We’re posting weekly transcripts of Season 2 of Slate’s Working podcast for Slate Plus members. This season’s host is Adam Davidson, the co-founder and host of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. What follows is the transcript for Episode 1, which features Adam McKay, a screenwriter and the founder of FunnyorDie.com. To learn more about Working, click here.
In addition to the transcripts, we’ve added some other Slate Plus perks for Season 2 of Working. The members-only version of each podcast will feature a short Slate Plus extra, and we’re also allowing members early access to the podcast—look for it to publish on Sundays. The non-member version will publish on Mondays.
You may note some differences between this transcript and the podcast. Additional edits were made to the podcast after we completed this transcript.
Adam Davidson: What’s your name and what do you do for a living?
Adam McKay: I am Adam McKay. I am a writer, director, producer.
DAVIDSON: What’s a typical day in your life?
MCKAY: Well, it depends. There are three different kinds of days I can have. If I’m writing a script, there’s that day. If I’m producing primarily, there’s that day. And then if I’m actively shooting a movie and directing, there’s that day. Should I give you a piece of each?
All right, writing is probably the most relaxed and pleasurable of those three. I would usually wake up, let’s say 7 a.m., and take my youngest daughter Pearl to school. I then would go work out, and around 10:00, 10:30 I would start writing. Usually I will waste a little bit of time, for about 45 minutes to an hour, and check emails, check news sites. I like to go, like, ThinkProgress, Huffington Post, The Daily Kos, those types of places. RealGM for basketball.
I’ll usually post something on Twitter. I still keep a Facebook because there’s a bunch of relatives I have around there, so I may give that a look. And then I’ll start easing into writing, and they’re unusual days because most of what’s happening is in my head, or off of an outline. And usually the first couple of hours are spent identifying what I have to do, which is more important than you would think it would be, and figuring out what the steps are to what I have to do.
MCKAY: Well, I’ve done a bunch, some that I may not be credited for. I did a large rewrite on Elf. I just did a large rewrite on the Ant Man movie for Marvel. I’ve done uncredited rewrites on a bunch of stuff. I’ve written many scripts that haven’t been produced. So, I wrote a couple of TV ones recently that actually aren’t going to be made.
DAVIDSON: And you were, we should say, a head writer of Saturday Night Live a long time ago.
MCKAY: Yes, yes. So, I wrote sketches for a lot of years, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of sketches.
Yeah, all kinds of things, but primarily now I write feature films.
So, at that point you want to identify what you have to do. And what happens if you don’t do that, it feels overwhelming because you have all of this work to do. If you don’t say, OK, here’s what I’m going to do today—and it’s trickier than it sounds. You have to kind of pick the scenes you want to rewrite.
You have to look at the macro structure of the script and what you need to make work. If you’re writing fresh pages, still the same questions apply. What am I going to try—I’m going to try to get from Point F to Point K today, and you have to kind of know what that roadmap is. Usually, honestly, that will take me to lunch. I’ll—
DAVIDSON: Just figuring out what you have to do that day?
MCKAY: Yeah, and outlining it.
And a lot of times I’ll go into the script, you know, with the final draft program—which allows—makes it a lot easier to write a screenplay, and I’ll map out using bold, colored letters what I’m going to do in the actual pages. And go, like, fix this, make this part connect with this. And I’ll do all the notes so they’re actually on the road. If you picture a runner who’s going to run five miles, it’s like going ahead and mapping out your course that you’re going to run, is kind of what it is.
And it’s probably the hardest thing to do during the day. It’s the least fun and it’s the most workmanlike. And then a lot of times my associate who produces on a lot of my movies and assists me in tons of things, Robin—who works at Gary Sanchez, the company that I run with Will Ferrell—will come by for lunch. And we’ll usually each lunch, and then I’ll check in on the things I produce as well, and we’ll talk about other projects that are going on.
And we’ll usually put something really stupid on television. We usually flip around and watch something we haven’t seen. So, we’ll watch, like, a soap opera. The other day we watched this—I hadn’t seen a soap opera in 15 years, and we actually watched, like, Guiding Light for, like, 20 minutes. And then I go back to writing. And usually this is the most productive part of the day after lunch.
DAVIDSON: Wow, I think for most people that’s the least productive part of the day.
