Ron Burgundy has two passions: Becoming a network anchor and playing the jazz flute. While he would achieve the former in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, one of the highlights of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s original 2004 hit was Burgundy’s not-so-impromptu musical performance that ended with him filling his instrument with the contents of a martini glass and blowing it over a lighter — for a shot that is, in all senses of the word, fire.
“The idea of Burgundy playing jazz flute came from Ferrell,” says McKay, the film’s director. “One day while we were writing, Will blurted out, ‘Ron Burgundy has to play jazz flute, right?’ I immediately responded, ‘Of course he does.’”
From there, it was up to cinematographer Thomas Ackerman (Beetlejuice, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) to make it happen. “It’s one of those shots, as a viewer, that causes you to ask, ‘How the hell did they do that?’ It actually wasn’t terribly complicated,” he says, adding that they needed just two takes for the shot, which required the flute to be loaded with a flammable liquid that was sprayed over an open flame. “A lot of college students have done things totally as irresponsible as that. [Laughs] When I was a kid, I had a friend who loaded his mouth with lighter fluid and spewed it over an open flame — and I was filming it. Well, you know, I still am, still shooting fire gags.”
A real-life “scuzzy” bar in L.A.’s Chinatown proved to be the perfect setting for the iconic scene. “The walls were dark and it was on a stage that was somewhat dramatically lit,” he says. “If you had done that same thing outside during the day, it would have been ho-hum; the fire wouldn’t show up that well and the whole gag would be sabotaged. But because it was in a darkened, theatrical environment, the extent of the flame coming out of the flute, the volume of the flames, and the darkness of the ambient light really helped it work.”
Fifteen years later, the scene is still hot: This past January, Ferrell (as Burgundy) battled Lizzo in a musical duel on social media that ended with her faithful re-creation of the memorable sequence. In the words of Burgundy, “Don’t act like you’re not impressed!”