Project X: Making of the Film

The house is in ruins, so much so that it looks more like a war zone than a neighborhood where families live. It’s hard to tell what caused more damage, the fire or the helicopter’s efforts to put out the fire.

But the angry drug dealer with a flamethrower certainly shoulders a lot of the blame. He was only trying to get his gnome back from the teenagers who stole it, and they were clueless about its real worth. They just wanted a mascot for their party, their “planned social event,” intended to blow them out of their anonymous high school existences into the history books. You only turn 17 once, right? So, quite possibly, the high seven-figure damages are primarily their fault.

Good thing all of it was just make believe; though it was shot to look real, it is the result of the filming of the new outrageous comedy “Project X,” inspired by tales of real parties gone recklessly out of control and the high cost of righting the resulting mess.

Producer Todd Phillips says, “It started in an odd way, more like an experiment. Once we got the concept from executive producer Alex Heineman, a bunch of us sat around in a room and tossed out stories about memorable parties, ones that we were either a part of or had just heard about. From there, it was about figuring out the vibe, the tone, the story of the movie. That’s the fun part.”

Writer Michael Bacall developed those stories into the scenario: “Todd contacted me while I was in Toronto shooting another film. We discussed the concept and that night I wrote a stream of consciousness e-mail that essentially outlined the entire movie. The idea from the outset was to create the gnarliest high school party of all time. It was clear we needed a flamethrower. The rest of the story naturally fell into place after a couple weeks.”

Writer Matt Drake enjoyed working on a screenplay that is supposed to feel completely unscripted. “It was a challenge at first, trying to create a context in which the presence of a camera was justified and believable, yet not so distracting to audiences as to break the proverbial fourth wall. Once we figured that out, the challenges became more technical, like ‘what kind(s) of bodily fluids do we want to see?’ and ‘should we kill someone or not?'”

“Project X” is the story of three friends out to celebrate the 17th birthday of one of the trio by throwing a party to end all parties. Little by little, bad decision by unfortunate choice, the party gets out of control, shifting from celebratory to riotous, in the most literal sense.

Phillips explains, “This film’s really about the anonymous guys. They’re not this, they’re not that. They’re the ones that no one notices, so they don’t even get labeled. They’re invisible. It’s about what Costa says in the film, ‘We need a game changer.’ I actually think most kids in high school fall into that group, as opposed to the jocks or the nerds. Most feel anonymous.”

A couple of visually arresting, party-themed global television commercials for Adidas helped to float director Nima Nourizadeh to the top of the filmmakers’ list of candidates to handle the artfully created chaos of “Project X.”

“Nima was a perfect match to the material,” comments Phillips. “He’s a London-based director who comes from a music video and commercial world. Even though he hadn’t done a feature before, his work lends itself to the style of what we wanted ‘Project X’ to be. But even more than his work, it was meeting with him, talking with him about the tone, the kind of movie he wanted to make. He seemed to really get it.”

Nourizadeh remembers, “I gave them my take on it, how I would want to develop the script. Also, how I would want the movie to look and feel. After a couple of calls to the producing team, they put me on the phone with Todd. We really vibed, chatted and laughed a lot. After that, [executive producer] Scott Budnick told me that they wanted me out there. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, so I packed for about two weeks and came to Los Angeles. Next thing I knew, it’d been two years.”

When asked why he thinks he fit “Project X,” Nourizadeh replies, “They thought I could bring my style to it, make it feel authentic. What got me excited was doing this purely in first-person perspective. They wanted to ground it, to come at it with a realistic approach. And I thought great, if that’s what we want, then I want to cast unknowns. To find new kids that were coming up was an exciting prospect.”

Combo of Action and Bedlam
Executive producer Joel Silver, experienced with the combination of action and bedlam, comments, “The idea was that the viewers were seeing something that was really happening. We didn’t want to fill it with faces that were recognizable. Yes, it is a narrative movie, but we wanted to make it feel like something nobody had seen before. I think that helped us make it feel real.”

Nourizadeh states, “I wanted the cast to feel like they were the characters, not actors. We set out to meet those kinds of kids who would offer us something. We looked for people that we could develop into the script.”