As a former head-writer for SNL and a director of outrageous comedy hits, Adam McKay understands there's a subtle art to pushing a joke to its limits. He's the guy who had Will Ferrell turn a jazz flute into a flamethrower in Anchorman, pray to a "tiny infant Jesus" at the dinner table in Talladega Nights, and put his balls on a drum set in Step Brothers. For the slightly more buttoned-up Dick Cheney biopic Vice, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning financial docudrama The Big Short, McKay used every fourth-wall breaking device up his sleeve, including faking-out the audience by running the end credits in the middle of the movie.
In the film's most audacious conceptual gambit, we see Christian Bale's middle-aged Dick Cheney living out a peaceful, quaint life with his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) and his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) and Liz (Lily Rabe). With title cards out of American Graffiti or Animal House, the movie lays out a cheery alternate history for the Cheney family, one where Dick never gets a phone call from George W. Bush and never becomes one of the most controversial Vice Presidents in American history. "That was a case where I was just struck by the enormity of the moment," explains McKay on the phone from L.A. before the film's release. "I was like, 'Screw it, let's roll the credits.'"
To film the scene, he used the same mix of scripted dialogue, improvised banter, and keep-the-camera-rolling energy that's powered his comedies in the past. (In a recent oral history, McKay said he shot a million and a half feet of film during the production of Step Brothers.) He knew he wanted the family fishing and enjoying each other's company, but during the shoot he decided the whole clan should walk back to the house together and, in a bit of on-set serendipity, the family dog ran perfectly along with them on cue. For McKay, the shot "felt like such a perfect ending image to the story."