Interview date: 08/19/2009
Run date: 08/27/2009
Adam McKay and Will Ferrell first met on the day they were both hired for “Saturday Night Live,” and their friendship has been a decidedly fruitful one. The two collaborated on numerous “SNL” sketches, and when Ferrell left the show for the bright lights of Hollywood, their bond was strong enough that Will invited Adam to continue their collaboration in the world of film. Since then, McKay has directed Ferrell in such comedy classics as “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Step Brothers,” but the two have also formed a production company which has brought us HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” “The Foot Fist Way,” and, most recently, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” Bullz-Eye spoke with McKay about how he and Ferrell found their way into “The Goods” and how the film evolved after their entry into the mix, but he also chatted about the status of “Anchorman 2,” the upcoming Jon Heder series that he’s producing, his favorite unheralded “SNL” sketches, and…what’s this about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
Adam McKay: Hey, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Adam, how’s it going?
AM: Good, man! How are you doing?
BE: Not bad. You know, I was in the audience for your TCA presentation back in January (“You’re Welcome, America: A Final Night with George W. Bush”), where you appeared to us via satellite. So I’m sure you remember me.
AM: (Laughs) Oh, yes, of course. It was a very intimate experience.
BE: It was like you were right there with us. So you’re one of the producers of “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” How did you get involved with the film in the first place?
AM: You know, Will (Ferrell)’s and my production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, we had the script brought to us – with Jeremy (Piven) attached – by producer Kevin Messick, who actually now works with us in Gary Sanchez. Will and I had written a car-salesman script about five or six years before that, which Lorne Michaels tried to get made at Paramount, but it was a weird time over there, and we couldn’t get it made, and it was very frustrating. So we saw this script come through, and we thought, “Well, this is perfect.” And Jeremy…oh, my God, if there’s ever a role that you’re going to have him play coming off the success he’s had as Ari Gold (in “Entourage”), it’s this role. And we thought, “Well, we can do a rewrite on this, kind of gussy this up, get people we like in it, and sort of approach it through improve.” And that’s exactly what we did. Chris and I did a big rewrite on it, we got Neal Brennan, a director we really liked, in there, we cast people from our circle, and kind of approached it the same way we approach any of our movies, like “Anchorman”: an ensemble, improv, absurdist comedy. And we ended up being really happy with it.
BE: I’m sure the huge shadow of “Used Cars” was looming over the picture.
AM: Yeah, although it’s funny: I’d say 8 out of 10 people walking down the street don’t know about “Used Cars.” It’s a film-fan movie. I love it, of course, and “Used Cars” was part of the reason that we were attracted to car-salesman movies, but it was so long ago. It’s kind of amazing that there really haven’t been many car-salesman movies since then. There was “Cadillac Man,” but that wasn’t really about car sales. My favorite salesman movies are “Tin Men” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and that’s really what got us excited about it. If anything, “Glengarry Glen Ross” was a huge influence on this movie. Even though this movie’s raunchy and absurd and silly, that vibe is still very funny to us.
BE: Did Mamet come in and do a rewrite?
AM: Yeah, Mamet did. He did a two-week punch-up. (Laughs)
BE: Had any of you guys seen the film “Slasher” before?
AM: Oh, yeah, I love that movie, too. I’d say that one and “Used Cars” are the two best car-salesman movies out there.
BE: As soon as I saw the description of “The Goods,” I thought, “This sounds like a fictionalized version of ‘Slasher.’”
AM: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I didn’t think of that, but, yeah. I mean, the whole way that character was portrayed and the kind of vibe of it was obviously much more real and gritty. We wanted more of a sort of supposed superhero salesman, who’s rock ‘n’ roll and, y’know, “Oh, my God, they’ve got the life!” But it turns out that they’re all a little bit sad, if you look a little bit closer, whereas with “Slasher,” within five minutes, you knew that guy had that dichotomy going on.
BE: So with the films you and Will produce, how do you go about selecting the soundtrack? Because there have been a lot of cases where the music has been really influential to the feel of the film.
