The Creative Force behind this summer's funniest comedy reveals their secret ingredient for success
It's sometimes hard to pinpoint what makes a movie so special. It's the timing, it's the cast, it's the director's ability to sell a perfect joke on screen. Still, with all the right elements in place, some movies just don't have that certain spark. A film also needs to be forged from the cosmos. All of its planets have to be aligned. It needs to be formed from something greater than the humans that created it. Superbad is just that movie. It is as good as its water cooler buzz. It is so funny that whole sentences of dialogue get swallowed by the audience. It is an instant classic. And it sits in that special realm of untouchable cinema.
Last week, a bunch of us got to sit down with the film's creators and stars for a little press conference. In attendance were Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Emma Stone, writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, director Greg Mottola, and producer Judd Apatow. The weird thing was, not a whole lot of people asked questions. And those that did ask questions asked some pretty lame ones. Except for me and the guys from Collider.com and Joblo.com. I have extracted my favorite questions from all of the interviews and put together this informative and entertaining Q & A.
Here is our Q&A with the creative force behind this masterpiece of comedy:
Producer Judd Apatow and Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
You named almost all of the characters after people you went to high school with. Are you still friends with these people?
Seth Rogen: We are still friends with these people. I think that was a good indication that we maintained a good relationship with everyone we went to high school with. Pretty much everyone signed their releases.
Evan Goldberg: Except for a few bastards.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, a few bastards didn't. But they've known since high school that we were writing this movie. We told everyone. All the names were the same. We told people, "Hey, we used your name in our movie." So, it was really weird ten years later when we were like, "It's actually happening." Everyone seemed psyched. Thirty of our friends from Vancouver are coming to the premier. That will be fun.
You always thought that Jonah was too old to play the part of Seth. What changed that?
Seth Rogen: Desperation. Casting desperation. Purely out of our own lack of imagination, we always assumed that he looked too old. He has stubble, and when you know him, its clear that he is not eighteen. But we saw a lot of guys that weren't doing what we wanted with the role. We started thinking, "Maybe he doesn't look too old." We had since cast Michael Cera, who is in fact eighteen. And when you put them together, Jonah does look younger. He doesn't look way older than Michael. It works. But it was all out of desperation. It was really important to us that they all looked like high school guys. And we were probably being overly cautious with that. We just didn't want Gabrielle Carteris.
Judd Apatow: That's a good reference.
Were the cops always in the original version of the script that you wrote back in high school?
Seth Rogen: Yes. They were always in there. They were the worst part of the original script. Heck, they could be the worst part of the finished movie. Who knows? But, yeah, they were always in there. The idea was that cops would always take our beer and shit when we were in high school. The joke was that, "I bet they take our beer and go drink it in the parking lot afterwards." Then we thought, "What if they do? That would be funny to watch."
How come we don't see anybody getting sick after they drink all of this beer from a laundry detergent jug?
Judd Apatow: It's magical detergent?
Seth Rogen: The next morning after the party, everyone is dead. That's the big reveal. It looks like a cult gone wrong. That is the hilarious reveal. Stay tuned to the end of the credits.
Evan Goldberg: The sequel takes place in Hell.
How much of this is based on actual experience?
Evan Goldberg: The general plot is. All sorts of tidbits.
Seth Rogen: Actual experiences? I mean, yeah, we tried to get liquor a lot. The period blood thing actually happened.
Evan Goldberg: We went to a lot of parties like that. We went to parties with older people. And we were terribly awkward and out of place.
Seth Rogen: And everyone started doing cocaine.
Did you really have a problem with drawing the dicks?
Seth Rogen: No, that was merely an excuse to have beautifully illustrated penis drawings in the movie.
Evan Goldberg: We are connoisseurs.
Seth Rogen: We thought, "I'd just love to see a Tiananmen Square penis. How do we write that into the movie?" Evan's brother drew every one of those. He is a lawyer.
Evan Goldberg: His name is David Goldberg. He literally takes the bar in seven days.
Are there any plans to do a gallery showing of them?
Seth Rogen: We might release a book of them actually. It would be a coffee penis book.
Evan Goldberg: I'm saying we should make an HBO series.
Seth Rogen: An animated Disney series.
Can you talk about the day you came up with the name McLovin?
Evan Goldberg: We were literally just sitting there. We said, "Lets think of a funny name for his I.D." We said McLovin. Which was very stupid. It made neither of us laugh.
Seth Rogen: We'd just think of something better later.
Seth Rogen: Then we showed it to a bunch of people, and they all said, "Best part, by far, is McLovin." We said, what ever floats your boat. Come to find out, it floats everyone's boat.
Seth Rogen: That's something we always felt was bullshit. We didn't think anyone would actually do that. We tried to keep it pretty real, and we were aware that McLovin was pushing it a little bit. But people seem to like it. So, why not?
How did Judd get ahold of the Superbad script?
