Zach Galifianakis is lying on the floor of New Orleans' English Turn Country Club, worrying. These are the two things Galifianakis does most on the set of The Campaign, usually at the same time: physically relax and mentally panic. Right now, Galifianakis is fretting that the jokes in this scene aren't funny enough. That the insults about his character, Marty Huggins, are too soft. Being in a Flock of Seagulls cover band in high school would have been way too cool for Huggins, the effeminate, Cosby-sweater-wearing tourist-center director who is running for Congress in North Carolina against smarmy, philandering incumbent Cam Brady, played by Will Ferrell.
"It really doesn't sell him as an idiot that much," Galifianakis says of the Flock of Seagulls connection. Should it be DeBarge instead? Up with People? Mummenschanz? He grabs a napkin, jotting down ideas, spitting his Kodiak wintergreen tobacco into a cup. Maybe, he thinks, the whole cover-band area isn't good enough. So he picks up his phone and searches for the Fuddruckers message board, to see if there are mustards Huggins could have lobbied to have put back in the restaurants. No, that's not working either. Eventually he persuades Ferrell and two of the screenwriters, who were having a perfectly lovely chat, to eat a working lunch in his trailer while brainstorming jokes. Anyone walking onto this set would wrongly assume that Galifianakis not only is the director of The Campaign (in theaters Aug. 10) but has also sunk his life savings into it.
That's because no one else seems to feel Galifianakis' Sturm or Drang. Director Jay Roach's long hair flaps as he happily runs around the set. He rolls his Zuca luggage behind him, using it as a chair so he can sit right next to the actors instead of in a room with monitors and headphones. Roach (Meet the Parents, the Austin Powers movies) whips out a MacBook Air to take notes and an iPad to frame shots and choose lenses with the cinematographer, using a $30 app called Artemis HD. He's shooting right on schedule, which is impressive not just because of all the improvising--each take is radically different from the last--but also because he's allowed the script to bloat to 160 pages. "The studio would panic if they saw it," says Roach, "because they want you to shoot a certain number of pages a day. So I shoot six pages and hide three of them." He's giving himself a lot of options, many of which he'll try out for audiences at test screenings. No matter how many times you do this, he explains, you never know what people are going to find funny.
Roach is so happy in part because, after making the HBO films Recount (about the 2000 Bush-Gore voter debacle in Florida) and Game Change (about the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign), he's finally getting to shoot a political movie for the big screen. "When we pitched it, everyone liked the idea of Zach and I doing a movie together," Ferrell says, "but it was, 'Play up the comedy. Don't play up the politics.'"