Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have the kind of career that young comedy writers look upon with envious eyes. The two writer/producers have had an unprecedented streak, nimbly shifting from one hit R-rated comedy to the next, while occasionally stopping to expand their focus and bring in new collaborators (like “Warm Bodies” filmmaker Jonathan Levine, who they worked with on “50/50“). And for the most part these guys have stuck to their guns, honed their craft, and had tremendous success. We got a chance to speak with them at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where they debuted “Neighbors” to a thunderous response (read our review), and the unusually frank duo let us in on a whole battery of upcoming projects.
Amongst their upcoming projects that we discussed is “The Interview,” a new movie that Goldberg and Rogen have co-directed. The movie stars Rogen and James Franco as a TV reporter and his producer who score an interview with the dictator of North Korea and then get embroiled in a plot to assassinate him. That should be out later this year. The duo is also hard at work on the R-rated computer animated feature “Sausage Party,” an adaptation of the beloved Garth Ennis cult comic book “Preacher” for AMC, a couple of projects they’re working on with Levine, and a narrative version of the upcoming nonfiction book “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation” by Blake Harris (the book comes out next week). So yes—lots to discuss, and tons of details from the men themselves.
You just finished “The Interview.” What is the intent with that one?
Rogen: We’re still very early in our editorial process. It’s our attempt to make our version of a big political spy thriller. But starring me and Franco. It’s kind of the formula we always do which is we take a genre we like and add idiots to it. It’s like “This is the End” is a horror movie with idiots in it and “Pineapple Express” is an eighties action movie with idiots in it. So this is our “3 Days of the Condor” with idiots in it. And Kim Jong-un is one of the main characters in the movie, which is something that I’m curious about how people will react to.
Goldberg: It’s really fucking crazy. I don’t know how to describe the tone. It’s based in a real situation, in a real place, with real characters. And we’re getting real news anchors to participate and play off real world politics. The thing at our company is make it a little smarter than your last one, but also way dumber. Always make it way dumber at the same time, and Franco is unleashed in this. I’ve never seen any actor do what Franco is doing in this movie. He just went fucking crazy. There’s some takes that are unusable because he went so far, but we always let him go as far as he could because at minute 6 he would be unbelievable. He gave us the widest range of shit for the editing room. In any given scene he might be screaming and running around like a child or he might be serious and cry. He gave you every fucking option. Us and him, it’s such a well-oiled machine that he can reset himself, he can ask us to stop and we don’t care. He might have an idea and we’re like “totally, sure!” The part where they all sing in “This Is The End,” he came up with that. He came up with some of the best jokes in the movie. I feel like the DGA would be mad if they knew how much he helped out. Seth is doing more acting in this one than people expect, he’s made a character, moreso than normal.
You’ve directed two movies in a very short amount of time. Is that something that you’re looking to get back into?
Rogen: Yeah it’s really fun. We have always made a lot of movies and we try to keep working. Now that we’re able to direct them… Well, it’s kind of easier to direct a movie than not direct a movie if we’re producing it and I’m acting in it. There’s less stress when we know that we’re in charge of every single part of it than when you’re worried about what someone else might do. But we love it and want to continue doing it.
What can you say about “Sausage Party?”
Rogen: We’ve been working on this movie for a very long time, trying to get someone to make it. We wrote the script a few years ago and attached Conrad Vernon, who did “Shrek 2” and “Monsters vs. Aliens,” to direct it. We just had this idea to make the first R-rated, fully CGI-animated movie. It’s about food in a grocery store and it’s about religion in some ways. But it’s very funny and in the style of a Pixar movie but also kind of disgusting. It’s a crazy movie.
Goldberg: That is the most important movie we’re working on by far. We are six months into the 2-year process of animating it. The script is never really done, I guess. There’s this company called Nitrogen Studios in Vancouver who are doing the animation. It’s so crazy that it thrills us all. Every day when we work on it, I don’t care what I have to do, crunching numbers, or re-writing a scene 40 times, it’s just the fact that we have computer generate sausages telling each other to go fuck themselves, it’s just too good. And we love meta shit, obviously, and it’s the most fucked up, meta thing ever, cause it’s a kids format. I already feel bad for the handful of parents who won’t know what they’re doing and take their kids into that theater. But I think we layered it so the first few fucks will get them to leave the theater before some really terrible shit gets said. I saw a 7-year-old watching “This Is The End” in theater with her parents, and I wanted to go up and be like, “You’re doing the wrong thing, you need to take your child and leave right now, I did not make this for 7-year-olds.”
Rogen: We’ve been recording it and the cast is unbelievable—Kristin Wiig is in it, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, James Franco, Edward Norton, Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek is in it. Me and Jonah and Michael are sausages and the others are other food products. Kristin Wiig is a bun. It’ll probably be out in 2015 but there’s a chance it’ll be out in 2016. We want it to be awesome and we want to be able to finish it and show it a lot before it comes out.
How did Megan Ellison get involved?
Rogen: What happened was—this idea was so crazy and we tried to sell it to everyone and no one wanted to make it. Like no one. And finally, we were like, “Someone new has to come along, and then this movie will get made.” So we waited years and years and years and finally Megan Ellison came along. We met with her and we really got along and she’s so cool and really got what we were trying to do and seemed really excited by the fact that no one else wanted to do it. She really gave us money to get going and then teamed up with Sony and they are co-financing it. We have similar ideologies, which is make movies that you’d be super psyched to go see if you had nothing to do with making movies. And I think that’s why we get along so well. She definitely instills this approach of, ‘Go for it.’ Honestly, her ideas are good and she is very smart but she’s not too controlling. Everyone who has worked with her says the same thing.
