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On some set visits, you spend a lot of time talking to the people who make the film look the way it does, from the production designers to the costumers to the director, all of them showing you their amazing special effects and the unique world they've created, usually within a soundstage. And while the effects on This Is The End will no doubt be impressive-- directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg still seemed slightly amazed that Sony even gave them the budget they had-- the movie is really all about the talking, and the comedic spark between the six main characters, all of whom we've seen playing friends in one combination or another for years.
There's Rogen and James Franco, who met over a decade ago playing buddies on Freaks & Geeks. There's Rogen and Franco and Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, who were at the center of the stoner action comedy Pineapple Express. There's Rogen and Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel, who were three of the slacker roommates in Knocked Up. And behind it all there's Rogen and Goldberg, childhood friends who wrote Superbad together when they were 13 and who are making their directing debut on This Is The End, which at moments looked like an expensive excuse to get all their friends together and improvise in a giant set that was supposed to be James Franco's Los Angeles mansion.
You've probably caught one of the many hilarious trailers or clips for This Is The End, which show off the party at Franco's house that gets disrupted when, well, the world seems to be ending. But for how the movie came together, how the guys improvise together on the set and how they avoid keeping in too many in-jokes, check out this compilation of the interviews we conducted on This Is The End's New Orleans set last June. And for everything you need to know about This Is The End, click here.
The whole project started with "Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse," a short that debuted online in 2007 and was rumored to become a feature film not long after.
Baruchel: It’s been six, seven years that I’ve been waiting for this thing to finally get going and I’m still blown away that people think our little short can be a movie, so it’s pretty neat to see it come to fruition.
The short happened because a friend of ours named Jason Stone, who is over there at video village. He was graduating from USC and he kind of wanted a calling card for potential directing gigs so he and Evan came up with this silly idea of me and Seth being stuck in an apartment together and just bitching at each other, so we went to USC and shot for two days on this awesome set that these kids built and yeah, that was it.
Was there ever a point when the feature version was just going to be the two of you or was it always going to be more people?
Baruchel: Oh, I have no idea. Yeah. I think maybe at the very beginning, but I think that would have limited the scope of the thing and the voices that could be in it. I think just him and I made sense for seven minutes or a trailer but I think for a whole movie people would probably get sick of just the two of us…
Goldberg: The basic idea was: What’s the biggest concept we could do at the cheapest price possible? And that lends itself to making a big movie. We never wanted to do a small version but we would’ve. If it came down to it.
Rogen: I mean we made an End of the World movie in that short, for like literally like zero dollars. So that was kind of the idea, was to make an epic giant movie that, you know, was somewhat contained at times so you could kind of afford to spend your money on the big stuff when you needed to basically. I mean, visual effects have come so far at this point, you really can do a lot with not a little money.
Goldberg: Like Chronicle kind of blew our fucking minds.
Rogen: Yeah, we look to movies like Chronicle and Cloverfield and a lot of movies that use practical effects in great ways. Those were really what guided us and let us know what we could do something that was visually epic and gigantic but for a price that we could do whatever the fuck we wanted basically.
When Rogen and Goldberg finally had a script ready for the feature version-- and a studio willing to finance it-- they started assembling the story specifically for each actor, but only once they could get the schedules worked out.
Rogen: We talked to all these guys about doing it like before we started writing.
Goldberg: We never ever thought they’d all do it - just by scheduling and all that.
Rogen: Yeah, we told them. We were like: “We don’t want to write a fucking movie with you guys in it if you guys aren’t going to do it. So just let us know if it’s something you think you would do.” And everyone said yes and so then we wrote it, after having talked to them all. So we knew we could do it basically.
Robinson: Everyone said I was the first one to say, I'm in. I don’t know if this had been done with people just, everybody's using their real names and stuff like that, so I thought it was ambitious and exciting.
Hill: It was right after I finished Jump Street, I think. I came over to Seth's house and they discussed it with me. There are a few people in my career I've been lucky enough to work with who I would do anything for, and Seth and Evan are those guys. If they ask me to show up, I show up. It doesn't really matter what it is.
McBride: They were fishing around for when was a window of time when everybody would be available. Somehow the continents shifted and everyone could take off for these three months just to come here and have fun.
Rogen: We have some friends that weren’t able to do it, but when you watch it, you’ll notice that not every single person we’ve ever worked with was in it. That’s because a few of them had scheduling conflicts.
