The Conversation Shawn Levy Asked Me To Keep Secret Until After Real Steel Was In Cinemas

When I met and had a chat with director Shawn Levy about Real Steel earlier this year, not many had seen the film yet and it was a long way out from release. He was surprised, then, that I’d had a chance to watch the whole thing, and this – combined with my rolling enthusiasm for some key moments later in the story – spurred our conversation onto things he appeared not to have discussed with journalists or bloggers before.

We got so stuck into a couple of the film’s most crucial moments, and just how they have a powerful effect on the story overall, that pretty much our whole conversation ended up needing SPOILER tags.

As a result, Shawn suggested that I might keep this piece back until after the film was on release. When I injured my arm and then had to farm out transcripts to kindly volunteers, his request ended up being all too easy to observe – and now this post is arriving a few days later than I’d originally hoped. Apologies.

But, finally, here it is. Read on for Shawn’s commentary on what I considered to be two of the very best moments in Real Steel, and how they make the story exactly what it is.

1. When Atom jumps into the air.

Real Steel was never more or less based on the [Richard] Matheson story. It’s always been taking the sport that Matheson envisioned and that desperate protagonist that Matheson drew, that’s always been the case. In that regard, I think we borrow quite a lot from the Matheson story. When I came on, there was a father-son element, but it never really became gratifying. They never really came together. But the biggest new idea that I brought was that, originally, the robot boxing was always controlled by voice or a remote.

Yet Atom had a shadow function.

It was completely separate from his fight moves. But I thought that if the movie is about a boy who thinks that a robot is magic but eventually learns it’s his father who has something special in him, we had a way to use that shadow function in a way that is satisfying. I came up with this idea, of Charlie Kenton’s boxing background making this robot unique. I remember reading the script and saying “I know exactly what this needs”

That fucking shot, that up-in-the-air moment where it pays off, I could give you a whole article on just that. When we were editing trailers I said “Don’t use that shot, I want that to be a surprise” but what happened was, every time people saw that shot, that was their favourite shot in the trailer.

I shot it two ways. In one version, Atom does that move on his own. In that version of the movie, we would be confirming that Atom is magic. Some thought we should do that, but I felt that if we do that and confirm that he is magic, the movie loses its wonder and suddenly skews very young, if the robot is doing things on his own.

2. When Atom is sitting alone by the mirror.

Tom Meyer designed Atom. It is a genius design.

The scene where Atom is sitting with the mirrors, which is one of my favourite scenes in the movie, if I added just one more frame to that, Atom actually moves. Some were like “Put it in!” and others were like “No! No! No!”

The camera is moving, but you can’t quite say whether Atom is or is not looking at himself. I like that line being walked. That was a big question and subject of much debate.

It’s essentially cinematic because there’s no words, the robot, the camera move and just Danny Elfman’s music.

The movie we ended up editing flirts with the possibility of consciousness, and neither confirms nor refutes it.

Real Steel is on general release now. Go see it.