Director Adam McKay Talks ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, Musical Numbers, Releasing an Alternate Cut with 240 New Jokes, and Much More

     November 25, 2013


A few weeks ago, I got to visit the editing room of director Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues with a few other reporters.  While we only got to see a few selected scenes from the beginning of the film, I’m happy to report they looked fantastic and everyone was laughing non-stop.  Shortly after watching the footage, McKay and his editor, Brent White, answered questions for about thirty minutes and revealed a lot of cool information.  Here are a few highlights:

  • The first assembly cut was over four hours.  The first test screening was two and a half hours and, according to McKay, it played extremely well.  However, the final release will be around two hours.
  • McKay and White are developing an alternate version of Anchorman 2 that has a completely different set of jokes (around 240).  They’re going to test screen the alternate cut and hope to release it on either movie screens (after the original’s release) or VOD/DVD/Blu-ray.
  • The film has a couple of musical numbers and one big love song at the end of the movie.
  • Will Ferrell and McKay originally intended the ending to the sequel to be a ridiculous bit about an underwater glass hotel that failed, with water coming through the windows and sharks coming at people.  They changed their minds.

Hit the jump for more highlights from the interview followed by the full transcript.  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens December 20th and stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Dylan Baker, Greg Kinnear, and Harrison Ford.

anchorman-2-legend-continues-poster-james-marsdenHere are more highlights from the editing room interview:

  • While the first film dealt with the issue of women in the workplace, McKay says this one deals with a lot more: race, Scientology, more women in power, issues with a child, etc.
  • Anchorman 2 depicts the shift in the 1980s of news moving towards watered-down infotainment, and Ron Burgundy is smack dab in the middle of the new trend.
  • They don’t feel a lot of pressuring following up the original Anchorman, because the film is so absurd, and the shooting environment is all about everyone making each other laugh.
  • McKay and White consider Brick to be the “Harpo Max” of their film – where rules don’t apply – and they put a lot of effort into not over using him.
  • White has a state of the art editing system where he can click on different places in the script, and what the film takes from their catalogues will come up for the selected clip.
  • In the filming process, the actors typically do one or two takes of the original script, and then improvise on the scene for about an hour to see what other material they can come up with.
  • In order to pick the best jokes from their material, McKay and White do lots of different screenings with recruited audiences, friends, family, etc.
  • anchorman-2-legend-continues-poster-kristen-wiigWhile doing different screenings to pick jokes for the final cut, they did screenings with “A” jokes and “B” jokes. If a “B” joke got a huge laugh at the screening, it would turn into an “A” joke.
  • Ron’s line “I’m kind of a big deal,” in Anchorman was not very popular at the screenings, but McKay and White liked it so much that they kept it in the final cut. Now, it’s one of the most quoted lines from the original.
  • Because there were so many delays to production with the film, McKay and White feel they had a lot more time to refine the script, storyline, and jokes this time around.
  • During part of the writing process for Anchorman 2, the movie was intended to be a musical.
  • McKay and White spent a lot more time working together to compile the right takes, so that when they got to the edit room, they were much further in the process than in the first film.
  • White uses a script tool program in Avid to recall different takes directly from the script.
  • The Winnebago scene was incredibly difficult to shoot.

Here’s the full transcript.  Again, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens December 20th.

Question: With the first film, you had so much material left over that you made a whole second feature, “Wake Up Ron Burgundy”.  How long was the first cut of this one? Sixteen hours?

anchorman-will-ferrell-adam-mckayAdam McKay: You’re not far off! The first cut was four and a half hours.  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.  Normally, when we throw it at two and a half, three hours, the audience gets exhausted and starts yawning.  This time it actually played throughout the whole thing.  We probably shot a million and a quarter feet of film. 

Brent White: It’s hard to say now because everything is digital, but it’s probably that length easily.

Have you ever thought about doing a comedy like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”? Something that lives at that length and can be screened?

McKay: This is pretty long.  This is 153 minutes right now without credits, so this’ll end up being two hours, which is by far the longest we’ve ever done.  We usually do 90 minutes and then, tack on credits, so it’s about 140 minutes.  I don’t know if I can quite go epic. It’s not It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but it’s very long compared to what we normally do.  But it’s good.  It doesn’t feel long when it plays.  You guys will have to let us know.  But it feels like the energy carries throughout the whole thing.  But we talked about it.  When we screened the two and a half hour version, we asked, “Should we do It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?”  We looked up what the longest comedies were and the longest was Blues Brothers at two and a half hours.  We were like, “We’re not going to do that.”

What about a Peter Jackson-style extended edition on home video?

