Tag Archives: Adam McKay

The A-List: The Big Short’s Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin

By Jean Lane

Editor Hank Corwin is no stranger to receiving accolades for his work — he has been recognized by the ACE, the Los Angeles Film Critics Society and the AICE — but this year he is nominated for the granddaddy of awards: the Best Editing Oscar for The Big Short.

Corwin has a diverse resume, having worked with Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life and The New World, Robert Redford on The Legend of Bagger Vance and Oliver Stone on Natural Born Killers, Uturn and Nixon. He also owns Lost Planet, a commercial editorial shop that has offices in Los Angeles and New York, where he keeps his hand in spot work and music videos.

Hank Corwin

Hank and I have a history together in the commercial world — once upon a time I worked for Lost Planet in New York as head producer — so after many years out of touch, we caught up about life, editing and the complex story of The Big Short, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers).

Congratulations on the Oscar nomination, your first! Are you planning to attend the ceremony?
I think my wife Nancy would kill me if we don’t go. I’ve toyed with not attending, just to see how she would react, but yes I plan on attending.

Had you worked with Adam McKay before?
Never. He had already started shooting and my agent contacted me about the film. They sent me the script and it was exquisite. It’s an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book and it’s heady stuff, which I didn’t understand completely, but I saw it as a wonderful challenge.

What is Adam’s style of working? Was there a lot of improvisation on set?
He does come from an improv place and that world. What he would do, unlike many directors I’ve worked with, was first he would get the coverage he needed from the script and then he would allow his actors to start improvising. He would throw out new lines and new scenarios and have them riff off those. I would get loads and loads of footage, which I was able to use. I was able to use the mistakes as well as the scripted stuff.

Were you on set during the shoot or near set?
Adam was five or six weeks into the shoot when I came in. I had a commercial job in Prague, so I flew into New Orleans to meet him for the day. I think he wanted to make sure I had two hands and two eyes. He made reference to the Michael Winterbottom movie called 24 Hour Party People, which had some similarities to breaking the fourth wall. He wanted me to see it, which showed me that he was really open to trying new stuff. The most important thing with a director and an editor is the trust and feelings of safety in the relationship. The director ultimately has to trust the editor, and the editor has to feel safe to try things without worrying about getting fired.

I try things and sometimes directors don’t like them. I was very fortunate that I tried stuff and Adam liked it. We talked through the stuff he wasn’t happy with and it became a very musical relationship, like we were playing jazz. He would play one instrument and I’d play the other.

That’s a great analogy. So how did you tackle this multi-character, multi-story film?
What do they say? A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. The financial part of the script is heady stuff and hard to understand. I figured the best way I could start is to try to understand and develop the characters and give each character his (and his group) editorial signature. The Steve Carell character, Mark Baum, was very angry and explosive, and I tried to reflect that in the editing. The Christian Bale character was very introverteLeft to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprisesd and introspective, and I tried to make his editing very internal, almost like on a biological level. You know the real Mike Burry has Asperger’s, and Christian Bale, after meeting the guy, really captured him. I tried in the editorial to get very focused into details, the way he might be experiencing the world. I think the operative idea on the cutting of the film was it had to be experiential. I was trying to get us inside of them.

It sounds like you were focusing on Burry and Baum — your main instruments — and then you’ve got your other characters that fill in the composition. Am I on the right track?
You know, I’ve never thought of it quite that way, but absolutely. I was thinking of it more like a collaboration of ideas. We were working on a number of different levels. First of all, you have the levels of each character and each grouping, but then you have the flow of the film.

It starts with a surreal moment with the old bankers, then we go into the montage of the crash; it’s kind of wacky and funny, but tinged with anxiety. The film starts comically, and then toward the middle of the film, it becomes a dramatic film.

In the third act, after they come back from Las Vegas, you have this disintegration… the scene with Carell and Marisa Tomei shows all his anger has been washed away, like he’s gone through a breakdown. I tried, very deliberately, to fragment his conversation. That’s a very pivotal scene. It’s a scene I love very much — he completely changes. That act, toward the end of the film, funnels into this tragedy. Each chapter in the film had a different emotional valance. You started with a comedy, you went to a drama and then you ended up in a tragedy. It’s very sad actually, the movie is very sad.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

I think that’s why it’s so beautifully edited — it really does take you through this experience. I was able to follow all the finance stuff, which I’m not familiar with at all.
It comes so much from Adam. One of the really big ideas editorially was if you are able to understand emotionally where these people were coming you would be able to understand the terms and stuff, as opposed to just talking about financial instruments that are abbreviations or initials, like CDOs and synthetic CDOs.

