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Carey Bryson

Real Steel: How Director Shawn Levy Makes Actors Cry

By October 5, 2011

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Have you ever wondered how actors can cry on demand? How do they get into their parts enough to convincingly display other emotions like anger, excitement, determination and sadness? In a round table discussion with Director Shawn Levy, he let us in on a little secret. Shawn taps into the power of music in order to help actors get in the right frame of mind to shoot a scene. In a round table discussion about the movie Real Steel, opening in theaters this Friday, October 7, Shawn described how he uses music on set to help elicit the needed emotions from the actors, "I play music on set when I'm shooting...the more intellectual the actor, the more I find music is a great way to direct, because you bypass the cerebral intellect with music."

Because Real Steel is both an action movie and a drama, the music had to cover a wide range of emotions. Shawn related about Real Steel, "For every sequence of the movie, I make a play list months before I make the movie. So I had fight songs, I had pre-fight songs, I had the opening -- and my opening playlist was Nick Drake, Josh Rayden, Alexi Murdoch, Ben Harper, a little Jon Mayer...that kind of stuff."

During one scene in the movie, Dakota Goyo has to get a little emotional. So, what song did Shawn play in order to make a young boy cry? "First Breath After Coma," by Explosions in the Sky. He describes the shoot, "The last thing I said is, I need you to cry. I did not say anything. I said, I'm gonna play some music, feel what you feel. We're gonna roll slow motion. Let's see what happens...And so I played this piece of music, and he started...first it was the nostril, and that's what you see in the movie -- the nostril, then the chin, and that one frickin' tear!" Needless to say, everyone on set was affected by that moment, and it comes across in the movie as well. Dakota does a stellar job at conveying a wide range of emotions in the movie. He is one believable little actor.

For Levy, music wasn't only an important directing tool, but it was also important in the movie to set the tone for the audience. The movie opens with a tune by Alexi Murdoch. He first heard the song during a yoga class and knew it was the song he wanted to use to open the movie. "People are expecting rock 'em, sock 'em boy movie," he said, "And we need to send a message right away that it ain't exactly what you're expecting. It's going to have more heart. It's going to have more character, and it's actually going to be an emotional ride as well as an action ride." That opening song as well as other great music from the movie is available on the Real Steel soundtrack.

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(Photo DreamWorks. Disclosure: DreamWorks/Disney provided travel and expenses for the screening of this movie for review and interview purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.)

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