What was the writing process of the movie? How did you decide what jokes to keep?
McKay: 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 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 and then on the day we usually do a couple 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 have the digital so it’s longer now. So the really quick answer to what I’m telling you is basically he (indicating White) 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 cataloging 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.
Are there times where the guys ad-libbed and took it off-script?
McKay: Oh, god, yeah. That’s mostly what we do. We do a couple of takes where it’s the script, and then we just start screwing around. We try different lines, we try different takes, different attitudes. There was one scene where Will gets punched, and we did five different reactions 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. So that was a whole version. Another version was where he tried to act tough about the punch and tell 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 that have hit him harder than that, and it’s women and children. And I’m forgetting, like, two more. That was a thing that, in the script, was maybe one line of dialogue, and we ended up improvising on it for an hour, and were laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes, and then it’s not in the movie!
With lines like that or takes that are so much better than the last one, how do you pick your favorites?
McKay: You screen and screen is what you do. You keep putting it up in front of people, whether it’s friends and family or whether it’s a recruited audience, you just want to see all these jokes you liked when you shot them to make sure either they work or they don’t work. So you’re constantly kind of flipping them in and out. On this movie, which we’ve never done before, we did A and B screenings. We were doing two screenings every night. So you had one whole rack of jokes in the A screening, and you had a different rack of jokes in the B screening, and we were constantly… the B screening was like the minor leagues. So if a joke got a big laugh at the B screening, we would then bring it up. If a moment worked or if there was a cool shot, we would then move it into the A cut.
Are there any arguments, like, “I really want that line in the final cut, and it didn’t make it!”
McKay: You know what we do? Despite everything I’ve just said, at the end of the day, we do go through it and go, “I just want that line [in the movie].” There are some lines the audience never… like the joke where he opens his mouth and goes, “The only way I can stop saying that is to just open my mouth” actually doesn’t get a laugh from a regular audience, but we love it, and we’re like, “Too bad, you’re getting it anyway.” Because eighty percent of the time, it’s a give-and-take with the audience, but sometimes… and on the first movie, we did that a lot, too, and it actually proved to work. Like “I’m kind of a big deal” never got a laugh, but we just liked it. So we were like, “Too bad, it’s staying in even though the audience was never laughing at it.” And it ended up becoming one of the big quotable lines. We do that with all the movies. At a certain point we just put in ones we just like. So it’s a give and take that you’re playing.
Has it been satisfying for you to see the way Anchorman has grown in stature in pop culture, and become this iconic film that actually led to the momentum to get this film made?
McKay: Yeah, it’s been crazy. We all kind of witnessed it slowly. The first movie came out and it did pretty good, and we got pretty good reviews. And we were like, “Hey, we got to make that crazy movie, and it was fun.” Then we’re kind of going on to our next movie, Talladega Nights, and while we were doing it Halloween would happen, and we would keep seeing people dressed as Ron Burgundy. We’d hear quotes, and I’d have friends calling me saying, “I just heard it quoted on ESPN.” I had a Google Alert, and it got to be so many I had to turn it off because they were quoting it [so much]. It went from this insane movie that made Will and I laugh to this thing that everyone connected with. Yeah, it’s definitely satisfying and exciting. I mean, it made it harder to do the second one because a lot of the comedy has been co-opted in commercials and kind of other styles in other comedies, so we really had to write this script over and over again to make sure we had original things. It made it a little harder, but at the same time without a doubt it was great to know your 2am flights of fancy other people think are funny. Things I used to get in trouble for writing at SNL, suddenly other people like it. It was nice.
In what way did that help you refine what the story was going to be, since the first time around you essentially had two movies?
McKay: The first one was definitely an unloading of material because we’d waited so long to do it. This one, because there were all these delays and because we could never quite get the budget right and the schedule right, we got really lucky that we got to keep refining the story. We approached it once where it was going to be a musical, and then there was a delay again and we went back to it. Because there were those delays we had time to test them and sleep on ideas and see how they felt the next day. We had some crazy idea for an ending where it was going to be an Irwin Allen thing. The Underwater Hotel was being announced. It was the most obvious setup for a disaster ever. There was this glass dome over it, and Burgandy has ignored the story about how the glass manufacturers skimped on prices because [the network] advertises undersea dome glass. Ferrell and I wrote this crazy ending, and… there were like gushes of water coming through and shooting sharks at people. It was absolute madness. But we wrote the whole thing, and it wasn’t bad. It almost worked. Then we took a beat, and were like, “That’s not the end of the movie.” It was going to be crazy expensive. I’m not sure it would’ve worked. But, yeah, we got those advantages of being able to work on the story and see how it felt as time went by.