When postPerspective spoke to Adam about making The Big Short, he mentioned that the composer was housed next to your cutting room, and that he would score as you cut. Whose idea was that?
The composer is this young guy named Nicholas Britell. Nick and I just sort of evolved it. We would look at dailies and talk about them even before Adam got involved. I would tell him the emotions I wanted to feel and he would tell me the emotions he felt. He would sit at his computer and come up with tones and we would play it against some of the shots. He was developing the music as I was cutting. He became my co-editor on a certain level.

I’ve never heard of a process that unique.
I’ve never had that kind of collaboration before. I think Adam, Nick and I wish all our film projects could stay this way. I would love to work this way again.

Were you involved in the DI? Were you present for the color?
A little, but Adam primarily did that. Our DP Barry Ackroyd was working on a film out of the country, but he was looking at stuff. One of the neat things about this movie was that it was shot on film! There were just little elements that I loved that you don’t get anymore because digital is so clean. I was able to use the flash frames so we could flare out. I could take a flash frame and slow those frames down and make an impressionistic moment. The cuts themselves didn’t have to be classically beautiful, but they had to work very well on an emotional level.

You’re taking a character and trying to feel what they’re feeling and making connections via images. It’s sort of the way I see the world. It’s not linear, but most people don’t see the world in a linear way.

You definitely don’t see the world in a linear way!
You’ll walk in the street and hear a horn from a car on your left, then somebody’s baby will be crying on the right then there’ll be an old lady with a walker. These are all just impressions. The sum total of it makes your experience, so why not do that on film? Film gives you the ultimate opportunity to take those events. This is where you need a really smart director so you can create a more whole character, a more three-dimensional character as opposed to a one-dimensional third-person character that you’re looking at.

Clearly, he captured a lot of footage that you were happy with.
I’m so lucky. Adam is such a student of film, so he was able to get that stuff.

What is your favorite part of finishing after you lock picture? Color, visual effects, sound?
I love the mix. Traditionally it’s where film really comes alive. We had a sound supervisor named Becky Sullivan who was just wonderful and understanding. It’s tough being a mixer or a sound person because everybody has different aspirations. I wanted her to try things kind of ass backwards and she indulged me in some places and then came up with ideas that were fantastic.

The work itself was the best part of cutting this movie. I was trying stuff and felt safe. Again I attribute that to Adam. I would see things and they would be the culmination of ideas that I‘d been working on for years.

You worked solo on The Big Short as opposed to The Tree of Life, where you were one of five editors. Which do you prefer and why?
I did have an additional editor, Liza Espinas, who cut a couple of scenes. When you work with multiple editors, like with Terry Malick, it was very collegial. He only had people in one at a time. Oliver Stone, would throw in multiple editors and pass scenes around.

You share your time between features and commercials, and you pick your features carefully. How do you decide which ones to do?
I’ll read the script and if I really love the script, if I love something about it, then maybe I’ll go for it. I get great rewards out of doing commercials occasionally as well. The process can be very similar. I’ve had wonderful times doing commercials.

I envy that you’re able to choose projects because it’s what thrills you.
Thank you. I love working with film and I can’t believe that people are actually paying me to do what I do! It’s not like playing a guitar, where if you have the guitar, you can play it. Somebody’s gotta pay for this. Making films is an expensive proposition, so I am blessed in that sense and that my wife puts up with me.

Jean Lane is a post production supervisor based in New York. She was head producer at Lost Planet NY from 2003 to 2005.

The mixers on the Oscar-nominated ‘The Big Short’ weigh in



Technicolor at Paramount sound mixer Anna Behlmer and re-recording mixer Terry Porter were part of the audio post production team on Adam McKay’s Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. McKay himself was nominated in the Best Director category for the film.