Seth Rogen: We just gave it to him. Probably unwisely. I thought it was the right time because it was done. We kept rewriting it, but I would show it to anybody that would read it. There really was no shame about it. I thought it was funny. It was a little embarrassing. I was just excited for people to read it.
Judd, did you know right away that this thing could be turned into a marketable classic?
Judd Apatow: Well, we were doing Undeclared at the time, and Seth was one of the stars. And a writer. I kept noticing that Seth's scripts were the best out of all the people that were writing for the show, even though he was eighteen. When he said he had a screenplay, I was pumped about it. And it was hysterical. The first rough draft that I read was a riot. There was certainly work to be done, but there was a real comic voice there that is still in the movie. That sense of humor never changed. We just tried to deepen it and have it make more sense. Seth kept saying to me, "This is the kind of movie me and my friends wish somebody would make." I believed that he was right, and that if a movie was uncensored, it could really break through in a big way. We will see here very soon.
There was a guy you used to hang out with named Sammy Fogell that McLovin is based on?
Evan Goldberg: Yeah, he'll be here shortly for the premier.
Seth Rogen: It's sort of based on thirteen-year-old Fogell, though. The Seth and Evan characters are based on eighteen year old Seth and Evan. But Fogell is based more on the thirteen-year-old Fogell. We cast someone who was physically smaller than the other guys. Because in our heads he was actually five years younger than the other guys.
Can you talk about coming up with the fake alcohol names?
Evan Goldberg: That's something we cannot totally take credit for.
Seth Rogen: There was a guy. He's actually the guy who plays the bartender at Baileys in the film. Every single bottle of alcohol you see in the movie is fake. And in the liquor store there are literally thousands of fake bottles, because no actual alcohol company would clear their name for usage. The best one is pap smear gin. That is one that really made us laugh. And there was Trotsky Vodka, which had a picture of Trotsky on it.
Evan Goldberg: The main one was Benian's. I think that sounds real.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, Benian's Beer. And there was Old Muskogee. The guy that made them has a nickname. Dr. Lable, or Dr. Bottle. I can't remember. But the guy that plays the bartender is the guy who did those. He is the end all be all of fake labels.
You guys have seen this movie a lot of times, right?
Seth Rogen: Thirty, forty times, maybe.
Do lines of dialogue get swallowed every time? I haven't seen a movie in a long time where the audiences is laughing so loud, you miss some of what is being said.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, some lines get swallowed.
Evan Goldberg: My favorite line gets swallowed. Bill Hader has a really funny line when they are sitting at the bar.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, when he's sitting there talking about his wife getting caught prostituting.
Seth Rogen: He calls her a whore and a wretched bitch.
Judd Apatow: This gets the biggest reaction from any movie I have ever been a part of. I resent it on some levels. It makes Knocked Up seem so less impressive when it is followed up by something like this. I wish I was alone in an alley with this. I was trying to think of movies that get laughs this big. You really have to look at some of the great movies like "Airplane" and Young Frankenstein. The only words I could use to describe it, because I've seen the movie with an audience a ton, is every single time, the place goes shithouse. It is really gratifying to see this happen after all of these years. I'm glad I didn't throw it in a drawer after trying to make it after all of these years. This is our "Ghandi".
Seth Rogen: It's our Rocky.
Are we going to see some Superbad action figures?
Evan Goldberg: I hope.
Seth Rogen: I pray. There was a pretty good Virgin figure.
Seth, the rumor is that you are going to have to get into phenomenal shape for The Green Hornet.
Seth Rogen: We'll see. I've been informed of that. (laughs) That would be funny. I don't know if I'm ready for that. Do they still have those things were they electrically work out for you and you don't have to do nothing?
Evan Goldberg: Madonna has that new thing that is like a plate. You don't do anything but hold onto it.
Seth Rogen: Exactly, or they electronically stimulate your muscles into working out.
Evan Goldberg: You could play Halo while you do it.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. I could be lazy and athletic at the same time.
You know what we have. We have one of those ab-loungers. You get drunk and pass out it in, and then we work out your abs for you.
Seth Rogen: Yeah? (laughs) I must pay someone to exercise me!
Director Greg Mottola
You directed a movie called The Daytrippers in 1996. Then you did a whole lot of TV. What happened? Why was that the arena you gravitated to for so long
Greg Mottola: Because no one would finance my screenplays. Basically. I had a follow-up movie that almost got made after my first one. By Sony, actually. And it ended up getting the plug pulled on it during pre-production. It was hard to recover from that. The window after my first movie disappeared. I needed to work, and I wanted to work with good people. I got really lucky, because the first person that called me was Judd. So, it was hard to say no to all of the good TV shows that I got to work on while I was stockpiling scripts. Those are what I am hopefully going to do now.
You didn't seem to say much at the Comic Con panel. With all of these great people involved in this film, do you fear that you wont get the credit you deserve for it?
