It stands to reason that a filmmaker reared in comedy improv, Adam McKay, would partner up with an editor, Hank Corwin, who is familiar with cutting for directors known for their impromptu style.
Corwin was an editor on such movies as The New World, The Tree of Life, and Song to Song, all Terrence Malick-directed titles, a filmmaker who is known to rip up his shot list on a production day to pursue more intriguing visuals, and also discover the movie in the editing room.
While McKay does encourage improv on the set of his movies, and indeed a lot of unscripted footage pours into the editing bay, what the filmmaker savors about Corwin, who he met through producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner on The Big Short, is the editor’s courage for “taking bold leaps”.
McKay will often leave Corwin to come up with the first initial cut on his own, and in doing so, the editor incorporates intriguing elements, ie a Ludacris video in The Big Short, or cutting scenes abruptly in the middle of a character’s line, a style McKay feels resonates with mainstream audience’s attention spans. It’s a working relationship that has earned Corwin two Oscar noms for McKay’s Vice and The Big Short and the filmmaker an Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay on the latter film.
“Comedy is built on surprise and the unexpected,” McKay says.
“It’s a kiss of death when an audience gets ahead of a movie,” adds Corwin.
In McKay’s environmental satire Don’t Look Up in which astronomers played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence try to inform the world about their ultimate doom with a comet that’s destined for Earth, Corwin used both stock footage and on-the-street images of second unit footage of waves crashing, Hummingbirds and lizards shedding skin to heighten the stakes for when both characters arrive to their first TV news debut in New York City.
In total, Corwin assembled a movie that changes genre midway through, which was part of McKay’s master plan.
“The world we’re living in now doesn’t adhere to a genre as much as it uses to, shifting from farcical comedy to a tragedy to a drama,” McKay says.
We talk with the duo about their shorthand on today’s Crew Call, film testing, and finding that right cut.