Whenever friends moon about what a great job Josh King has, the 1st AD repeats a line (attributed to Austin Powers star Mike Myers) that goes something like: “We all suffer so others may laugh.” King, whose partial resume includes movies starring Myers, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, says running comedy sets is rarely all fun and games.
“What’s funny on paper may often not be on the set,” he says. “So ‘find-ing the funny’ can take time, which makes it hard to schedule the day.”
King says more improvisation (aided by digital cameras) has complicated his job. “A scene on The Campaign [this past summer’s political satire] where Will [Ferrell] opens the door and Zach [Galifianakis] asks to come in, reads as an eighth of a page. Then those guys started winging it, and ten minutes later we were still shooting.”
Politically themed movies, of which King has done two in a row with director Jay Roach, typically feature large crowds for debates and rallies. “While shooting Game Change [about Sarah Palin’s run for vice president] in Baltimore, we had to bring in extras from Virginia, New York, and Philadelphia,” King recalls. “McCain’s big rollout of Palin was shot in a college gym, where 500 extras were scheduled but only 300 showed up. The only option was to push the familiar faces to the back and tell Jay we just couldn’t shoot as wide as planned.”
Speaking of location shooting, King had to oversee more venues in New Orleans (70) than shooting days (60) for The Campaign. And with two stars so adept at working a crowd, the ad-libbing could undermine the tenor of the scene.
“Will and Zach had everyone convinced they were these characters,” says King. “They’d promise the audience things to get them on each others’ side, like going to Starbucks. Inevitably, [the audience] would laugh inappropriately and we’d have to bust the take. Sometimes if they knew the joke was coming, they’d laugh before they even got their lines out.”
King says his job demands a straight face. “I always go by the rule that nothing is funny before noon,” King smiles. “Pestering the director that you’re behind schedule will not get the movie made faster, or make it funnier. The keys are to build in extra time in the morning, and make patience and flexibility your best friends.”