Local Kid David Sirota Nominated for Oscar

David Sirota and his daughter greet Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Courtesy of David Sirota)

David Sirota is known as a longtime political journalist and operative, having written for The Guardian and Jacobin, among other media outlets, as well as speeches for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

As for the movie thing, Sirota said, “I honestly kind of fell into it.”

It turned out to be a life-defining accident.

After pitching director Adam McKay on the story for the 2021 apocalyptic black comedy “Don’t Look Up,” Sirota received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

The Abington kid, former Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel member and William Penn Charter graduate, who now lives in Denver, will attend the Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 27. In between looking for an outfit to wear, he’s reflected on his accomplishment.

The local kid used to dream about working in the White House. But he never imagined winning an Oscar.

“My friend said, ‘This is the kind of thing they put on your obituary,’” Sirota recalled.

Sirota talked about how he got to this moment.

First and foremost, tell us about your Philly background.

I think it’s fair to say that I was one of the most intense Sixers fans.

I grew up hating Michael Jordan for beating Charles Barkley. Rick Mahorn and Charles Barkley. The Sixers were sort of a mini, not as good version of the (Bad Boys) Pistons when Mahorn came over. Like a bruiser team.

This year, when the movie came out, my friend got me a cameo of Rick Mahorn congratulating me.

OK, that was cool, now tell us about your background in politics and journalism.

I went down to D.C. and got a job working for Bernie Sanders. I applied to a bunch of congressional offices and had no idea who he was. He responded.

When I first worked for him, I was right out of college. It helped me find who I was and what my values are.

After that, I worked in Congress on the appropriations committee. I worked on a Senate campaign in Montana. Then the same guy got elected governor. So I moved to Montana with my wife, and then we moved down to Denver.

I got a job on radio and went back to investigative, follow-the-money journalism.

How did the movie come together?

Adam McKay has been a friend for a long time. In the mid-2000s, I had written an article about NAFTA. He got in touch and said he liked the article. “Next time you’re in L.A. let’s meet.” We struck up a friendship.

I spent election night 2016 with him and the cast of (HBO’s) “Succession.” They were doing a table read of the show.

After that, I got in touch and said, “Listen man, I loved ‘Vice’ (the 2018 black comedy movie about former Vice President Dick Cheney). You have to use your superpower mixing comedy and politics to address the climate crisis.” He said, “I know man, but I don’t want to do, like, post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max.’”

I called him again after I had written a couple stories about climate change; I was frustrated that people didn’t care enough. I said, “It feels like a comet’s coming to earth and people don’t care.”

We brainstormed over the phone. He wrote the script. I gave notes.

Two weeks later he said, “Jennifer Lawrence and (Leonardo) DiCaprio are interested.” A week later he’s like, “This is actually happening. We’re sending the paperwork over.”

I was shocked.

So the movie comes out on Netflix and goes viral on social media. What was that experience like?

Young David Sirota with Charles Barkley. (Courtesy of David Sirota)

I never expected the movie to become a cultural phenomenon. You see politicians referring to “just look up.” It really has become part of the cultural discourse.

I think the reason that happened is because it’s a movie about the here and now. This movie feels a lot like reality. Everybody has strong opinions on the here and now.

It felt as politically supercharged as campaign discourse. There was this controversy on Bernie’s campaign: He made a half-joke like, “Jeff Bezos’ paper (The Washington Post) is really friendly with me.” And it was like, “Bernie is attacking journalism!”

A lot of the debate was about what the movie was trying to say. So, what was it trying to say?

Every politician is asked questions about the economy. What we have to do is bake that same attitude about climate into the coverage.

The economy is the way we talk about politics. The livable atmosphere needs to be at the same level.

What are you looking forward to most about the Oscars?

I tweeted this out, but I hope to see my Little League teammate Bradley Cooper.

When he first became famous, I was like, “That name sounds familiar.” Then my best friend was like, “That’s Bradley from East Abington Little League.”

I asked my mom to find the team photo. There it is. Me in the bottom row, him in the top row.

That’s very cool. So what’s next for you now? Are you a screenwriter?

I’ve got some irons in the fire on other projects. I’m also doing my journalism every day.

I take from this that there’s pent-up demand for movies, TV shows that wrestle with the challenging issues of the day.

To me, that’s exciting. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s what I want to do. JE

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