10 Secret Techniques Films Used To Ensure Perfection

9. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2007) - Test Screenings Provided The Laugh Track

Desperado movie
Universal Pictures

Comedy is all about. Timing, and no one knows that better than the directors and editors responsible for producing feature film comedy. Through myriad camera set-ups and footage from multiple takes, they have to splice together a movie which hits every gag, every set-piece, every performance, to get the biggest possible laugh at exactly the right moment.

Never has that been more the case than on the sets of Judd Apatow’s movies, which famously involve a lot of improvisation. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his debut as a director, was no different.

Brent White, who would become Apatow’s regular editor, was already used to working in this way, having edited Anchorman the year before. The unsung hero of Apatow’s movies, White bears a huge amount of responsibility for finding the best possible takes to use for the best possible results - and test screenings are one of the tools used to quality assess the cuts White and his collaborators put together.

However, with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow went a step further. During the first preview screening of the film, the writer/director actually recorded the crowd in its entirety as a soundtrack to his film. When he and White reconvened to edit the movie for its general release, Apatow used the tape of the preview audience’s reactions to the first cut to guide what to trim and what to cut: scenes that didn’t get a reaction were out of the window.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin made a significant amount of money worldwide, and was widely acclaimed by critics and fans alike… all because they cut the movie around what the audience thought was funny. You see? Timing.


Professional writer, punk werewolf and nesting place for starfish. Obsessed with squid, spirals and story. I publish short weird fiction online at desincarne.com, and tweet nonsense under the name Jack The Bodiless. You can follow me all you like, just don't touch my stuff.