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Moriarty's Set Visit! Will Ferrell's ANCHORMAN!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

2003 has been the year of Will Ferrell here at the Moriarty Labs so far, and I’m pleased as can be about it. The year started with us doing a lot of voluntary shilling for OLD SCHOOL, which started when Mr. Beaks came back from an early test screening, astonished by how much he enjoyed it. “Wafer thin,” he said, “but funny as shit.”

Then I stumbled upon a script called ROD BURGUNDY: ACTION NEWS MAN, co-written by Ferrell and Adam McKay. John Robie was the one who told me I should take a look at it. Since he’s one of the funniest people I know, I took that as a serious recommendation, and I’m glad I did. My original review for that script actually appears to have run almost a year ago now. I wasn’t aware what that review had done until I met Ferrell for the first time on the set of ELF in Vancouver. Meeting Will in person, I was struck by a few things. First, he’s a quiet man. There’s a sense of reserve to him. You get the feeling he’s capable of something volcanic, but he doesn’t have to be that way every hour of every day. I was also struck by what a generous and friendly guy he seemed to be.

He was in a particularly good mood when we met. He told me in Vancouver that my script review had created a new sense of urgency around ROD BURGUNDY, which had been in turnaround at Dreamworks at the time. Eventually, they had to buy the project from themselves, since other studios got involved and a bit of a bidding war erupted with it. The success of OLD SCHOOL really pushed that over the top for them, but Ferrell insisted that I had helped with the timing of the piece. All a happy coincidence, and if it means I get to see ANCHORMAN in the theater next year, then I’m perfectly happy to have helped.

If you want some idea of what the primary set for ANCHORMAN looks like, you can check out Smilin’ Jack Ruby’s excellent coverage on or Chris Ryall’s write-up in his “One Hand Clapping” column on MoviePoopShoot. There was a press day that I missed due to continued recovery from my recent health mishap. Funny story, actually. Somehow, Ferrell found out about what was going on with me, because I got a delivery one morning. It was a large envelope containing a headshot of Rod Burgundy. Not Ferrell. Burgundy. The moustache, the sideburns. It’s a thing of mutant beauty. It’s signed “Drew, Get Well Soon. I hear spinal taps are a real blast!” Then Rod’s signature. And the envelope was stuffed with Advil, presumably to speed things along for me.

Thankfully, I’d already managed to find my way onto the set of ANCHORMAN earlier in the shoot on a totally unscheduled day. Because of my history with the film, I’ve been particularly attuned to what the crew was up to, and when they started shooting, a friend in a key position on the film gave me a call and told me what they were up to. There was one day in particular that he described that sounded too insane to miss. I originally wanted to be there when they shot the opening of the movie, where Rod Burgundy makes an entrance a la Paul Newman in THE TOWERING INFERNO, sweeping in and climbing off a helicopter, then walking down the street. Missed it, though, and ended up with something just as cool.

See, in the film, Ferrell is the anchorman for a local news team filled out by Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd).

They’re the top team in San Diego. They feel like they own the town. It’s sometime between 1960 and 1980 in the film, some hazy indefinite moment, when local news men were still able to act like unquestioned authorities about something... anything... and when people still took them seriously. There’s some competition from Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) and his news team at another station, and as in any market, there are a number of smaller, hungrier stations, all looking for a way to take part of Channel 4’s audience. Anytime all the news teams show up in the same place throughout the film, there’s tension. The day we were there, tempers flared, and violence finally erupted.

In front of the cameras, that is.

One of the things I love about this script and this project is that it’s not meant to take place in a literal real world. This is heightened, absurd stuff, and it looks like Adam McKay and Will called in a lot of favors for supporting roles and for cameos like the ones in the day I visited. There’s a PBS news team, a Telemundo-style news team, and more, and they all end up face to face in a sequence that plays like an over-the-top GANGS OF NEW YORK style rumble, complete with guys on horseback, tridents being thrown, people on fire, and limbs that don’t stay attached. Some great, familiar faces show up only to get executed quickly in this sequence, and I think one of the reasons it freaked Dreamworks out when I showed up on the set was because of all the cameos that were being filmed. Many of them are so brief that it would be criminal to give them away. Part of the fun is going to be sitting there in the theater and suddenly, POW, there’s someone cracking a long bullwhip and proclaiming, “I am El Diablo, beetches, and you are about to suffer the sting of my wheep!” And you’ll go, “Holy crap, he’s in this movie?” And then a moment later, the PBS news team walks up, and the anchorman is smoking a pipe, clad in a tweed jacket and turtleneck, and as he checks out El Diablo, he snarls, “So I guess this is a bilingual bloodletting, eh?” And you’ll go, “Wait, he’s in this, too? Crazy!” It’s that sort of a sequence. One face after another, and all of them given something specific and funny to do, many of them inventing it as they stand there in front of the camera. So, rest assured, Dreamworks... I’m not going to spoil the cameos. They’re too much fun, and people would hate me if I did it.

At first, though, they didn’t even know I was there. I just sort of wandered onto the location shoot, which was in downtown Los Angeles. I spent the morning of that day at Dreamworks, on the Glendale campus, at a presentation they did for reporters about their upcoming animation projects. As soon as Harry Lime and I left Glendale, we sped across town and found the ANCHORMAN crew under a bridge downtown. The entire area had been spraypainted with graffiti that had to do with the local news teams, claims of turf and superiority on every surface. As I wandered around the set, I ran into David Koechner first. Koechner’s an old friend of the Labs, and I think after all the various transplants I’ve done, you could even say he’s “related” to Henchman Mongo. I think Koechner is criminally underutilized in film so far. Anyone in Los Angeles who has seen him live as part of the Naked Trucker show knows what I’m talking about. He never got the right roles during his brief stint on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but watching him when he has more control over the material, there’s no denying what a strong character performer he is. I’m midway through reading his script HOBOES & ASTRONAUTS right now, the epic story of Gerald “T-Bone” Timmins, the character he plays in the Naked Trucker show, and it’s pretty great stuff. I’m hoping he gets a chance to shine as Champ Kind, the sports guy. He’s in a lot of the movie, so if it works, people will definitely remember him.

