Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy stunts: Worth 'at least $20 million' in free publicity, says Adam McKay

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Image Credit: TBS

You’d have to have been hiding in a German san diego for the last several months not to know that Ron Burgundy is back on Dec. 18 in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Ever since Burgundy himself appeared on Conan in March 2012 to officially announce that a sequel was underway, Will Ferrell has been a pied piper (pied flutist?) for the movie, lending his character’s self-important persona to a deluge of promotional opportunities. By now, you’re seen many of the 70 commercials Ferrell did for Dodge Durango — 10 new spots are now viewable online — a happy accident that boosted Durango sales by nearly 40 percent in November (and gave the movie plenty of free advertising.) But there was also the Burgundy biography, a scotch-flavored Burgundy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, scotch-flavored scotch whisky, and Burgundy-brand Jockey underwear. Plus, there was Ferrell-as-Burgundy at the European Music Awards, co-hosting the Canadian curling Olympic trails, anchoring the news in Bismarck, N.D., chiming in on the recent Australian national election, interviewing Peyton Manning on ESPN, accepting a naming honor at Emerson College, dueting with Robin Thicke, and taking Huffington Post to task in a recent op-ed. Did I mention there’s an Anchorman exhibit at the august Newseum in Washington, D.C.?

“It’s just all too ridiculous and fantastic,” says Ferrell’s partner in crime, director Adam McKay. “It’s somewhere between a marketing campaign and just a chance for these live pranks with this crazy character. We were joking it’s like the equivalent of like if Al Pacino-as-Michael Corleone worked in actual olive-oil stores. Like, ‘Did you hear this? Al Pacino as his character just sold me olive oil over at the Italian market.’ Or the marine biologist from Jaws: It’s Richard Dreyfuss, as the marine biologist from Jaws, giving tours down at this aquarium.”

With Anchorman 2 poised to dominate the box office over the holidays, it’s easy to forget that the original movie didn’t even gross $100 million, that it was completely ignored outside the U.S., and that Paramount, which inherited the property from DreamWorks, was extremely resistant to giving McKay the budget he wanted for a sequel, delaying it for several years. The studio was holding firm to a $35 million budget, until finally loosening up and greenlighting the film for $50 million, which was “still probably 60 percent of what we needed,” McKay told EW in August.

“They’re a business,” says McKay now. “They have these comp models and Anchorman had no foreign numbers. That’s all they care about now, so that put them in a very small budget box. We argued that there was more of a bounce, more like Austin Powers had. They disagreed, and eventually, as always happens in those kinds of negotiations, a few years later we got to that middle number.”

If Paramount held the line on the production budget, they have been much more aggressive with the promotion of the comedy. “We are treating this film like a giant global tent-pole and we’re leaving no stone unturned,” says Josh Greenstein, Paramount’s chief marketing officer. “We want this movie to be as big as possible over the holidays.”

But witnessing Ferrell’s commitment to spreading the Gospel of Ron in recent weeks, it’s tempting to wonder whether his enthusiastic involvement was part of the deal to get the movie made. In other words, did McKay and company convince Paramount to shift some of its marketing budget to the production column and agree to do the heavy lifting themselves to sell the movie?

“No, I don’t believe that was the case at all,” says Greenstein. “I’m not at liberty to talk about financials, but all I can say to that is we are not taking our foot off the pedal in any facet of this campaign. We don’t look at it in terms of, ‘Do we pull back in this area because we’re gaining in this area?’ My job as a marketer is to want as much of the right exposure as possible because we believe in this movie so much and we believe in this character and we believe in these filmmakers.”

McKay agrees. Though he estimates that Ferrell’s Burgundy antics are worth at least $20 million in free publicity, he says there was never any financial quid pro quo — winking or official — with the studio. “There was not [an understanding] at all,” he says. “You can never put down on paper what Ferrell’s going to end up doing as that character. God bless Ferrell. He’s got no problem jumping right in the middle of it and making it enjoyable and almost a separate experience, which is what I love about it. So it all just built naturally. Paramount marketing has been really collaborative and supportive on this stuff. And that’s really what it was: this perfect storm of a movie that’s highly anticipated — even more anticipated than I think even we thought.”

There is some precedence for this all-out, in-character promotion of a film. Sacha Baron Cohen was all-Borat all the time in appearances before that hit film was released in 2006, but Ferrell has certainly raised the bar. A bar he doesn’t expect to reach again. “I keep laughing at it, because this really is an aberration,” he told the Washington Post at a recent Newseum Q&A. “It’s a character that lends itself perfectly to this, but I don’t think I can think of any other characters from past movies I’ve done [who could do this] … I know I’m setting myself up for the next movie I do. Another studio will be like, ‘Oh, you’ll do all this crazy stuff, right?’ No, that was a one-off.”

Maybe. But Ferrell probably shouldn’t send Ron’s crimson suit and caterpillar mustache into storage. It will surprise no one if The Legend Continues laps the box-office of the 2004 original and makes a much more solid impression abroad this time around. A third film is easy to imagine, though McKay isn’t rushing into anything. “The only thing we would hate to do is jam it,” he says, “so I think you would let it marinate a little bit — let it come out, let it go to cable, go to DVD, see how people respond. Then like a year from now, kind of do a gut check. Just go, ‘Does it feel right to do a third one?’ We’ll know instantly if it feels a little gross and like a cash grab. Or does it feel like, ‘Yup, you want a third one.’”

If there is another Anchorman movie, McKay will likely have some extra dough to spend on it. And if the studio still wants to play hardball, he can always lean on Dodge. Two years from now, the first line of the inevitable — and well-deserved — Dodge Burgundy trucks are sure to be flying off the assembly line. “Ohhh, my God, that would be fantastic,” laughs McKay. “We would be giddy over that! Insane.”

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