This is the plot of This Is the End:
Visiting from the Canadian motherland, Jay Baruchel meets up with his pal and countryman Seth Rogen in L.A., where they try to get past post-Rogen-sellout estrangement through partying at James Franco's place. It's not really Baruchel's scene, but the apocalypse begins just as he's about to bail. That means holing up with Rogen, Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill -- all playing (with) themselves -- for the desperate stoner-raunch survivalism of roughing out a lo-fi sequel to Pineapple Express, dodging violent deaths, and bucking for Redemption.
Seemingly a lark for Rogen and his co-writer and co-director Evan Goldberg, the film is at least on preposterousness par with celebrity-stuffed disaster-movies of years past. Plus: Hollywood self-indulgence as the last straw for a vengeful God? This is the joke. We met with Rogen, Goldberg, and Robinson for a few minutes recently to discuss it.
SF Weekly: What an amazingly self-indulgent movie. Congratulations!
Seth Rogen: Thank you.
Evan Goldberg: Thank you...? Let me tell you a bit more about us...
Rogen: It's just getting started.
Please describe the This Is The End experience.
Robinson: A right royal comic romp!
Rogen: A British guy told us it was a right royal comic romp. From beginning to end.
Robinson: I was watching it last night, man, and they had to pull me away to go to dinner. 'Cause you hop in there and you're just on the ride.
Rogen: Yeah, it's a crazy weird movie. It's funny because it is a weird mix. I guess, like, conceptually it is self-indulgent, but our prime goal is to entertain the audience. That's all we care about, is making the audience laugh. And it's self-indulgent because we thought that's what the audience wanted to see. Honestly.
Goldberg: It's extra fun making a movie where, like, if it went wrong and was the worst version of the self-indulgence that you're referring to, it would have ended our careers.
Rogen: It's true!
So how do you know that you're not doing that?
Rogen: You don't. That's what's exciting about it!
Goldberg: It's gambling. We're playing with fire!
Rogen: And we've made a few movies like that, where we're like, man, this has a really big chance of being a fuckin' disaster.
Goldberg: Pineapple Express? We didn't know that was gonna work.
Rogen: And then we made some movies like, oh, there's a good chance this could work. And those are always less fun. Like 50/50...
Goldberg: A cancer comedy...
Rogen: ...If this is bad, it'll be the most offensive movie of all time. And that is when it's more fun. That's when you're on set, thinking, I can't believe we're actually doing this. There's a chance that this is a spectacularly bad idea. And that's what makes it awesome.
Goldberg [to Robinson]: Did you think that? Were you ever like, geez, these guys might be ruining all our careers?
Robinson: Oh, no, no, no.
Goldberg: Oh, that's nice.
Robinson: We're improving in rehearsals, and you know, we're having fun together. It's so fun making it. Somebody was asking me yesterday, was there anyone who would drop a bomb and mess you up, where you'd just lose it? And everybody would do that. Everybody. But McBride especially. He would like come with these ... decimations....
Rogen: It was crazy.
Robinson: And with stuff like that, you're just glad you're in the presence. To have been there to have seen him say something to Emma Watson...
Goldberg: ...That she makes us promise we'll never use.
Ok, so how do you decide -- and I don't know if you guys worked this out together -- who falls in the sinkhole, who gets impaled by a streetlight, who gets possessed, who gets into heaven...?
Goldberg: The way it went down is: We had the idea to make an apocalypse movie. We had the idea for them to play themselves. We combined the ideas. We're like, we should make this movie. But we realized we weren't ready yet. And then we realized we needed a redemption story. When we had that all figured out, we thought, Who are the main six guys we need? And it was these six guys. So we got them locked down.
Rogen: And then we watched tons of movies. In the writing, before we were shooting. Horror movies, the apocalypse, and we kinda just got ideas. Oh, maybe someone gets possessed. That could be funny. And maybe we do an exorcism. That could be funny.
Goldberg: Anything with a messed up situation, like, people trapped on a boat and nowhere to go... Oh, Anaconda!
Rogen: And then slowly we'd get these ideas. We just had lists and lists of ideas, and we kinda just picked our favorite and structured it into a movie, basically.
Goldberg: With the main six guys, we worked out the characters and what would happen to who. But with the cameos, we kinda just worked out a ton of deaths, and decided who would be what based on who we got. I mean, for all we knew, everyone would be like, oh no, I don't want to do that.
