At the Produced By Conference this past Saturday, outgoing Producers Guild President Mark Gordon led a panel with Seth Rogen, his partner Evan Goldberg and their producing partner James Weaver. James came onto the team originally as their assistant on Funny People, and after a few projects, became a producer himself. Seth said James is more of a “yin to their yang” — he can talk to studios or agents and they get to be creative and immature. Evan said the fact that he and Seth dressed like homeless potheads and James tucked in his shirt helped him fill that role, and after their first few movies together, he morphed into a full blown producing partner.
Evan and Seth met at Hebrew class before their bar mitzvahs. Evan was writing at 12 and Seth was already doing stand-up. They would watch Bottle Rocket, Pulp Fiction and Bad Lieutenant, thinking they would see naked women, but instead seeing a lot of Harvey Keitel’s private parts. They decided to start writing when they did their own spoof of Space Balls – described basically Blues Brothers meets Reservoir Dogs with a giant menorah. Seth directed and Evan actually starred in it playing ALL the roles. It was so bad they decided to start writing and compiled the stories of their teen years into the script they wrote: Superbad. More on that later.
Both Evan and Seth loved Mel Brooks because he wasn’t afraid to do crazy stuff, and although his subjects are controversial, he is able to get away with them. Like him, they plan to do non-comedic subjects like Elephant Man or The Fly, but as Elephant Man versus The Fly. Just kidding; they want to stick to comedy. Seth thinks anything can be made funny and would rather take something you don’t want to think about and make it enjoyable, like Dr. Strangelove. So that even though they’re comedic, they have real stuff that you can relate to. Their film 50/50 actually came about from telling their friend, Will Reiser, who had survived cancer, to write about and put his heart and soul into it.
Seth’s opportunity to produce came after working on Freaks and Geeks with Judd Apatow, For years after the series was cancelled, Seth stuck around and tried to help with everything. He was in Judd’s office when The 40-Year-Old Virgin was green-lit and asked to be a co-producer, promising to show up and help out. So he was on the set, in the editing room, and did whatever needed to be done. He recommends that aspiring producers “be around a lot” with their mentors on productions and learn how to to do the job. By the time Seth and Evan were producing their third movie, they were on their own and didn’t realize how difficult it was actually to be the “on set” producer.
Seth says to get your first movie done, just make it yourself. They find talent on YouTube: This is the End was made because they saw it as a short video there, and Seth’s wife even got into the business that way. Their own plan as kids with Superbad was to make it themselves. Seth remembered that the videos they made as kids sucked, but they had to go through it, and they encourage everyone who wants to be a producer to do that as well.
When it comes to jokes, their process is that it needs to work on the set but also by testing the sh** out of their movies, with so many jokes that they always have backups. When doing test screenings, they record the audience to see where the laughs come. Sometimes people laugh at jokes you don’t think will ever work.
Seth and Evan worked together on three movies including Knocked Up before Superbad, the script they made together. Their opportunity came after Judd Apatow made Talladega Nights, when he was able to pitch it to Sony Pictures’ Co-Chair Amy Pascal, who had asked what other projects Apatow had. Luckily, Judd himself was busy with other projects, so Seth and Evan were allowed to do their own thing, including hire
their own directors and have a lot of control. By taking so long to get Superbad made, Seth aged out of the part based on himself, and the role was cast to Jonah Hill. Their advice to young filmmakers is “just don’t give up” on it if you have a good story.
Nicole Hansen is the President of Green Galaxy Enterprises and a member of the Producers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild.