- Insider spoke to “Don’t Look Up” editor Hank Corwin about creating the doomsday sequence.
- He found cellphone videos and archival footage to show the last moments of life.
- Corwin said McKay took a picture of a rabbi crying at the wailing wall, it was “too heartbreaking”.
Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin has made a career of going against conventional methods of film editing.
He’s responsible for the blistering pace of Oliver Stone’s 1994’s ‘Natural Born Killers’ and the dreamy feel of 2011’s Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’, but lately he’s helped director Adam McKay transition from guys behind Will Ferrell’s comedies to create socially relevant dramas like “The Big Short” (2015), “Vice” (2018) and, most recently, “Don’t Look Up” (2021).
The latter presents the duo in full swing in their collaboration. To tell the story of two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) trying to warn the world that a comet is heading towards Earth’s destruction, Corwin takes audiences on a shocking ride of skipped cuts and even seductive scenes. ending with a character in the middle. sentence to examine the absurdity of how the world reacts to news.
“Without exaggeration, Hank is one of the greatest editors of all time,” McKay told Insider in an interview earlier this month. “What he’s been able to do, and that’s what we’ve tried to do with all of these movies, is capture the feeling of what it’s like to be alive now with the amount of information with which we are affected.”
“This guy has a style like no one else and I love it,” McKay continued. “He’s ahead of his time. He’s got the rhythm of how we really live. So I just let him go.”
And it was most prevalent in the film’s conclusion, as Corwin creates a sequence that sporadically shows us glimpses of the last moments of life on Earth before the comet destroys it.
How footage from Corwin’s wedding ended up in the movie
As DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters sit down for a final supper with their family, Corwin uses cellphone videos, stock footage of animals, even his own wedding video to paint a picture of all the storylines of what our last minutes on Earth could be.
“What I try to do is try to find things that look really authentic,” Corwin told Insider of his unique editing style. “I find a slightly shaky, very emotional shot on someone’s cellphone to be as emotional or more emotional than something that’s very third-person.”
“For the purposes of this movie, I really wanted to bring it home,” he added. “I wanted to show the little moments that people could relate to.”
Corwin said how to pull off the doomsday sequence in “Don’t Look Up” was a conversation he’s had with McKay since they were editing “Vice.”
And then when McKay shot “Don’t Look Up” in Boston in 2020, Corwin was in his editing suite above his garage in Los Angeles formulating himself how he wanted the sequence to play.
He found stock footage of shots like a child playing in the tub and two whales having sex, cellphone footage of a bear in a convenience store, and then he went to put footage from his own wedding.
“It’s a genuine moment,” Corwin said of the footage from the wedding, which took place in Las Vegas. You can also see an Elvis Presley impersonator behind them. “Nobody would ever put something this badly done, screwed up, and I was like it had to start with me if I wanted this stuff to be truthful.”
Corwin said McKay went to elevate the wedding footage by altering the footage to show a couple holding hands while watching their weeding video when the comet hits.
“I thought that was so brilliant of him,” Corwin said of the tweak.
McKay took a photo of a rabbi at the Western Wall, Corwin said
Corwin said that over the months of filming and post-production, the doomsday sequence went through many phases. He and his assistant were constantly looking for footage that would top what they had, even McKay was looking through his phone in the editing room for some interesting footage, Corwin said.
But not everything Corwin put into the streak McKay liked.
The editor said McKay had him cut out a shot showing a woman who committed suicide, leaving only a shot of an arm hanging over a bed.
And the only shot of the sequence that Corwin remembers very well that McKay wanted to get out was a shot of a rabbi.
“I had a rabbi praying at the Western Wall,” Corwin said, referring to the religious site in Jerusalem. “The rabbi was crying, it was very powerful. But Adam thought it was too heartbreaking.”
Corwin said it’s part of an editor’s job, that the director is the one who makes the final decision.
“Adam is really tough,” Corwin said. “But the one thing I know is I’ll have my day in court, he’ll watch everything I do. But it’s any editor’s obligation to respect the story and respect the script. “
However, Corwin is proudest of a hard shot that stayed in the streak.
“A photo I like is of a Native American in the Andes worshiping the sky,” Corwin said. “I remembered this documentary about people who worship the sky, so I was looking for something like that. The shot I found was random stock footage. But that’s the one I had talked about using for this movie when we were editing ‘Vice.'”
“Don’t Look Up” is now available on Netflix.