MCKAY: This is where—you know, I use a very specific tool in writing that’s very important, which is shame. So, if I’ve wasted a lot of time earlier in the day, this is where it’s like, OK, if I don’t get a good run of writing going on right now, I’ve just sat around in an office all day and done nothing, and that’s really pathetic. So, usually around 2:00 it kicks into a nice gear, and I’ve laid out the roadmap earlier.
And I usually can get a good gallop going from like, 2:00 to like, 6:30. You get a good four and a half hours of real writing. I mean, I’ve had days where—with Ferrell we had a day one time where we wrote 24 pages in a day, which is a lot for a script.
DAVIDSON: Because a move is like, 120 pages typically?
MCKAY: Average, yeah, 120. Comedies are usually a little bit less, 110. So, that’s the writing groove. That’s—usually it’s 2:00 to like, 6:30.
And you’ve got to find the right music to play. I like instrumental music. I don’t like lyrics, too distracting. It depends on the project I’m writing for, what I listen to. This one I just wrote, The Big Short adaptation of the Michael Lewis book, is a little more of a drama, so I actually was listening to music I never would normally listen to. I was listening to like, Max Richter and Philip Glass. And it just worked, that’s what I ended up using.
So, I’ll usually write up until around 6:30, and then usually there’s a flurry of phone calls around that time and there’s people that was supposed to check in with earlier, and so I’ll talk to like, my agents. I’ll talk to a producer, maybe like, a network head or a studio person, executive. You know, producers at our company have been trying to reach me all day. So, there will usually at that point be about six or seven phone calls.
And meanwhile during all of this my kids have come home, because when I’m writing, when I’m really writing, I write at home. You have to, because the office is too distracting. Sometimes we even use hotel rooms, which are great, and that helps with the shame, because if you’re paying for a room to be in it to write and you’re blowing it off, that is really pathetic. Because then essentially you’ve just paid to sit in a room and play, you know, Angry Birds, or watch bad television. But mostly now I write at home.
So, yeah, the phone calls usually will take me right up to dinner, and I’m usually in there finishing a phone call while my wife or one of my daughters is saying, “Dinner’s ready.” And I hang up the phone and go right to dinner. And then once I’m done for the night, I’m done. I don’t like to do other phone calls or have work trickle in. Then it’s family time. Then you have dinner, put the girls to bed, watch—what are we watching now? Watch House of Cards with my wife.
You know, see my older daughter after that. We’ll talk a little bit and check in on homework. So, that’s the writing day.
DAVIDSON: And what really strikes me about you is there is—I don’t even know—like, I don’t know enough about scriptwriting to know what it is, but when—I’ve seen you kind of—we’re talking in a very vague way, and then you disappear, and then fairly soon there’s this script that seems well-structured and like, well thought through, and there’s an awful lot going on. It just—so, it’s helpful for me to understand how much went into making that possible.
MCKAY: Yeah. The advantage I have is, I always say to people—because at this point I can write pretty fast and I’m pretty comfortable with the different forms and structures—and what I always tell people is, I’ve just been doing this a long time. That’s a lot of it, is that from the age of 19 on I was actively writing sketch, and I took screenplay classes, and I’ve watched thousands and thousands of movies, and I’ve rewritten and written probably honestly at this point like, a thousand different kinds of scripts in my life.
DAVIDSON: So, we are sitting right now in your offices at Gary Sanchez, and explain that—because you actually—you are part of the management of two companies that are both in this building.
MCKAY: Yeah, Will and I started a production company, I think, what, about seven years ago now called Gary Sanchez Productions. We produce film and television, but somewhere along the way we also ended up producing a website, Funny or Die. So, that came out of Gary Sanchez. So, we are—we’re not majority owners, but we own a large stake in Funny or Die and day in, day out participate in it, and help hire people, and throw creative ideas.
So, on our floor right now we have the Gary Sanchez offices, and then it’s separated, and then there’s the giant Funny or Die—by the way, we helped start Funny or Die, and it’s now ten times bigger than Gary Sanchez. I mean, it’s really become gigantic.
MCKAY: You know, early on Will had exactly that question. He’s like, why do this? And you know, we started very small. It was just three people. It was really Will, myself, Chris Henchy was kind of our day-to-day guy, and then we had Lauren Palmigiano work the front desk. So, it was really small. And the idea that I had was that we can do so much more than what we’re doing now, that you don’t always have to be doing it every step of the way where you’re writing the script and directing. That we can find other talented people.
