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‘Only Take the Money If They’ll Leave You Alone’: Seth Rogen and Friends Share Their Maverick Movie-Making Secrets

'Only Take the Money If They'll Leave You Alone': Seth Rogen and Friends Share Their Maverick Movie-Making Secrets

The Producers Guild of America opened its annual two-day conference “Produced By” with PGA President Mark Gordon in conversation with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver, who together produce films under the banner of Point Grey Pictures. 

The hour-long session had an improv feel to it: Gordon was completely game for whatever verbal shenanigans Rogen, Goldberg and Weaver decided to toss around. But for your (learning) pleasure, we’ve collected the most insightful, laugh-out-loud bits of information shared by Rogen, Goldberg and Weaver during their conversation. 

If you want to be taken seriously by the suits, then you might want to try cleaning yourself up.

“I think the big thing back then,” said Goldberg, “was that Seth and I dressed like homeless potheads and it didn’t really help at all. And literally just having someone whose shirt is not wrinkled.”

“Yeah!” Rogan exclaimed. “We had a shirt-tucked-in guy all of a sudden.”

The “shirt-tucked-in guy” was Rogen’s way of referring to James Weaver who initially came on board as Rogen’s assistant and was eventually promoted to producing partner.

The Point Grey Pictures Philosophy [because, as Rogen says, “our particular brand of hard-R comedy does not go well with a lot of studio notes”]:

“Find out what the most amount of money they will give us and then go away is,” says Weaver. “That’s the amount we should make the movie for,”

“‘Green Hornet’ was very educational in that regard,” added Rogen.

On the importance of fiscal responsibility:

In the film industry, Rogen argues, financial resources and creative ambition are enmeshed with one another. “It all bleeds into itself,” he says.

Rogen added that “The fact that we’re directors and producers is helpful because we know the real ramifications of let’s say like, well we want five days to shoot this scene, well we can only afford three days to shoot this scene, or two days to shoot this scene or one day to shoot this scene.”

“If we were just the directors,” says Rogen, “we would tell ourselves to go fuck ourselves and we’d then have to deal with that.”

As of right now, they don’t have any plans to make a serious film.

“If someone that we loved came to us and was like, ‘Will you produce this dramatic movie?’ then we would for sure do it,” says Rogen. “But for our money, it’s just way more fun to work on stuff that makes you laugh really hard all day.”

Rogen went on to point out how it is much more difficult to come up with a thought-provoking comedic interpretation of a serious event, as opposed to doing a straight adaptation. “I think anything could be made funny. I think that it’s a much less, bold, dramatic endeavor to take something really serious and portray it as really serious. A movie like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ or ’50/50’… takes something you don’t want to think about and turns it into something that is very digestible, enjoyable even.

Producing is harder than directing.

“Getting a movie made is way harder than making a movie,” said Rogen, “Once you’re there making the movie, it’s fun.”

Goldberg added, “The analogy is like, the writer makes the blueprints for the car, the producer gets the money and the parts and the director gets to drive it.”

Why it is essential to have fun while you’re writing and also important to stick to writing what you know (or at least incorporating a familiar element into the mix):

“That’s our main priority,” says Goldberg, “having a good time, have a good laugh. We’re not geniuses, we don’t have really deep, incredible messages. We just kind of stick to what we know, and what we know is our relationships with our wives and our friends and just that simple stuff. If I was into space travel, maybe I could have endeavored to do a space thing, but that’s not who we are and what we’ve done in life. We just kind of tend to stick with what we know – like “Superbad” was about us in high school, not getting laid, being buddies, kind of just growing up and “Neighbors,” though we didn’t specifically write the script, we are all in that stage where some of our friends are having kids and stuff, so we try to stick to whatever stage we’re in. It’s a formula that works.

How to take the next step in your career (whether its transitioning from writer to producer, actor to director, assistant to producer):

“Be around a lot.” That is Rogen’s simple, yet completely effective mantra. “I just decided I would be around all the time,” he says, “I just entrenched myself in Judd’s office and I said I would help him with everything.”

Rogen wasn’t getting paid in the traditional sense (for the extra time he spent working), but he did manage to aggregate a wealth of information from just observing and helping out. Just “being around” in Judd Apatow’s office when the studio called and told Apatow that it wanted to move forward on “40-Year-Old Virgin” ended up connecting Rogen with the opportunity that would catapult him to the next stage of his career.

“Make me a co-producer,” Rogen told Apatow, “and I’ll just show up every day and just do whatever the fuck you want. And he was like, okay.” Rogen made good on his promise. Even though he only acted for 15-20 days of what was a 50 day shoot, he showed up on set every single day, and after shooting wrapped, he even sat in on post-production, scoring sessions and test screenings. When it came time to do it himself on “Knocked Up,” he had already seen the whole process from beginning to end.

Don’t mess with the ratings system. If you want to do whatever you want, then make a rated R movie.

According to Rogen, “Once it’s R-rated you can pretty much do whatever you want, aside from penetration, and we’re not going to be doing that any time soon I don’t think.”

When you self-censor a joke during a shoot, you run the risk of getting stuck with using something that doesn’t garner a laugh. “On the set of ‘This is the End,’ the movies that we’ve directed and ‘Neighbors,'” says Goldberg, “we can very freely go to the edge, go over the edge, go way too far, we’re all adults, if someone says something crazy we’ll not put it in the movie and we’ll fix it all in editorial. Whereas on a project like ‘The Green Hornet,’ if it’s not funny, we don’t know if it’s the right mark, we can’t overcompensate and fix it later. It just has to be funny there or we didn’t do it.”

Suck it up and just get shit done.

Rogen, Goldberg and Weaver all agree that that the most important decision an aspiring filmmaker can make in the present is to “write something you can make for no money” — which ties back to the Point Grey philosophy of determining the film’s budget by figuring out “the most amount of money [the studio] will give us and then go away.”

Even after achieving success, Goldberg notes, the only reason “This is the End” got made into a full-length feature is because Rogen and Goldberg made a short called “Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse” that they put up on YouTube and subsequently went viral.

“I think most people don’t want to do that because they’re afraid to confront the quality of their own work honestly,” says Rogen. “They don’t want to actually do it because they have to see if it’s good or not.”

Get feedback on your films before you release them.

“We test the shit out of the movies, over and over and over again,” said Rogen. “So you can almost scientifically calculate what is funny and what isn’t. Tha’’s why we shoot so many options and so many alts because if a joke isn’t funny, we generally have another joke. We test the movie so much that every joke works and there is no swings and misses.”

Goldberg added that they even set up cameras and audio recording equipment so they can see and hear the audience’s reactions.

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