Each of the actors were asked to play themselves, but all of them different in some way-- McBride is a much more obnoxious version of himself, Hill a much sweeter one, and Baruchel is presented as the "friend from out of town," even though he acts as much as his co-stars. Some of the actors were on set wearing their own clothes, while others were quick to point out how different they were from their characters.
Goldberg: We definitely started off with everyone being full-blown assholes and then realized that it was too silly and we kind of give them each more realistic characters.
Rogen: Not everyone is an asshole. I don’t think any of these guys are really playing themselves in any real way, but I think every character is rounded to some degree within the reality of the movie.
McBride: Everybody is definitely portrayed in a way that is a little more grotesque than they normally are. Seth oddly enough doesn’t really have any negative attributes in this movie. (Laughs) He comes off as courageous, bold… I don’t know.
Baruchel: I think they take the aspects of our personalities that are most conducive to punchlines and story arcs and exacerbate them, so it’s a tightrope. There’s definitely some stuff I do or say in this movie that real Jay wouldn’t do or say but yeah, it’s strange. We are ourselves and we’re not. It’s kind of Curb Your Enthusiasm-ish in that respect.
Franco: When we started talking about it in pre-production, they said "You're sort of playing the version of yourself that's the most distant from you who you are." Part of that has to do with the dynamics they need for the film. There are aspects of me-- like I'm an actor, I like art, I like Seth-- that the character shares, but it's pushed to a goofy extreme. The character's, y'know, stupider, he's got the emotional level of a 13-year-old. They all do, I think. And you know, he's just a little shallower than I like to think that I am.
Robinson: I don’t think I am as whiny. I cry a lot in this movie, for the silly factor, but I don’t think I am that cry babyish. I think I'd be more like, "Yeah, bring it mother fucker."
Hill: I wanted to play a version of myself – and they'd originally written it differently – but someone who always saw the sympathy in a situation. Someone who was overly sympathetic to everything. And I poke fun at myself. Obviously everyone does in this movie. I went to dinner with an actor who was shooting out here the night before we started shooting, and he had a big diamond stud earring in his ear. So the day we started shooting I said I wanted to wear a big diamond in my ear and they thankfully let me do that.
Robinson: [wearing a T-shirt that says "Take Yo Panties Off] I had a similar t-shirt on at one of the parties that these guys throw, this was a few years back and they remembered it, and they wanted us all to be as close to our actual selves as possible. Literally, some days I have worn these actual jeans to set and then switched into them, into these actual jeans. It's the most comfortable I've probably been [on-set].
McBride: It’s just funny when you read it and you read the fate of your character, you kind of invest a little more, like “Really? This is what happens of me? This is what these guys think of me?” Then you realize everybody gets shit on.
Franco: This is I think unusual because it's being done in a mainstream, commercial movie. But I think other shows, like reality shows, like the Osbournes pushed it further than what we're doing, the Kardashians push it further than what we're doing. You think you're getting a real taste of who they are. I hope nobody watches this and thinks "Oh, that's what they're really like." There are ways to push it further. This is just, this is new because of the commercial film frame and bringing it into a heavy effects kind of film. LIke if the Kardashians suddenly were fighting aliens or something like that, sorta like that.
Baruchel: At this point, who the fuck cares? Like people will infer what they infer, I’ve learned that a long time ago, and if I got worried about people assuming I’m like the characters I play I probably would have quit ten years ago. In those rare moments when I’m faced with that, I just remind myself that less than a quarter of actors can feed themselves from acting and I’ve been able to have a career doing that for 18 years, so that trumps any of that stereotyping issue.
All of the actors have worked together previously, of course, and their comfort with each other showed clearly on set. Some were more open than others about how much this reunion meant to them personally.
McBride: I’m trying to think of when we have all been in the same room together. Independently we have all been together, but yeah this is union hasn’t happened… I think my wedding was the last time all four of us [Franco, Rogen, Robinson and McBride-- the Pineapple Express crew] were together, yeah, in a swimming pool filled with piss.
Hill: My college experience was making movies with these guys. We all started out together and have grown and evolved in different ways. To have everyone assembled together for a movie like this, and have had them start together, is rare. I know this is my last comedy for the next year, year-and-a-half probably, so it feels like a cap to my early 20s. I don't know how to put it without making it sound like it wasn't important for anyone else, only me, but it's rare to get to work with this many people you've known for years and years and years. The next three things I'm doing are more hardcore, emotionally, and this is really fun. It's cathartic and fun, there's no other adjective I have for it. It's fun, there's no pressure or intensity, it's just really a laugh.