AM: You know, I’m really into music and movies, and one of my favorite things to do is pair songs with scenes, so I was pretty involved with this one. I came in a lot, I brought a lot of songs in for Neal to listen to. Lately, the last couple of movies we’ve done, we’ve just gotten a little bored with…like, it seems like the catalog of songs you can reference has gotten a little light from the movies that have gotten made, so we’ve actually started writing our own songs and producing them like they’re actual singles. There are about four songs in “The Goods” that are original songs that we wrote. There’s the theme song, “The Goods,” which I wrote the lyrics for and Lyle Workman did the music for. We’ve got an R&B song, “Let’s Make A Baby,” which I wrote the lyrics for and Erica Weis did the music for. Then, there’s a couple of songs by a band called The English Teeth, from Austin, where I would just kind of send him a couple of lyrics, tell him the sound I wanted, and he would record the singles. So that’s something I’m really enjoying doing. We did it…there are about three original songs we wrote in “Step Brothers” that ended up being in there that I did with Jon Brion. That’s my favorite thing now. So, yeah, soundtracks to me are huge. Anytime you can get a song like “Fox on the Run” in a movie…I mean, I always just operate off the premise that, if I went and saw a movie and it had “Fox on the Run” in it, you can only hate it so much. (Laughs)
BE: I would say the same of any film which has songs co-written by Jon Brion.
AM: I would definitely, definitely say that as well. He’s the best, that guy.
BE: I know you mentioned your circle of comedic friends who are in the film, but you had someone in there who hasn’t been in one of your films before: Jordana Spiro, from “My Boys.”
AM: You know, Jordana Spiro auditioned for me for “Step Brothers,” and I really liked her a lot. It was for the role that Kathryn Hahn ended up playing – Alice – and she just stuck with me. You always have that happen. Sometimes you’ll have roles where you have, like, three really good people, so I just made a mental note. “That girl’s really good.” She just kind of went for it, and she’s obviously really beautiful and very cool. I just was a fan of hers. So when Neal was looking to cast that role, I sent over the audition tape from “Step Brothers,” and right away he was, like, “Wow, she is good.” So that’s kind of how that happened.
BE: How did you go about casting the role of Stu Harding?
AM: That was Neal Brennan, one hundred percent. He said, “I’m thinking of casting Alan Thicke.” And I sort of went, “Huh.” And he said, “Trust me. It’s gonna be good.” And the second we screened the movie, the crowd responded. I was, like, “Thank God you cast Alan Thicke.” He also turned out to be funny and a great guy, so that was a minor genius move on Neal Brennan’s part.
BE: Did anyone ask James Brolin for Streisand stories, or were they too scared?
AM: I don’t know. I certainly didn’t. But, boy, he was a champ as well. He just got the joke. He was great.
BE: Do some actors find it difficult to get the joke when they come from outside your circle?
AM: Well, if they did, then we wouldn’t cast them, basically. That’s what you’re always looking to see. You want to see the skill level, you want to see someone open to play and not necessarily be stuck on the words, who can play it a little loose and get the vibe. And part of all that is getting the joke. If someone doesn’t, you can generally tell right away. Occasionally you’ll get a character actor or a type who’s just so good that you go, “Screw it, I’m gonna put him in here and just feed him lines.” But even then, they’ve at least got to be open to being fed those lines. But, y’know, I don’t think we’ve ever really had that happen. Everyone we’ve cast tends to get the joke and is down with it. So we’ve been really lucky in that sense.
BE: I see that David Koechner is going to be in “Fully Loaded.”
AM: Yeah, that’s right! (Surprised) How do you know about “Fully Loaded”?
BE: IMDb, man.
AM: Damn! That’s my wife’s movie.
BE: Oh, yeah? I just saw that you were executive producing it.
AM: Yeah, it’s an independent movie that they did, and it’s really good, actually. It’s very cool.
BE: I saw Koechner at the TCA Tour a few days ago, actually, because he’s in the new Kelsey Grammer series, “Hank.”
AM: That’s right, he was telling me about that. Have you seen an episode of it yet?
BE: I did, actually.
AM: How was it? Was it decent?
BE: It’s not bad. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves.
AM: Yeah, you’re right. You can’t really judge these shows off their pilots.
BE: But it’s by one of the guys who was behind “Everybody Loves Raymond” (Tucker Cawley), so that alone makes me want to see how it’s going to go.
AM: I’m with you on that. Yeah, you’ve got to wait until they’re about five episodes in before you can see what’s up with these shows.
