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It is a relatively uncommon thing for me to have time alone on a set these days as a journalist. For the most part, set visits are orchestrated with between six and twelves journalists together, and interviews are conducted as round tables. Depending on the group of people you're with, that can be a good or a bad thing, but what it ultimately is not is "exclusive" in any real sense of the word.
Occasionally, though, I find myself with a day that genuinely is just me on the set, as I did when I visited "Neighbors." It was a very relaxed day overall. I drove myself down to the set, since it was shooting here in Los Angeles. I followed the directions from the 10 freeway a few blocks south, to where the two houses that feature most prominently in the film were located. In one, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne lived with their baby daughter, and in the other, it was Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and a whole bunch of frat dudes.
By now, you've read the interview I did with co-producer Evan Goldberg, as well as the interview I did with Nicholas Stoller, the film's director. The third interview I did that day was with Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, the screenwriters of the film. That is also fairly uncommon, since by the time many Hollywood films make it to the actual shoot, the screenwriters are long since removed from the process.
In this case, I ended up in the backyard of the frat house, sitting with Cohen and O'Brien, who have been key players in what can be loosely described as "Apatow Land," for quite a while now. As I looked around at the utterly destroyed backyard, the signs of various debauched parties scattered everywhere, I asked the writers where they initially came up with the idea for the movie. After all, the stuff I saw tapped into a number of very real and contemporary feelings. There's the way the housing market has become a trap for young homeowners. There's the inherent terror of the first year of parenthood, where you're constantly wondering if you're doing everything (or anything, for that matter) right. And there's the comic lunacy of living next door to a frat house. My question for them was how they brought these threads together.
O'Brien answered first. "The original concept was four dudes that live in a college town who party at a college. That's where we started. There were these crazy local dudes who would, you know, go to college parties."
Cohen agreed. "A comedic 'Breaking Away,' or something like that. That was the idea."
O'Brien continued, "But then we realized that's not a movie."
"No," said Cohen. "That's a hobby."
As I laughed, Cohen went on. "We heard something on the radio about Penn State, how Penn State's the most f**ked- up place as far as partying, and people are peeing in rosebushes and cutting down stop signs, and people were getting into accidents. Basically, people in that town hate the school. We were, like, 'Okay, that's dynamic.' So then it was like, 'What if these four townies had to fight against these crazy fraternities?' It became crazy townies versus crazy fraternities. Then once we hit upon, 'What if it's a nuclear family fighting a frat?', that's when things really started to gel because you'd never seen that before. Also, like you said, the stakes are so high in that version. You have a six-month-old baby. You saw the clip where Seth sees them having sex, right?"
Indeed I did. I saw several clips over the course of the day as Stoller kept bringing up different bits and pieces just to watch my reaction. In one clip, Seth goes outside in the morning and looks over at the end of his front porch, where two college kids are having spirited sex, the guy standing behind the girl, both of them smiling up at him like it's no big deal. What made me laugh the hardest was both Seth trying to shield his baby from the view and Chris Mintz-Plasse's totally nonchalant attitude.
O"Brien said, "We're kind of dealing with that now. I have two kids and we're both married and, like, we're not old but we're certainly not young. We feel young, thought, and so we thought that was a really interesting thing to tap into. What would happen if Zac Efron and his friends moved next door do you? Would you want to party with them and be friends with them, or would you hate it and be deeply jealous of them and resent them?"
I laughed and told them how my own suburban adventure so far has been fascinating. I'm living in the same basic area you see in "E.T." and "Poltergeist," what I like to call "Spielburbia." There was a house on our street that no one ever seemed to go into or come out of, and it ended up being a grow house that the police had to raid at one point. The moment they opened that door, you could smell pot for three blocks in every direction, but before that, they'd managed to keep it totally under the radar. It was the smell I had a problem with, because all of a sudden, my kids are asking about that particular scent. Five years ago, I probably wouldn't have cared, but suddenly it drove me crazy.
O'Brien laughed. "And then you're looking at yourself and you're saying, 'How did I get here?'"
I quoted David Byrne back to him. "'This is not my beautiful house. Well, how did I get here?'"
O'Brien nodded. "And it hits you. 'I'm the Man. I am The Man.'" He continued, "One of the things when we first pitched the idea was my wife and I… when we first had our baby, there were these kids outside making all this noise. They were fighting in the street outside our home. My wife called the police, and the police asked my wife what they were doing. And she said, 'I don't know, but I know they're up to no good.' And so I was like, 'You are 80 years old. What happened?' My wife used to like tour with Pfish. She's a cool lady, and she was, like, 'It all happened in a minute.'"
O'Brien shook his head sadly. "How quickly things change."
Cohen agreed. "We got real old in a hurry."
"Part of the joke of the movie is that this generational divide is between 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds and how minute that is, but at the same time what a gulf there is between kids and us nowadays," O'Brien explained. I replied that it feels like Seth is the exact right guy to play that, then, because if anybody embodies being on both sides of it and right on that cusp, it would be Seth right now.
Cohen corrected me. "The funny thing is Seth Rogen the human being is much further along than Seth Rogen the screen actor. We kind of wanted to put some of the real Seth into it because he's a homeowner. He has a wife."
O'Brien added, "He works very, very hard."
That's obvious if you look at the sheer volume of work he's been involved in over the last decade, but he's been pretty canny about how he's portrayed himself onscreen. In "This Is The End," he's still just an unmarried dude living a bachelor life in LA, partying and hanging out with his friends. Cohen says that's not the Seth he knows and works with. "He's a very responsible guy, and I think people hadn't seen that yet. So you're seeing a little taste of it here, but obviously you want to see him not be able to grow up completely. Brendan's got two kids, I've been married for three years. We're old, and this is an attempt to come to terms with that for all of us."