Robinson: We definitely done some hanging, seen some suns come up, like… One night we went to the House of Blues, we went at 2:30 and just hung out and then everyone sharpened themselves up… We had some dinners, went on a swamp tour. You know, New Orleans, you got to get your rhythm, this town will exhaust you, but it's been fun every night.
There are drastic differences between each take we see them shoot, with Rogen, Goldberg and even some of the actors throwing out line suggestions while the camera rolls. As you'd expect from guys who have worked this long with Judd Apatow, improv is highly encouraged, and Rogen and Goldberg know they're setting themselves up to find the movie in the editing room.
Rogen: The truth is we’ve had a hundred billion conversations with every element of this movie, literally, for the last six years when we started thinking of it. We kind of know how we want everything to be in a general way, and then there’s the general throw out any idea you want during the scene rule.
McBride: It’s one of those things where you really have to be really paying attention to what’s happening in a scene. You’ve got to be able to feel those rhythms of when someone is going for a run you’ve got to be able to step back and let them do it. It does become that game where it’s like you don’t want it to be like every single person is just trying to fill every blank space with a joke and I think all of these guys have been really good about that, like you can kind of sense when it’s somebody’s turn to do something.
Rogen: It’s so silly to have all these guys in a movie together and not let them riff-off each other. You know, that was always our plan. It’s not that different then from capturing stunts at times. We put as many cameras on it as we can and we hope something fucking awesome is going to happen - and that is kind of what it’s like. So it would be silly for us to be too, strict with the lines because these guys - most of them are movie writers in their own rights. So it’s silly to not get their ideas and shit like that.
McBride: All of these guys, from Jay to Franco to Craig, everyone has worked with these guys before and they know the routine and much improv is involved and so yeah, it’s just easy. You’re just in the scene and if you’re on a good run, Seth and Evan will encourage you to keep going or throw things your way if you’re going down the wrong path. It’s actually been very easy working with them as directors.
Baruchel: This flick is their voice, 150%. It’s obviously a collaboration—that’s not just lip service—but they encourage it. You guys will see that they foster that atmosphere. That being said, this is Seth and Evan effectively given a blank slate to do whatever they want with. I won’t go so far as to say carte blanche but damn near close, as close as they’ve come so far. As a friend and a fan of theirs, that’s kind of exciting.
Rogen: I mean I think our style is probably closest to Judd in the way that he is willing to completely let a new scene materialize on the day and in the moment. We haven’t worked with that many other people and on our movies you know, the ones that aren’t Judd movies, there’s usually a different writer than director - so there’s some level of respect that happens. The director won’t just suddenly say like, “Throw out all the fucking lines go crazy!” But since we’re both, we can do that, which is nice and there have been some scenes that we’ve done one take of and it’s like “This isn’t right” and we’ll literally, completely, re-write all of it in a few minutes. Or we’ll just improvise for an hour and see if something better comes up and it usually does and then we’ll just go with that version.
As a movie that pokes fun at a bunch of Hollywood actors who have no idea how to deal with real danger, This Is The End is crammed with jokes about each star's previous work-- right down to James Franco's giant mansion, which he concedes was probably supposedly built with his Spider-Man money (though he says "I'm sure Seth has made more money than I have.") But all of them are aware that the in-jokes can only go so far before the audience gets irritated.
Baruchel: There’s a lot of shitting on each other’s work in this movie. The only concern with that stuff is for my money, the average working class person that buys tickets probably couldn’t care less about shit like that. Nobody goes to the movies to see a movie about people talking about movies. Aside from that, no, we’ve been able to say whatever we want.
Robinson: Nothing is off limits… nothing is off limits. We had some Office moments. In fact I poked fun of myself in a scene that comes after this, when I go outside and I'm like what's going on, "It's me, Daryl from The Office." That happened.
The film went into production as End of the World and had started as a short called Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse. They settled on This is The End after the film was finished, but Rogen admitted they were having a hard time settling on anything at the time.
Rogen: We suck with titles, we’ll be the first to admit it. If it’s not completely apparent what the movie should be called, then we have a hard time with it. So, this is what we’ve got for now. We’ll see what happens.
Were people just wanting to know what “Apocalypse” this was?
Rogen: No, we just couldn’t legally clear that title. Fox owns it! Titles are a motherfucker. Everyone owns every fucking title in the universe. Like they’re all registered with MPAA and it’s crazy. It’s really hard to get a title. Even with 50/50, Disney owned it. We had to call fucking Sean Bailey to get permission to use it. And I’ve called Tom Rothman over and over [for the rights to use "Apocalypse" in the title] - they won’t let it go.