BE: Well, as long as we’re on TV, I understand a second season of “Eastbound and Down” is at least semi-imminent.
AM: I would go full-on “imminent” on that one. We get going in…I believe it’s January that it kicks into full pre-production, although they’re writing away right now. But, yeah, we’ve got 8 episodes that we’re doing for HBO, and they’ve sort of given us the whole story arc for the next season, and it is fantastic. It’s funny: I’m a producer on that show, and I’ve directed episodes, and I’m obviously involved with notes and whatever, but I honestly just watch that show as a fan. I just love it. I was bummed that there were only six last time. I was, like, “Come on!” I was trying to get them to do as many possible this time. I’m, like, “Can’t we do twelve?” But we got eight, so I was happy. At least that’s more than six.
BE: I live in Chesapeake, VA, about fifteen minutes from the Carolina border, so…
AM: Oh, sure. So you know that world, then.
BE: Yeah, it definitely spoke to me.
AM: Oh, God, yeah.
BE: Can you give a clue at all about what we can expect in the new season?
AM: (Hesitates) Let’s see if I can give a clue without wrecking anything. I’d say the question for this season is, “Will Kenny return?” I don’t know, I don’t want to say anything. I don’t want to wreck it, because they have some cool ideas.
BE: I can dig it. So what’s the status of “Anchorman 2”? I know it keeps bouncing around as being forthcoming, but…
AM: We’re doing it. I mean, it’s just all about the scheduling. There are just so many actors to pull together. We have a very clear idea for it, we want to do it, and we’ve talked to everyone, and everyone has said that they’re in – I Tweeted back and forth with (Christina) Applegate, who seems like she’s into it – but everyone has schedules. Like, Carell, obviously, has a really tough schedule. Koechner now has a really tough schedule. And Paul Rudd. So it’s all about the lining-up. Sadly, the second part after I say, “We’ll do it,” is that it could be two or three years away. But the nice thing is that none of those characters are age-dependent. I mean, literally, I feel like these actors could be as old as 50 or 55, and it’d still be fine. But, yes, we’re dying to do it, we have a great idea, and it’s all gonna be about pulling a lot of schedules together. It’s nice that everyone from that movie has gone on to do really well, but now we just have to line everybody up.
BE: So how did you and Will first come to work together? I know you worked together on “Saturday Night Live,” but did you know each prior before that?
AM: No, I’d never met him. We all met the same day we were hired. Koechner got hired, Ferrell, myself, another writer named Tom Gianis, and Cheri Oteri, and we all went out for beers. I always joke that Will, when you meet him, is pretty unassuming, and I figured, “Oh, he must be the straight guy that they hired.” But then at the first read-through, it was, like, “Oh, no, he’s not the straight guy at all!” (Laughs) Even though Ferrell is a great straight man. But, yeah, to say that it was just Ferrell and me that hit it off isn’t right, because everyone loved writing for Ferrell. And he’s a great writer himself, so in that sense, writers really get along with him, and he’s very easy to collaborate with. But we just started writing a particular type of scene together that was just kind of strange, and only Ferrell was kind of able to pull it off, performance-wise, in order to get it on the show. And we just kept loving these scenes we were writing that were so crazy, like Bill Brasky, “Insane OB/GYN,” “Neil Diamond: Storytellers,” and that kind of stuff. And, then, obviously, I wrote a lot of the Bush stuff, too. So when he started doing movies, y’know, he had an option, and he was, like, “Hey, you wanna write something with me?” And that’s when we wrote the car-salesman script, “August Blowout,” and from there we just kept writing, and we wrote “Anchorman” and this other stuff. So, yeah, it’s been a long time since we met in 1995.
BE: Do you have a favorite sketch from the “SNL” era that didn’t take off as a huge hit but that you still have a fondness for?
AM: Oh, plenty of those. (Laughs) We had one that he loved so much that he actually put it on his second DVD, “The Best of Will Ferrell,” and it had Ferrell as an airline pilot, Tobey Maguire as the co-pilot, and Chris Parnell as the navigator. Basically, the premise is just them being really awful to the passengers on the P.A. I always loved that one. And then we loved the crazy OB/GYN who would tell expectant mothers just these horrible things and take long phone calls in the middle of tense medical evaluations. We wrote a bunch of those. I think we only got two on the air, maybe, but we wrote, like, five. We just loved them. And, then, Bill Brasky was the other one. We just thought that was the funniest thing. It has a little bit of a cult following, but it never became a bit hit. But, oh, there are many, many more.
