‘Anchorman’ director Adam McKay shows entertaining side of news

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It has been almost 10 years since America’s favorite broadcast journalists graced the silver screen with their lovably moronic presence. Luckily for fans of the Channel 4 News Team, Ron Burgundy and the gang are back in theaters with “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The sequel packs in even more outrageous antics than the original as it follows Burgundy into the world of 24-hour news. The Daily Californian sat down with director Adam McKay to discuss sharks, the state of broadcast news and Twitter handles.

The Daily Californian: There is a lot going on in this movie — a lot of characters, a lot of plot lines. Did you ever consider scaling any of it back?

Adam McKay: We always have big, ambitious ideas, and we felt like the second movie should be sort of epic in nature. Ron Burgundy kind of inspires that — he’s got a kind of epic quality to him. We were shocked when we started screening it that it was all playing, because I figured we would cut some of it out — that we would scale back. Most of our movies are 95 to 100 minutes long, and for laugh-out-loud comedies, that tends to be the right amount of time. But I would check with the test audiences, like, “Are they all OK with this length?” — and it kept getting great responses. So we were like, “Eh, I guess we made an epic movie.” We jokingly call it the Ben Hur of comedies.

DC: How did you come up with Ron Burgundy’s shark song?

AM: I love the song with the shark! That was one of the chunks that was discussed, but we were like, “You can’t cut that.” That’s one of my favorite parts, too.

How did we come up with that? When (Ron Burgundy) went blind, we sort of found ourselves a bit in a 1970s movie. It’s like old movies like “Ice Castles” and “The Competition,” and there are all these movies about people that would have disabilities and overcome them. So we were in that genre, and then we started thinking about that famous old movie “Born Free” about a family that raises a lion. And then we remembered that YouTube video of the lion coming back and recognizing the people. So it was kind of inspired by that, and then we started laughing, like, “What is the least cuddly animal you could ever pick?” It’s a shark. The idea that Ron Burgundy’s heart is opened up by a shark just really started making us laugh.

DC: I read that there’s another version of the movie with new jokes. Is that true?

AM: (Laughs) Yeah, we improvised so much. There’s a whole other version of the movie where we replaced every single spoken joke in the entire movie. So physically, it’s the same movie. You still see the Winnebago crash, you still see all that stuff, but every spoken joke is replaced. I think there were like five places where we could not replace the spoken joke.

DC: How long have you been thinking about making the sequel, and was it difficult to get the go-ahead to have it made?

AM: Probably for the first five years after we made “Anchorman,” people kept asking us if we were doing a sequel. But we wanted to do original movies; we had other ideas. We did “Talladega Nights,” we did “Step Brothers,” we did “The Other Guys.” We said, “This is fun, we get to make original movies,” but we kept hearing about “Anchorman.” So then Ferrell and I got kind of intrigued by the idea of making a sequel, like, could we do a good sequel? Would it be so much worse than the first one that it’s a waste of time? But really, the key to it was when we thought about 24-hour news. The first movie took place in roughly ’75 or ’76 and then 24-hour news started in 1980. And that’s a huge change in broadcast news. They changed all the laws about broadcast news, so the whole news industry changed in 1980. And then once we realized that happened, we thought it was a story worth telling. And the idea that we could make it all Ron Burgundy’s fault just made us laugh.

DC: The first movie was a big satire of sexism in the broadcast news industry. Are you trying to address any issues in the sequel?

AM: Yeah. I think the big one is just the news, and what has happened to it — the fact that it’s all entertainment. It used to be called the fourth estate of government; it was supposed to inform the public so that we could vote and take care of our government. Now it’s just pure entertainment — there’s almost no real news anymore. The good news is that that’s also funny. The idea of putting Ron Burgundy in the middle of it was kind of perfect.

It’s also dealing with race, too. The same way it was strange to have a woman in the newsroom, it seems bizarre now, but the early ‘80s was when African American culture was first mainstreaming. Before that, African American culture was like a separate thing … It’s always fun to see these guys have to deal with these changes.

DC: How do you approach issues of gender and race in your films?

AM: I was happy to find out that a woman I know who’s a writer and connected to the women’s movement said that, actually, a lot of women really like “Anchorman,” because it is about the empowerment of women, and the woman is clearly the smart, skilled one there dealing with the idiot men. We always try to have some of that in our movies. So if we do a movie about NASCAR, we’re kind of poking fun at NASCAR and the fact that it is such a white world. It’s so closed off. We’re always having fun with these subjects, while at the same time, we’re not hating the characters, but we’re kind of poking fun at them. In this movie, you’re dealing with an African American woman. She’s in power, she’s clearly way smarter than they are, she’s beautiful, she’s strong, she’s successful, and she’s got to deal with these idiots. We always like to have those characters in the movie that get what’s going on.

DC: How did you get your Twitter handle, Ghost Panther?

AM: I think I tried to type in my real name, Adam McKay, and someone already had it. And then, I have a picture on my wall —actually, I don’t even think it’s a panther, it’s a leopard in the shadows— and I just saw it and I was like, “I’ll just give myself a crazy name. Ghost Panther.”

DC: So did you put the ghost and the panther into the movie to tie into that?

AM: (Laughs) I think you’re finding certain archetypes that I enjoy. I think I like ghosts, I think I like  panthers, I think I like sharks, I like tridents, I like bears … let’s just say I like things that make me laugh.