Seth Rogen is being himself in “This is the End,” and from a storytelling perspective, it just made sense for Rogen and screenwriting and directing partner Evan Goldberg to have as many people together as possible, just being themselves, while the world incinerates in a rain of hellfire and damnation.
“It was easier in some ways because we could skip a lot of the back story, you know?” Rogen said in a recent phone interview. “I mean, you know what our jobs are, you've got a vague sense of our history or at least our resumes. And so, what was nice was it allowed you to just jump into the movie without having to explain a lot.”
The beginnings of “The End” began shortly after “Knocked Up” wrapped production in 2006, when Rogen and his “Knocked Up” co-star, Jay Baruchel, starred in a short film called “Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse.” Written by Rogen and Goldberg, “Jay and Seth” was edited to look like a trailer for an upcoming feature about movie stars trying to survive the end of the world.
Over half a million YouTube hits later, it seemed like a done deal that the fake trailer would give rise to a real movie, but Rogen and Goldberg struggled with how to build a feature-length story from their short-subject idea. During initial pitches to studios, Rogen said there was some resistance to the idea of actors playing themselves.
“I think part of the challenge was to not make it too ‘inside,' how to make sure everyone thought it was funny regardless of how much they really knew about us,” he said. “And I think we found the balance through trial and error.”
And part of that process involved inviting friends such as James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson to join them in their apocalyptic bunker, Goldberg said. In “This is the End,” Rogen picks up Baruchel at the airport and the friends attend a party at Franco's home in the Hollywood Hills — a massive, moneyed soiree attended by a casting list of young Hollywood comedy talent. But then comes the Rapture, and once all the virtuous people are pulled out of Los Angeles, fire begins the rain down and the ground swallows up dozens of young A-listers.
“We knew we had to have tons of people die in the beginning — just structurally,” Rogen said. “We really just made a big list of people we're friends with and people who people think we're friends with, along with some random people we thought would be fun to have around.”
“It was really simple,” said Goldberg, who co-wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” with Rogen. “We just kind of discussed who of these guys are associated with one another, are really funny and have a level of fame that works with the concept of the film. And it just came down to Danny, Franco, Craig and Jonah.”
Casting might have been simple, but giving “This is the End” a satisfying story arc was anything but easy. Pitting famous people against the end of the world was a good concept, Rogen said, but it took the duo about five years to figure out what was at stake for the fictional real-life friends.
“It took us a long time to realize where the movie should go — that it should all be about redemption,” Rogen said. “Just because the world's ending doesn't mean you can't redeem yourself in some way. Once we realized that, it really brought the whole movie into shape. It's like a morality play in a lot of ways, you know?”
And in a lot ways, it is also like “Ghostbusters.” It never directly cribs from that classic 1980s comedy — and the laughs are 50 times filthier — but “This is the End” is about seemingly ordinary guys with multiple movie credits who are forced to deal with supernatural phenomena. Even if a third “Ghostbusters” film never gets made, the original 1984 film has its spiritual spawn.
“I don't think we realized just how much while we were making it,” Goldberg said. “In the pie chart of my brain growing up, there's a huge slice for ‘Ghostbusters.'”
“In a lot of ways, that movie totally kind of dictated what we do,” Rogen added. “Just the idea of regular guys in these crazy situations reacting to them in a way that you feel like you and your friends would react to those situations. That's kind of like the blueprint.”