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30 MINUTES OR LESS

About The Film
30 Minutes or Less began the road to the screen when the original action-comedy screenplay landed on the prestigious Black List, an inside-Hollywood tally of the best unproduced screenplays. Ruben Fleischer, who directs the screenplay into the new feature film, says that everyone involved with the project was first lured by the inventive spark of the screenplay and story. "It had a really original voice,” says the director. "I was excited to read a movie that wasn't a straightforward, predictable comedy – it was hard to know where this movie was going when I was reading it.”

Part of what made the screenplay stand out was its outrageous premise: two lowlifes with more ambition than brains, Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), kidnap Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pizza delivery guy, and force him to rob a bank – putting a bomb around his chest as incentive. With no one else to turn to, Nick is forced back to his ex-best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari). As the precious seconds tick away and Nick and Chet bicker about their present trouble and their troubled relationship, they wonder – will the bomb get them, or will they kill each other first?

But what truly made the material special was more than just its premise – it was also the wholly original characters and the way the film's action and comic elements intertwined. The first filmmakers on board were producers Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld of Red Hour Films, who developed the material. Cornfeld says that putting the characters – which he describes as equally "believable and eccentric” – into outrageous action sequences is a way of both raising the comedic stakes while also exposing unseen sides of the characters. "Action forces your character to dispense with any mask or disguise he might be wearing. The character might have a way he wants to appear to the outside world, but when he's in crisis, he reverts back to exactly who he is – he has to be honest. That leads to the best comedy – it's best when it's truthful and relatable,” he says.

"The movie is an action comedy, but the subject is inherently dark, because of the premise of a guy getting a bomb strapped to his chest,” says Fleischer. "The comedy comes in how that situation affects the relationship between Nick and Chet. In turn, the action heightens the circumstances of the comedy. A really funny conversation in the midst of a car chase or a bank robbery takes it up a notch. Funny people elevate the material with everything they bring to the table.”

For the writers, the chance to find the humor in a very dark situation was irresistible. "It's a life-or-death situation – these guys could get blown up,” says Michael Diliberti. "And into that, we put in our characters, two guys who really haven't been living their lives to the fullest. What if two guys who really have nothing to live for had to put their lives on the line? We thought that idea was really ripe for comedy.”

After developing the project, the producers brought in Fleischer to direct. Fleischer made waves in 2009 with his first feature film, Zombieland, for the way he handled the film's action sequences and comedy with equal deftness. "Zombieland had a certain energy that set it apart,” says Cornfeld. "30 Minutes or Less, similarly, is about characters thrown into an absurd and terrifying situation. The strength of what he had done before combined with his response to the script made Ruben the right guy.”

Monica Levinson, who executive produces the project, says, "I had worked with Ruben once before – he did a behind-the-scenes documentary for Borat. Unfortunately, that has never seen the light of day, but when it does, everyone will see how amazing it is. He's extremely creative.”

For his part, Fleischer says he was attracted to the project by a unique combination of factors – not least of which is that it offered him the opportunity to make the kind of movie that originally inspired him to become a director. "I was really lucky after Zombieland: I was able to read a lot of scripts and make a choice about my taste and the kinds of movies I like,” he says. "30 Minutes or Less was certainly very funny and it had enough action in it to satisfy that desire on my part. But more importantly, it seemed like it combined the excitement of a 1980s John Landis action comedy with the sensibilities of the Coen brothers. As those are two of my favorite filmmakers, I was excited by the opportunity to make this film.”

Fleischer was most excited about the story and the characters. "I hadn't ever seen a story like this before, but more importantly, the characters were very specific – I'd never seen characters like Nick or Chet or Dwayne or Travis before,” Fleischer continues. "I thought these were the kind of roles that actors would love to play, and that proved to be true – Danny and Jesse and Nick and Aziz were all really excited about it.”

For Fleischer, casting those four main roles was key. "I feel like I have a good sense of casting, of finding the right people for the parts, then letting them shine and do what they do,” he says. When the cameras began to roll, playing the "double buddy” comedy roles would be Jesse Eisenberg as Nick, the pizza guy; Aziz Ansari as Chet, his estranged best friend; Danny McBride as Dwayne, a lowlife with big dreams and a poorly hatched plan; and Nick Swardson as Travis, the beta male to Dwayne's alpha.

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