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Adam McKay Made ‘Don’t Look Up’ Because Climate Crisis Is Not Years Away, “It’s Right Now” – Contenders Film: The Nominees
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Adam McKay Made ‘Don’t Look Up’ Because Climate Crisis Is Not Years Away, “It’s Right Now” – Contenders Film: The Nominees

Adam McKay Made ‘Don’t Look Up’ Because Climate Crisis Is Not Years Away, “It’s Right Now” – Contenders Film: The Nominees


Adam McKay is known for, among other things, his blistering satires, Vice and The Big Short among them. His latest, the four-time Oscar-nominated Don’t Look Up, takes aim at our ignorance of climate change, our politics and our obsession with tech.

Speaking on a panel during Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees event, McKay explained how the idea for Don’t Look Up germinated for him.

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“It came about from the dawning awareness that the climate crisis, which I think a lot of us always thought was 50, 80, 100 years away,” he said. “And in the last four or five years it started to hit me that it’s right now. And that a lot of the modelling that we’ve seen has been incredibly optimistic. And in fairness the scientists were telling us that all along. And so, I started to get this bad feeling in my stomach. And as someone who writes and directs and produces, you get that kind of feeling and you want to make a movie.”

A conversation with journalist David Sirota really ignited the idea for the film though, he said. “He made a joke about how ignoring the climate crisis is like the asteroid’s going to hit in Armageddon and no one cares. And I just thought it was such a great, simple, emotional idea. That was it. We dove in.”

Don’t Look Up follows a pair of low-level astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, as they discover a meteorite is going to render the planet extinct and try to explain the situation to a self-interested president played by Meryl Streep.

With McKay on the panel were his frequent collaborators, producer Kevin Messick and composer Nicholas Britell.

Messick said his working relationship with McKay is “really fun,” adding, “I am in the luxurious position of being one of the first to read great scripts from Adam, and the scripts are always amazing… The script was just incredible.”

But, as with so many recent productions, the shoot was stymied by Covid. “Everything came screeching to a halt and we had to figure out like many others, how to do it, how to do it safely or how to do it at all,” Messick said. He credited Netflix for supporting them through the pandemic. “It wasn’t without this incredible support from Netflix for safety and all of the Covid protocols that we were able to make this movie,” he said. “We made this movie before vaccines were invented so [it was] pretty hectic.”

For Britell, working with McKay is also a longtime experience. On this particular film he had an especially daunting task: to combine all the commercial music we see featured in the film, along with scoring big band dramatic pieces and co-writing two new songs performed by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi.

“It was a big process and I think the challenge and the excitement of every project that I get to do with Adam and Kevin here is each of these has their own tonal equation in a way,” Britell said. “I think The Big Short had its own musical tonal language, Succession has its own absurdity and gravitas that we mix together. And Don’t Look Up has its own very specific flavor. One of the joys of this process is that I get to work so closely with these guys and with Hank Corwin, our amazing editor—and we go in the room there and we figure this stuff out together. We experiment a lot. I started the score from this perspective of, the sound of this almost scientific rationality, and a reverence for knowledge, and then I spent a lot of the next months figuring out what the opposite of that sound was, you know, what’s the sound of a rollercoaster hurtling off a cliff, which turned out to be that absurdist big band.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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