Q and A with Director Shawn Levy

The director of both Night at the Museum movies talks about the ups and downs of filming at the Smithsonian

Shawn Levy, director of both Night at the Museum films, hopes his latest film will inspire people to visit America's museums. (Doane Gregory)

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Were there certain artifacts that you absolutely had to have in the film?

The Wright flyer was one. Amelia Earhart was always the costar of our film so there was no doubt that we were going to build and include her Lockheed Vega as a central element of our movie. I found the underground tunnels and corridors really rife with possibilities so we have a sequence that was inspired by them —the behind the scenes aspect of the Smithsonian. I would say those are the ones that come to mind.

No major film has ever shot inside the Smithsonian in Washington, until now. What was that like for you and the rest of the cast?

It was an honor. It was daunting because we shot not simply at night but in the middle of the day so there we were trying to shoot an intimate scene in Air and Space trying to ignore the two thousand civilians who were watching us work mere feet away. It was really cool and I will tell you that for me one of the great thrills and one of the memories I’ll carry with me always was shooting in front of Air and Space in the middle of the night and wandering through the halls of the dark and not open for business Air and Space museum with Amy Adams and Ben Stiller just wandering in the empty corridors of that monumental museum looking at the aircraft, looking at the rockets. It was an honor and a privilege and a memory that we’ll always cherish.

What difficulties did you encounter while trying to shoot a movie at the Smithsonian?

Lots and lots and lots of people. I would say that the administration of the museum was incredibly helpful and made things way easier than I expected, but when you’re dealing with hundreds of non-film people at every turn in every direction it just makes for interesting wrangling of humanity.

What was your favorite moment during filming?

One of the fun things for viewers will be trying to guess which parts of the movie were shot in the real DC in the real Smithsonian buildings and which parts were shot on soundstages and green screen and sets because its’ fairly seamless and I think our production design team did an exceptional job creating a seamless blend of reality and fiction.

My favorite scene was when the Air and Space museum comes to life and Ben Stiller has to be a one-man ground control trying to keep all the rockets and aircraft from escaping. That was memorable. Another sequence that was just filming at the Lincoln memorial all night long was epic and really compelling. And again being able to be in that memorial at 4 in the morning—alone—knowing that I was going to bring that statue to life was one of the coolest moments I’ve had as director.

What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing this film?

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