted on having a graduation of sorts. Cohen recalled, “We rented a little space in L.A. and we filled it with about 25 or 30 people, and Woody got up onstage and basically did the act. He brought 10 people up and he hypnotized them.” Fisher laughed and jested, “[Woody’s] always trying to do this mentalism on us. It’s like, ‘Woody, you’re never going to guess what number we’re thinking. Let it go.’” However, she did eventually admit, “He has done it once or twice actually.”

As for Franco, Kwong proclaimed, “He’s probably the most naturally gifted guy I’ve ever taught.” He continued, “He has picked up some incredible sleight of hand and card throwing is probably the most astonishing.” Leterrier pointed out, “You met Steve Pope, our stunt guy; [Dave] slit his eye, above his eye, with a card across an entire theater. I was like, ‘Hit Steve Pope,’ and went like [mimes card throwing].” Franco gets physical in the actual film, too, for something Kwong dubbed, “sleight of hand hand-to-hand combat.” Kwong explained, “It’s Dave Franco vs. Ruffalo, and it’s like, how do you use misdirection and everything you can pull out of your sleeve to get away. It’s my favorite scene in the film.”

Dave Franco in Now You See Me

The Real Deal

In order to pull off their own tricks, the cast of Now You See Me had to learn from the best of the best, David Kwong. In fact, every set should have a resident magician whether the film’s about magic or not. Kwong’s card tricks, sleight of hand magic and particularly his own original Scrabble trick made for especially exciting entertainment in between interviews.

While wowing the group time and time again, Kwong told us, “I’ve been doing magic since I was about five years old.” He continued, “I worked at DreamWorks Animation. I’ve always been on the development side of things. On this side, I’ve gotten involved with almost every magic or illusion-based thing around Hollywood so when this went into production it was a great way for me to combine everything I loved, film and magic.”

In taking his act to the Now You See Me set, Kwong was responsible for the occasional hand doubling, but also teaching the cast how to perform themselves. “I’ve taught Jesse some of the basic false shuffles. He’s probably better at the snap change than anyone in the history of the planet because he’s probably done it about 5,000 times.” He added, “[Jesse] takes a card and literally changes it from one to the other.” Kwong also elaborated on working with Franco. “I met with him in prep and he went away for Christmas and came back and he was whipping cards faster than I can even do.” Kwong threw a card across the room to demonstrate and while it clearly wasn’t up to his standards, or perhaps Franco’s, it still looked like it could result in a vicious paper cut on contact.

Rather than show off his sleight of hand skills, Morgan Freeman puts his movie magic abilities to use. Kwong pointed out, “The camera allows you to do more things because the camera’s just a single perspective, right? So you can hand things out to somebody to make them appear or drop things below the camera and your hands are empty.” He continued, “We did that with Morgan actually. He takes a dollar bill and then it’s gone. He’s dropped it, but it’s a fluid motion so you can’t see it.” That camera trick also comes into play for Eisenberg as well. “That snap change Jesse does, you can’t see beyond the card because it’s single perspective.”

David Kwong Working with Jesse Eisenberg

Camera Tricks

However, sometimes it wasn’t as simple as dropping a playing card out of frame. In between takes, Leterrier noted, “The card tricks are tough.” He added, “Sometimes, literally, the crew didn't know what they were shooting. I knew 'cause I was like, ‘This will be used to do this,’ but sometimes we're inside a mirror, upside down, reversed, and the guy on the crane was like, ‘I don't know where I'm at. Just take the wheels.’”

And it’s no wonder the crew had a tough time following the material because Leterrier, who’s essentially the lead magician on Now You See Me, is out to replicate the effects of your average card trick. He explained, “We're doing tricks on the audience. I don't want to give it away. But I could say, you guys, look at the deck of cards, I'm flipping the deck of cards, it's too fast, let's do it again, concentrate, try to see one card. You will concentrate on one card and I could guess the card that you guys picked.” He continued, “What I'm trying to do, and I think we'll be able to do it, is that the viewing audience will have picked the same card. We'll have forced a card on the people sitting in the theater. It's really cool.”

In fact, in order to make sure the team can pull off such a feat, Leterrier recruited not one, but two cinematographers. He reunited with Transporter 2 DP Mitchell Amundsen and also brought aboard Super 8’s Larry Fong, who’s also a magician, specifically to capture the film’s magic tricks. Leterrier proclaimed, “Larry's an amazing magician. Fong, he’s better than the best.”

The Four Horsemen in Now You See Me

Movie Magic at 5 Pointz

After getting a taste of some of the more intimate magic of Now You See Me, it was time to see what the Four Horsemen had to offer on a grander scale. One of the group’s big shows takes place right smack in the middle of 5 Pointz, an outdoor art exhibit dedicated to graffiti art. Cohen explained that just before this scene, Laurent and Ruffalo’s characters “went on a wild goose chase to another warehouse and they’ve realized they’ve been fooled yet again, and they realize, ‘Oh my God, they’re over at 5 Pointz!’” Turns out, the Four Horsemen fans are much more on top of the case than the FBI and Interpol because by the time Alma and Dylan reach the location, the courtyard is packed with people and the show is already underway.

While Dylan and Alma try to figure out which way to go to finally catch the Horsemen in the act, the pair looks up and, as Cohen described, “The graffiti itself is changing and altering, there are things projected up on the clouds, there's a hologram happening right above them.” Amongst the dizzying display are images of the Horsemen themselves addressing the audience. We caught snippets of Fisher performing their speech the night before and while the verbiage seemed influx, it came down to, “We’re magicians. We know and you know that nothing ever really disappears – except us unfortunately. And so tonight, our final act, a disappearing act, is also an appearing act, because tonight we’d like to return the magic to the magicians, and return the money back to you. So could you please direct your attention to the stage in front of you?” And the Horsemen don’t just hop up on stage to make this big announcement. Leterrier explained, “These speeches will be projected onto these things. And we'll change them, we'll change their faces to make them look like they're coming out of the graffiti and evolving into real faces and coming out projection style.”

Leterrier described the full experience of the scene as “a cat-and-mouse game.” While Dylan, Alma and the rest of the FBI are running around the warehouse trying to figure out where the Horsemen really are, Leterrier revealed, “You'll see afterwards in the 4D projection, there'll be helicopters flying around with spotlights and the spotlights will shine on the building, almost doing an X-ray transparency thing where you'll see the magicians running around and the cops chasing them. All that stuff will be projected onto the building.”

As Morgan Freeman warns in the film’s trailer, “The more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you.” Find out if Leterrier and his Four Horseman have the skills to pull a fast one on you when 'Now You See Me' arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on September 3.



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