Was anyone in the cast not your first choice?
Rogen: No, it's pretty much everyone we wanted. Which is crazy.
Goldberg: Way too early we met with Daniel Radcliffe, and presented him with, like, a really shitty version of everything. We blew that one.
Rogen: Oh yeah. That was our fumble.
Goldberg: We were just excited to meet him. We really liked his work. But we really fucked that one up.
Rogen: But we got Emma Watson!
Goldberg: Edward Norton couldn't make it due to scheduling, but we had some pretty fucked up stuff planned for him. I would have liked to do that. Next time!
Is Jay Baruchel not the secret weapon of every movie he's in?
Goldberg: He's great. He's kinda the audience's entryway into this film. Even though it starts on Seth, you're kinda relating to Jay a little bit more because Jay's accusing Seth of being a Hollywood sell out.
Is that really a thing between you?
Rogen: Not really. I mean, if anything, Jay's weird for not doing that. But no, it's more just like we took the circumstances that exist and added a subtext. Just the fact is I came here, Jay stayed in Canada. There's not as much beneath the surface as there is in the movie.
You talked about improv before. How do you deal with improv and decide between scripted material and what you bring to it day to day?
Robinson: You do have a structure, so you might start with a certain line and know you've gotta hit certain points. But there's definitely a sense of: OK, you guys play, and go where you want. And they're throwing stuff out all the time. Say this! Try this! And then we're throwing stuff out, so there's a lot of playing and dancing. So, kudos to these cats for cutting and pasting and catching it. I imagine the DVD extras on these are gonna be crazy. 'Cause the scene can be totally different.
Are there ever continuity issues when you do that?
Rogen: No, you track it.
Goldberg: We've made enough movies with enough improv to know. But I won't lie. It was too hard for just the two of us to pull it off. We had Franco, or Craig, or all our producers who, if somebody added something to a scene, would run up to us and say, these are the things he said, don't forget to go back and get coverage of this or that. So we had a whole network of support.
That makes it sound like a lot more work than people realize.
Rogen: It is a lot of work.
Goldberg: People think we don't work!
Rogen: It's a really technical process, doing a movie with a lot of improvisation. Doing it well.
Goldberg: Talking with Jay about his experience on, like, Million Dollar Baby, it's like: What a different fucking universe!
Rogen: In some ways, it is more simple to make a movie like that. But to do improv in a way that you can actually use it, and it looks like the rest of the movie? Yeah, there's actually a lot of thought and planning required.
Goldberg: Let me ask you, Craig, was there ever a point where you were like: "I don't want to improv today. These guys are driving me nuts. I just want this to be like a normal movie!"
Robinson: No, if anything, it was like, I should be throwing out some more stuff. But with Seth and Jonah, they will go ... and Franco ... it's almost like it was already written. It's like, how are y'all doing that? I'd try to hop in when I could.
Are you guys doing something that couldn't have been done 20 years ago?
Rogen: It's hard to say. I don't know how they made movies 20 years ago. But I recently heard that in Ghostbusters, all of Bill Murray's funny stuff was improv. And I recently read the script, and literally none of the classic lines you know and love are in the script. "And the flowers are still standing!" Not in there! Honestly I was under the misconception that movies weren't as loose back then, but when I read that script, I was like, holy shit, this is completely different. It made me think that there was at least the start of it a long time ago.
Goldberg: I think Judd Apatow took it to a new level, and should forever be credited as the guy who changed things. He's like the Henry Ford of filmmaking.
Friendlier to Jews, though, generally.
Goldberg: Yes. Judd figured out a way to just make an assembly line of comedy, which doesn't require any one person to be perfect in what they've done. It's everyone helping each other. It's like a kibbutz.
If you could tell your younger aspiring selves that this is where you'd be in 2013, how would the little yous respond?
Robinson: I'd be like: Sweet. It's a lot of work, though.
Rogen: Honestly, right now almost more than ever I'm really enjoying what we're doing, and we're making stuff that I really like. And it feels like we're a little more in control of that process than we have been, and it's less like a mystery as to how it's all happening. Which is nice.
Goldberg: It feels like this movie's going to make us stable for the first time. In Hollywood you always have the sense that, like, you're in orbit of where you want to be, and you feel like you could just drift off. Or get lost and forgotten. But I feel like we're going to be a little more stable now. Slightly.
This is the End opens Wed., June 12.