Pineapple Express by Director David Gordon Green

With the exception of “Undertow,” a genre film that failed both artistically and commercially, David Gordon Green has made only independet films, behinning with “George Washington,” which is still his most impressive feature, and “All the Real Girls.”

The dope comedy, Pineapple Express,” produced by Judd Apathow and starring Seth REogen and James Franco, is his biggest commercial enterprise to date. Will it change the path of his career Will he be integrated (or co-opted) into mainstream Hollywood cinema

Apathow had the idea for the film hidden away on a file. He wrote the story with Seth Rogen and Rogens writing partner, Evan Goldberg, and then Rogen and Goldberg wrote the screenplay. At the time, the team had already written “Superbad,” and Rogen had also penned some episodes of Apatows series, Undeclared, which was canceled. The writers were intrigued by the chance to write an action movie and explore the comedy of the characters situation.

Apatow makes a practice of table-reading texts early–it's a way of testing the screenplay, whats working, whats not, which ideas could be developed, which pulled back.

With the two main characters set, the producers considered the director. After a successful collaboration with independent helmer Greg Mottola, who helmed the hit “Superbad,” the producers again looked outside the box. They hired David Gordon Green, known for his sensitive, thoughtful, character-driven indies as “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls.”

Lighthearted Direction

Though the collaboration might not seem a natural one, Green says that he shared with Apatow a similar approach to filmmaking. “I had just finished a real heavy dramatic film and was thinking I wanted to aim in a lighthearted direction,” says Green. “As we started talking about the way we like making movies, we found we had very similar sensibilities. They do things in a more broad commercial comedic genre and Ive worked more in a low-budget, independent, dramatic genre. But stylistically, we both look for the same kind of natural inflections and have very similar senses of humor, and we have similar theories of how to have a good time making a living.”

Apatow had heard that Green was looking to direct a comedy, and the director got a recommendation that sealed the deal. “Danny McBride, whos as funny as they come, thinks David is funny. I like Davids films and we know hes a good director, and if Danny thinks hes funny, he must be.”

Danny McBride, Schoolmate

McBride, who went to film school and lived on the same dormitory hall with Green, says that although the director is known for his dramas, he cut his teeth on comedies. “In film school, he was insanely funny,” says McBride. His first-year movie was called 'Will You Lather Up My Roughhouse' about two guys who lived together and made soap. It was ridiculous but also very, very funny. His dramatic work is, obviously, very impressive, but his comedic work is also amazing.”

How to Make Pineapple Express Stand Apart

Seth Rogen says that Greens approach is what they needed to help Pineapple Express stand apart from the pack. “David has a great sense of how to tell character-driven stories. We thought thats what would make this movie different from other comedies of this kind: get a director who, in a way, works against that. His main focus is how to tell the story well and the character work and the acting. That way, we would do what we could to make sure the film has all the emotional relevance that people are used to from an Apatow comedy, but with action and excitement and drugs.”

Unexpected Elements

According to Robertson, Green was the ideal choice to add the unexpected element. “David looks at things in a way that is really fun to be around,” she says. He is very creative and shows up ready to get a lot done in a short amount of time. He is always prepared, but also always prepared to throw all those preparations out the window if something funny happens in the moment. David wants people to be totally committed to the process. One time, he told me he only wanted to hire extras who would shave their sideburns totally off. He didnt actually want a sideburn-free movie he just wanted folks who were that committed.”

Willing to Take Chances

Green had no reservations about working with “guys with a really wonderful reputation within the industry of delivering projects that made sense commercially but also pushed the boundaries a little bit. People are willing to take a chance with them.”

Once on the set, the actors found working with Green an unusual experience. “The best word I could use is different,” says Rogen. “One of his favorite directions is, 'Say it like youve got ear wax in your mouth.' 'Do it like a drunken sailor on leave.' 'Do it like a frustrated nun.' He throws you curve balls he takes you out of your comfort zone and do something youd never have thought of doing on your own.”

