Even Will Ferrell Has an Editor

Great content doesn’t happen by accident


The man. The myth. The legend.

Few would argue that Will Ferrell is the biggest name in comedy these days. Whether as a leading man in hits like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, or in a show-stealing supporting role like Wedding Crashers and Old School, it seems that everything he touches turns to comedic gold. With an ever-growing list of Hollywood hits in his wake and a superhuman ability to improvise and make an audience laugh, Ferrell is showing no signs of slowing down.

However, your image of the ultra-funny, hyper-quick comedian is not the whole truth. There’s no doubting Ferrell’s comedic acumen, but if you were to observe him on set, you’d likely find the humor unpolished and well, slow.

That’s because there is more to the story that you never see.

Behind-the-Scenes Magic

While the latest Ferrell movie is filming on location, thousands of miles away, the editor Brent White is sitting in a production facility in Burbank, turning the day’s hours of footage into the movie you will ultimately see on the big screen.

While you’ve likely never heard of White, he is one of Hollywood’s most skilled, and highly sought-after comedic editors, and the subject of a recent story in the New York Times.

White’s success as an editor is all about timing. When he first started editing, Hollywood was shifting toward improvisation as a technique central to comedy making. Digital technology has made it possible to film hours of footage a day where once directors were restricted to minutes. Allowing actors to meander off script has likely resulted in some of your favorite on-screen moments in the last few years. However, cutting through all of this excess footage can be a big job.

White’s gift for taking hours of this off-the-cuff material and giving it shape and rhythm is what ultimately results in the movies we all adore. His résumé includes some of the biggest comedies of the last decade, starting with Anchorman, in 2004, followed by Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys and Anchorman 2. And that’s just naming a few.

So what lessons can content marketers glean from White’s success? Here are three ideas:

Don’t Fear the Draft

Improvisation has been the key to some of the greatest comedic moments for decades. Think of John Belushi impersonating a pimple in Animal House or Bill Murray in Caddyshack, delivering his Cinderella story monologue. Both were completely improvised.

Directors like Judd Apatow and Adam McKay have adopted improv into their process. They shoot a scene once or twice as it was written in the script, and then encourage the cast to improvise a few variations that either they devise or the director supplies. With this approach, most of the movie will play out as it was written, but some of the best jokes will come from improvisation that would have never happened without encouragement.

For Content Marketers:

Whether you are filming a comedic scene or writing an article on SEO best practices, a mind that is flowing freely and not concerned with edits or nitpicking will produce better, more cogent content. There’s a reason writers are told not to edit as you go. Staying in the flow of your first draft will likely result in plenty of errors, but the core of your content will be higher quality and have key points that would otherwise never be included.

Have a Workflow

“I cut right behind the director,” White says. “The day after they start shooting is the day I start editing.” As White edits, he consults a digital copy of the script on a separate monitor. Next to some of the lines are several blue dots, each one indicating an alternate reading that the actors had given. While it may seem like a pain to organize all the content in that way, trying to edit without a workflow can be disastrous.

In 2014 the editors of 22 Jump Street, found themselves buried beneath a mountain of footage and hundreds of improvised takes. In order to finish the movie on time, they had to hire White to organize the mess, and for 10 weeks he helped them uncover and polish the laughs. If Lord and Miller had had his back-end infrastructure in place on 22 Jump Street, White suggested, they most likely wouldn’t have needed him.

For Content Marketers:

Workflows are just as important for content marketers. Every person who contributes content in an organization should understand and adhere to a predetermined workflow. This doesn’t just protect the time of the person doing the editing, it enhances what that editor can bring to the table.

With ample time for back and forth, and editor isn’t just skimming for spelling mistakes. He or she can look for the gems within a piece of content and work to help them shine. The editor can learn the strengths of each writer and edit to make them even better.

Less is More

“If I see a long stretch, I want to tighten it up,” White told the Times. “That’s literally the way I look at the material — especially with Will Ferrell. There are moments where he’s thinking what the joke is, then he knows what the joke is, and then he’s saying the joke. Making the leap from one to two to three. What I’m doing is tightening up that leap for him: improving the rhythm, boom-boom-boom.”

As audience attention spans decrease, having the right density of jokes in a comedy to keep the audience engaged is crucial. This means trimming the fat wherever possible. If you watch comedies from even 10 years ago, the pace of jokes and the film as a whole will seem much slower.

For Content Marketers:

The attention spans audience bring into the movie theatre are even more generous than the time they will give to a piece of content on the internet. The role of an editor has never been more important. They need to trim out excess content to deliver value to the audience as quickly and directly as possible.

Is editing part of your company’s marketing strategy? Be sure you know how to measure these efforts. Download How to Measure Your Content Marketing and the bonus PowerPoint slides now.

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