Koechner was sitting with Vince Vaughn and Steve Carell. I met Vaughn the night we taped the AICN pilot for Comedy Central. Jon Favreau was a guest on that show for us, and afterwards, we ended up having our wrap party up the street from the studio where we taped it. Favs and Peter Billingsley joined us for a while, and then Vince showed up. He’s startlingly tall in person, and if you think he’s putting on a shtick when you see him in appearances on talk shows, you’re wrong. That’s Vince. He’s not much different than in films. There’s a really nimble wit always at play, even in simple conversation, and you get the feeling you’re being tested and challenged with every question or comment. He’s very friendly, though, and when he recognized me on the set of ANCHORMAN, we just dropped into a conversation as if we were picking up from the last time we spoke. He talked about being on the film for just a brief period of time. My set visit was July 15th, fairly early in the schedule, but I was there for the next to last day of Vince’s time on the film.

I was excited to meet Carell, who I think does spectacular work on THE DAILY SHOW, and who managed to steal BRUCE ALMIGHTY from Jim Carrey earlier this year. He had the funniest ad lib moment of the day later on in the shooting, at the end of the rumble, and I got the feeling he’s been a hit with everyone in the cast and on the crew. He seems fairly serious about his comedy, as does everyone on the film. The thing I like about watching really strong comic performers work is that they don’t feel the need to upstage each other. Instead, it’s about adding layers to a joke, contributing some bit of business that sells the world that McKay is creating. They’re also not worried about “working the room” off-camera, since everyone on that set is incredibly funny. They save it up, and all the conversations I heard were laid back, smart, and all focused on making something really special.

And I definitely heard some good stuff. See, as I was talking to all these people, I noticed someone scoping me out. I hadn’t gone anywhere near Will yet. He was sitting over in video village, behind all the monitors, and there was a very familiar woman standing near him. She was giving me that look you give someone when you recognize them, but you don’t know how. Finally, she walked over, and I braced myself for possibly being escorted off the location altogether.

”Excuse me, but... did we meet in Vancouver?” I smiled in response to the question, since I never know what anyone’s attitude towards AICN is at first. It can run the entire gamut of extremes.

”That’s likely. I was there for ELF,” I said. As soon as I did, a broad smile spread across her face, and she held out her hand.

”I thought so. I’m Shauna.” I shook her hand, pleased to be remembered. Shauna Weinberg is one of the producers of ELF and of ANCHORMAN, and she’s a bright lady who seems immediately like an old friend when you start talking to her. She told me that she was sure Will would want to talk to me, and before I could tell Harry Lime where I was going, I got steered over to where Will was sitting with Adam McKay. Will recognized me right away, even before Shauna said anything, and told me to take a seat next to him.

Meeting Adam McKay under those circumstances was a lot less weird than I thought it would be. Again, I was technically intruding on his set, and this being his first film, I figured he would be a little stressed about the whole thing, touchy about who wandered through. He wasn’t that way at all, though. He told me the same thing Will told me in Vancouver. “This film got a second wind because of that script review,” he said, and we talked for a while about how he and Will started writing together and how this project came into being. I’m fascinated by the entire history of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, for both the writers who have been through there and the performers. I particularly love it when a writer or a team of writers really tunes in to the voice of a particular performer. In the case of McKay and Ferrell, they seem to share a very specific sensibility, and it was clear as they both spoke about the film that this was something that came equally from both of their very sick minds.

As they shot two units at the same time to make the most of the location, I was impressed by the way Thomas Ackerman worked. You might recognize him as the director of photography on THE BATTLE OF SHAKER HEIGHTS. He came across as one of the few people who retained their dignity on this season of PROJECT GREENLIGHT, and I can tell you from watching him work for an afternoon, he’s one of those seasoned professionals who just hustles from set-up to set-up, getting exactly what he’s asked to get. McKay was very relaxed, and even with the elaborate sequences he was trying to put together, he never seemed unduly pressured.

By the time I finally left the set that afternoon, I was impressed by just how well the entire ensemble cast seemed to be working together. What’s going to make this film work isn’t just the starring performance by Ferrell, although it looks like he’s got the meatiest role of his film career so far. Instead, it’s going to either rise or fall based on how well the cast gels as a news team. It’s also going to depend on the chemistry that Christina Applegate, who has turned into a fairly strong comic performer in her own right, brings to the mix as the first woman anchor-in-training. She ends up as Burgundy’s love interest, but in a completely insane, unconventional way, eschewing the standard lame love subplot that sinks so many comedies.

The production wrapped this week, and I regret not being able to make it back to the set for a second visit. I would have liked to have seen Fred Willard or Chris Parnell or some of the other cameos, and I would have liked to have met Judd Apatow, one of the film’s producers, and a very funny man in his own right. I would have liked to have been there for some of the big moments in the movie. As it is, I’m going to have to wait, just like you guys, for 2004, when ANCHORMAN should hit screens around the same time OLD SCHOOL did so well this year. I can’t wait. Makes me more anxious than monkeys armed with dynamite, and hornier than the Love Panda. Awwwwww, yeah.

"Moriarty" out.

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