And I think Ferrell’s just tends to say yes. He’s a very open, collaborative guy. So, we go all right, let’s give it a shot. If it doesn’t work we’ll stop. And pretty early on we ended meeting Danny McBride and Jody Hill, and did Eastbound and Down. And I think that was really the first project we had where I know for Ferrell—and even for me, because before then it was just a theory—of wow, this is really cool. That these guys, Jody and Danny are amazingly talented. They write the scripts. They direct the episodes.
The Funny or Die was easy. The Funny or Die was so small we just said, hey, we’re not on SNL anymore, I miss doing sketches, let’s do Funny or Die. And Ferrell’s like, I miss it too, let’s try it, who cares? And then it became a thousand times bigger than we ever imagined.
DAVIDSON: Largely because of your daughter, who was 2 at the time.
MCKAY: Yeah, Pearl the landlord, that was the video, and it was I think at one point the most viewed video ever and it made the company the fastest-growing Internet company ever. It was ridiculous, and it was a video that we shot in 40 minutes at Will’s guesthouse. So, that’s how we’re now sitting in a giant building, and without exaggeration, above us is Oprah Winfrey. Like, that somehow these jackass small, idiotic ideas have us now with Oprah Winfrey having an office above us in this giant building. So, it’s crazy.
So, that’s the producer side. That would be a producer day, which is what you just said. Which is I’m in here, I have meetings with writers pitching things, I have meetings with actors that we want to meet and do something with. Like, the other day Brie Larson was in and we think she’s amazing, and we want to develop something for us. And then there’s some guy who owns the intellectual property rights to some old book that we actually want to—you know, so you have to do all those kind of meetings.
And that’s much more social, and there’s a big lunch usually, and we’re laughing a little bit. And it’s also a little—probably one of the more tiring things, too, because it’s just meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting. And you’re like, all right, I want to go home now. And that’s closer to like, “work” work, but we still love it.
DAVIDSON: So, you are right now about to start full on production for The Big Short, which is the next movie you’re directing.
MCKAY: Yeah, yeah.
DAVIDSON: You’re a day away from moving to New Orleans for several months to run this show. I’ve been spending a lot of time with you, so I know a lot of this. But explain—it’s kind of amazing—I guess I abstractly knew that’s what a film director does. But all the people you have to be talking to, all the departments you have to be giving guidance to. The movie’s going to start filming not for another few weeks, right?
MCKAY: Yeah, we have about a month before we start shooting. So, yeah, this is a totally different gear. This is “shooting a movie” gear. So, I mean, there’s actually two different days within shooting a movie. There’s “when you’re shooting day,” and there’s “pre-production day.” I’ll do shooting the movie, but I’ll give a little prologue to it, which is yeah, when you’re in pre-production your whole day is people constantly checking in with you with questions, questions, questions, questions.
It’s the prop person saying like, “OK, I’m going to put these fake documents on the table. Do you want them scattered. As a general rule, should I have them scattered or stacked?” So, then I may come to you as our consultant, Adam Davidson, and go, “You’ve been around a lot of these offices. They seem pretty orderly to me. Am I right or wrong?” And you’re going to be like, “Yes, you’re right. Some of the smaller hedge funds get a little crazy, but for the most part–”
So, that’ll be a decision. And it’s just question after question after props after costume after hair after makeup, and then you go through the shooting day schedule, and then you meet with the DP and you talk about what lenses you’re going to use and what the aspect ratio—we already know that, actually.
But then you talk about the style of shooting, and what equipment we want to order, and do you need a crane on this day, and you’re going through—so, it’s that, that, that. And then you start shooting. And–
DAVIDSON: And just—today you and I went to an actual trading floor—because a lot of your movie takes place on trading floors. And there was the overall designer trying to just get a feel for the design. There was a prop guy who just wanted to look at every physical object people touch and hold. There was a costume designer who was looking at what people wear. You’re going to have to make a lot of creative decisions, right? This is not a documentary and these are fairly bland spaces, so you have a lot of choices to make and guidance to give them about how real versus how expressive or whatever these design choices will be.