In our recent interview with the director he gave a shout-out to Behlmer and Porter: “Mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter just killed it,” he said. “I’ve never done a mix quite like it, where it was shot about 80 percent verite, but the rest is framed more traditionally and we go into montages. The sound had to be ambient and real, but then sometimes it wasn’t. So it had to be moment-by-moment.”

We recently reached out to the duo to find out how they got involved and their work on the film.

Anna_Behlmer_headshot_Dec_2011_0008

Anna Behlmer

Behlmer, who had worked with McKay on Anchor Man 2, did a one-day temp for The Big Short in early September. “I started effects predubs on September 17, and Terry started dial predubs the same day. We started the final mix on September 28 and our last day was October 16.”

Porter handled dialogue and the music, while Behlmer took on all the sound effects. 

The audio team was up against it schedule-wise, which led to some long days. “We worked six days a week, close to 12 hours a day,” says Behlmer. “It was a very short schedule and we needed to work fast.

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What could have been a very stressful turnaround was made easy because of McKay’s nature, says Behlmer. “He’s very easygoing and collaborative. Terry and I would final a reel and Adam and the picture editor Hank Corwin (nominated for his work on this film) would come in for playback. They would give notes and we would execute them and move on to another reel.”

Porter, who hadn’t worked with McKay or Corwin before, echoed Behlmer’s sentiment, “Adam and Hank Corwin had a blueprint for what they wanted to hear, but Adam was very open to any creative ideas and new concepts.”

“It was a very efficient way to work,” says Behlmer. “Adam and Hank knew what they wanted, but they were also open to our input.”

One challenge on the film was that it had pieces of non-traditional storytelling. “There are scenes where an actor would turn to the camera and speak to the audience and then go back in to the scene,” she explains. “These were opportunities for us; we would suspend the sounds of reality for those moments and then suddenly slam the sound back in when the actor returned to the scene. There were no rules as far as the soundscape; the picture editing was non-traditional and the sound had to follow suit.”

Terry_Porter_Nov_2011_0005She also points to the effective use of stock footage in the film. “In some cases we would add sound design or music, and other cases it would be silent. There were several creative uses of silence in the film. There were also scenes that sped up and the sound effects reflected that.”

What Porter found challenging was that the soundscape used all of the production recorded dialogue. “Most movies can have between 10 percent and 50 percent of the production recorded dialog replaced after the filming of the movie. They wanted the feel of a documentary-type dialog track, even if the dialog wasn’t perfectly recorded. This kept it very real. Only a few lines were re-recorded.”

In the end that real feeling worked for the film, as evidenced by its Oscar noms. “The story of the housing market crash is one that has effected us all in one way or another. The film will entertain you, make you laugh, educate you and, finally, make you very angry,” concludes Behlmer.

The A-List: An interview with ‘The Big Short’ director Adam McKay

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Adam McKay has become one of the most successful comedy directors in Hollywood thanks to such hits as the Anchorman films, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys and Marvel’s Ant-Man, which he wrote. Considering his resume, he just might seem like the last person in town equipped to make The Big Short, a seriously dense drama about the devastating 2008 financial crisis that is still resonating through every level of American society.

McKay was not only up to the challenge, he took the complex catastrophe and an all-star cast — including Oscar-winner Christian Bale and Oscar-nominated actors Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt — and turned the film into a riveting examination of corruption, greed and incompetence.

I recently caught up with McKay to talk about his process on The Big Short, a Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises film.

Adam McKay and Steve Carell on set.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making The Big Short, considering you’re best known for comedies?
Even in the silly comedies we always have a POV of what’s going on in the world. So obviously Anchorman is skewering ratings-driven news in the US, and Talladega Nights was about Red State pride, and so on. I’ve always been interested in politics, In fact, I’ve written for Michael Moore’s TV show The Awful Truth and the Huffington Post.

So when I read Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, it totally gripped me… the way he fused character with all this relevant information. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so two years later when my agent asked me if I had a dream project I immediately said The Big Short.

