Movies

Adam McKay reveals how 603 people banded together in Boston to film ‘Don’t Look Up’

The director detailed the difficulties of filming a large-scale movie during the throes of a pandemic.

A behind-the-scenes shot of director Adam McKay and actor Jennifer Lawrence from the set of Netflix's movie "Don't Look Up," which was filmed in Boston. Marcus Watson served as the intimacy coordinator for one of the film's scenes. Niko Tavernise/Netflix

It was March 2020, and director Adam McKay was in Boston, a couple of weeks into pre-production on his star-studded Netflix satire “Don’t Look Up.” McKay wrote the script for his disaster movie in a frenzy, decamping to Ireland to focus on the script in November 2019 and putting the finishing touches on it just before New Year’s Eve.

By January 2020, McKay was calling producers and prospective cast. Filming was set to begin in April, and Netflix hoped to have the movie out by Christmas 2020, an astonishing turnaround for a movie of its size.

And then the entire world came to a screeching halt.

Advertisement:

The COVID-era production of “Don’t Look Up” is the subject a new weekly podcast called “The Last Movie Ever Made,” in which McKay and the film’s stars chronicle how 603 people — including hundreds of local film industry workers — joined together to “tell a story about one crisis while living through another.”

According to McKay, the first sign of trouble came while he and producers were out in Boston scouting locations.

“We’re out here in Boston, and we’re scouting, and we’re looking at locations. We’re driving around, and we start hearing kind of in the background on the news,” McKay said. “It was really strange. It was like something out of a disaster movie, where suddenly the hotel was just getting less and less populated, and you wouldn’t see anyone on the elevator for like two days.”

Shortly after, Netflix sent everyone home. In the intervening months, actors involved in the project, including Cate Blanchett, texted McKay, noting the similarity in how scenes from his film — about the range of human response to a planet-killing comet hurtling Earth — mirrored reality.

“I would text him and say, ‘Are you psychic?'” Blanchett said. “Because all of these things would happen that made what I thought was satire become … make it feel like a documentary.”

Advertisement:

When filming started up again in November, McKay and Co. made sure the most strenuous COVID-19 protocols were in place, even for local actors who only had one line of dialogue.

“Anybody that was in the film, even down to the smallest part, had to do an eight-day quarantine before they showed up,” producer Kevin Messick said. “So if you’re walking through the White House hallway and somebody has one line, that person, even if they’re living in Boston, has to be put into a hotel quarantine for eight days, [and] tested three times with negative results over that time for them to show up on stage or on a location or in a scene.”

Primary production on “Don’t Look Up” ran from November 2020 to February 2021, meaning that much of the cast and crew went without seeing family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. For actress Jennifer Lawrence, the isolation was suffocating.

“Being alone and not being able to see my husband or my friends on the weekend, and I’m so close to New York,” Lawrence said. “I’m so close to home in that kind of isolation and even just the isolation at work, I can’t make any friends because every time I run towards somebody, they run away.”

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com