Tuesday, April 19, 2016

If You Ain't First, You're Last

The early 21st century fictional philosopher and Nascar driver, Ricky Bobby, coined the phrase "If you ain't first, you're last" and "shake and bake." Classic personalities like Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy are creative children of the versatile director Adam McKay. McKay is known for working frequently with his good friend Will Ferrell. Together they have produced hit movies like Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and Anchorman [1]. Aside from the Ferrell-inspired comedies, McKay wrote the screen play for Ant-Man and The Big Short. The latter went on to win an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay [2].

Now for a little bit more about Adam McKay's history and creative process. McKay spent most of his early years in comedy, specifically the impov industry. If you think presenting in front of a crowd for your public speaking class is difficult, try improv. Improv takes immense creativity because it requires on-the-spot wit and acting. McKay practiced improv with the Second City comedy troupe, and even became the head writer for Saturday Night Live [3]. When it comes to the creative process, McKay has an odd way of helping himself develop screenplay. He stated, "sometimes as an exercise, I will tell the story of the movie to my youngest daughter, as a bedtime story. I will change some details to make it a fairytale allegory" [3]. This may sound familiar to you, if you have ever had to explain a problem to a friend - like a fifth-grader - to help yourself understand it better. McKay benefits in a similar way. He learns what holes the plot may have, where the momentum of the story is, and what the overall flow is like.

Although one can argue that most of McKay's comedies revolve around Will Ferrell, the plots and characters surrounding Ferrell are always different and consistently creative. In an interview with Index Magazine, both McKay and Ferrell stated that a comedy cannot be successful with one character leading all the jokes. The more funny characters there are contributing to a movie, the more interesting it is [4]. Creating outrageous plots and adding many characters is one way McKay stretches his creative boundaries. Lastly, although The Big Short does have many hilarious moments, the tone of the movie is more in the drama and documentary genre, instead of a comedy. Being able to write movies with different tones and interactions has helped establish McKay as a versatile and creative writer.

To examine this producer's creative process, it is vital look at his influences. McKay's creative collaborator is obviously Will Ferrell. In interviews he has said that they have mutual respect and when creating scripts they are basically just trying to make each other laugh [3]. Although McKay was not necessarily a prodigy, he grew up with a strong love for Monty Python, Steve Martin, Akira Kurosawa movies, and comic books. I believe these influences has helped him create extravagant story telling techniques and characterization. For an example of this, I have included a great clip from The Other Guys which features witty dialogue and an abstract, yet possible, situation. Lastly, McKay's bedtime storytelling exercises have helped him develop creative plots that are straight-forward and relatable.

Ending this tribute to Adam McKay, I will leave you with a favorite Ricky Bobby quote of mine: "Well let me just quote the later-great Colonel Sanders, who said 'I'm too drunk to taste this chicken.'"

[1] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0570912/
[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596363/awards?ref_=tt_awd
[3] http://99u.com/articles/52303/how-the-big-short-director-adam-mckay-makes-blockbuster-movies
[4] http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/will_ferrell.shtml


  1. I found this article really interesting. I think you did a really great job explaining his creative process and making sure we understood it by trying to connect it to the reader's life. Your connections to the class were evident and clear, such as the topic of creative collaboration. I really like how you included a video as an example, and added a personal spin to it :) I agree that he is definitely creative in the way that he comes up with and tweaks his plot line.

  2. This is a really cool blog post, thanks for sharing. I knew the same director had worked with Ferrell to create some of his most iconic comedic works, but I had no clue who this guy actually was. So thanks for introducing me to Mckay. What amazes me about the guy is that his creativity extended well beyond the comedic realm. He was able to use his creative skills to create successful movies in Antman and the Big Short, the later of which is an extremely well done piece. I appreciated you acknowledging his versatility as a creative.

  3. Great post about one of the funniest guys on the planet! His collaborations with Will Ferrell have made me laugh more than any other movies. His success in branching out into different genres of movies really shows how skilled he is at writing. He also has many similarities to the creative my group will be presenting on for the final project, so stay tuned.

  4. This was such an enjoyable read, and I think you did really well allowing the comedy as his art form to show through your post on him. Which as you said, I found to be a great tribute to him. You wrote about his experience in both Saturday Night Live and Second Cit, it's well-known feeder organization. It made me think about his collaborator Will Ferrel, as he had much of the same experience. I wonder if one of those platforms for creativity is where they met and began to work together? Improv and sketch comedy are definitely different medium than how they work now, but the process of comedic growth is interesting. Overall a wonderful article, and McKay is definitely an unsung hero of modern comedy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.