Will Ferrell has been able to star in a number of movies that have been written for him in a very short amount of time. How does he do it? That’s simple, structure. Sure every now and then he’ll star in a serious vehicle like Stranger than Fiction or Melinda and Melinda to throw us off the tracks, but he’s got a system for his movies that’s set in stone like a narcoleptic cement spreader. He and his team of alcohol and crank riddled writers have constructed a tried and true method of developing scripts tailor-made for his audiences’ sense of humor, most of whom are drunk by the time they get to the theater and have already snuck in a flask of Jack Daniels to mix with their watered down Coke when the usher isn’t looking. So if you've ever thought about cashing in with your own Will Ferrell vehicle, it's actually easier than you think...
1. The title should imply some kind of quest for glory
Blades of Glory, Semi-Pro, Talladega Nights: what do all these movie titles have in common other than the fact that they sound like bad-80s sex comedies that used to run late at night on the USA Network? They all are about achieving ultimate victory.
Ferrell’s fans are usually overweight frat guys who love sports, but don’t have the physical agility to win a gold medal themselves until the Summer Olympic Committee chooses to make hot dog eating an Olympic sport. Watching Ferrell’s slightly pudgy frame glide across the ice or up and down a basketball court gives his fans hope that even if they don’t lead their team to victory, at least the audience will be entertained by their die-hard commitment when they fall face first into a hardwood floor.
2. His character should sound smarter than he actually is
Another reason Ferrell’s movies are so easy to make is he doesn’t have to do much research for them. His characters know a lot less than they should about what they do for a living. The only research you should have to do for his character is what type of scotch he drinks and how much in quarts by the end of the movie.
If he’s playing a world champion ski jumper, he should know more about fine cologne and foreign cars that he does about wind speed and landing angles. If he’s playing a 1970s radio DJ, he should know more about fine wines and how to identity types of leather seats just by smelling them than the records he’s spinning. If he’s a fireman, he should know nothing about how to put out a fire so that will set up his downfall later in the film.
Sure it sounds like it would have to take a huge amount of suspension of disbelief to buy the fact that Ferrell’s character would be able to achieve such a huge level of high status in the real world, but you’re not paying $9.50 to see a realistic portrayal of the real world when you go to see one of his movies. If you want to see the real world, look out your window. It’s free and you know the popcorn you’re eating doesn’t have any unwanted bodily fluids in it.
3. Don’t forget parts for his friends
No one man can carry a movie by himself. So while Will Ferrell may be the guy who gets to appear on the posters, yuk it up with David Letterman on the press tour and get the trailer with the big Jacuzzi that was custom built for Nell Carter, he’s certainly not alone.
So throw in a couple of parts for his sketch comedy and improv compadraes. Write in an angry bitter football coach who uses the name of a play in every sentence for David Koechner. Add in an obnoxiously happy cashier who always gives the thumbs up, even if he’s getting a colonic for Jack McBrayer. Toss in a clueless, angry party hound who likes to wear Speedos that don’t even cover a fifth of his ass for John C. Reilly.
4. Remember that violence is funny
If Martin Scorsese and Francois Trafut taught us one thing with their ultra-violent films of vainglorious madmen who put personal gain above public destruction, it’s that hostility equals hilarity as long as it’s not happening to you.
So don’t afraid to let the plot get a little physical even now and again. If you’re having trouble giving Ferrell’s character a witty response to a perplexing question, let him smack the guy around a little bit. Let that gun accidentally go off and hit one of his friend’s in the arm. Let that guy get stabbed in the heart with a trident. As long as there isn’t any blood and the audience doesn’t see the harm that it causes himself, his family or his rising health care costs, the audience will laugh because they’ll think of some people to try it on later to liven up an otherwise dull conversation.
We should note, of course, that this does not mean violence is always the best solution. It’s only the best solution when it comes to trying to make something funnier.
5. Write down everything you hear when you go drinking because it could be a catchphrase
When you’re writing Ferrell’s next film, the bar should be your big breasted, angelic muse.
Every time you go out with your buds for a brew or 14, you should bring along your pocket notebook and a pen along with your wallet, your roll of one dollar bills, your breath mints, your Zippo lighter with the 8-ball on it and your emergency bail money that you hide in your sock to keep you from blowing it on shots.
You never what you’re going to say or hear when you’re wasted and sometimes the perfect line is just an empty whiskey shot or two away from making it on a T-shirt. Today’s “I am the toughest mother#*#$&er in this bar, so who wants a taste of this tango?” could be tomorrow’s “two tickets to the gun show.” Just write down as many lines as you can until your head hits the bar or someone hits the bar with your head.
6. Full frontal nudity is not for hot chicks
There is a reason audiences roar with laughter when Ferrell is half naked on screen. It’s because Ferrell’s half naked body looks hilarious on screen.
It’s completely unexpected. He’s the last person anyone would expect that a shallow movie producer would allow him to drop trow before the director yells action. The day Ferrell gets any part of his body tucked, folded, waxed, fat sucked or implanted is the day that the laughter dies.
7. His confidence is a rock (it’s an island)
All of Ferrell’s comic characters have one unmistakable common trait: all of them believe in themselves and have more confidence in themselves and their abilities and accomplishments than Hugh Hefner, Terrell Owens and George W. Bush combined. He should be a giant Zoloft with legs. The whole movie should resemble the storyline of a Journey song, any of them.
It makes the overall plot much easier to write. In fact, their confidence is so large and wildly out of control that they believe the only way they can fall from grace is by the hand of God or some kind of crippling ass-kicking from Chuck Norris or some other overrating 80s action movie icon. Of course, this unwavering confidence will eventually lead to his downfall in some way since it blinds him to his actions and mistakes. He’s so confident and into himself that he doesn’t realize that juggling babies on national television won’t do a whole lot for his image. He’s so cocky that doesn’t stop to think that maybe ferrets and matches don’t go together like peanuts and butter. He thinks he’s so great that he doesn’t realize the consequences of joining a religious cult that views cannibalism as just a “holiday thing.” Hell, he’s so damn good that they just might make him their leader.
8. The ending should include a fight with some kind of large, dangerous animal
What movie would be complete without some kind of mano-y-animano showdown between Ferrell and 500 pounds of drooling fangs and angry fur? Not a very good one, that’s what.
He took on a bear in Anchorman, a cougar in Talladega Nights and another bear in “Semi-Pro.” Your film should keep uping the ante. Have him take on an ostrich or better yet a whole herd of ostriches that have suddenly developed a taste for human flesh. What would it be like if Will Ferrell’s character decided to pick a fight with a larger African elephant? It would be hilarious.
How about letting Big Willy tangle with a bloodthirsty anaconda? Sure in order for it to work so the audience will buy it, Ferrell would have to die two seconds into the fight, but you’ll be lucky if you don’t die laughing during that two seconds as well.
Danny Gallagher is a freelance humorist, writer and reporter who loves lamp. His website is dannygallagher.net.