Decoding "This Is the End": A Behind-the-Scenes Look at 2013's Best Comedy (So Far)

It's deeper than raunchy humor.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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The first trailer for This Is the End, released in April, was the first taste anyone had gotten of co-writers, and first-time co-directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg meta apocalypse comedy, and the reaction was split. Those who liked what they saw welcomed the chance to watch Rogen and his colleagues/friends James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson berate each other indoors while the Devil brings the motherfuckin' fire-and-brimstone ruckus outdoors. McBride finding it hard to believe that "James Franco didn't suck any dick last night?" Bring on the jokes.

But two hours' worth of famous people lampooning themselves? Those who weren't as responsive to This Is the End's trailer feared the worst—meaning, an excuse for Rogen and his buddies to cash easy paychecks while simultaneously massaging each others' egos.

Good news: There's no figurative dick-sucking among the rich and famous here, only jokes about it. This Is the End isn't just the year's funniest movie to date—it's also worthy of sitting alongside last year's The Cabin in the Woods in the annals of great horror-comedies. Rather than derive all of the film's laughs from tons of inside-baseball one-liners delivered by actors making fun of other actors, This Is the End applies the Shaun of the Dead tactic of playing all of the horror elements without any irony or silliness—the humor comes directly from how everyone responds to the horror. Dick jokes and all.

It's been no mystery that Rogen and Goldberg are well-educated students of all things comedy, but who knew that the longtime friends are also unabashed scary movie lovers? As the pair expressed at the Apple Store in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood earlier this week, as part of the iTunes-backed "Meet the Filmmaker" in-store interview series, This Is the End is just as informed by fright flicks as it is by laughter. Allow them to elaborate.

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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Using Real-Life Experiences

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Working With Your Closest Friends

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Speaking of friends, filming This Is the End's pre-apocalypse party sequence was an exercise in heightened reality. Their famous, guest-starring buddies are all paired off in groupings that reflect how they'd actually mingle in real life. Martin Starr (Rogen's Freaks and Geeks and Knocked Up co-star) and David Krumholtz (Goldstein in the Harold & Kumar movies) are best friends, so they're always seen side-by-side; Jason Segel and Kevin Hart, meanwhile, sharing camera space in their few This Is the End scenes, have been friends since 2000, when they worked on a Judd Apatow-produced TV pilot called North Hollywood (which also starred Amy Poehler) that was never picked up.

At one point, Craig Robinson plays his signature jam, "Take Yo Panties Off," much to the delight of his fellow partygoers—nine months ago, Robinson entertained all of the guests at Evan Goldberg's wedding by tickling the ivories as the bride and groom walked down the aisle. Formerly a music teacher at his native city of Chicago's Horace Mann Elementary School, Robinson has incorporated the piano into his stand-up act since his days working on his improv skills at Chi-Town's famed comedy theatre The Second City.

Naturally, Rogen and Goldberg have attended their own fair share of Hollywood bashes, one of which left a paparazzi-ready imprint in Goldberg's mind. One time, while strolling around an unnamed celebrity's luxurious pad, he randomly caught Lindsay Lohan sneaking off into the kitchen to raid the homeowner's food stash. Rogen recalls his friend's delight at the once-in-a-lifetime sight: "I remember you telling me, 'She just ate macaroni-and-cheese with her hands!'" Adds Goldberg, "I'll always have that memory"

This is the End doesn't reenact that moment, but there is one priceless and memorable LiLo joke. James Franco, thinking he's going to die, drops a bombshell upon the ears of his pals: "I gotta admit something…I fucked Lindsay Lohan. She thought I was Jake Gyllenhaal."

And, for the sake of making one more not-so-related-but-kinda-sorta-is connection between Lohan and This Is the End, the movie's early show-stopping images come from Michael Cera, whom Rogen, in real life, calls "the sweetest guy ever," but in the film is a coked-out, Scarface wannabe who snorts lines and smacks houseguest Rihanna's ass. The retaliation is fierce:

The Joys of Making Fun of Yourself

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Balancing Comedy With Scares

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When looking to hire a director of photography for This Is the End, Rogen and Goldberg wanted to bring in someone who wouldn't approach the project like every other comedy Rogen has starred in and Hollywood studios have cranked out in recent years—which is to say, a film that's devoid of any discernible visual flair. "We kept saying, 'Just because it's a comedy, that doesn't mean it can't look good."

Ultimately they joined forced with Brandon Trost, a DP with solid genre movie credits, having worked with director Rob Zombie on his dark, visceral, and humorless horror flicks Halloween II and The Lords of Salem. Those films were quite appealing to Rogen and Goldberg. "We wanted it to look like a horror movie at times," says Rogen.

And to ensure that This Is the End—which plays its scares, monster moments, and apocalyptic mayhem perfectly straight—worked as a genre experience, the filmmakers also looked to one of their all-time favorite horror-comedies for sonic inspiration. In the 1984 classic Ghostbusters, director Ivan Reitman and his sound design team used loud music cues to signal the moments in which the audience should figuratively (not, one would hope, literally) shit their pants.