BE: Were you happy with “You’re Welcome, America”?
AM: Oh, very much. That was one of those great projects where you really walk in not at all caring about what the critics are going to say, caring only about the money in the sense that you want people to come see it, but not really being concerned about that, either. I mean, that show was eight years in the making, and it just was…the word “cathartic” is overused, but that was really a case where, God, we were able to let a lot of bad feelings go after that rough, dark eight years we went through. It just felt so good to get up there and laugh and put a frame around it. You know, the only shame of it is that…the director of our special, Marty Callner, did an amazing job, but nothing ever matches the live experience. The people who saw it live had a totally different reaction to it, because it was just…I mean, he was addressing the audience. It was such an intimate kind of feeling. But, yeah, that was one of my favorite things that we’ve done.
BE: You’re part of the upcoming Jon Heder project, his TV series. Can you tell me a little bit about what to expect from that?
AM: Well, we’re still sort of putting together the pieces. We have a couple of casting ideas for it, and we’re talking to show runners right now, but the idea…the premise came from two things. One was a love of Jon Heder, a feeling that we could sort of all collaborate together really well, and I think that we really appreciate what he does well when he’s at his best. We’re big fans of his, and we want to spotlight him in that sense. And the second thing is that it came from a belief that…well, there’s nothing wrong with the sitcom form. Even the multiple camera / studio audience form, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that the network development process got so broken, and they sort of stubbornly refused to change it at all, even though year after year it fails to produce anything. So the idea of this show was, “Let’s go sell a large amount of them and set up a deal so that we don’t have to do the dial testing and all of the overtesting and the notes from the 20 different people.” I think that’s the only thing wrong with the half-hour comedy. So that’s where we came from creatively. And, obviously, the excitement of collaborating with Heder.
BE: Last question, since I know we’re up against the wall. I know you’ve got “The Other Guys” as the next film on your slate…
AM: Yeah. I’m actually here at the pre-production offices right now.
BE: Even better. Any idea what’s going to be forthcoming after that?
AM: Not exactly. I’ve got this project that I was supposed to do where this slot is, called “Channel Three Billion,” a sci-fi satirical comedy movie that I really like a lot, and I was all ready to get going on it, but then this one kind of came across, and it just seemed so appropriate to everything going on that I was, like, “Okay, screw it, let’s go do it.” So I’d like to get back into that. And I’m always open to other ideas, but eventually…I think that, first, I’ve got to make the jump from the style of comedies that we do to something a little different. Which I think “The Other Guys” will do, because it’s more of an action comedy that’s way more grounded than our other stuff. But it’ll still have the same sort of flair. The step after that, though, is to do something even outside of that, something different like the sci-fi satire or something like that. But, y’know, I just love movies, so we always say that we’d love to do horror films, we’d love to do action movies. I’m game for anything. My favorite director right now is Zack Snyder. I just think that guy is phenomenal, and I love what he does. Movies like “300” and “Watchmen” and “Dawn of the Dead,” and I thought “Sin City” was really great…although that wasn’t Snyder. But I’m really interested in that technique that’s sort of, like, painting with movies, where it’s animated but with a style. I’m dying to try something like that.
BE: I saw that you’re at least semi-attached to “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
AM: Oh, I love that movie. That’s exactly the kind of shit where, like, it almost veers a little more toward Sam Raimi Land. Yeah, our production company, Gary Sanchez, is producing that. We saw “Dead Snow,” the movie that Tommy (Wirkola) did first, and Kevin Messick, who works with us now, had Tommy come in, and he told us about this “Hansel & Gretel” idea, and we were instantly, like, “Oh, my God, we’re doing that.” And then he wrote an amazing script, so, yeah, I’m as excited about that as anything we’re doing.
BE: All right, Adam, it’s been great talking to you. Here’s hoping that word of mouth will help out “The Goods” this weekend.AM: Yeah, so am I. But, regardless, we’re either gonna be a small little box office surprise or we’re gonna be a cult cable hit. (Laughs) It’ll be one way or the other. But it certainly makes us laugh, so we’re happy about that. Good talking to you, Will. Thanks a lot!