THIS IS THE END
About the Film
"What if you were stuck in a house with your friends as the world was ending outside?" says Seth Rogen, who, with his writing and directing partner Evan Goldberg, answers that question in the new comedy This Is The End.
"It was intriguing to us. We've made a lot of movies about two or three guys, but what about a whole group of friends? How do they interact with one another?" says Goldberg. So even as the pair approached writing and directing a wild, outrageous comedy about the world coming to an end, they never lost sight of the core idea -- six buddies and the craziness that happens when they are stuck in a house together. "That's what this movie is really about: friendship and group dynamics, how people deal with each other in extreme circumstances. But it's also about growing up and figuring out how your old, childhood world fits in with your new, adult world."
The film would also mark Rogen and Goldberg's directorial debut, and they found a way to make the venture as comfortable as possible: they surrounded themselves with their own best friends. In This Is The End, six friends -- who just happen to be James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson -- are trapped in Franco's house as the end of the world begins outside. And we're not talking about any old California-slides-into-the-ocean earthquake... we're talking the fire-and-brimstone Apocalypse -- the real Biblical deal.
Yes, James Franco plays James Franco, Jonah Hill plays Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen, and so on. But of course, they're not really playing themselves. "People think they know everything about you based on the characters you play," says Rogen. "So we thought it would be funny to play into that -- to have these characters that behave in the way that everybody thinks is what we're like off-screen. There are elements of our real selves, but we all twisted them or exaggerated them to make it funny."
Playing yourself can be a challenge -- even for an Academy Award nominee, as Hill says, "I've never slipped out of character more than when I was playing myself."
But it's more than just a joke, says Rogen. It's a way of acknowledging the elephant in the room. "Everybody knows that we're friends and we're always in movies together. It was almost weirder that the movie wouldn't acknowledge that in some way," says Rogen. "So we thought, OK, let's acknowledge it, and then let's move beyond it. We wanted the relationships to feel real. We thought that would be the element that grounded the movie if the dynamics between the characters were real and relatable. So even though the movie gets super-crazy -- it's the Apocalypse -- there's a simple idea at the center that I hope is very believable. We never could have written this movie if we didn't know these guys -- and we definitely couldn't have directed it."
It's fertile ground for comedy, because there's nothing like an Apocalypse to tear people apart. "The guys are all boarded up and trying to survive, but their relationships start to deteriorate," says producer James Weaver. "Seth and Jay are trying to figure out what their friendship is going to be like. Franco can't stand Danny being so crazy. Jonah tries to befriend Jay, but in a way that Jay finds very patronizing. Jay and Craig bond a bit. And Seth is acting like a referee at the center of it all."
There's only one way to survive an Apocalypse, and Goldberg says it's not immediately clear if these six characters have what it takes. "Can these guys learn how to be good people?" says Goldberg. "Good people are getting Raptured around them, and they're in denial about the fact that they were left behind. They have to figure out if they can still be redeemed, and what it will take for that to happen."
Before This was The End, there was a beginning. In 2006, Rogen and Goldberg's longtime pal, Jason Stone, wanted to make a short film. His friends -- whose film careers were about to skyrocket -- were happy to help. "Jason and I kept discussing the idea that we'd have a huge concept, but taking place in only one room," says Goldberg. "Well, what's the hugest concept there is? The end of the world. So we thought we'd do a movie about the Apocalypse, with Seth and Jay in one room."
After two days of shooting, that project didn't quite get as far as they'd hoped. But all was not lost. "We shot for two days, and we didn't have a lot of footage, so Jason cut together what we had as a short," says Rogen. "It was never about making it into a full-length feature -- that only came after, when we put it online and people really started to respond to it."
Mandate Pictures came on board to develop the concept of the end of the world comedy, and eventually, the deck was cleared for Rogen and Goldberg to write the screen story and screenplay with the intention that the film would mark their directorial debut.
Even then, though, the writing process would not be so simple. As Rogen and Goldberg's producing partner James Weaver notes, inherent in writing the film would be greater-than-usual producing challenges. "Usually, roles are castable one way or another -- you identify a handful of guys who can play a part," says Weaver. "That was never true with this one."
"Even once we sat down to write -- OK, who's going to be in this movie? -- we weren't sure we'd be able to get everybody, not because they didn't want to do it, but because people commit to other projects and might not be available," says Goldberg. The place to start was with the ideal cast of the most close-knit group -- if somebody had to drop out, they'd cross that bridge later. But that bridge never even came on the horizon. "We never thought we'd get them all -- but we got them all. It was crazy -- this might be the closest group of guys ever to get to make a movie together."
"Once Seth and Evan got in the director's chair, they made this their passion project," says executive producer Jason Stone. "It was a real chance to get together with all of the people they've worked with before, but play off everything that came before."
The fact that all of the actors knew each other so well was certainly a plus, but it also led to an interesting dynamic on the set as Rogen and Goldberg -- just two of the guys! -- were also responsible for directing the actors. The partners were able to work out quickly how to make that work: "We realized pretty early on how they responded to each type of direction and how best to give them that direction," says Rogen.
"And it was different from actor to actor," says Goldberg. "For example, some actors felt better if direction came from Seth. Some felt it was weird if I didn't say anything. And some didn't want either of us to say anything, to let them work it out."
"You'd be in scenes with Seth, and you'd do something he liked, and right there -- in the scene -- he'd tell you to do it again," says Danny McBride. "I like working that way. It's fun and it keeps things light. We'd crack up all the time in the scenes. Because we were shooting digitally, we could do 45-minute takes -- the boom guy's hands would be trembling and everyone would be sweating, but we got all the jokes."
"The way Seth and Evan do it, it's like your boys -- like you're sitting in the basement with your homies at home," says Craig Robinson.
"Seth would literally direct right there in the frame," says the film's director of photography, Brandon Trost. "He'd throw out a line for someone to throw back at him as a joke. And Evan would be off-screen, saying something for them to say at the same time. We ran very long takes, and everyone figured out their jokes as we progressed."
Part of the reason the set worked so well was that Rogen and Goldberg are old friends. "I've worked with director teams before, but Seth and Evan might as well be brothers," Trost continues. "They have been friends forever, and it shows. They were almost always on the same page, and when they weren't, they would bicker like brothers -- it was funny to watch them hash it out and come up with the best decision."
"They're both very astute and detail-oriented," says Chris Spellman, the production designer. "They often had clear ideas about what they wanted to see, but they were also open to collaboration. When Seth was on the set, he'd notice a lot of the details of the set dressing and the architecture and comment on them -- and he did this with other departments, too. He has a keen eye."
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