‘Don’t Look up’ Editor on Creating the End of World Sequence
- Insider spoke to “Don’t Look Up” editor Hank Corwin about crafting the end of world sequence.
- He found cell phone video and stock footage to show final moments of life.
- Corwin said McKay pulled a shot of a rabbi crying at the Wailing Wall, it was “too gut-wrenching.”
Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin has made a career going against the conventional methods of movie editing.
He’s responsible for the hectic pacing in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” in 1994, and the dreamy feel of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” in 2011, but of late he’s helped director Adam McKay transition from the guy behind Will Ferrell comedies to crafting social-relevant dramas like “The Big Short” (2015), “Vice” (2018), and most recently “Don’t Look Up” (2021).
The latter showcases the duo hitting their stride in their collaboration. To tell the story of two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) trying to warn the world that a comet is headed to destroy Earth, Corwin takes the audience on a jarring ride of jump cuts and even scenes ending while a character is in mid-sentence to examine the absurdity of how the world reacts to the 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 it’s what we’ve been trying to do with all these movies, is capture the feeling of what it’s like to be alive now with the amount of information we’re hit with.”
“This guy has a style like no one else and I love it,” McKay continued. “He’s ahead of his time. He gets the rhythm of how we really live. So I just set him loose.”
And that was most prevalent in the movie’s conclusion, as Corwin crafts a sequence that sporadically shows us glimpses of the final moments of life on Earth before the comet destroys it.
How footage of Corwin’s wedding ended up in the movie
While DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters sit for a last supper with his family, Corwin uses cell phone videos, stock footage of animals, even his own wedding video to paint a picture of all the scenarios of how our last minutes on Earth could be.
“What I try to do is I try to find stuff that looks really authentic,” Corwin told Insider of his unique editing style. “I find a shot that’s a little shaky and really emotional on somebody’s cell phone to be as emotional or more emotional than something that’s very third person.”
“For the purpose of this film I really wanted to bring it home,” he added. “I wanted to show the small moments that people could relate to.”
Corwin said how to pull off the end of world sequence in “Don’t Look Up” was a conversation he had with McKay going all the way back to when they were editing “Vice.”
And then when McKay shot “Don’t Look Up” in Boston in 2020, Corwin was in his edit suite above his garage in Los Angeles formulating on his own how he wanted the sequence to play.
He found stock footage of shots like a child playing in the bath, and two whales having sex, cell phone footage of a bear in a convenience store, and then he went and put in footage from his own wedding.
“That’s an authentic moment,” Corwin said of the wedding footage, which took place in Las Vegas. You can also see an Elvis Presley impersonator behind them. “Nobody would ever put something that poorly shot, that fucked up, and I was like this has to start with me if I want to make this thing truthful.”
Corwin said then McKay went and elevated the wedding footage by changing the sequence so it shows a couple holding hands looking at their weeding video when the comet hits.
“I thought that was so brilliant on his part,” Corwin said of the tweak.
McKay took out a shot of a rabbi at the Wailing Wall, said Corwin
Corwin said in the months of shooting and post production the end of world sequence went through many phases. He and his assistant were constantly looking for footage that would top what they had, even McKay would look through his phone in the edit room for interesting footage, Corwin said.
But not everything Corwin put in the sequence McKay liked.
The editor said that McKay had him trim down a shot that features a woman who has died by suicide, leaving only a shot of an arm hanging over a bed.
And the one shot in the sequence Corwin recalls vividly McKay wanting out was a shot of a rabbi.
“I had a rabbi praying at the Wailing Wall,” Corwin said, referring to the religious site in Jerusalem. “The rabbi was crying, it was very powerful. But Adam thought it was just too gut-wrenching.”
Corwin said that’s part of the job as an editor, that the director is the one who makes the final call.
“Adam is really tough,” Corwin said. “But the one thing I know is I’ll have my day in court, he’ll look at anything I do. But it’s any editor’s obligation to respect the story and to respect the script.”
However, Corwin’s most proud of one powerful shot that stayed in the sequence.
“A shot I love is of the Native American in the Andes who was worshiping the sky,” Corwin said. “I remembered this documentary about people worshiping the sky, so I was looking for something like that. The shot I found was a random piece of stock footage. But it’s one I had been talking about using for this movie back when we were editing ‘Vice.'”
“Don’t Look Up” is available now on Netflix.