MCKAY: Absolutely. Yeah, there’s almost like a ratio to that. Obviously when you’re doing a movie like Anchorman or Step Brothers, it’s pretty expressionistic. You’re saying—I remember talking to people on Step Brothers going, we’re about 83 percent in reality, you know? But there are going to be times where something’s going to happen, where if that happened to someone in real life they would die. But we’re going to move on.
So, you know, Anchorman was about the same thing. It’s was like, 80 percent in reality, except the gang fight happens and that isn’t remotely real. And then with Talladega Nights, I go, we’re like, 92 percent in reality, but he is going to have a bobcat in the backseat of his car. So, each movie kind of has—and then The Other Guys was probably a little more real, that was probably like, 94 percent real, except those guys jump off a building for no reason and maybe one other crazy—Will was a pimp by accident in college.
So, there’s like, two crazy things. So, The Big Short is 99 percent - it’s the highest level of reality—it’s 99.3 percent real. And there are going to be moments where we condense the timeline. There are going to be moments where maybe I make the background a little more active than it actually was. So, these—you actually put your finger on probably the biggest thing that we’re going to be talking about.
And we’re working with a new DP on this, Barry Ackroyd who shot Captain Phillips and United 93, and he’s a hyper-real DP. And we’re going to strike a balance as far as the shot-telling, story-telling style of this movie. So, all of the pre-production is about that. Pre-production is really important. Pre-production is huge. That’s where you—once again, like with the writing, that’s where you set your road map. And it’s very, very crucial to everything, yeah.
DAVIDSON: So, this cast, it’s an insane cast. It’s Gosling, Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, but it’s not your guys.
And today Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell were there, and they were really intensely trying to understand—I mean, it was fascinating—Ryan Gosling seem to really want to understand kind of both the intellectual but emotional truth of the bond traders, and to understand how they understood the world. Steve Carell seemed to really clue into their physicality, just how they move their bodies through space, how they use their arms. I found it really fascinating. I mean, I have to—my dad’s an actor and I still don’t think I fully appreciated just how intense that process of taking on a role, and how thirsty they were for like, I need bits to understand this character.
MCKAY: And it’s something really none of them has ever done before. They’ve never been in this world.
And I love that Christian Bale is going to play like, really an introvert. Like, Michael Burry is an introvert, and I’m really excited for that. And then Brad Pitt gets to play, you know, a little bit of a paranoid, apocalyptic kind of guy even though his character is brilliant. So, these are new characters for each of these guys. But the same rules apply, the same rules of collaboration and paying attention and listening, and really getting on the same page with the person and just going deeper and deeper with it, all apply.
DAVIDSON: And one thing that strikes me is, so you’re—you’ve had a great comedy career, and this is—I mean, you’re—it wouldn’t have been surprising if you just stayed doing that. And I’m sure there are going to be comedies you direct in the future–
MCKAY: Oh, sure.
DAVIDSON: But this is a big stretch for you, right? This is—I mean, in a sense? Like, it’s more dramatic, although there are funny moments. It’s more topical, I guess, than others. Or does it not feel that way? Does it feel–
MCKAY: I think, you know, there’s a—a lot of these studios and companies like to kind of know that they’re getting someone who does a certain genre or thing well. So, everyone gets kind of framed as, well, you’ve done comedies so you’re a comedy person. But anyone who knows me knows that I actually don’t watch a lot of comedies. I watch—I love documentaries and I love foreign movies. Like, those are the two things I watch the most.
And most of what I real is not—I don’t real comedic books. I mean, sometimes like, occasionally they are funny what I read, but you know, I have a large array of interests and I love movies.
And even when I was in Chicago, we did a dramatic improv show that was not comedy, and I used to always go see different kinds of theater. You know, I was an English major and wrote short stories that weren’t remotely funny, and were probably –
DAVIDSON: I mean, actually I’ll be honest, because I mean, I’ve gotten to know you largely in the context of this project. So, to me this—like, the comedy is the stretch—like, I have never seen you actually say actually funny. Like, you’re kind of –
MCKAY: Yeah, I really approach comedy more from a clinical perspective. I don’t actually feel joy or—I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed, to be honest—
DAVIDSON: Is that true? Really?
MCKAY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve chocked and some of the sounds sounded like a laugh, but I don’t even know if I believe in laughter.
DAVIDSON: All right. So, let’s talk about a shooting day. So, what—those are—I have no idea what—what is it like on a shooting day?