You took quite a radical approach with this very serious subject, making it very funny. So you couldn’t help yourself, while your outrage seems to simmer just below the surface?
I knew it had to be funny to sell the outrage. There’s two parts to this story: the first is where the outsiders know what no one else knows, while the big banks roll their eyes at them. They have the truth, and that part is very exhilarating and exciting, to see these corrupt banks be played by these guys. I knew that we’d always have energy and humor. Then there was the second part, when they learn that the corruption goes way deeper than they had imagined. Plus the fact that the whole world could collapse from this was a tragedy.

It’s also a genre-less story.
Yes! That’s exactly why I loved it so much. I believe the old genres are melting away a bit, so I could change tones on this. And, yes, it’s a tough subject, but learning about anything this important — to find out the truth — is exciting. We’re looking behind the curtain for the first time.

On top of a stellar cast, you got a ton of celebrity cameos illustrating knotty financial concepts.

We called them “pop culture icon characters,” and they explain stuff like “collateralized debt obligation.” So Anthony Bourdain came on, and for the end we had wanted Jay-Z and Beyonce, but found it would be easier to get Angela Merkel. So instead we paired Selena Gomez with economist Richard Thaler in a casino.

The film was shot by DP Barry Ackroyd, whose credits include The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips and United 93. What look were you going for?
We went for a very high-energy, “you are there” feel. There have been some great movies about Wall Street — like Wall Street and Margin Call — but they always present it with everyone in perfect suits in these solid, marble buildings; I felt this experience was the total opposite. I wanted it to be frenetic and anxiety-filled — since that’s how the real people experienced it — and that’s how most of Wall Street operates. That whole facade of conservative bankers in austere offices is a bit of propaganda sometimes. Barry was key to that look, and I’m a huge fan of all his work.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay talking through a shot.

Where did you post, and what were the main challenges?
At Technicolor on the Paramount lot. I knew it was a very ambitious project with a lot of moving parts, so my main rule was that no idea was off limits; let’s try anything! I’ve never seen a post with so many ideas flying around all over the place. It was very exciting.

The film was edited by Hank Corwin, whose credits include The Tree of Life, Natural Born Killers, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Horse Whisperer and Nixon. Tell us about how that relationship worked, especially considering the sheer volume of visual information he had to process.
Hank is just so experienced and creative, and he was so good at pulling all the material together into this coherent story. Then we hired this young composer, Nicholas Britell, who started very early and had an office right next to Hank’s. We had this great system where Hank would cut a version of a scene and then we’d ask Nick to write something for it, and he’d often plug his keyboard directly into Hank’s set-up and actually score the scene as Hank cut it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in post. So it was a very tight, very collaborative group.

BGS-02221R      THE BIG SHORT

Do you like the post process?
I love post, and this was one of the best posts I’ve ever had, starting with the DP and editor. They’re true masters of their craft.

This has some great VFX. Can you talk about them?
The big one that’s jaw-droppingly good — and it’s so good that no one realizes it’s a VFX shot — is the timelapse shot at the start of the film. ILM did it, and I wanted to illustrate how banking has grown over the past 30 years, from six percent of the GDP to 24 percent today. That’s why Manhattan’s real estate has gone through the roof.

So ILM created a sequence with all these buildings sprouting up, and there are even occasional smudges of rain on the camera, and no one’s ever guessed it’s just VFX. But if you stop and think about it, you know there’s no way it’s real.

The other big one is the glass eye for Christian Bale’s character. That was so tricky to do, since in reality you’re not that aware of someone’s glass eye except the odd occasion when it doesn’t move, and I didn’t want it to become too obtrusive. So we painstakingly went through every single shot to get it just right, and Lola VFX did a fantastic job on it.

Where did you mix?
Also at Technicolor, and mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter just killed it. I’ve never done a mix quite like it, where it was shot about 80 percent verite, but the rest is framed more traditionally and we go into montages. The sound had to be ambient and real, but then sometimes it wasn’t. So it had to be momen-by-moment.

Where did you do the DI?
Efilm with Company 3’s Stephan Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). He did an amazing job. DP Barry Ackroyd was off shooting, so I was very involved.

What’s next?
I got a real charge from doing something so current, so I have a few ideas kicking around — one about climate change and another comedy with Will Farrell about immigration.

We’re well into awards season. You’ve been nominated for a Golden Globe for co-writing this. How important are awards to you?
Huge. This is a very unusual movie, so that validation helps a lot.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.