This Just In: ‘Anchorman’ Sequel May Not Be Dead

— by ROB COX —

Writer/director Adam McKay’s efforts to develop a sequel to his 2004 hit “Anchorman” are evolving into a minor soap opera. Last week, McKay twittered: “So bummed. Paramount basically passed on Anchorman 2. Even after we cut our budget down. We tried.”

Multiple outlets picked up that tweet, with Deadline Hollywood adding that stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had agreed to significant pay cuts. Shooting on the project had been tentatively set to begin in February 2011.

However, yesterday brought word that the “Anchorman” sequel may not be quite dead. Considering the size of the budget discrepancy between the two sides — $30 million — the project is most certainly on life support. Apparently, Paramount has allotted $40 million for the film, but Team McKay is asking $70 million.

The original film cost $25 million; on the surface, a $15 million increase might seem sufficient — even accounting for inflation. Those numbers, though, don’t account for the increased clout since 2004 of Ferrell, Carell, Rudd and Judd Apatow (who was a producer on the original). Even with reduced paychecks, all those names command significantly more these days.

Moreover, actor Seth Rogen played a bit part in the original and is a frequent Apatow collaborator. It’s not hard to imagine, then, Forbes magazine’s recently-named “hardest working actor in Hollywood” taking an interest in the project, this time with an expanded role and a larger payday.

Add in the fact that the first film was a substantial hit, combined with widespread, long-standing demand for a sequel, and $70 million doesn’t sound quite so unreasonable; a sequel’s likely to recoup more than half that in the first weekend — if not more.

Adding insult to injury, Paramount recently signed a mega-deal with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, paying him a reported $20 million up front for a single film. So why is Paramount being so tightfisted with Team McKay?

According to the Deadline Hollywood report, it boils down to international box office. By studio standards, Baron Cohen is a proven international draw. Both of his major releases — 2006’s “Borat” and 2009’s “Bruno” — earned more internationally than in North America; both were considered domestic successes too, though. By contrast, the original “Anchorman” made “only” $5 million internationally, contrasted with a whopping $85 million at home.

Although that sounds reasonable from a business perspective, I can’t fathom Paramount putting that much faith in Baron Cohen. To my thinking, his deal represents the kind of excess doled out in the ‘90s to stars like Tom Cruise.

In any case, serious negotiations might be required, but I’d think there’s too much at stake to prevent an acceptable deal for all parties involved with an “Anchorman” sequel. Neither is it impossible that an “Anchorman” sequel could defy the odds and become more of an international success than its predecessor. Last summer’s “The Hangover” certainly managed it, and there’s no reason a cast of big-name stars couldn’t buck the odds too.

Then again, it’s not my $70 million.

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