Following the success of last year’s punk-noir, take-no-prisoners Atomic Blonde, which starred a kick-ass Charlize Theron in the title role, director David Leitch seemed like the natural choice to take over the reins of the hugely anticipated
Deadpool 2. After all, before becoming a director known for his hyper-kinetic, immersive, stunt-driven style (a martial arts expert by trade, he co-owns action design and production company 87Eleven Action Design), Leitch spent over a decade in the stunt business and doubled for actors including Matt Damon and Brad Pitt on such films as
Fight Club and
Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He was also a fight choreographer, stunt coordinator, and 2nd unit director on many films including
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
Captain America: Civil War and
Leitch brought all that experience — as well as his work on the 2017 short film Deadpool: No Good Deed and the critically acclaimed 2014 box-office Keanu Reeves hit
John Wick — to the latest installment of the irreverent, raunchy
Deadpool hit saga (the first one, made for a reported $55 million, racked up an astonishing global gross of nearly $750 million).
While the new film’s storyline has been kept closely under wraps, the “official” plot summary promises fans that all of the original film’s wacky humor and ultra-violence has been preserved intact. After surviving a near fatal bovine attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Mayberry’s hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste. Searching to regain his spice for life, as well as a flux capacitor, Wade must battle ninjas, the yakuza and a pack of sexually aggressive canines, as he journeys around the world to discover the importance of family, friendship and flavor — finding a new taste for adventure and earning the coveted coffee mug title of World’s Best Lover.
The film, which stars Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool alongside Morena Baccarin, Josh Brolin and T.J. Miller, has a top-notch creative team led by cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), production designer David Scheunemann (Atomic Blonde, The Hunger Games series), editors Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (Atomic Blonde) and Craig Alpert (Ride Along) and composer Tyler Bates (Atomic Blonde, Guardians of the Galaxy).
I spoke with Leitch, still deep in post on the eve of its release, about making the film and his love of post.
What did you think when you got the offer to do this, as your background as a fight choreographer, stunt coordinator, 2nd unit director, along with directing Atomic Blonde, must have been great prep?
“Yeah, I felt that because of all the action it was a great fit for me, and it definitely drew me to the material. It was this fun, ultra-violent, irreverent thing I could really explore.”
Sequels to big hits are notoriously difficult to carry off. Were you nervous?”
“Very, and you’re so right. It’s so hard to capture that lightning in a bottle again, and I had a lot of conversations with my producer about ‘Why do this? How can we top the first one? Should we even try?’ But then Deadpool’s really about these small personal stories, and the character’s so compelling, and ultimately it was hard to turn it down. I realized, if there’s ever a comic book sequel to take on, it’s this one.”
What sort of film did you set out to make? I assume you and Ryan wanted to keep it close to the spirit of the first one?
“Absolutely. We wanted to make sure we were riding in the same lane as the original, but we also wanted to make it original and expand it but also keep it referential to the first, and keep that same cheeky tone.”
What did Ryan, who also wrote it and produced it, bring to the mix?
“As the writer, he brings so much more than just his comedic chops and dramatic performance, and he’s the best actor I’ve ever worked with. And then he’s very smart as a producer about the brand and how to manage that. He just understands Deadpool and his whole world, the tone, the comedy — all of it, from soup to nuts.”
What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
“The prep time was a big challenge, as by the time we had the script really ready to go, we already had a shoot start date and a release date, and then you’re in this big race to finish on time. That’s the problem with these big movies now. You’re sort of shoehorned in to meet all these deadlines.”
How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
“We did our best to get the post and VFX pipeline going from day one. What held us back was, ‘Where are we budget-wise?’ Usually studios need to do all the accounting before they green-light all the VFX, while if as a director you had more freedom you’d green-light more stuff earlier. So we’re still dropping in shots as we speak.”
Did you do a lot of previs?
“We did a lot, and what was even more effective was all the post-vis we did. We had unfinished shots because of the schedule, so that gave us the chance, knowing we’d have to go back to them, to post-vis some of these sequences, and cut them into the film and test them first.”
