Exclusive Interview: David Kwong on Now You See Me

There was a throwaway line, just Jesse Eisenberg making a fat joke about an assistant outgrowing the sawing in half trick. Is there precedent, has anyone actually outgrown the sawing in half trick?

Oh, I’m not aware of any specific examples. There are also many ways to do the sawing in half thing. We just put that in there to establish a relationship between the two and we’ll see where it goes. Maybe in the sequel.

We don’t want to say too much about the final trick, but with all the disappearances and reappearances that entails, are they based on actual physical tricks magicians could pull off?

I’m glad you brought that up. Basically what we wanted to do in this film, there’s nothing supernatural. So everything is based on reality. Now Louis always said to me, and we had a lot of push and pull over this because I wanted to do everything so practically, but Louis said no. What his vision was, and ultimately of course I trusted that, these are the magicians of tomorrow. So the exercise we often went through was he would say to me, “What magic trick, what effect have you always wanted to pull off but you haven’t quite had the method for it yet?” That’s how we started with the levitation of somebody, which we’ve been seeing for a long time, and then we turned that into “let’s do it right over the audience.” No one’s quite figured out how to have somebody fly up and towards the balcony without the wires being seen.

Then we take it a step further and we say, “Let’s put her inside a bubble. How could a real bubble stay intact and not pop during a levitation like that?” We’re trying to push things because they’re the magicians of tomorrow and we did a lot of research into projection, image projection on buildings, holographic projection. I don’t want to give away too much of course but everything is grounded in illusion principals. We’ve been seeing that sort of projection since the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion. Even last year at Coachella they made Tupac appear on stage using the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion so that sort of projection image is very real.

SPOILER QUESTION: I also liked the final trick in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Could magicians really get away with knocking out an audience like that?

That is a great part of the film. I think they would get in a lot of trouble with health codes if they did that. Maybe the magician of tomorrow is going to pull it off. We can certainly dream about that.

Are you working on something magic-related with J.J. Abrams?

I can’t talk about it. There’s no more secretive company than that one. I’ll tell you that J.J. saw my show and approached me afterward and said, “I love what you do with magic and puzzles and secret codes and I’d love you to pitch me some ideas.” So I turned around and worked on things for a while and came in and pitched him some ideas, and one of them took off. It’s been very exciting working with those guys.

Could you talk about the process of pitching J.J. Abrams?

It’s no different than a magic trick. You put tons of hours into something that’s only going to play out in a short amount of time but you want to be maximally prepared for those performance moments. It’s just idea after idea that was well thought out and bouncing ideas back and forth. Most of the work happens at home as you’re writing things.

Can you say if that’s a project for film or television?

I cannot.

I’m also fascinated by All About Steve. Were you a cruciverbalist consultant on that?

Yes, that was actually my first Hollywood consulting credit. Cruciverbalist consultant. I write crossword puzzles for the New York Times, the L.A. Times and Sandra Bullock plays a quirky crossword puzzle constructor.

Oh, I’ve seen it.

It’s a fun movie. I designed the puzzles for it. There’s a nice little opening sequence where she’s constructing a puzzle so I advised on that. It’s funny, I was standing over her shoulder with the cameras on her hands, saying, “Okay, now put a T there and a box there and a V there.” It was a lot of fun to make that.

Did she portray cruciverbalism correctly?

Yeah, she did a very good job with that. For the most part, there’s editors and there’s constructors. It’s rare to have both in one where someone’s constantly generating all the puzzles for a publication. Usually with the New York Times, like what I do, it’s freelance. I send them in and then Will Shortz edits them, but they got the spirit of it right.

The real question is they seemed to publish her All About Steve puzzle without even checking it first. Could that ever happen that a crossword puzzle goes out unchecked?

No, there’s a big lead time, especially when it comes to the New York Times but there are mistakes in the puzzle. We try not to have them but every once in a while somebody will write in to point out something. No, these puzzles are tested with veteran solvers and we try to keep mistakes to a minimum.

So when you say Will Shortz edits your puzzles, does that mean he might change one or two clues to something else?

Yes, of course. The constructor makes the grid but Will will edit the clues because if it’s a Monday puzzle it’s going to be super easy, if it’s a Thursday puzzle it will be much harder. So if I put the word “cat” in the puzzle, he might change the clue to be “Garfield” if he wants it to be a Monday easy puzzle, but if it’s Thursday he might make it “Schrodinger animal” or something like that. We lock the grid down and then we submit the clues as we want them to be but he will change things to make it easier or harder.

Could he ever possibly change the words?

Yes, he’ll mess around with parts of the grid for sure if he doesn’t like how it looks, or perhaps if a word was in there the day before, he wants a little more variation. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.