Laughing at the Apocalypse on the Set of This is the End

Anyone reading this may already realize that all of the talk about the world ending in 2012 may have been premature, so how are we celebrating the world not ending? By getting lots of comedies about the world ending.

Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, coming out later this year, has been a long time in the works, but so has Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut, This is the End. Here at ComingSoon.net, we’d like to be the first to dub the movie “The Avengers of End of the World Stoner Comedies” for reasons that will become obvious.

It’s fairly common these days for comedy stars to be packaged together, but the five guys assembled by Rogen and Goldberg for their directorial debut are all regulars from previous movies they’ve either written, produced or starred in, many of their relations going back to Judd Apatow’s short-lived TV shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared.”

Jonah Hill had a cameo in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which many felt to be Rogen’s movie breakout, which led to Knocked Up where Hill had a larger role, joined by Jay Baruchel. Hill then starred in the Rogen/Goldberg-written comedy Superbad, which was followed a year later by Pineapple Express, also written by Rogen and Goldberg, which brought Danny McBride, James Franco and Craig Robinson into the mix. McBride and Franco went on to appear in David Gordon Green’s next movie Your Highness together, while Baruchel also wrote the hockey comedy Goon with Goldberg.

Considering all of those connections, it’s a no-brainer that these actors, who’ve been friends and known each other for years, would want to come together to support Rogen and Goldberg in their directorial debut.

As we said, the movie’s been a long time coming, starting a few years back with the short “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse.” Rogen has been talking a long time about turning it into a feature and after a number of different evolutions and titles, Sony got behind the project as well.

When ComingSoon.net visited the New Orleans set last June, the movie was simply called “The End of the World,” and when we arrived, they were already filming. Sitting around a table were Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson and they were going through a scene where they were trying to figure out who to send out to get food and water. Watching this scene was a great setup for a day that involved a lot of laughing… as we joined the guys by trying not to ruin takes by cracking up.

The basic premise is that James Franco has designed and built his own house–because that’s not too incredible considering everything else Franco has been up to lately–and he’s having a housewarming party with all of his Hollywood friends and hangers-on attending when an apocalyptic event hits Los Angeles, leaving the six surviving guys to do whatever it takes to survive. The movie apparently starts when Jay runs into Seth on the street and he invites him to Franco’s party where they run into all sorts of celebrities, including Emma Watson and pop star Rihanna, who are then categorically killed off when the Apocalypse hits, as seen in the Red Band trailer.

From what we understand, the movie is insanely violent with lots of faces and arms being ripped off, although the scene filmed on our visit was somewhat more mundane, involving the six guys trying to figure out who should go outside to get food and water as the camera pans around from one to the next. They decide to draw straws and there’s discussion about who should pick first, but eventually the straws come around to Craig Robinson, and of course, he gets the shortest straw. The other five guys are delighted it wasn’t them but then they change their tune and try to be supportive for the fact Robinson has to go outside, most likely to his death, saying they’ll be with him in spirit. Robinson asks if they want to do two out of three and they all respond, “F*ck no!”

This scene was shot a number of times and in different ways, including one in which Seth used matches with whomever picking the burnt match having to go outside. Pretty much every single take was different as they tried out different lines, some of them being repeated, others only said once. Jay Baruchel seemed to be the best at coming up with ad-libs, which was impressive considering how much improv Rogen, Hill and McBride do on a regular basis. Robinson was especially funny in these scenes, because he really played up being very tentative about which match or straw he was picking even though we knew that he would end up picking the short straw or the burnt match every single time. We noticed a couple details about the guys like Seth having a tissue in his nostril from an earlier bloody nose and Jonah Hill, who was playing the scenes very seriously–he is an Oscar-nominated actor after all–wearing a prominent earring.

Obviously the best people to learn about the movie would be Rogen and Goldberg, although this being their directorial debut, they were pretty busy trying to make sure everything they needed to film that day got done, but they did come over to talk to us a couple of times and you can read what they had to say about their movie at the link below:

Interview with Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Over the course of the day, we would get roughly ten minutes with each of the actors, and of the other four guys, Jay Baruchel probably knew the most about the project since it did start with a short he made with Seth years back. He explained how that came about. “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.”

“I think that would have limited the scope of the thing and the voices that could be in it,” Baruchel said when asked about the cast being expanded to four of their friends. “I think just [Seth] 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.”