MCKAY: All right, so the story I always tell about a shooting day is, we were shooting Talladega Nights and I have a friend, and his brother who’s also a friend, call me and say, can we please come to set? And I’m like, all right, you guys can come. Like, we’re going to fly into Charlotte where we’re shooting, and we want to come hang out on set. We’re dying, we’re dying! I go, OK.
But I’m going to warn you, it is boring. They’re like, oh, that’s just you saying it because you do it! And I’m like, no, I’m telling you, it’s boring. It’s a lot of waiting around when the lighting’s getting put up, and then it’s multiple takes of like, a chunk of dialogue. Oh, shut up! And these are grown guys. At the time they’re like 34 or whatever. And they fly into Charlotte. My assistant at the time gets a car to meet them. They come right to set.
And we’re actually shooting a fun scene. It’s the one where Ferrell is blindfolded and drives his car down the street, and crashes into cars and crashes into his house. His dad, Gary Cole, is trying to teach him how to drive from instinct. And it’s a fun, crazy scene. And they show up and they get there, and they’re like, “Hey, how are you man?” “Hey, good, good!” I go, “You’ve got a couple of chairs there. We’re setting up this shot.” And I am not exaggerating, 20 minutes later they come up and go, “We’re so bored! Can we leave! Can we take your car and just go hang out in Charlotte?” [laughs]
And that was it. They never came back to set again, and I met them that night for dinner and beers, and they never have asked to come back. So, shooting is very, very boring in a lot of ways, but from my perspective is not of course because your mind is always working and calculating and triangulating, and you’re trying to figure out what you need. And you’re always—you’re always trying to give yourself gifts for the edit room. You just know you’re going to end up in that edit room for weeks and weeks, and you’d better have good stuff.
So, yeah, you usually wake up at 5:30 in the morning, 5:00 in the morning, some ungodly time—because you’re trying to get every ounce of sunlight you can get—you show up on set. You know, you’re usually greeted by your AD and your DP,
Really it almost feels like a day of shooting is all about the first shot, because once you get that you’ve got your momentum. So, then usually you go, OK, are we all good? We’re all good? And let’s assume everything’s going well, the actors then go back to hair & makeup to get finished getting gussied up, and there’s lighting. And usually it’s like, an hour that you—I sometimes go take a nap or have an egg sandwich. And then you come back off of that, and they’re ready—you know, you get the knock on your trailer door or—sometimes I don’t even have a trailer, I’m just crashed out and someone shakes me awake.
And you get your first shot. And I usually—I don’t do crazy amounts of takes. If it’s a comedy we’re usually doing a lot of improv [00:31:05 and alt]. So, it’s like six or seven takes usually, and if something goes wrong it can get up to eight or nine. But not usually—sometimes three depending on what it is—and then you’ve got momentum. Then you’re going, OK, now we need to get the other side of that coverage. Now the lighting setups are getting less, because you’ve kind of done your master lighting setup for this location. And now you start to move a little bit.
And you know, you’re just shooting and shooting, and you know, thinking and giving notes, and sometimes you’ve got to come down by the camera and you’re talking to the actors. And you do that all the way up to lunch. And then lunch hits, and usually the decision is am I going to sleep or am I going to eat food? And a lot of times I’m going to sleep. I’m going to like, just give the—put the brain in a bucket of ice and just sleep for an hour.
And sometimes there’s calls I have to do with an actor who’s coming into a scene, like, the next week. So, I’ve got to get on the phone with someone, and you’re like, oh, I’ve got to do that phone call. I just want to sleep. And the same thing in the second half of the day. There’s almost like a “second” first shot of the day where you then all get together, or sometimes before lunch you’ve left a lighting setup that’s in process. So, lunch goes like, 20 minutes longer and then the lighting setup’s done.
And it’s really all like, lighting setup, shoot, lighting setup, shoot, is kind of the pattern of the day. And checking in with the actors. And then sometimes there’s a company move where you have to go to a second location, so everyone jumps in cars and trucks and you go meet somewhere else, and you’re getting three different setups of something. And that’s it, light, shoot, light, shoot, work with the actor, check in.