Rogen and Goldberg really responded to that technique, as did their film's sound mixer, John Pritchett, who, whenever the directors would question whether a certain musical note was too deafening or not, would always say to them, "Remember, Ghostbusters is really loud."

Taking Inspiration From a Criminally Underrated Movie

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Remixing Horror Classics

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This Is the End works surprisingly well as a legitimate horror-comedy, but it's also spot-on in its spoof moments, with two genre classics in particular receiving the old reverential send-up treatment. Think what Scary Movie 5 and A Haunted House could've done is they weren't written by lobotomized hacks who derive pleasure from stealing moviegoers' hard-earned money with homophobia and tired Charlie Sheen gags.

The most easily recognizable one happens during a section marked, via a tongue-in-cheek title card, "The Exorcism of Jonah Hill." With Hill tied to a bed, Jay Baruchel sprinkles holy water onto him while chanting, "The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!" An homage, of course, to the 1973 blockbuster The Exorcist, a classic that's been lampooned numerous times, but none as subtly brilliant as in This Is the End. Hill's demon-voiced response to Baruchel's commands: "Does it, Jay? Is the power of Christ compelling me? That's what's happening? I'm sorry, it's not that compelling."

How Hill gets possessed, though, is a less obvious reference, one that co-directors Rogen and Goldberg nail in every way, from the scene's lighting to its dreamlike camerawork and visual distortion. Lying down in bed, Hill wakes up and sees a large, black, shadowy figure hovering over his bed, with horns on its head. What seems like a nightmare turns out to be the real thing—as in, Lucifer and his gigantic, fully erect penis. To which Hill says, "This isn't a dream!"

And, much like what happens to Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski's 1968 film Rosemary's Baby, the Devil rapes him. And Rogen himself plays the Devil. The horror!

Filming the Rosemary's Baby spoof presented an unexpected challenge for the This Is the End directors. "We spent a lot more time figuring out how shadows play off the devil's dick than we ever imagined."

Getting Laughs From Extreme Violence

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As they've repeatedly discussed in past interviews, Rogen and Goldberg began writing the earliest drafts of the 2007 smash Superbad when they, like the film's virginal characters, were in high school and desperate to get laid—at the mutual age of 13, no less. Around that same time, though, the aspiring screenwriters also began work on a darkly violent script that was directly inspired by their love for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Their favorite scene in the latter? The one where John Travolta accidentally blows the dude in the backseat's brains out while Samuel L. Jackson is driving.

The lesson learned from that infamous Pulp Fiction moment: When violence is so gruesome and so shocking, sometimes it's impossible not to laugh, and the best filmmakers know how to use that to their film's advantage. Another huge influence for Rogen and Goldberg in that regard was Sam Raimi's gory masterpiece of slapstick horror-comedy Evil Dead II (1987). The This Is the End co-directors' have scene from that? When Ash (Bruce Campbell) cuts his hand off with a chainsaw.

"Evil Dead II changed the way we looked at comedy," says Goldberg. And without it, there wouldn't be the insane yet strangely hilarious sequence in This iI the End when everyone starts giddily playing soccer with a man's severed, blood-and-tendon-exposed head. It's an over-the-top moment that might bother folks who re-watch Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin for their tenderness and warmth. And to them, we'll let Ash's hand deliver our sentiment:

Action Scenes That Make Sense

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One of the most impressive things about This Is the End is that it's both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's first time directing anything professionally, let alone a $31 million summer tentpole movie.

Despite their lack of experience, though, they've pulled off a real crowd-pleaser, but, respect due, is packed with tightly shot and ambitiously staged action sequences. Namely, the apocalypse's initial arrival, during which Rogen and Jay Baruchel—having left James Franco's party to make a quick convenience store run—dodge cars flying through glass doors and watch people get "raptured" into beams of lights, and a monster attack inside an abandoned house where Baruchel and Craig Robinson come face to face with a demon that's not unlike a stampeding bull.

Fond of the "Spielbergian" approach to adrenaline-charged cinema seen in the Indiana Jones flicks, Rogen says, "We're fans of action movies where you can see what the hell is happening." Thus, This Is the End's action beats are all coherently presented. "Our producer James Weaver recently said to us, 'I'm just as impressed with who made Fast & Furious 6 as I am with who made Argo." A sentiment that Goldberg agrees with: "A movie like Fast 6 is harder to make than The English Patient."

Fun, somewhat tangential related fact: Insidious director James Wan is set to direct the next Fast & Furious movie, the franchise's seventh entry; before Michel Gondry ultimately directed Seth Rogen in his action movie The Green Hornet, Rogen and Goldberg (also the film's screenwriters) spoke with Wan about directing Hornet.

What does that mean exactly? Fuck if we know, other than the presumption that Rogen and Goldberg may have also pissed themselves when this happened in Wan's 2007 film Dead Silence:

Come on, we can't be the only ones.

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