‘Boy, That Escalated Quickly’: The Skinny Behind ‘Anchorman’s News Team Rumble

‘Boy, That Escalated Quickly’: The Skinny Behind ‘Anchorman’s News Team Rumble

Movie studio DreamWorks, in all of its comedy wisdom, wanted to cut one of the most iconic scenes in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The problem with a Blackboard Jungle-style rumble between the Channel 4 crew and Vince Vaughn’s rival news team was that it was too unwieldy, a logistical nightmare that promised to be expensive and difficult to film. Producer and script advisor Judd Apatow had a solution, according to Saul Austerlitz’s Kind of A Big Deal: How Anchorman Stayed Classy and Became the Most Iconic Comedy of the Twenty-First Century. His advice to Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay: “Guys, you should just try taking a pass where you go further.”

McKay started a rewrite and realized that San Diego would probably have four stations — maybe even a Spanish-language outlet. “And then we were like, ‘Wait a minute — are we going to do this? Are we going to have a gang fight?’” he remembers in Vulture’s oral history of the scene. “I think we are.”

The battle was shot on a scorching hot day in Los Angeles, with wardrobe coordinators providing several shirts for each actor since they were sweating through them. Prop masters assembled a variety of fighting weapons, and the comics selected their arms. David Koechner figured Champ Kind would want brass knuckles. Paul Rudd liked the simplicity of the humble crowbar but took a gun for good measure. Steve Carell had his weapon assigned — the trident with which he would eventually kill a guy.

The film’s budget only allowed for a single-day shoot, which seemed impossible as more and more comics signed on for cameos. “I think it was, like, 30 or 40 setups in one day,” remembered Ferrell. According to line producer David Householter, it was closer to 70. McKay says 110. There was a lot that could go wrong — even though the weapons were mostly made of plastic or fiberglass, it was still possible for someone to get seriously maimed. What if Carell actually killed a guy?

The scene is full of homages to other cinematic fight scenes, including Planet of the Apes, The Wild Bunch and West Side Story. Amazingly, the scene that included a man on fire running through the frame, came together (mostly) without a hitch. “The crew busted their asses,” explained McKay. “It was a great moment of filmmaking.”

As a joke, McKay and Ferrell assembled all involved the next day and read them the riot act. “We thought it would be really funny to chastise them for how lazy they were,” said Ferrell. And that’s just what McKay did, yelling “What happened yesterday was unacceptable! It was horseshit!”  

The problem was, no one got the joke. “Everyone was so tired,” Ferrell explained, “no one laughed.”

“It didn’t go over well,” Househalter remembered. “People had no idea what was going on.”

“We were like, We were just kidding! We were just kidding! You guys were amazing,’” said Ferrell.

“To this day,” McKay concluded, “that’s still the craziest day I’ve ever had.”


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