McKay: It’s funny you should say that. Brent was editor on the first Anchorman with me.  I went into the editing room and he said, “I think you’ve got a whole second movie here.”  Brent actually cut the Wake Up, Ron Burgundy version, and obviously we refined it and put in voiceovers.  This time I came to the editing room and I went, “Well, Brent, do we have a second movie?”  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.  I think we’re at, what, 250 alt jokes?

White: It’s like 240.  Something like that.  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? 

director Adam McKayYes.  Even if there were five new jokes.  I don’t think anyone has ever done anything like that before. Effectively, everyone would be very interested.

McKay: That’s what we were saying! 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.  The question is, does Paramount release that in the theaters?  Is it midnight screenings or just VOD and DVD?

Not every film can do it, but the difference here is that, when you talk to people and you see how deeply it has soaked in for the fans of the film — it’s not just a film they like — it’s their favorite movie.  It’s the movie they know every word of.  That kind of thing.  That’s why I think you could do it with this ,and people would happily say, “250 new jokes?  I’m going back immediately.”

McKay: I hope they do it.  Even if they only did it on like 200 screens or something, just to see it play.  We’re going to actually test it.  We’re talking about putting it in front of a crowd.  The advantage you get in that these jokes don’t have to pass by an audience is that you get some stranger jokes.

White: You can really go out on these tangents.  We couldn’t quite put the in the movie because it has to be PG-13 on the box or whatever it is.  There’s a little bit of open ended stuff that, because of timing or rhythm or whatever else, we could put in this version and let it be a little bit fat. 

McKay: Translation: More crazy shit.

Who goes out on the furthest tangent?

McKay: There’s a run where Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana talk about breast implants and all the alternatives they’re using to silcone now, like nickels and taco meat.  It’s just this long, insane run that we tried at one point.  Test audiences were like, “no thank you.” But it still makes us laugh.  That’s part of the fun.

That was a big part of what “Wake Up Ron Burgundy” was, was just tangents.  Like the car scene for example, that goes so much further than you’ve ever taken a movie into breaking reality.  But in that version of it, that’s a great Champ Kind moment, and it’s such a Koechner run, so…

McKay: Yeah.  I’m actually glad that didn’t end up in the final movie, ‘cause that would have been – that almost popped the Koechner game.  Like, he said it so tangibly, whereas we still get to bat it around a little bit in this one, but in that one he just says it right to his face, “I love you,” so (laughter)…Will and I were talking about it, we were like, “Kind of happy that didn’t make the final cut.”

anchorman-2-poster-will-ferrell-ron-burgundyMeagan Good, what’s the story behind her character?

McKay: So she’s the manager of the whole new network – she’s not the owner, but she’s the day-to-day kind of manager of it.  And she’s an ass-kicker.  She’s brilliant.  She went to Columbia School of Journalism, and typical kind of thing in the sense that she’s, you know, overqualified for the job, but of course, because she’s a woman, because she’s a minority, these idiots can’t, get around that at first, and then she kicks their ass so badly that they have no choice but to accept her.  So she’s awesome in the movie.  She plays really, really well and funny as hell and beautiful, and she was a great addition to this cast.  Seeing Burgundy struggle with, you know, the issue of race was just really funny. And you forget, the early ‘80s was really when you saw this big leap happening – you had The Cosby Show coming and certain music was mainstreaming, so it really is the point at which, you know, people like Ron Burgundy would have been dealing with issues of race.  So it was a really fun kind of relationship for us to have in this movie, and it felt new enough and different enough – she’s such a different energy for the movie that it really worked well.

Do we know where Veronica is…?

McKay: We do know where she is.  Yeah.  You’ve got to see (laughter).  We’re giving you guys a lot!

Did you guys sort of, on the first few days of filming, did you sort of feel any pressure?  Were you like, “Man, we’re playing with something that people really love here,” you know?

McKay: You know, I was thinking about this before.  The spirit of the movie is so much, “Who gives a fuck?” that if you had pressure, it would nullify the whole premise of the movie.  Like, you know, it’d be like the Sex Pistols having to worry about if their guitars are in tune.  Like, you kind of have to not give a shit going into it to do it.  So you actually don’t think about that at all when you’re doing it. You’re just purely trying to make each other laugh, trying to come up with crazy shit, and that’s really the game of the set.  And then at the end of the day, sometimes you go like, “Oh wow, that was a good day,” or “Hey, this could be good,” but in the moment, we’re always just trying to make each other laugh. That’s the engine of the entire thing, so no, not really.  Now that it’s done, you’re kind of like, “Hey, I wonder what people will think of this,” but in the moment, we’re just purely laughing around.  It’s Paul Rudd in underwear, posing with an underwear model.  It’s these guys flying around in a Winnebago on a giant gimbal for like half a day.  Those are the days.  It’s pretty hard to have standards while you’re doing that.

