Prolific producer and director Shawn Levy fell in love with “All the Light We Cannot See” long before he was hired to adapt Anthony Doerr’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into a new Netflix limited series, premiering Thursday, November 2nd, will be published. “As a filmmaker, I didn’t read it. I read it as a reader,” he told IndieWire over Zoom. “When I returned from vacation reading the book, the rights were no longer available, having been acquired by Scott Rudin and Fox Searchlight.”
The story of a blind French teenager, Marie-Laure, and a German soldier, Werner, who came into contact via radio and provided each other with salvation from the devastation of World War II, was exactly right for Levy when he made the conscious decision to direct Taking a step back from filming and concentrating while producing. “At that point I had made maybe nine films in 11 or 12 years. “It was a lot of movies in a row,” said the director of hits like “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Real Steel.” “I felt this tiredness, but it was also the release of my last film, Night at the Museum. Robin [Williams] had died a few months earlier, and that forced me to stop and think about how I spend my time more consciously.”
His increased focus on work as a film and television producer paid off over time: He and his company 21 Laps Entertainment produced “Arrival,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 2017, and the blockbuster Netflix series “Stranger Things.” which earned him four Emmy nominations. After successfully steering away from the kind of PG-rated family comedies he was so known for, Levy continued to pursue the rights to the prestigious period piece, “because you never know what’s going to happen on the way to the starting line, and maybe ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ will be released.”
When his 21 Laps colleagues Becca Edelman and Dan Levine finally helped him secure the rights to the war novel in 2019, Levy had a whole new creative perspective. “My whole pitch [to Doerr] was: “Don’t try to cram your sprawling, epic novel into two hours.” Let’s do it in a form that allows for longer narrative and storytelling. Let’s do it at Netflix, where there are no running time requirements. There will be no requirement for the number of episodes. We’re going to get this story right. “We’re going to do the adaptation right,” the filmmaker said.
That included not being afraid to make changes to the story that would better serve the television version, a skill he honed while producing “Arrival,” a nominee for best adapted screenplay based on a short story by Ted Chiang. “If the film works, the freedoms and deviations from the source material are quickly forgiven because the narrative succeeds in this new form,” said Levy. “It’s more than our job to stick strictly to the source material, because if we just translated the prose verbatim, it wouldn’t have made a great movie or a great show.”
The producer alludes to a years-long search for the right writer for the project, which ultimately led similarly prolific Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight to adapt All the Light We Cannot See into a four-part Netflix limited series. “One thing we all cared about is the poetic, lyrical and emotional story of the book, but it is also a real page turner. It has a really exciting narrative drive and the things that brought Steven to life and added to the lifeblood of the series served to drive the suspenseful plot and deploy a web that not only closes around Marie but also the pressures that are being exerted.” “Werner, who despite the German uniform he wears, desperately tries to maintain his fundamental goodness,” Levy said of the development process. “I found Steven’s new inventions and plot diversions very successful. Maybe there will be purists who react differently, but Anthony loves the adaptation.”
Although Levy had pursued the project for years, he initially had no plans to become the sole director of the limited series. But then: “I read the first draft of the first episode of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ and said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to share. It’s so good and touches me so emotionally and personally that I’m going to do the whole thing myself.”
The Emmy-winning limited HBO series “Chernobyl” served as a possible model, directed exclusively by writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck. “Since Steven wrote all the episodes and I directed all the episodes, I honestly could ignore the fact that it’s technically a TV series and I directed this thing as if I was “directing a four-hour feature film,” Levy said.
The Shawn Levy who read All the Light We Cannot See during a self-imposed career decline was a different Shawn Levy than the one who bought the rights to the book right after the huge success of Stranger Things. The same goes for Shawn Levy, who ended up directing the series after making his big return to film with Free Guy, one of the films that brought audiences back to the world in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic attributed to cinemas.
“The two most defining things of the last half decade of my life were ‘Stranger Things’ and working with Ryan Reynolds,” Levy said. These projects made him “more comfortable and used the different muscles more easily as I found different visual languages to tell a particular story in film or show form,” the director said. “As I feel more comfortable with storytelling from other genres, with more complex images both in terms of camera movement, composition, lighting and aesthetics in general, I would say my confidence as a stylist and as a cinematic storyteller has grown.”
However, “All the Light We Cannot See” plays to the strengths that Levy has had throughout his career. “I love discovering new talent. I love giving a great performance with young and newer actors. I love a combination of new and experienced actors,” he said. These components are expressed in the new Netflix series, which brings together groundbreaking talents like star Aria Mia Loberti (herself visually impaired like her character Marie-Laure) with Emmy favorites like Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie.
“If everything I have staged has a unifying quality, it is a certain emotionality. Sometimes it’s comedic, sometimes it’s spectacle, sometimes it’s action, but it’s always warmhearted. It’s always uncynical,” he added.
“All the Light We Cannot See” is a passion project that comes at a time when Levy has reached a new peak in his career, now directing the Marvel film “Deadpool 3” as well as a Star Wars one film as well as the final season of “Stranger”. Things” on the note. For him, directing the limited series “wasn’t about the directing fee. It wouldn’t be about the budget and it would take a year of my life not to make a film,” he said. “I knew this material was worth it, so I gave it my all without hesitation.”
“All The Light We Cannot See” will stream on Netflix on November 2nd.