How tough was the shoot?
“Some of it was pretty tough. We shot it all in Vancouver, and it rains a lot, and then we had this huge convoy sequence which we shot in downtown, and that meant closing down all these streets for three days straight, which was a big deal, even though they’re so film-friendly there. That was very hard, with 100 cops locking down traffic and so on. Crazy! But it’s been the best film experience of my career. Ryan and Josh are so great and so much fun to work with, and there’s something about doing a comedy. We laughed every day.”
You reunited with director of photography Jonathan Sela, along with other core creatives. How important was that?
“Extremely. My DP, editor, production designer, composer, my producer Kelly McCormick — it’s our third time together and there’s a shorthand and common sensibility.”
Do you like the post process?
“It’s my favorite part and I absolutely love it. I enjoy shooting, trying to get the best stuff I can on the day, but nothing beats when I see it all come alive in post, and then adding all the layers of sound and music and VFX. Post is the most creative part of the whole thing.”
Talk about reteaming with editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, and then you also had Craig Alpert. How did that work?
“We actually ended up with four editors because of the time crunch in post and wanting to explore all the alternative comedic choices. So Craig was in charge of cutting alternative performances, as there was a lot of improv. Then Mike McCusker took on the whole convoy sequence which had a lot of VFX, digital photography and post-vis, so it was a big puzzle to sort out. Then Elisabet oversaw everything and pulled out all the dramatic performances, and then Dirk Westervelt, who cut Logan with Mike, came in to oversee the third act and all the massive VFX. It was this big collaboration.”
All the VFX play a big role. How many shots were there?
“We’re still finishing up but we’re around 1,600 shots — a lot!”
Talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Dan Glass, who did The Matrix films and Batman Begins.
“Dan is so accomplished and experienced, we’ve tried to push the envelope wherever possible. The main vendors were Double Negative, Framestore and Method, and they all specialized in different things, and then Weta also did all of the facial animation VFX for Ryan. They did the first one, and we loved their work, so we just brought them back.”
What was the most difficult VFX shot to do?
“There were quite a few tricky ones, but I think the hardest was the big fight scene at the end which features two fully CG characters. As a choreographer, it was a very interesting challenge, as all my fight scenes, like in Atomic Blonde, were pretty analog. We did some mocap, but it only helped to a point. After that, it was all down to the animation, and they did an incredible job.”
Talk about the importance of sound and music, which are such a key element of Deadpool’s world.
“Exactly, and that’s another reason I was so attracted to this. I love how Deadpool sees the world musically, and how you can use that subversively and with unexpected juxtapositions. There’s a lot of needle drops that can be ironic and comedic, but then there are all the genuine moments in the score, and it was great to work with [composer] Tyler again after Atomic Blonde because he’s also done the big superhero movies like the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and we could explore those musical expectations and how we could subvert them and make it work for this.”
Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
“At Efilm on the Fox lot with colorist Skip Kimball, and we’re right in the middle of it. It’s so important, even though you do your best to bake in the look and make your creative choices on set. So the DP and I dial in what we think our look will be, so the dailies have a POV for sure. But then when you get into the DI you have the chance to make some bolder choices and to dial stuff up or down, so I find it very liberating.”
Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
“It did, as much as any other film I’ve tried to picture at the start of production. There are the classic three stages of making a film — writing, production and then post — and the film continues to evolve all the way through each stage. But it’s in post where it really starts to take on its own life and become its own thing, and it was that way with Deadpool. By the time we got to post, I felt we had great raw material to work with, and I just loved seeing all the pieces gradually come together — and sometimes in ways we hadn’t expected.”
Would you like to do another in the series?
“Yeah, I’d love to. It was a really great experience.”
“I’m immediately starting on a big project for Universal, an untitled Fast & Furious spin-off which features two of the main characters, Hobbs and Shaw, so it’s pretty exciting.”