The Below The Line Screening Series presented a screening of The Big Short at Arclight Cinemas Tuesday, Dec. 22, followed by a Q&A featuring producer Jeremy Kleiner, director and co-writer Adam McKay, film editor Hank Corwin, ACE, and composer Nicholas Britell.
Based on a true story and best-selling book by Michael Lewis the narrative follows the global collapse of the economy that was sparked by the housing crisis. It was four outsiders that saw what big banks, media, and government refused to acknowledge and they came up with the idea to bet against the AAA-rated housing market. They invested millions in dollars betting that everyone would fall – and fall it did. Directed by Adam McKay, the film stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
In getting the project off the ground Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B knew about Michael Lewis’s The Big Short because of their work with adapting Moneyball. “We had taken an interest in Moneyball and we also loved The Big Short. There’s something incredible about how Michael is able to write about people who defy conventional wisdom in how the world works,” said Kleiner. “Paramount was able to require the rights on our behalf and Charles Randolph wrote a really strong screenplay. And how we ended up getting Adam was kind of elusive. One day we got a call saying that he loved The Big Short and wanted to work on it. Our first thought was ‘why didn’t we think of that in the first place.’ We were such big fans of his and from that moment on it was an extraordinary accelerated process because of the passion and energy Adam brought. It took us about two years to finish, which is a remarkable thing.”
McKay echoed a similar notion of Lewis’s writing. “It was one of those great moments where I read this book and thought, ‘this is one of the books of our times.’ There are about four or five books I’ve read in the last 10 or 15 years that show how we live in such incredible, strange and unimaginable times. This book really was able to link all those vital stats during that part of our history to the human condition. I think we are at an odd place where we need to link human conditions to data and Lewis is so incredible at it.”
In editing the room Corwin gave each character a different editorial signature to help build their personality and perspective. “Initially the material was daunting. The script was unbelievable, but the material was very dense and it terrified me,” the editor admited. “What I started out doing was examining the individual characters.” For Michael Burry (Christian Bale), he treated him as the heart of the film. “Burry was a loner. Very introspective in his own way so I decided the style around him would be very quiet, almost synaptic.” In treating Mark Baum (Steve Carell), he looked to an almost in your face style, verging on ugly in order to slam people’s perception of what he was going through. For Brad Pitt’s character, a more naïve approach with a very classical editing style. “But as the journey went along, they all ended up on the same roller coaster. Ultimately we were blending the styles together so you couldn’t tell the different by the end – which was very deliberate,” Corwin noted.
Composing the score for The Big Short, Britell and McKay started riffing ideas from day one and came up with various themes, one of them being ‘dark mathematics.’ “We were thinking of concepts like layered pianos and distorting them around this idea of stable instability – a metaphor for the financial markets. Adam, Hank, and I were in a room all summer coming up with ideas,” Britell explained. In sharing and recording those ideas, the composer would literally plug his keyboard into Corwin’s workstation and start playing sketches and tones he made while watching the dailies. “It was really great,” said Corwin. “It informed us how we could change an edit to a scene. It was like playing live jazz.” McKay added that the ideas came from everyone. “The creative sauce was constantly being stirred with the great team we had. From Hank and Nick to Jeremy and our other producer Dede Gardner, it was an environment where the best idea won and no one was egotistical about it.”
You can see The Big Short in theaters now.