We’re in a time now where race is such a hot topic issue, and it seems in the trailer and this that it’s actually a big part here.  Were you worried about, were you conscious of, this is gonna push some buttons, this is gonna offend some people, while you were writing it?

anchorman-2-poster-paul-rudd-brian-fantanaMcKay: Yeah, you know, we were aware there’s a fine line.  I mean, these guys are so dopey that the subject of race is not like we experience it in the news now.  They’re so innocent and so stupid about it that it’s never really mean or pointed.  I mean, you’ll see in the whole movie that they really just don’t get it, and then they start to.  They never fully get anything, but they a little bit get it by the end of the movie, so…and they deal, in this movie, with five or six issues.   In the first movie it was just the idea of a woman in power, in this movie now its race, there’s another woman in power, there’s scientology, there’s issues with a child.  There’s all this different kind of stuff they have to deal with and obviously fame and money that they’ve never seen before.

You mentioned a Gimbal in the Winnebago scene, what was the process like to shoot that.  It seemed like a pretty effects heavy scene for a comedy.

MCKAY: Yeah it turned out to be a giant pain in the ass.  We wrote just at two in the morning laughing like idiots and then suddenly we realized, “Oh god, we’ve got to do all this.” So it was a huge gimbal with the Winnebago.  It was them hanging from a green screen.  It was stunt doubles inside the Winnebago; it was then the plates you had to get from the inside.  Then it was all the objects you had to get, then you had to have fake bowling balls, and real bowling balls.  It was probably a total of three days of shooting to get that silly little sequence.  Don’t tell anyone that.  That wrecks the fun (laughs).

WHITE: You can feel the work and the money behind it, yeah.

MCKAY: It took us an hour.  It was easy.

Watching this footage you have a lot of character that offer a lot of different types of humor, but Brick especially is a guy who can say anything and its funny, the more obscure the better, is there ever a tendency to over abuse that, and to have too much Brick?

MCKAY: That’s a good question.  Brent and I talk about this all the time.  He’s definitely the Harpo Marx of the team in the sense that he has no rules whatsoever to him.  He can step out of scenes.  He can comment on scenes.  He can look at the camera.  SO he’s got this magical power.  And then rhythm-wise, he can just get laughs.  He has one line in the movie that’s not even a joke and it gets a huge laugh.  He just says something and the crowd goes crazy.  We actually did a pass where we would go through and look at Brick and take out anything that’s mediocre or-

WHITE: Sweaty.

MCKAY: Sweaty, and we’re like, it should only be high quality when it’s Brick…

WHITE: Absurd and just something that actually says something, too.  That comments in a very odd way on what’s going on.

MCKAY: Yeah, it’s got to be a fresh premise.  It’s got to be like the one you saw in the Winnebago of him not understanding what reminiscing is (laughter).  I’ve never seen that joke before so Brick gets that.  You are right though, it’s very tempting because you literally put him in any scene and get a laugh.  You have to be very careful with it.

What was the writing process of the movie?  How did you decide what jokes to keep?

anchorman-2-poster-david-koechner-champ-kindMCKAY: We come in with a script that’s been pretty beaten up.  We do a lot of table reads with it.  We do punch-ups.  We rewrite constantly.  You want to have a script that’s working really, really well so then you always know you’re getting the written script and then on the day we usually do a coupe takes where you get the written script and then we’ll start messing around.  We’ll start trying.  I’ll throw out some lines, they’ll throw out some stuff.  And then eventually you’ll kind of discover an area like, “Oh that’s funny” and you’ll do a whole take on that.  You know, you have the digital so it’s longer now.  So, the really quick answer to what I’m telling you is basically, he has to make sense of it all.

WHITE: That’s another reason why there’s so many options, so many alts because there’s the joke idea, and so, I would cut different versions of every scene.  So, some of these scenes there’s 3 or 4 or 5 different versions of every scene and they’re all completely different.  They still do the same job in the movie, but they all have different joke runs in them.  And then from there, we can cherry-pick and find the ones that really make us laugh, or put them up in front of people and see which ones-

MCKAY: And you remember the good ones.  Brent and I will dig into a scene for like, a whole day so when you’re looking at that scene its bringing back all the memories of shooting it and I’ll go to Brent like, “Hey we did this one really funny bit,” and he’s got this whole cool cataloguing system, where he can just call up the lines.  Can you show them that script thing you have?  This is the coolest thing.  So, he’s actually got the script and then you can click on it and take will show up.


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