“Don’t Look Up” is filled with so many Oscar winners — Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett Mark Rylance — that it brings to mind those classic star-studded 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flicks “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno.”
Oscar-winning director/co-writer/producer Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Vice”) didn’t mean to have that many well-known actors in one film.“But this is a movie about this time,” he explained in a recent Zoom conversation for Variety. “It’s built to be about the potential end of the livable atmosphere, distraction culture, clicks, all that kind of stuff. So it made sense to have these actors in it.”
He did invent the character of Kate Dibiasky (the mad graduate student in astronomy who discovers the comet that is hurtling towards Earth), for Lawrence. “No one spits fiery truth better than Jen. She is physically incapable to lie and her telling the truth is so fun. Then there was the other actor I wrote about. Rob MorganDr. Teddy Oglethorpe. Then Meryl Streep arrived. We began to realize that all the actors wanted on board because it was something we were going to do. We were going to surrender to the giant black hole question mark that was our time, which is what the F means.
But, he says, “we were going to do it with a sense of humor, we were going to do it with a playfulness. There were so many actors willing to do this. It just kept growing. And a lot of them were ready to improvise an so it seemed to fit this movie.” This end-of-the-world black comedy is Netflix’s second most popular movie ever and it has gained a lot of attention this awards’ season. It’s been nominated at the PGA, WGA and SAG awards plus the Critics Choice.
McKay began planning the film before the pandemic. “We were already seeing tell-tale signs that our institutions were not working very well when it came to problem-solving. We had been going ten to 20 years without solving any problems. It started to become a joke among my friends.” The idea with the movie, he added, “was that the biggest story of all stories is the climate crisis. It would be funny if we could make fun of it. What if we could create an absurdist comedy that reflects how absurd our ignoring the climate crisis is?”
McKay sent McKay the Oscar-nominated editor Hank CorwinComposer Nicholas BritellHis original drafts. “I was like ‘guys, is this crazy? Can we laugh at this?’ I kind of feel like I need to laugh at it?’ I remember Nick, sending it to you and you were like ‘Absolutely.’”
The composer was excited to do something on such a large scale and “to sort of have this idea be within it. That was a really powerful thing.” Britell noted the always felt that “storytelling has that opportunity to sort of pass through ideas in a way that just understanding information can’t always do. If someone tells you something, it’s different than if you experience a story and feel that knowledge. “
Britell and Corwin would discuss the film while McKay was away shooting. “I wasn’t convinced it was comedy,” said Corwin. “It felt like the great tragedy of our time, and we were living the great tragedy of our time. It evolved into a comedy for me, and the cutting evolved too. It became sharper. I had to be more cognizant of the timing.”
The timing of the movie’s last segment changes dramatically when people finally see the comedy with their naked eye. “It becomes almost a religious experience,” said Corwin “The whole tone of the film changes there and the tonality of the cutting changes. So a opposed to being sharp, when the film stops being a comedy the cutting becomes more lyrical.”
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