“I had heard about this a few years ago they talked about it and then finally they just said they had finished the script last year and they sent it to me and I thought it was great,” Danny McBride said in our interview shortly following Baruchel. “Then they were fishing around for when was a window of time when everybody would be available and this kind of was the time period when everybody was going to… somehow the continents shifted and everyone could take off for these three months just to come here and have fun. The script is absolutely nuts. It’s just another one of those movies where you get it and you’re just pleased that someone is willing to pay money for something so insane, you know? It’s unlike anything that I’ve seen before or worked on before.”

All of the actors had something to say about playing themselves in the movie. “I’m playing myself, so I’m an international superstar playboy extraordinaire,” McBride joked during our interview with him. “I guess we are all playing like heightened versions of ourselves. Yeah, it’s hard to tell. 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. He comes off as courageous, bold…”

“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,’” James Franco added. “I think 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 stupider and 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.”

Hill talked about why the movie is so important to him as a culmination of the comedies he’d been doing with the other guys going back to The 40-Year-Old Virgin. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but 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 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.”

They all were wearing rather outlandish outfits with Franco wearing a grey jumpsuit, Robinson wearing a T-shirt that said “Take Your Panties Off!,” a catchphrase from his comedy act that the guys remembered and incorporated into his wardrobe and he also had a towel draped around his neck, which he explained. “I usually always carry a towel with me because I sweat a lot, I just like to have a towel, like Linus or somebody. One time my manager gave me a birthday gift, some monogrammed towels, and they said different things on them, but one of them was ‘Mr. Robinson,’ and I happened to have it with me on the day that I went for a fitting and they were like, ‘Oh we love this, yes make that happen.’”

Watching the scene of the guys figuring out who to go outside gave us a great sample of how they’re using improvisation to build the scenes which McBride elaborated upon. “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.”

“I did a movie where it was I think even more improv, but this is probably just as much, so yeah I’m getting used to it,” Robinson added. “Improv is always encouraged, and they’ll get it, no matter what, these guys are directing their asses off. They get everything, and whatever comes out of their brains, is getting [caught on film]. Everybody gets to jump in where they fit in.”

“There’s a lot of sh*tting on each other’s work in this movie,” Baruchel admitted. “Nothing seems to be sacred here. We’re just blaspheming constantly – the sky’s the limit. The only concern with that stuff is for my money, the average working class person that buys tickets probably couldn’t care less about sh*t like that so as long as it’s funny, but nobody goes to the movies to see a movie about people talking about movies, so aside from that, no, we’ve been able to say whatever we want.”

Robinson also talked about the film’s Pineapple Express reunion and how it felt different with Seth directing. “It’s cool, it’s like hanging out with your buddy, just trying out ideas. Except they have a budget and you got trailers. It’s awesome. ‘Pineapple’ was different just ’cause it was David Gordon Green directing. I remember, I wasn’t as familiar with the crew as I am now. I remember a scene where Seth and Franco were my prisoners and then I would go back and forth and I got to see a little bit of how they were working with each other because they had actually been working together since they were kids, so I got to see how they bond and were kind of in each other’s brain. It was kind of cool, so that was my kind of witnessing it and of course now I am a part of it.”

“A large portion of it takes place here, which is one of the things I really dug about it,” McBride said about the film’s central location. “I liked the idea that it was kind of like one of those old ‘Night of the Living Dead’ movies, where most of the survival is about the dynamic between the people who are stuck in the situation trying to figure out what’s going on and it sort of paints this horrible picture outside, but we do go outside in it, so yeah you definitely see what’s happened to Los Angeles for sure.”

A bit later, we were allowed to wander around the set, which was a large California-style house that was already halfway into the destruction phase, although a lot of the damage seemed to have been done by the survivors rather than the Apocalypse. The windows were clumsily gaff-taped up with various items jammed up in front of them to keep whatever’s outside from getting in – one of the items blocking the windows was a kayak. The concrete walls were noticeably cracked but Franco’s collection of art and skateboards seemed to be intact, and prominently displayed were what seemed to be paintings based on previous collaborations between Franco and Rogen including two distinctive paintings, one with the word “Freaks” and the other with the word “Geeks” on it. There was also a prominent sculpture, a giant penis-shaped statue that seemed to be painted with a colorful plaid pattern like those cows, apples and other sculptures you see around giant cities.