Without spoiling too much, you mentioned the musical thing. Did any of that make it into the movie at all? What was the musical going to be?
McKay: It was going to basically be the same storyline and the same kind of CNN 24-hour news/Fox News kind of thing, but just a musical. We had four or five numbers written, and we did shoot them, so there are a couple of musical numbers in here. But we had one big giant one that didn’t quite play the way we wanted it. It always worked. It wasn’t like it was bad. It just didn’t quite play storywise, so we took that out. But that having been said, there are still a couple of songs in there. There’s one big love song at the end of the movie that… I’ll wait. I don’t want to give it away. I’m tempted to tell, but you’ve got to wait and see.
White: He’s tempted!
McKay: I am so tempted!
You could just show us…
McKay: It’s such a fun sentence to say, what that love song is about. But wait and see it. You’ll see it. Yeah.
How political do you allow yourself to get? Do you take any shots at anything contemporary?
McKay: You’ll have to see. I mean, a lot of it’s about when you do 24 hour news, it’s so much about ratings, and it’s so much about for-profit news, that’s a lot of what the comments are about, and just trash news and infotainment. You know, 1980 was like a dividing line where they started going towards puffier, sugary news, so that’s a lot of what it’s about – and of course, Ron Burgundy is right in the middle of that change and leading that change. So we did feel like with Anchorman more than anything we’ve done, it’s such a fun, colorful movie that we wanted to keep it pretty buoyant. But some of the kind of commentary did lend itself to that, so yeah, there’s definitely some shots at our infotainment American media and how they oftentimes don’t talk about much beyond animals and breasts. So, yeah.
Since Ron learned about equality in the first film, did that handicap you in any way with the character in this?
McKay: He mostly forgot that (laughs). I mean, we always laugh about the first one – what did he really learn? Like he learned just not to be a dick when your girlfriend gets a job, is what he basically learned, which isn’t really that much. So you’ll see pretty quickly in this one he’ll have to deal with some more success that she has, and he’s not equipped to handle it at all. So he’s a tad less of an a-hole than he was in the first one, but so small that it doesn’t really play.
How long was the editing process on this film compared to the first one and compared to some of your other films?
McKay: This was actually shorter. We had a little bit of a crunch time. How many weeks was it, Brent, 22? Was our whole post?
White: Yeah, because we have to be in theaters for Christmas so we just had to get everything done a little bit faster but even the fact there was so much material, that’s the other reason why I cut, and the other guys around me cut, alternate versions of each of the scenes. So we’ve already kind of explored all the options, or just kind of laid them out so we can find different…
McKay: We did something on this movie that we’ve never done before too is we did pretty extensive notes while it was shooting on cuts he was sending me, and I would, in the past, just lazily give some notes and go hey take it more in this direction but we actually went back and forth like 3, 4 times on certain scenes so by the time we got into the edit room, some of these scenes were like 80-90 % there as far as a first pass…
It really helped us a lot in the sense they got a pretty playable cut really early on that we were able to do a friends and family screening. One last thing that’s funny, on the friends and family screening Seth Rogen was there and he sat dead center. We had 100 people there, it was a 2.5 hour cut and the entire laugh track we recorded was completely wrecked because of Seth Rogen sitting in the middle going “hauh hauh hauh.” One of the great 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 know Seth Rogen finds that crazy joke, so we were like okay, friends and family screening useless because of Seth Rogen. I wish it would just play for 300 million Seth Rogens. I don’t know what that would do to the world, but yeah.
Is he on the no invite list for the next friends and family screening?
White: No! He’s actually a really great barometer of what we know to be funny.
McKay: He just laughs at everything we laugh at. That’s basically it. And with the loudest laugh you’ve ever heard. No better audience member than Seth Rogen.
You should release a version just with him.
McKay: That’s really funny. Just release the Seth Rogen laugh track. That’s really funny. There should be a law for one whole year all laugh tracks are Seth Rogen for all TV shows. The world would get ever so slightly better.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is out in theaters on December 20, 2013.