Greg Mottola: No. Because Judd is the person that is incredibly kind to tell everyone that I did this. He gives me the credit. If any one asks, he'll tell them. But, yeah, I guess I do fear that a little bit. My friends keep telling me to hire a publicist. I think people will know, hopefully. The people who will be financing one of my scripts will know. I am just so happy to have done it. And that Judd trusted me. I am also really bad on panels. Especially when I'm with seven of the funniest people I have ever met. I can't compete with them. I am not as funny as them.
You guys have test screened the heck out of this film. How has Superbad evolved since that first test screening to what we saw at the screening last nigh?
Greg Mottola: This is very much the environment that Judd sets up. Its exactly what we did on the TV show Undeclared. Everyone talks about all the improv that is done on one of Judd's films. We have a lot of alternative jokes. But we stayed pretty close to the script. We didn't cut many scenes. We would just swap out different jokes or different moments. Or we would find versions of scenes that were a little more broad, or try something that was a little more subtle. You could see how the pacing feels and how the audience responds to it. I think a lot of the stuff we put in at first initially worked. We would swap it out, and then we would go back to it. There were little moments, like the scene where Jonah Hill is doing the little "boop-boop" on Michael Cera's nose. We really thought, at the time, that watching it in dailies was hilarious. But we couldn't put it in the actual movie because that's going too far. We put it in one of our last screenings, and then thought, "Why are we running away from the "boop-boop"? It's so funny. So that stayed in. I watched the screening process for Knocked Up and it was very similar. It's sort of like rewriting the movie a little bit, but with jokes. Judd really believes in having options when you get into the editing room. Which I think is very smart. Especially when you want the film to have some real life to it. It's hard to sense that without an audience.
As far as deleted scenes, what can we expect to see on the DVD?
Greg Mottola: There is a little scene of Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) at Evan's parents house. It falls before they go to the supermarket with Fogell. It follows what happens when they try to steal booze from his parents' den. And they almost get caught. Then they go to drink it, and they discover that Evan's older brother has replaced all the booze with water. The scene was so scintillating and exciting, we thought the audience almost couldn't handle it. No. It actually wasn't that great. Then we put it into the extended version of the movie, and we still thought it wasn't that great. So we took it out. So, the extended version of the film has scenes that go on for a little bit further, and jokes that are longer throughout. I think its about five or six minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The idea of an extended version is weird to me. I know it's a convention now. I know, for true fans of the movie, they might get some enjoyment out of seeing more jokes in certain scenes. I hope they don't feel ripped off. But the extended version will come with a lot more DVD material. Some behind the scenes stuff. We spent the whole day shooting these cop car confessions with Seth Rogen and Bill Hader. They just sat in a cop car in front of a green screen, and then we had a lot of guests come in. Like Justin Long and Judd, Chris Kattan, all these people that come in and pretend like they'd been arrested by them. These people came in all day long and improvised this stuff. We'll drop it onto the Internet at some point, and then it will show up on the two-disc DVD.
Do you get a cut of the profits if they start selling the McLovin shirts at Hot Topic?
Greg Mottola: Nope. I don't get a penny. I don't think McLovin does either, which is horrible.
How did you choose "These Eyes" for the scene where Michael Cera has to sing?
Greg Mottola: We actually did three different versions of that song, because we didn't know if we could afford "These Eyes". It's a stretch to believe that a present day teen would know "These Eyes", but those songs don't go away. Classic rock never goes away. You can't walk into a deli without hearing one of those songs. Michael did that version. He also did a version where he sang "The Thong Song" by Sisqo. It was very funny that Michael did that, but "These Eyes" is much, much funnier. There is also one take where he does just a pure dance. I think that will be on the DVD. Because watching Michael Cera do anything physical is just hilarious.
What films did you watch as an inspiration for "Superbad?
Greg Mottola: I certainly watched the bigger teen movies like American Graffiti and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". Just to see what made them feel so authentic We were trying to make this feel a little more authentic than studio teen movies do. We wanted this to feel like it was happening in one night. Like you are really there. The part where they end up at the older guy's party? We could have done the obvious choice, where they end up at a party where there were a bunch of scary bikers. But we didn't do that. We made them more real life. These were townie, loser drunk guys. By virtue of feeling less like a random thing, maybe we made it a little scarier than running up against a bunch of your typical bikers.
Did you ever consider giving Richard Pryor a cast credit for this movie?
Greg Mottola: I didn't. But someone else mentioned it, and I wish we had. We defiantly picked that shirt because he is the master of really hilarious, foul language and observational humor. For Judd, and for me, he is like a personal hero. I read something on-line today where someone said (this came from our very own Boos! And Whoop-doos! Column), "Are the saying something by having someone spit on that shirt?" If we are saying anything, the guy that spits on that shirt gets smashed in the face. For spitting on that shirt, in my mind. Its another unrelated 70s reference, but its there for a reason. We should have probably given him a credit.
Superbad opens August 17th. Check it out. Don't miss the phenomenon.