Franco talked about how they put together his art collection for the movie. “At one point I did collect art. I did sell a lot of it because I went back to school and I wasn’t doing as many movies as I did before. One way to pay for 2 to 4 years of not working very much was to sell some of the art. But they had this idea, and then they asked me in pre-production if I had any artists that I thought would be cool to include, and I thought, yeah, if they go with the big names, like Richard France or they have Shepard Fairey in there. All it would do is say ‘Okay, this character likes contemporary art,” so I thought, why don’t they include an artist who kind of walks the line of being a very serious contemporary artist but also have humor in his work and also is interested in the work that Seth Rogen does? So there’s this painter named Josh Smith, whose work is pretty humorous. I brought him on board, I had met him through some other artists and then he was a friend of Harmony Korine’s, and he came out to the set of “Spring Breakers” that I was working on. I came up with the idea that we would do a lot of the paintings together. We came out here in pre-production and painted for two days together. That way we could make paintings that were actually referencing the people in the movie. We made a ‘Pineapple Express’ painting, we made a ‘Freaks’ painting and a ‘Geeks’ painting. Josh normally does name paintings, where he uses his name as a form, so we used that idea but turned it into name paintings of Seth’s name and my name. In that way there was a whole ‘nother level to the paintings, and we could talk about them and reference them in the scenes. So it wasn’t just this general idea of contemporary art. Art now is kind of commenting on the movie, we can comment on the art, it’s all kind of tied together.”

After lunch, we watched a scene after it had been decided that Robinson would be the unfortunate soul to go outside. The other guys had wrapped him up in a long electrical cord so they could pull him back inside if he gets into a hairy situation. As might be expected, that’s exactly what happens as Craig walks outside and the other guys slowly let the make-shift rope out, but then the cord starts moving faster as something seems to be pulling Craig and all five guys end up falling down and letting go of the rope. Craig yells “Pull me back, guys!” but they’re all scrambling around and reacting to what happened, yelling apologies to Craig for losing grasp of his lifeline. We watched this physical scene a few more times with Rogen giving them the direction “We’re going Nutty Professor on the next one!”

In a later scene, Robinson comes back in with the rope around him but something starts to pull him back outside and two of the other guys grab him. We watched as a stuntman dressed up like Craig, complete with his afro, was being trussed up for the stunt where Craig is violently pulled back towards the door by something from outside. During the skirmish Jay somehow ends up with a knife in his leg, which Craig grabs to cut the rope to free himself. It was interesting to note while no one would tell us exactly what was happening in this Apocalypse, there were bright lights outside the set windows which made it look like there were large fires raging.

It was pretty obvious from our time on set that these guys like hanging around with each other. When they weren’t filming, they would go into their own private rec room where they could play ping pong and other games rather than each going to their own separate trailer.

We then got the biggest surprise of our visit when Seth and Evan brought us into their edit suite to show us roughly 16 minutes of footage that had already been edited together from an earlier section of the movie after the Apocalypse had hit leaving the six guys stranded in the house and trying to figure out how to survive. Wisely, they gathered all the food supplies in the house and took inventory, but the footage then cuts to the next morning when their supplies.

This footage also contained the bit with Seth Rogen telling the guys about a horrific home invasion in which he had been “titty-f*cked” which we see in the latest Red Band trailer, and another scene where the guys are standing around the table looking at a gun and Jonah picks it up and starts playing around with it, trying to show off his acting skills as he points it and says “bang bang” in a shockingly effeminate way. Having met Hill (and most of the others) many times in the past, he seemed to be going the furthest away from his real personality and really playing an odd character.

The footage also included some extra stuff cut together to what sounded like AC/DC which included footage of Michael Cera misbehaving and slapping pop star Rihanna on the ass as well as a few of the outdoor sequences where various celebrities are sucked into a fiery pit.

As we were leaving, we walked outside and there was an amazing sight – Danny McBride’s Winnebago from later in the movie, covered in skeletons, shopping carts, ninja swords and chainsaws with a teddy bear with a skull head mounted to the front grill. The unit photographer took a picture of all the journalists reacting (and acting quite badly) to the coming Apocalypse.

This is the End will open on Wednesday, June 12.

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