Making Magic: An Interview with Edward Ricourt

By Zack Gutin · September 15, 2015

Edward Ricourt is the mastermind magician behind the hit film-turned-trilogy, NOW YOU SEE ME, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson.  The friendly and loveable new dad took some time away from his various projects, including the third leg of the NOW YOU SEE ME franchise, to chat with The Script Lab about where his career began, how fatherhood has changed his writing process, and where his aspirations may next lead him.

1) Finish this sentence: My big break was…

Selling a horror script to Dimension Films. Eli Roth was going to produce. Hostel came out first and was a big success. My first one just sat on a shelf. There was a time when Tarantino was going to do a “ Tarantino Presents” with it like he did with Hostel. We had a few meetings, but they were at bars in Hollywood and there was more drinking then talking about the script. It never really went anywhere.

2) When did you first find yourself loving writing? At what age? What style of writing?

I always loved writing. First it was love poems to girls in grade school. I never really thought of writing as a skill I could use to make money. In college, I took a bunch of classes in fiction writing and poetry. I even got into slam poetry a bit. I wanted to write a book and the English department said it couldn’t be done in semester, however, if I wanted to try and adapt my idea as a screenplay, I should go to the theater department and do an independent study. I wrote a script, but still never thought of selling it and making a living. It just wanted to tell a story.

3) Did you read a lot of scripts when you were learning the craft?

Early on I realized that for me, reading scripts was a great education. To feel it. See where the act breaks happened. I found a list Yale put together of the top 100 plays of all time. I read all of it. Then I read a top 100 screenplays list. By the time I was done, I had a good sense of how the pages flowed. It gave me a food foundation.

4) Describe your typical writing environment?  At a desk?  On the couch?  I know you’ve said you love to drive and think about writing.  You’re a new dad now – how has that altered your writing space/regiment?

I have an office at home, and an office about a mile away where I do the real writing. I do try to write at home, but with a 10 month old child running around, I am easily distracted. I did have to change up my routine a bit. I used to write late at night, but now I’m up early in the morning because that’s when my daughter likes to play. I’m still figuring out a consistent schedule. It’s been an adjustment, but I’m happy to do it. I love being a dad!

5) NOW YOU SEE ME has evolved into a trilogy!  Was that ever in your plans?  Did you see a franchise coming?

Yeah, having a group of magicians band together was my version of a superhero group. I would talk about sequels and stuff and people would say: “Let’s see how the first one does.” It really is amazing to know people from all over the world love the movie. Very humbling.

6) Are you someone who obsesses over outlining or do you consider yourself more of a freestyle writer?

It depends. When it’s an assignment, I feel like I have to outline everything up to the point where I feel I could write a script off the document. I really hate the process – yes hate, because I could be writing a script for the time I spent doing an outline. But when you go into a studio, you have to make your pitch as bulletproof as possible. When it’s a spec, my outlines are a lot looser. I like the freedom to veer off in different directions. I didn’t outline Now You See Me. I think that might have helped keep audiences guessing because even I didn’t know what turns I would make. Glad it worked out, or that would just end up as an example of what not to do.

7) Who was the first screenwriter you remember being aware of? 

I think it’s a tossup between Tarantino and Sorkin. They have such strong voices, and are in the public spotlight, which is rare for writers. I remember reading Sorkin’s play, “A Few Good Men” before watching the movie and just being wowed. They have managed to brand their voices. I will go to movies if I know they wrote it, without casting considerations or even what the plot is. I just love the music of their dialogue.

8) What excites you most about the future of storytelling?  How do you see technology impacting the career paths of new writers?

I’m interested to see where Virtual Reality (VR) will go. I went to an exhibition and saw what the possibilities are. I think we’re still a few years away, but I think we’ll being seeing movies in VR in theaters and new that will present new opportunities for writers.

9) If you could go back any amount of years in your life – how far back would you go, and what would you tell yourself to do differently in your career path?

I would go back to 2009. That was the year I sold my first script. I would tell myself it’s okay to say no to things. I think we want to jump on whatever is offered to us, but there’s power in saying no, or let’s find something else to work on. If it doesn’t move you, or ignite creative sparks, run from it. Don’t touch it.

10) What’s the next phase of your career?  Do you want to direct?  Is there something outside of film and TV that interests you?

I don’t really have the itch to direct quite yet. Sounds terrible, but I like the lifestyle of a screenwriter too much. However if the right opportunity came up that excited me, I would jump at the opportunity. I see producing as the next logical step in my career. That really excites me. I love what I do for a living, but I always remember what Professor Richard Wesley at NYU taught me. He told me to never be just one thing. A writer. A director. Be a writer/producer. Or a writer/director.