Now, and then the whole time I’m second guessing myself. That’s all I’m doing. Is this good enough? Is this the right way? I have a little flicker of doubt that it’s not? We’re here with these cameras. Let’s get something to cover it in case I’m wrong. You know what? Even though I think this whole shot is going to work, I could be an idiot. A lot of times I am. Let’s get this little extra shot here. Well, that makes the day kind of tough. How tough? Well, we can still make our deadline–
DAVIDSON: Who are you talking—is that the AD—or who is the guy who’s keeping the master schedule and saying, if we do that extra shot that will add 20 minutes, that will screw us up later in the day.
MCKAY: It’s usually two people. It’s the AD, the Assistant Director, and it’s the Line Producer, who’s the person who keeps track of all the pennies and how much money you have. And if you go too over, you don’t want to get way over budget because then the studio starts breathing down your neck. And sometimes it’s the DP who gets pulled into the conversation, because he’s really the guy that has to make it happen.
So, you’re having all of these discussion during the day, and shoot, shoot, shoot, and then you know, hopefully you’re on schedule and that sun starts going down, and you’ve started at, let’s say 6:30, and it’s now 6:30 at night, and you’re done. And you jump in the car, and once again there’s usually Robin who will be next to me with about seven emails I have to answer, and casting tapes I have to look at for the car ride home. And you get into the house, and sometimes there’s like, two more phone calls. And then it’s like a big light switch flips off, and you just flop on the couch and just, oh! And hopefully there’s an NBA game on.
And then, I’m supposed to be eating healthy but I’m so tired, I go screw it, and I—Domino’s has a new menu—and I realize what a hypocrite I am because I hate corporate chain restaurants, but I go screw it, I’m getting the artisanal, you know, cheese and pepperoni. And I eat it, and then boom, I’m asleep. And it’s exhausting. It’s five, six days a week for week after week after week, and you are tired.
DAVIDSON: That’s awesome. And so, one thing we were going to talk about throughout this Working podcast is not specific dollars or how much you make, etc., but sort of how you think about—what are the economic incentives for someone in your shoes? Like, it seems to me looking at you that—I mean, there’s certainly a base economic thing that you want to—that I’m sure you’re happy you hit, but you’re actually in this incredibly position that very few people are in, where you get to make choices more on fun than on money.
MCKAY: Yes. Yeah, that’s always been our m.o., is that we always do stuff we like. And it’s—we got lucky in the sense that the time and place of it all happened to coincide with a lot of other people—not everyone, but a lot of people who like what we like as well. So, we made Anchorman and it was considered a crazy movie, and there was some dispute, you know, there was some discussion about this movie is too crazy, should DreamWorks even be making this?
And it came out and it did quite well, but it didn’t do gangbusters. And then we, you know, got very lucky in the sense that over the next couple of years more and more people kept watching it. And that was—that goes back Saturday Night Live, that goes back to Chicago with Second City. Upright Citizens Brigade started as, you know, kind of street theater playing, you know, Steve Albini music and doing live pranks. And never was there any kind of commercial motive behind it. It was just stuff that made us laugh.
And you know, it—at the time I was 25 years old and there were a lot of other 25-year-old—25-year-olds out there that had similar tastes. So, the stuff that we liked happen to resonate with a few million other people, and that’s enough that you can start making money. So, but it does come into play. And, so yeah, money comes into play, there’s no question about it.
And a few times in our company’s history, Gary Sanchez, we’ve done stuff because we thought there could be a great deal or great money there, and then every time we do that it doesn’t work out [laughs]. We’ve had some crashing—a couple crashing failures where we chased the deal rather than what we actually like, and fortunately reality has been very clear to us about that. Like, don’t do that. So, we try and stick to stuff we actually enjoy.
DAVIDSON: Fabulous. All right, I think that’s it. Is there anything you forgot to say about how you work?
MCKAY: I thought—I mean, the whole reason I did this was you said there was going to be a large part about my relationship with God and how I think other people can have that relationship.
DAVIDSON: So, the—next week we’re going to have another Working person. Thank you very much, Adam McKay. I wish you luck with your relationship with God.
MCKAY: Well, I mean, can we schedule that right now? I feel like you’re just saying that because you don’t want me to get angry right now, but I made—I mean, we talked about this for hours, how I’ll do your secular podcast but there has to be a religious component to it. And you –
DAVIDSON: No, no, absolutely. I thought that was throughout. Everyone gets that.
MCKAY: OK, well, I mean—I would like it if you listen to this podcast, to play Christian rock contemporary music while listening to this podcast. And that’s the perfect blend of what I was trying to say today. Then you really get who I am and what I do.
