Neighbors (2014): What Inspired Seth Rogen’s Comedy?

Neighbors was inspired by writers Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen’s admitted fear of adulthood as they transitioned from their twenties into their thirties.

While they knew that this was the time in their lives when the urge to settle down should take root, the pair was reluctant to embrace adulthood and all its concomitant responsibilities. Recalls Andrew and I were in our thirties and had both gotten married. I had my first child, and we both found ourselves struggling with the fact t feel like kids anymore but certainly ”

After hearing a story about college students at a Northeastern university wreaking havoc on the community, O’Brien and Cohen thought the scenario would serve as a humorous backdrop to explore this divide. “We learned about how the locals have to deal with things like college kids peeing in their bushes, stealing stop sign and causing accidents, and how these are normal people just trying to live their lives,” says Cohen. “These are regular people who have families and want their kids to live in a safe environment but have these college kids at odds with them. This got us excited because we love intergenerational stories, and there was something funny about the fact that 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds feel that they are in totally different generations.”

neighbors_10_rogen_byrneThe duo wrote the part of harried father Mac Radner with actor and comedian Seth Rogen in mind—a role that they knew would play against audiences’ experience of Rogen as a hard partyer in films such as Pineappl Express and Knocked Up. Continues O’Brien: “Contrary to how Seth may be perceived, he’s a very responsible and hardworking guy and is much more mature than most people think. He is now married and heading into his thirties and is closer to the other side of the fence as the older guy who’s telling the kids to keep it down. We wanted to play around with that.”

O’Brien and Cohen, longtime friends and collaborators of Rogen, pitched the idea to Rogen and his producing partner, Evan Goldberg, to make the film under their banner Point Grey Pictures, a company led by Neighbors’ other producer, James Weaver. The filmmakers were immediately sold on the high-concept premise. Recalls Rogen: “It was instantly a funny idea. Some pitches seem crazy when you first hear them, and this just seemed funny in a straightforward way.” He pauses. “Almost too normal for us.”

“Andrew and Brendan came up with one of those ideas that just can’t fail,” Goldberg concurs. “No matter who directs it, who produces it or who’s in it, a movie about a couple with a baby and a frat that moves next door is a home run.”

neighbors_9_efron_francoWeaver, who most recently worked with Rogen and Goldberg on the comedy blockbuster This Is the End, adds: “We thought audiences could relate to this unique place in life when people are wondering if it’s all over, if there’s no more fun to be had and if you can still touch that place where you used to have a balls-out crazy good time.”

With the producers committed to the project, the writing team began fleshing out the various characters and fine-tuning story lines. Although O’Brien and Cohen initially centered their story upon a guy and his group of friends who were warring with a neighboring fraternity, they evolved their protagonists into newlyweds with a baby who were struggling with their new phase of life.

“Mac and Kelly are the first of their friends to have bought a house and have a baby and don’t have a large frame of reference for how the whole adulthood thing works,” explains Rogen. “You see early on that they’re struggling with the fact that they can’t go out and party anymore with their friends and keep asking themselves when things will get back to normal. They haven’t quite come to grips with the fact that once you have a baby, that doesn’t happen again.”

neighbors_7_efron_franco_mintz-plasseRogen felt that the Radners’ trials and tribulations would not only be comedic, but that they would be identifiable to many. “They are a couple with a new baby who are struggling to maintain their youth, so when the frat moves next door they think that it might be cool and that maybe they can have it all: be responsible parents and drop in next door to dance and hang out,” he adds. “They quickly realize that it’s an impossible situation, and when they call the cops, it draws a line in the sand and all hell breaks loose.”

With Neighbors’ Mac set, the filmmaking team began to look for the story’s Teddy Sanders, the charismatic, enigmatic leader and president of Delta Psi. The writers admit that they long had one particular actor in mind. “Right from the beginning, we tried to imagine who would be the last person you’d want to see shirtless on the front lawn talking to your wife,” laughs Cohen. “It was always Zac Efron.” Although Mac and Teddy are both having a difficult time coming to grips with entering the next phases in their lives, they are pit against one another and what each represents. For Teddy and his brothers, Mac is the killer of all things fun, and he might as well be one of their parents. For Mac, Teddy represents a lifestyle no longer accessible to him, and living next to them is a constant reminder to Mac that he has officially crossed over to the other side.

Rogen and Goldberg loved the idea of casting Efron as Teddy, so they reached out to the performer. A fan of Rogen’s style of comedy, Efron was excited about the possibility of doing a project together. He shares: “Seth is a comic genius, so when he called me to ask about meeting, I was stoked. I usually try not to talk about potential movies—I’m superstitious that way—but I was too excited about this. I was on the phone with my mom, dad, brother and friends before I even heard the pitch.”

During the performers’ initial conversations, it was clear that the pairing for the playfully antagonistic story line was spot-on. “Seeing the two sitting on opposite sides of the table, it was immediately clear that the movie was going to work,” says Cohen. “To have Seth and Zac at odds with each other is inherently funny.”

The sentiment was shared, and Efron signed on for the project on the spot. Remembers Rogen: “Zac loved it and said ‘Yes’ in the room. We were super psyched.” Weaver knows that there’s just something about Efron that makes him the “ultimate youthful male.”

The producer shares: “Zac has a positivity to him that’s something all guys wish they could have. It’s like the ‘thing’ you hear Tom Cruise has, and Zac certainly brought that to the table here.”

Throughout the development process, Teddy morphed from a character who was completely unlikable to a more relatable and charming character. “As the script evolved, we realized that Teddy’s motivation comes from feeling that this brotherhood that’s gone on for generations is being threatened,” shares Efron. “Throughout the film, there are moments when you realize that he’s actually a nice guy who is motivated purely by his belief in this family he’s created.

Yes, he does some truly heinous and messed-up things, but he feels like he is fighting to preserve everything he believes in.” The performer was enthusiastic about the opportunity to break into a new genre and surprise audiences with a darker side. He offers: “I’ve never had the chance to be in an ‘R’-rated comedy, and the only way I would dare to do it was with people that I trusted. These guys are hands down some of the best in comedy right now.”

Rogen returns the words: “Zac is versatile, has good instincts and is funny. Some of his activities in the movie are what will truly be shocking for his fans. On the other side of that, there’s probably a large group of people like me who will be introduced to him in a lovely way.”

With Efron locked in, the producers and the writers began shopping the idea around to every major studio in town. Indeed, they were surprised by the responses. Recalls Rogen: “People were into the idea, and this is one of the few movies we’ve made where more than one person actually wanted to make it. This doesn’t usually happen with us.”

“Usually when Seth and I pitch ideas to studios, people look at us like we’re crazy,” explains Goldberg. “We have to persuade them and make the slow climb up the mountain of resistance, but this was an idea you just get and a story that has something for everybody.  Whether you’re a kid who thinks adults are losers, or you’re an older person who thinks kids are dipshits, you’ve got something relatable to grab on to.”