Together, the filmmakers rounded out the cast with Danny McBride playing the third-wheel Red, Gary Cole as the suburban drug lord Ted and Rosie Perez as the dirty cop and Teds partner in crime, Carol.

McBride had acted in Greens indie films before staking his own comedic ground in The Foot Fist Way, an independent comedy that found fans in some of the worlds biggest names in comedy after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The film was released in theaters earlier this summer.

Says Rogen, Danny is hilarious. Wed never met him when we wrote the script, but once we did, it was like wed written the role for him. We were like, You gotta play Red if they ever make Pineapple Express.

Green was thrilled to work with Rosie Perez again after having worked with her on stage with a reading we did. I remember seeing Rosie when I saw Do the Right Thing. I was immediately struck by her.

It couldnt have been easier, says the actress. I was just supposed to have a meeting with David to discuss if we were going to work together on this movie. I go to the meeting and we start doing scenes. We started working right away. I was thinking, This is going to be really good.

Perez says that her greatest challenge was learning to fire a gun. I do not like handling firearms, she says, but my character Carol is a sergeant, shes been on the force for several years, and she is a badass. Ive never sought out a role like this as I said, I really dont like guns but Im glad I did it, because I had a blast on this movie.

The films cast also features Amber Heard as Angie, Dales girlfriend, and Craig Robinson as Matheson and Kevin Corrigan as Budlofsky, two of Teds henchmen.

Action Challenges

The film even represented a challenge for stunts supervisor Hymes. The easiest kind of action to do is where its not tied into the characters; its gratuitous action for its own sake. On 'Pineapple Express,' we had to make it exciting, of course, but also character-driven what can these characters do and what cant they do Where do we draw the line That took awhile to figure out, and it was a great experience.

Characters Not Equipped to be in Action

For Green, that meant walking a fine line. I dont think the stunts really quite play realistically, he says, but, as outrageous as it gets, we do want the audience to feel like these are real people stuck in ridiculous situations. These are people that arent equipped to be in an action movie guys for whom a big Saturday evening is chewing their fingernails and smoking a joint who suddenly find themselves in one of these circumstances where theyre holding a machine gun and have to blow a bunch of people away.

The reality of the situation sank in during location scouts. Rogen goes on, We were able to go to locations and see, Oh, I can jump off there with wire. Thatll be cool. We talked to Gary and asked, What could I actually do What could Franco actually do Whats safe I think were doing more than I ever thought we would.

Shooting Car Chase

Filming the car chase was also a highly memorable experience. I was shooting second unit about a block away from Davids first unit, so we had to be careful not to be filming each other, says Hymes. David Green knew exactly what he wanted from the sequence, in terms of both the action and the comedy. David and I discussed everything thoroughly and it had all been storyboarded, so I focused entirely on the action, with Rosie in one car and Franco in the other and he cant see, because the window is full of Slushee, and he gets his foot caught in the windshield, and we cut outside the car to see him driving like that. Its a great example of the way the action outside the car accentuates the comedy inside the car–and vice versa.

Perez had a happy accident during the scene, in which she was supposed to fire her gun. David says, You pull up, you roll down the window, you point and shoot. But you miss, and you take off, still shooting, and you hit a pedestrian. OK. So the DP comes up to me and says, I want you to shoot right here. Im thinking, but thats my eyeline, with an X on the camera frame. You sure you want me to shoot right there Yes, yes! We gotta go, were losing the light. OK. Action. Car takes off. I roll down the window, and bang-bang-bang! I shoot the freaking camera. And the camera is still rolling. I yell, Sorry! and I take off in the car. David and Evan are standing behind the camera and they crack up and yell, Print, were done!

In the end, the actors all acquitted themselves well. We were so fortunate to have such amazing actors who are also great athletes, says Hymes. Seth did about 80% of his own stunts in this film and Gary Cole did a lot, too. Rarely do you work on a film where you can have the actors do so much of their stunt work.