September 19, 2014

Levy and Zimmerman @ SCA

By Kaiti Williamson

Leonard Maltin hosted an advanced screening of the dramedy This Is Where I Leave You on September 19th in his Film Symposium class, followed by a Q&A with director and producer Shawn Levy and editor Dean Zimmerman. Based on a novel of the same name, the film explores both chaos and comfort when four siblings are forced to reunite for a week under the same roof following the death of their father.

A Trojan alum, Levy graduated with an MFA in Film Production in 1994 and has since gone on to generate films with outstanding commercial success, including Night at the Museum, Real Steel and Date Night. After reading the novel five years ago, however, Levy knew he wanted to produce This Is Where I Leave You as a smaller film that had a more grounded tone and an authenticity that differed from his other films.

“It was liberating to not have to deal with the complexities of scale,”said Levy, “unlike Real Steel or Night at the Museum.”

Levy said the differences in this film appear in the subtlety of the writing, acting and directing. Additionally, unlike straight comedy films, the emotional storyline and performances in This Is Where I Leave You allowed the film certain leniency when editing to rely on character reaction shots versus strictly highlighting the delivery of each line. Having been inspired by the chemistry and strength of the dynamics between certain actors following the table read, Levy said he wrote additional scenes to improve upon the depth and complexity of particular relationships throughout the film.

The cast includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Levy said he was thrilled by the organic nature of each actor’s performance and embraced moments of improv and ad-libbing to further release each actor’s talent. He highly emphasized the importance of collaboration between directors and actors on set, telling his audience “all film schools should teach more classes without cameras.”

Having simultaneously directed and produced all of his films since Night at the Museum in 2006, Levy said he has learned over the years that creative control always takes precedence over business savvy. Specifically when it came to the casting of This Is Where I Leave You, Levy said he altered the shooting schedule to accommodate Adam Driver regardless of the cost, since Driver was the only actor Levy could see in the role.

Levy and Zimmerman have collaborated together as director and editor on six films and discussed what they described as their “unspoken shorthand”and a “synergy”they have developed over the years. Zimmerman learned to edit using film, and the two talked about the ease of digital technology to test multiple versions of a scene and quickly modify a sequence based on the reaction of an audience. Although the film is first and foremost a comedy, Levy and Zimmerman said they chose to leave out particular scenes they found hilarious in order to honor the integrity of the relationships between certain characters.

Levy and Zimmerman are currently editing Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which features the late Robin Williams. Levy stated that reviewing takes from the film has “brought back the force of [Williams’] life energy and joy.”Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was Williams’last film and will be released in December 2014.