Adam McKay, ‘Don’t Look’ Team on Risk Acceptance and Backlash

“Don’t Look Up” hits the psyche in a way that few movies ever do. That’s partly because it tackles a pressing, hot topic – climate change – with a movie that’s part cry for help, part black comedy. Movies by Adam McKay, with a story by David Sirota, boasts a star-studded cast, including Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Cate Blanchett. “People like it or hate it, there’s no middle ground,” says McKay.

These days, movies rarely take risks and “Don’t Look Up” hangs on the fence; it could have gone wrong in a lot of ways, but even its detractors have to admit it’s fun: It’s epic, covering a wide range of geographical and emotional territories, with lots of characters and subtle changes in tone. And it seems to be a lot of scramble Oscar nominations.

McKay, editor Hank Corwin, and composer Nicholas Britell worked together on “The Big Short” and “Vice” before this film. The trio sat with Diversity discuss their burgeoning partnership, quest to find the right tone, and the backlash to the Netflix movie.

Adam McKay: We live in a time of strange seismic, prehistoric, transformative, and seismic times. A tone that does not imply the feeling of living now. I write scripts that blend absurd comedy with dark tragedy and drama. And then I forced these two to understand it!

Nicholas Britell: Hank and I joined early, before filming started. Adam asked me to write a piece of music that he could play for the actors on set during the telescopic shot, to give the feel of the movie.

Hank Corwin: The tone of the film is constantly changing; even the temporary music I got from Nick would become irrelevant after a while and we would start over. It is an ever-evolving methodology.

Brittel: Years ago, Hank said it was like we were playing jazz together. We will work together in the editorial room. As they were looking to cut back, I was experimenting with different ideas. My original score that Hank had, “Overture to Logic and Knowledge”, was not at the beginning of the film; it really gets caught up in the dinner table.

McKay: I trust both of them very much. We’re all on the same page trying to tackle the odd inaction on the climate crisis. Then the pandemic hit. Much of what happened was precisely in the script, and far more absurd than in the script. I had to rewrite. That shows in the editing and the scores, as these guys have masterfully managed to put all of this together – and it has to be taken into account how similar the movie is to what we live in. .

Corwin: Sometimes we feel on a high string trying to determine the tone. But Adam creates confidence. There were times when I didn’t understand what Adam was going for, but I had faith. It’s like a dance the three of us do.

Brittel: We are all willing to try anything. It’s the safest testing area you can imagine. The essence of our discussion is to say, “I have this crazy idea, what do you think?” We always try to show each other things.

McKay: There are a bunch of breakthroughs with this movie. One happened when the three of us were talking about what was happening in the world. And we talked about soldiers in World War II, who would drink and dance to a big band, with a sense of joy and horror. Nick said, “Now, it’s like you’re having that night, dancing with the big band, but you’re losing.” Almost immediately, he said, “I’ll try to write a piece”; became the music in the opening credits, the centerpiece of the film. It was a huge breakthrough for Hank and I, for his editing and our interpretation of the film. There are dozens of such conversations as these people actually enter the DNA of the movie.

Corwin: It doesn’t have to be about comfort as much as discomfort, and knowing it creates a dialectic. It was a struggle but it got better.

Brittel: We are all looking together. Every idea is not the end, it is the beginning.

McKay: In the beginning, we mixed tones, between drama, comedy, poetry, tragedy; The movie is not a comedy. And there was a time when we let that make sense when necessary. It was a breakthrough and that coincided with Nick actually breaking that sound and with Hank having a moment and suddenly you feel it’s on the way.

Brittel: Up until this point, there are always things you feel are working very well. One of the elements of our process is constantly miniaturizing, saying, “Not just how does this moment work, but how does the whole feel?” I marveled at Adam, watched the movie, and said “I know what to do” right away. I learned a lot from constantly stepping back and looking at the film as a whole.

Corwin: Adam has reason to step back and say “It’s good but let’s try something else; it could be better. ”

Diversity: Are there any particularly complicated sequences?

Corwin: We all agree. The first scene in the Oval Office became the test of how we were going to cut this movie. If the scene isn’t right, everything after that doesn’t go as well as it should, and everything before it looks wrong. We reduced that scene during the editing period.

McKay: Hank cut a version of that scene, where scientists tell the president and her son, who is her chief of staff, “We’re all going to die in six months.” Hank did a version of what is one of the best cutscenes I’ve ever seen, which is travel. I like to do test sessions to feel the energy. And at that first test, it became clear that there were many views about this moment in which we live. For some of us, things go completely wrong. Some people think we’re in trouble but we’ll fix it; others think we’re fine, it’s just politics as usual. Others think it’s troublesome but it’s not remotely funny.
Then we thought, “This is going to be a lot harder than we thought.” It took a lot of editing, nuance, trial and error, looking at different aspects. This is considered a world movie. It’s on Netflix for a reason. We are worried about what is happening. This film is designed as a conversation with the audience. That’s what makes it more difficult.

Diversity: The reaction was very intense; Are you surprised?

McKay: I think we were all pretty shocked. The reviews are pretty much 50-50, and that’s fine, we all passed that. But I was shocked by the really intense anger that some of the reviewers had. We have shown the film and have yet to receive such a response. All in all, the test audience laughed. So when reviews come out… That doesn’t mean they aren’t accurate. Of course the response will be complex and passionate. When it was released on Netflix, I was equally shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response. I have never seen anything like that. People cry, people laugh. So on a large scale, with critical reception, audience response, there’s no middle ground. And it ended up being “We’re in 2022, of course that’s going to be the reactions.”

Corwin: I am amazed at the personal nature of the attacks. I have a thin skin. It’s hard to rationalize reviews from some people I respect.

Brittel: In a positive sense, the Netflix platform is unimaginably large. I have received messages from people in dozens of countries in a way that has never happened before. The timing and reach of the platform – the number of people who have seen it in such a short amount of time – is beyond my understanding.

McKay: Every bit of the making of this film feels like it’s part of the movie. From our struggle with tone, to our way of photographing during the pandemic. On social media, I joked about some of the responses, saying that some people don’t seem to be paying attention to what’s going on in the world. Immediately social media flocked to me like a pack of hyenas. “He’s saying if you don’t like the movie you don’t care about the world!” That’s not what I said! Suddenly, it all took on a frenzied momentum and there was a backlash against critics. And became a talking point “If you question your critics, you are guilty of Trumpism!” It was out of the movie. To see the enthusiastic response, to see climate scientists say “I feel seen.” It’s a reminder of the movies, TV [and] music can do. It was a bit brutal going through it. Now I cherish the whole experience and I think “Let’s do more!”

https://variety.com/2022/awards/news/dont-look-up-adam-mckay-1235166817/ Adam McKay, ‘Don’t Look’ Team on Risk Acceptance and Backlash

Fry Electronics Team

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