This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.
When people talk of the best modern actor/director duos, they tend to leave out Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Maybe it’s because unlike 12 Years a Slave (the latest Fassbender/McQueen), Inside Llewyn Davis (the latest Goodman/Coens) and The Wolf of Wall Street (the latest DiCaprio/Scorsese) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues won’t be winning any major awards this year. But the latest from Ferrell/McKay is scoring high marks from critics and audiences. And since their first feature collaboration, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy, they’ve consistently delivered the comedy goods. Look at the funniest of Ferrell’s movies over the past decade and you’ll see they’re primarily McKay’s. And you won’t even find any movies directed by McKay not starring his old Saturday Night Live buddy.
It’s actually at SNL where this perfect duo technically made their first film together. While Ferrell was a cast member and McKay was head writer, McKay began his move to directing by creating the show’s Digital Shorts brand of videos, which were initially just sketches fully produced prior to the live airing of the program. The original Digital Short debuted on February 5, 2000, during an episode hosted by Alan Cumming and featuring J.Lo as musical guest. Titled either The H is O or The Heat is On depending on which part of the credit sequence you accept as being the title, it features the future Anchorman star as former Eagles frontman turned Beverly Hills Cop and Miami Vice soundtrack contributor Glenn Frey. Also in the film is Ben Stiller and cast members Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon.
The premise: Stiller’s hot shot character says he can pick up anybody in the bar with a certain number of lines. And his latest conquest is Frey. Man-on-man love is then played for awkward “comedy.” It’s bad. But it’s history. Watch it after the jump followed by more of McKay’s (much better) short films for SNL.
The next Digital Short came about a month later on March 11, 2000, in a show hosted by Joshua Jackson featuring NSYNC as musical guest. This one is titled Neil Armstrong: The Ohio Years, and it only has one SNL cast member, Horatio Sanz again. The main players are elder actors Madison Arnold (Escape From Alcatraz) and Lynn Archer, who play the famous astronaut and his wife, respectively. It’s not that much funnier than the previous short. The joke is that Armstrong is extremely obsessed with his achievement as the first man on the moon. And we need five minutes of just that one idea? Apparently Tina Fey contributed something to the material, which makes it even more disappointing. Watch it below just because.
Next up is another with an appearance from Ferrell. Titled Stavenhagen’s Food Pawn Shop and originating from an April 15, 2000, episode hosted by Tobey Maguire and featuring Sisqo as musical guest, the short stars Steve Buscemi and once again Horatio Sanz. It’s another slight improvement — or maybe I’m just a sucker for mockumentaries. Here we get an introduction to a pawn shop for food (and drink, but definitely not gum, or poop), another one-joke idea that drags on too long. Ferrell is wasted as a guy trying to pawn a pack of Wrigley’s. And by this point I’m surprised McKay (who appears as a robber) didn’t go on to make movies with Sanz instead.
I can’t figure out when the next of McKay’s Digital Short films first aired. Reportedly it replaced another sketch on the rerun of the May 20, 2000, episode hosted by Jackie Chan and featuring musical guest Kid Rock. Presumably that happened during the following summer. It’s weird that this one, titled The Procedure, would be slipped into a previously aired show given that it was likely seen by a smaller audience than would watch live, because it’s the best of the director’s SNL shorts that I’ve seen. This time Willem Dafoe is the star, Andy Richter makes a special appearance and cast members Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer round out the players. The premise is that people are getting an implant that allows them to hear their favorite song in their head over and over. Ferrell’s character goes with “Baracuda,” which is an excellent choice. This short actually makes you think, not whether you’d get the procedure — it’s clearly not a good idea — but about if you did, what song would you pick.
According to IMDb, McKay’s next Digital Short aired on the October 21, 2000, episode. But I can’t find any other record of what it might have been — maybe he directed the fart-based commercial for “Magic Mouth”? After that is a short titled The Pervert, which aired January 13, 2001, in a show hosted by Charlie Sheen and featuring Nelly Furtado as musical guest. It starred McKay and Sanz plus Chris Parnell and Jerry Minor. I have no clue what it was about other than perverts, and Minor portrayed the Cream of Wheat chef mascot. A month later, in the Jennifer Lopez double-duty episode on February 11, 2001, McKay and Ferrell teamed up again for The German Intellectual and the Baby, a very short short that doesn’t seem too original given that it’s so reminiscent of Dr. Evil’s fatherhood role in the Austin Powers movies. You can see it on YouTube in a video where someone recorded the skit playing on their TV. At least the baby is cute.
The two shorts after that, The Doberman! (March 17, 2001) and The Five Finger Discount (May 5, 2001), are not anywhere online that I can find. It’s especially a shame about the former since it stars Ferrell as a guy being attacked by, you guessed it, a doberman. The latter stars McKay and Molly Shannon as dog thieves. Fortunately, even after McKay and Ferrell went on to make feature films together, they still churned out an occasional short via their video site Funny or Die. The best is still the first, one of the hottest viral videos of all time, The Landlord. Starring McKay’s then 2-year-old daughter (who is also Jeremy Piven’s niece) Pearl as a foul-mouthed and alcoholic baby landlord, the 2007 film proves that it’s just as funny to have toddlers swear as it is to have old ladies be crass. Revisit it below.