Where in the development process are you with “Preacher?”
Rogen: It’s in the very early stages. So we’re just starting to write the pilot and then we’ll see what happens from there.
Goldberg: We’re making it with AMC and this guy Sam Catlin who made “Breaking Bad” who’s clearly much smarter than we are, and the three of us went in and met with Garth Ennis who wrote the comic and AMC, and we had a meeting last week and it was unexpected. We told everyone what we thought, and they were like “perfect, that’s exactly what we want to hear.” So it seems like AMC is on board. Garth Ennis, who is the only person who can veto us, loved it, and we essentially said we were going to do the comic but alter a few items to make it more cinematic and appropriate for television because TV is a different format than comics. We’ve been trying to make this for 10 years, begging agents and managers to consider us, and we’ve almost come close like three times and we never pulled it off but we finally did it. It’s been our passion. Garth Ennis is just the most incredible writer to me, and “Preacher” is the funniest adult thing I’ve ever read where it doesn’t shy away from anything—it doesn’t shy away from religion, violence, action, or comedy, or love. It just tackles everything. The universe the guy created is just fucking crazy. And we love pushing the envelope and that guy annihilates the envelope. The main reason we’re so excited about it is because a lot of mine and Seth’s stylings are based on Garth Ennis. We’ve read everything he’s ever written and it’s impacted us a lot. So we’re getting to do an adaptation of our unofficial mentor’s work. It feels good to work with the guy who made me want to tell stories and stuff.
Rogen: If it gets picked up we’d be executive producers. Since Sam is the show runner we wouldn’t be there on a day-to-day basis but that being said, we love it so much, it seems hard to imagine a world where the show was happening and we didn’t want to be there and involved in it. So I don’t know is the honest answer, but my hope would be to be very involved. But Sam is a lot smarter than me and Evan are so we are trying to involve him as much as possible in the writing of the pilot and we really respect his opinion.
What was it like getting Garth’s feedback?
Rogen: It was scary because we had to change some things to get it to function as a television show. So it was scary the first time we mentioned how we were going to change some things or reordering or restructuring but he’s been very vocal about the fact that there are certain ideas that he thinks are key but other than that there is a lot of stuff that can be shuffled around. And we’re really trying to keep him involved. He’s my favorite comic book writer. I think I’ve read every single comic book he’s ever written. So to have him as someone we can email is not something we can waste.
Goldberg: We were terrified that Garth would be like “this has to be exactly how I did it!” but he was actively like “no, it shouldn’t be exactly how I did it, that won’t work” and he encouraged us in that direction. I thought originally we were going to “Sin City” it, word for word, shot for shot, but they said no that’s a terrible idea.
Rogen: Yeah I have been re-reading “Preacher” and it is funny going back and seeing how much stuff in it is stuff that we have been influenced by throughout the years. Its approach to violence, and it plays funny, somehow, even in the comic book, where the extreme violence elicits laughter. And that’s something that Evan and I are always going for.
Was it ever going to be a movie?
Rogen: The first meeting we had for “Preacher” was circa “Superbad.” Back then we wanted it to be an HBO miniseries. Then they went with Mark Steven Johnson, I believe, and then it went away and went into movie land for a while and several people tried. I literally emailed Sam Mendes when he was making it into a movie and said, “If I can have any involvement in any capacity, let me know.” Then it slowly went away again and we know the producer, Neil Moritz, the guy who has always had the rights to it and we just [were] always so vocally fans of it, there must have been a meeting in a building somewhere where they said, “Maybe we should do it as a TV show? Maybe we should get Seth and Evan to do it?” And we were just waiting.
Do you have anything going with Jonathan Levine?
Goldberg: None of us want to work with anybody but each other now. Levine is someone who I’m shocked that I haven’t known him since I was four. He’s just the mellowest dude and we click really hard with him. But we’ve got this “Eczema” script we’re working on with him, he’s gonna direct and Seth and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are in it. I’m trying to find our third guy right now. And we’ve got this thing “Brooklyn Castle” that him and Will Reiser who wrote “50/50” wrote together. It’s a true story based on this documentary about this school in Brooklyn where chess is like the football, chess is what makes you cool, so we think that’s rad.
Where are you at with “Console Wars”?
Goldberg: The dudes did a first draft of their book and the first draft of the documentary we’re working with, so we still have a long way to go and finish both the book and documentary. But we’re excited. The appeal for me is no one had made a movie about video games when video games are a multibillion dollar industry and now literally almost every human plays video games in North America. My dad doesn’t. Everyone but my dad plays video games. Video games are a crazy big part of our lives. It’s a topic that should be tackled and no one knows anything about how video games came to be. It’s like “Social Network.” But funnier.
Is there a genre you’re eager to tackle?
Goldberg: I don’t like horror, but “Paranormal Activity” really got us and we watched all of them so we keep talking about making a horror movie—which neither of us like. I do not like them. The last one I watched was “Paranormal Activity 3” and it was scary and gave me bad sleep. But since we’re such scaredy cats I think we could make a good horror movie because I’m terrified of everything.
“Neighbors” opens on Friday.