Please note: there’s a spoiler for Fast & Furious 6 in the second to last question.
After working together on some of the most celebrated and iconic comedies of the last decade, comedy giants Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are taking the leap into directing on apocalyptic meta comedy This is the End. Based on their short, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, the film focuses on six of their friends – who just happen to be A-list comedy stars themselves – as they try to survive a full-scale apocalypse from James Franco’s house in L.A.
From The Green Hornet to Your Highness, no film is safe from a retrospective lynching, and we caught up with Rogen and Goldberg to discuss their transition into directing, a long-lost Morgan Freeman cameo and their love, or lack thereof, of visual effects work.
How was it making the transition from solely writing and performing to also directing?
Evan Goldberg: It wasn’t that big of a deal to us because the directors we’ve worked with like Judd Apatow, Gregg Mottola and David Gordon Green – as well as all the other guys Seth has worked with and I haven’t – they all let us participate. We would go up to Dave or Greg or Judd and say, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if Jonah [Hill]’s character said this or [James] Franco’s character said this’ and they would sometimes say, ‘yeah you go tell them’.
So we kind of had this mini training throughout our entire career so it wasn’t a huge change for us, but was kind of just exhilarating because, as the writers and producers, we always put all the work in, acquired the money and made the deals – which is super hard and stressful – and now we finally got to be the guys who just spend the money and got to run with it all.
But the visual effects part was a little different, that was something we weren’t very well prepared for. I knew we could pull it off but I didn’t realise how much work it would be.
There’s a lot of genuine horror and action in the film as well as the comedy aspect, is that something you’d like to do more of?
Seth Rogen: It’s always movie by movie, and it was fun to do that stuff but I would be open to doing a movie that had none of that stuff in it, honestly, and I’d be up for doing a movie that had a lot more.
EG: The thrill of doing visual effects doesn’t exist.
SR: Yeah, it’s more like ‘what finished product do you think is worth working towards.’
EG: If we came up with a space ship idea that was so good, and we loved it, then I would spend another 400 hours in a dark room.
SR: But that’s not the fun part. To make a movie that has that stuff and, when you watch it, it gets to have that scale, that’s how we think of it. I think some directors think executionally, ‘what do I want to be doing as far as style?’, but we think more like, ‘what movies to we wanna make, and watch, and what would we love?’
This obviously started out as a trailer for a short, did you ever foresee it becoming this huge or was it your intention all along?
EG: No, it was never the plan and we flat out forgot about it for years.
SR: It was the kind of thing people just kept asking us about, and eventually we thought, ‘maybe we should do something with that’. After years and years, something about the idea really stuck with people, so we eventually thought about how it would work if we did try to expand it into a full movie. And then it required many more ideas to be put into it, but it was not our goal to make it into a longer movie at first.
What was the final push that convinced you to do it?
SR: I think once we decided that the actors should play themselves, and then the idea of a Christian apocalypse, those two things really made it all of a sudden seem like a big enough idea that we could actually make into a movie. Those things were exciting to us – the idea of a meta comedy and the idea of being able to make a religion-themed movie. Those were the most exciting elements to us. The whole apocalyptic thing was really a backdrop to our main interests – it was more about making a meta movie, a friendship movie, and a religious movie.
Some people will be going in expecting references to past TV shows and movies, how did you go about balancing the in-jokes with the broader humour?
EG: Because of the way we make movies, over-shooting the amount of comedic material per scene and figuring it out in the editing room, we just got a healthy amount of referential jokes where people were mocking themselves or other’s people’s work. We went into the editing room and had more than enough and we just whittled it down. Then we tested the movie six or seven times, so at first we had a few too many of those jokes in and we pulled it back to find this nice balance.
I read that the finale was changed after test audiences wanted the film to end in heaven, how did it originally end?
EG: The scene directly before that was how it was supposed to end.
SR: We didn’t replace anything, just added stuff.
How did the Backstreet Boys cameo come about?
EG: The thinking behind it was, ‘we should get the f*ing Backstreet Boys!’
SR: Honestly, it took us forever. We probably knew in August or September that we needed to fill the new ending, and it took us until January to actually come up with what it should be.
EG: We only had one other real idea, and that was going to Morgan Freeman and asking him to play God.
SR: Then he said no and we have no idea what it should’ve been. It took us forever – months and months and months of just spitballing what it could be. We had to write something.
EG: We wrote a lot of different versions…
SR: …and then the Backstreet Boys idea came and it just seemed like the funniest, most original and weird way to end the movie. And it’s potentially the most crowd-pleasing way to end the movie – that was our biggest problem. It didn’t end on a giant uproarious note.
EG: Yeah, before we filmed that extra bit it ended with a great story conclusion but there wasn’t any big funny moment.
SR: And the movie’s so crazy that audiences thought the ending was too normal. People wanted it to go to an even crazier place. That just took us a really long time to think of.
How did you decide these were the six people you wanted for the duration of the movie?
SR: Well, we’re really good friends with all of them [laughs].
EG: Some of the people we work with are similar to other people we work with, and those six guys have no similarities.
SR: Some of them we’re friends with but you just don’t associate them with us as much. So it was really a mix of people who just well known enough that it would work, and enough variation in the actors that each guy can have their own character. And then, who do you associate us with and expect us to be with.
Was there anybody you wanted in the movie that couldn’t do it?
SR: Morgan Freeman was pretty much it. Everyone else said yes which was pretty remarkable. Some people had scheduling issues here and there but 99 per cent of who we wanted we were able to get. It was pretty amazing, and if anyone else had said yes it would have screwing us – we wouldn’t have had time to do it properly [laughs].
The film pokes fun at movies like The Green Hornet and Pineapple Express, was there any temptation to focus on movies you hadn’t both been so involved in?
SR: No, we were very conscious of not hurting other people’s feelings so, if we were really slamming the movie, it had to be something that we or other people had some sort of authorship of.
EG: And even so we had to call people and ask, ‘would it be cool if we did the following joke?’
SR: It’s true, we did a joke about Your Highness and we literally phoned David Gordon Green to make sure he wouldn’t be offended. Obviously Danny [McBride] wrote the movie and Franco’s in it, so they were all cool. But we went out of our way to make sure we weren’t actually offending anybody.
We have to ask everyone – what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?
EG: Oh, that’s an impossible question to answer!
SR: Crank. And then Crank 2.
EG: Crank is pretty good, and Crank 2. Fast and Furious 6…
SR: Snatch… Oh yeah, he shows up at the end of Fast 6 – I’d forgotten about that [laughs]!
EG: It was him in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, right? That’s the best one.
What next for you both?
SR: We’re about to make another movie with James Franco, which we’re going to direct, called The Interview. I wish Jason Statham was in it. Maybe he could be [laughs].
EG: It’s about a celebrity reporter…
SR: …yeah, maybe he interviews Jason Statham…
EG: …and The Rock!
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, thank you very much!
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