“I don’t know how to put this,” Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy says in one of the most quoted comedy lines of the last ten years, “but I’m kind of a big deal.”
Test audiences back in 2004 didn’t get the joke.
“[The line] never got a laugh,” writer-director Adam McKay told ComingSoon.net during a recent visit to his edit bay for the film’s new sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, “but we just liked it. So we were like, ‘Too bad, it’s staying in!’”
Editing one of McKay’s comedies winds up being a unique process and that’s primarily because shooting one of McKay’s comedies is a unique process. With a cast that includes some of the world’s very best ad-libbers, the takes in “Anchorman” involve both what’s on the written page (which itself is sometimes several different versions of the same joke) and what the stars come up with on the spot.
“We come in with a script that’s been pretty beaten up,” McKay explains. “We do a lot of table reads with it. We do punch ups. We do rewrites constantly. You want to have a script that’s working really, really well so then you always know you’re getting the written script. Then on the day we usually do a couple takes where we’ll start messing around.”
Thanks to digital film, McKay and his cast are able to do take after take after take until they get multiple versions that they’re all happy with.
“There was one scene where Will gets punched,” McKay continues, “We did five different versions of him reacting poorly to a punch. One version was that his whole sense of orientation was off and he couldn’t speak or even stand up The other version was where he tried to act tough about the punch and he tells the guy who hit him, ‘That didn’t bug me,’ but while he’s doing it he’s fighting back tears and his voice is cracking. Then there was another version where he goes on at great length about all the people who have hit him harder than that and it’s all women and children.”
There was so much extra material on the original “Anchorman” that editor Brent White was able to cut the extra footage together into its very own film. The feature length “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy” was initially released as a Best Buy exclusive DVD and is now available as a bonus feature on the “Anchorman” Blu-ray. This time around, however, McKay and White are planning something else brand new.
“This time I came to the editing room and I went, ‘Well, Brent, do we have a second movie?’” McKay says. “Brent goes, ‘Actually, you don’t have a second movie, but you have a whole other movie with all-new jokes.’ I go, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘You can replace every single joke with a different one.’ They’re all quality alts. That was crazy and, sure enough, we’re doing it right now.”
Although specific plans for how the alternate Anchorman 2 might reach audiences have not yet been decided, McKay hopes that the project will find a theatrical release, boasting roughly 250 completely different jokes.
“If you saw the movie and then they said, ‘Hey, come back and see ‘Anchorman 2′ again with 240 new jokes, would you pay cash and go see the movie again?” White asks.
“If someone told me it was ‘Pulp Fiction,’ with all new story turns and new Sam Jackson monologues, there’s no way I’m not going to see that,” says McKay. “ Even if [Paramount] only did it on like 200 screens or something, [I'd love to] just see it play The advantage you get in that these jokes don’t have to pass by an audience is that you get some stranger jokes.”
To find the perfect blend of gags, White developed a special system on his Avid deck whereby every single take is linked to a desktop copy of the screenplay. He can click on any piece of dialogue and pull up the alternate takes, which he demonstrated for us with a scene of the Channel Four news team meeting with Meagan Good’s new character, Linda Jackson, the manager of a 24-hour news network.
Come on, guys,” Burgundy tells his team when she asks them to take a seat, “This isn’t Romper Room.
Then, in an alternate take of that same line:
“Come on, guys. On the furniture, she meant. It’s not — Sorry, Linda. This isn’t circle time.”
“Please, guys! This is a professional work environment!”
From all the different versions of what is, essentially, the same beat, White and McKay construct both “A” and “B” versions of the film, which are both put in front of test audiences. If a joke has a great response in the “B” version, it might get swapped into the “A” and vice versa.
It’s not just strangers that are asked for their opinions of the film either. The cast and crew enlist the aid of family and friends to find out what jokes work the best and record a laugh track that they can turn back to in the editing room. White even played for us an audio track with one very distinctive laugh drowning out all the others.
“Seth Rogen was there and he sat dead center,” McKay laughs, “We had 100 people there. It was a two and half hour cut and the entire laugh track we recorded was completely wrecked because of Seth Rogen sitting in the middle going ‘huh hauh huh.’ He has one of the greatest laughs of all time and also his comedy sense of humor is so good that you’re like, ‘I don’t know if other people will laugh at that!’ I wish it would just play for 300 million Seth Rogens. I don’t know what that would do to the world.”
During the time of our visit, Anchorman 2‘s cut ran one hour and 53 minutes minutes before credits.
“The first cut was four and a half hours,” McKay laughs. “Then our first cut where it all kind of tracked was about three hours. It played. It played like a real movie with a beginning, middle and end over three hours. I think we screened our first cut at two and a half hours. It was the best screening we’ve ever had at that fat length.”
However long or lean Anchorman 2 ends up, McKay shows off his confidence in what will be the final cut by way of his love-it-or-leave-it attitude.
“The spirit of the movie is so much, ‘Who gives a f–k?’ McKay smiles, “that, if you had pressure, it would nullify the whole premise of the movie. It’d be like the Sex Pistols having to worry about if their guitars are in tune. You’re just purely trying to make each other laugh and trying to come up with crazy s–t. That’s really the game of the set. Then, at the end of the day sometimes, you go, ‘Oh wow, that was a good day!’ or ‘Hey, this could be good!’ But in the moment, it’s always just trying to make each other laugh.”
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits theaters December 25. Watch two new clips below and check out bigger versions of the new posters, featuring Jack Lime (James Marsden), Chani (Kristin Wiig) and Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), in the gallery viewer underneath.