EXCLUSIVE: Adam McKay has berthed his new production company Hyperobject Industries to a first-look feature film deal at Paramount Pictures, and hopes the new relationship will get off the ground with the pending destruction of earth by a meteor, in a moment where everything is paralyzed by polarizing and partisan political and media landscapes.
McKay hopes to next direct Don’t Look Up, which Paramount will get first look at when he completes the first draft soon. He describes it as a “dark satire in the school of Wag the Dog, Doctor Strangelove and Network and if it is half as good as any of them, I will be happy,” McKay told Deadline. “Two mid-level astronomers discover a meteorite will destroy earth in six months and must go on a media tour to warn mankind.”
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Paramount was long the studio home for Gary Sanchez, the company that McKay ran for years with partners Will Ferrell and Chris Henchy before Deadline broke in April that McKay and Ferrell would wind down a creative partnership that started back to Saturday Night Live in the mid-1990s, and led to the formation of that 13-year old multi-platform company. The principals remain connected on projects they set up and will see through.
McKay, who shared an Oscar with Charles Randolph for adapting Best Picture nominee and Paramount hit The Big Short, and who last directed the Dick Cheney film Vice, sees his new Hyperobject Industries as the next natural iteration of his career. He already set a 5-year first look television deal at HBO, and revealed that the new company will also make podcasts. But movies are important to McKay also, and he felt so comfortable with Paramount brass that he made the new first look feature deal there.
“We have long enjoyed a successful creative and collaborative relationship with Adam, and couldn’t be happier to be alongside him on this journey as he explores this latest chapter,” said Wyck Godfrey, President of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group.
Said McKay: “The first script I ever wrote was at Paramount. Our first overall deal was with Paramount Vantage 12 years ago. We’ve done a half-dozen movies there. Mix in Great people like Wyck Godfrey and Jim Gianopulos, and this all feels very comfortable.”
The film side will be steered by longtime collaborator Kevin Messick, and the braintrust includes Betsy Koch and the recently hired Who Is America producer and Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Todd Schulman. They are only just getting going putting movie projects together. Executive producer Robyn Wholey creative exec Maeve Cullinane, associate producer Staci Roberts-Steele as well as Jenna Go, Stephanie Chopra and Daniel Omaits make up the rest of the Hyperobject Industries team.
What does the new company moniker mean?
“Timothy Morton is a philosopher out of Rice University and he coined this term to refer to things that are beyond human comprehension, forces that affect us in tangible ways, but our limited scope of perception can’t fully comprehend,” McKay said. “It signals we are trying to dive into unknown areas. And the Industries part is a straight up joke.”
Just as McKay has evolved from straight up comedies into political minded but entertaining movies like his last two, he sees the entire creative landscape and audience expectations evolving also in good ways, even as he acknowledges that adult-themed mid budget films are having a tough go of it.
“We have this really nice deal with HBO, they were really generous with us, and when it was time to figure out the movie part, we looked at Paramount,” he said. “You get older, and once we split up Sanchez, it became clear they still wanted to work with us. So we’ll be there a few more years with that first look deal. I believe that genres are starting to blur together, that the risks you are allowed to take is growing as so much stuff is getting made and audiences are so savvy. We started seeing it in the last few years of Sanchez, how everything is bending together and as a result the choices you can make in a movie or TV show has expanded. If there’s a mandate — and all the producers here are empowered to seek what they like and find interesting — it’s to keep pushing in that direction. Try to find stories, structures, tones and genres that really push the edges of what we traditionally thought we could do. Not just with what’s going on streaming, but what’s going on in the world. Politically, environmentally, economically. We’re just living in strange, unprecedented times. The goal of the company is to dive face first into these times and see how much we can push things.”
McKay will do that with the limited series based on the upcoming book by Julie K. Brown on pervy financier Jeffrey Epstein. It was Brown whose reporting in the Miami Herald led to the arrest in July of Epstein on sex trafficking charges. He subsequently hanged himself in his jail cell.
“It is as deep and dark as anything I’ve seen,” McKay said. “I’ve followed that story for years, and god bless Julie Brown, she finally broke it. It’s the old cliché you would see in 70s movies. How far does this story go? Straight to the top. This one really does.”
McKay revealed that Hyperobject will also develop a series based on David Wallace Wells’ Uninhabitable Earth. “It’s a Black Mirror-like anthology dealing with what the world will be like as we go forward with global warming.” He said the show has connective tissue to the previously reported show he has been working on, about the Showtime years of the Lakers championship teams by Max Borenstein (McKay’s directing the pilot), in that it is the kind of exercise audiences might have rejected just a decade ago. will Once again, ten years ago you don’t see that show.
“You might think it’s just about basketball, but it’s about class, race, gender and we’re shooting it in a multi format, with Super 8, video, 35 millimeter. These are examples of shows I’m not sure we could have made ten years ago, that audiences would be okay with some of the ways we’re pushing it.”
Finally, McKay weighed in on this controversy over superhero films that was fueled by some comments made by The Irishman director Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, who bristled about these blockbusters sucking all the oxygen out of the creative medium of cinema. He lands on the side of the spandex set.
“I wrote one, Ant-Man, and I love ‘em,” McKay said of superhero movies. “I felt like, c’mon Marty, what are you doing? You’re an all-time hero, and some of those movies are really good. To anyone who disses superhero movies, I always say, watch Thor: Ragnarok. That movie is awesome.”
McKay said he grew up a Marvel Comics kid. Having come up for air after shooting a pilot, he’s eager to catch up with Todd Phillips’ adaptation of the DC character Joker.
When I mention how Phillips has stamped himself as a serious dramatic director (McKay made the same kind of transformation from comedy with The Big Short), he said he wasn’t at all surprised.
“Todd has always been supremely talented and I always thought the secret trick to The Hangover films was that they were so well made. I cannot wait to see Joker, Jo Jo Rabbit, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. It’s never easy but I look at the things that A24 and some others are doing, and think there is quality out there. With all the new streamers coming, we’re about to see an explosion in the amount of movies and series being made, the likes of which I wonder has ever existed in Hollywood.”
McKay said that in support of the WGA, no Hyperobject Industries project will be part of any packaging deals through WME, who represents McKay as a director and producer along with Ziffren Brittenham LLP.
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