DAVIDSON: OK, we will—obviously I can’t right now say for sure—and when you say Christian contemporary there’s a lot of variation in there. So—and there’s also–
MCKAY: I’ll be very clear, Amy Grant. I won’t sign the release on this podcast –
DAVIDSON: There’s no release. You’ve already—you’re—
DAVIDSON: That’s what’s awesome about podcasts. We just record it and then we’re done, and I have total control. I have final edit.
MCKAY: What the fuck, man? All right, you got me. You got me! [laughs]
End of recording.
SLATE PLUS EXTRA
DAVIDSON: I’ve noticed over the last year is, your life is very unpredictable going forward for many months. Like, this movie, you’ve been trying to get it made. I mean, not trying to get it—I mean, this has been the movie you’ve wanted to make next. But there’s a whole bunch of other people who had to make decisions. Paramount Pictures had to make decisions, Brad Pitt had to make decisions, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and it was not clear maybe in November or December that this is how you’d be spending your spring, right?
And then at the same time there’s other projects. You know, there might—you know, there are new sitcoms you were working on, there’s other movies that you’re working on. And it—that really struck me over the last year, that you—there’s just a lot of uncertainty about how you’re going to spending the next year sometimes.
MCKAY: It took me a while to learn that, because usually when I would do a movie with Ferrell you knew we were doing a movie with Ferrell, because you know, fortunately we’ve done well enough and he’s done very well that when we go in and pitch it, they usually greenlight it even without a script. So, those are easy. Those you know we’re going to be writing a script for the next seven months and then we’re going to shoot.
But yeah, most of the time it’s tricky. It took me a long time to learn that like, it’s better to have multiple projects in development, because a few times I just had one project that I was like, this is the one. And then one time I couldn’t get it made—it was an adaptation of a comic book called The Boys, and I was like, this is the movie I want to do, and every single studio in town was like, oh, an R-rated superhero movie where the superheroes do cocaine? Pardon us, but we’re not that excited about that. And I couldn’t get it made.
So, so yeah, it’s tricky. And this time I actually had three or four quality projects in development, and one of the tough things was when The Big Short happened—and it really came together fast, even though I wanted to do it a while—for a while—the actual process of, oh, we’re making this seemed to happen really quickly. And I had to then call a bunch of people and go, God, I’m so sorry, I know we were going to try and shoot this TV show, but I don’t think I can do it right now.
And people always understand it. It’s kind of how Hollywood and filmmaking and TV work. So, you’re right—and my family’s gotten used to it, too. When I told them, like, holy crap, we’re making this movie—like, they closed Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell’s deals, which some people thought couldn’t happen—my wife, you know, we’ve done it long enough, she totally understood. And it was like, nope, that’s the way it goes, and we just had to change everything and figure out our schedule.
And then you know—and this is something we didn’t say up top—I’m also a reservist in the Air Force. So, sometimes I’ll be shooting a movie and I’ll get a call that—I’m an F-14 pilot, and they’ll be like, guess what? There’s a diplomatic flare-up in the Persian Gulf, and I’ve got—my aircraft carrier is going out.
DAVIDSON: Wow, because the Air Force doesn’t even have aircraft carriers, that’s how elite–
DAVIDSON: And actually there’s no F-14s in the Air Force! They have F-15s and F-16s. So—and I think the Navy retired the F-14. So, that is intense! Like, you have to fly an out-of-date aircraft for a service that doesn’t even have that aircraft! Like, that’s got to take a very specialized skill.
MCKAY: Well, I mean, if we’re really going to get for real, I’m not a member of the US Air Force, I’m a member of the Nigerian Air Force, and they do have F-14s. And when I say “aircraft carrier,” I really mean a tugboat with a flat bed truck strapped to it. So, it’s hairy stuff!
I mean, I’ve done—I’ve done night landings, I’ve strafed warlords with .50-cal machine guns from 11,000 feet and then done night landings.
DAVIDSON: And then shot Anchorman 2 the next morning? That is—
MCKAY: [laughs] And then did our animated short for We, The Economy. [laughs] God, my Air Force references were terrible!
DAVIDSON: That was pretty bad!
MCKAY: An out-of-date plane, and—of course the Air Force doesn’t have—what am I saying? Aircraft—it makes no sense!