This Is the End: Making of Horror Comedy

Even though This Is The End is a comedy, Rogen and Goldberg sought a look for the film that would set it apart from the norm.

After all, the film’s subject matter – the end of the world – gave them the creative leeway to do something a little different. So, rather than give the film a light, bright look that has come to define comedies, they went in another direction.

“We were really influenced by the look of horror movies, action movies, and war movies,” says Rogen. “Once we realized that the movie could be funny even if it was blown out in some parts, dark in other parts, and shaky and crazy in other parts, the more we liked the idea and the more we experimented and pushed it.”

In fact, Rogen and Goldberg put together a book of reference materials to help give their department heads an idea of what they were looking for – and their influences were more in the vein of post-apocalyptic thrillers than the comedies they have been known for.

“Our cinematographer, Brandon Trost, was heavily suggested to us by the studio,” says Goldberg. “They said, ‘You’re going to think we’re crazy, but you’re going to meet this guy and we bet you anything you hire him on the spot’ – and that’s exactly what happened. We canceled all of our other meetings after we met him.”

Trost previously worked with studio execs on the action film Ghost Rider™ Spirit of Vengeance, and Rogen and Goldberg were similarly blown away by the cinematographer’s daredevil camera work.

“I loved the script, but the fact that they didn’t want this movie to look like a conventional comedy is what drew me in,” says Trost. “They said they wanted the movie to be darkly lit, not flatly lit, with a specific stylized look. They wanted to shoot anamorphic, with the scope and horizontal lens flares you get with those lenses. You don’t get that kind of opportunity every day – I was excited that that was what they wanted.”

“Seth and Evan were really prepared,” Trost continues. “They had a book full of reference materials, paintings, film clips – they really did their homework. When we were deciding what the movie would look like, we really didn’t reference any comedies – and when you come right down to it, that’s one of the jokes of the movie.”

The sets were designed by Chris Spellman, the film’s production designer. Watching the short that Rogen and Goldberg had made with Jason Stone, Spellman says, “The images have this boarded-up, almost jailed-in feeling. I think we all wanted to transfer that feeling to this film.”

The process began with the design of the film’s major set: Franco’s house. “We showed Spellman a ton of pictures of houses that we wanted Franco’s house to look like,” says Goldberg. “We gave him a rough idea of the floor plan we wanted. And then Spellman brought a lot of things to it that we never thought of. Turns out it isn’t entirely dissimilar to a house he used to own and designed, so that helped – ‘Just do it like the house you designed already!’”

“We built the main body of the house so that it could accommodate a lot of the action that was going to happen,” says Spellman. “We designed an open floor plan, not just between the living, dining, and kitchen area, but also between the upstairs and downstairs – we made an open catwalk across the upstairs, so you could see upstairs from downstairs and vice versa. For example, in the scene in which Danny has cooked a feast for himself with all of the remaining food that they were hoping to save, you wanted to reveal that with all of the other characters there.”

The house – which Spellman estimates at 8-to-10,000 square feet – had other requirements based on the script. “We needed a master bedroom, master closet and bathroom, a guest bedroom, a library, a basement, and a room we called a ‘lookout,’ which is an offshoot of a little room that the Franco character paints in.”

Spellman and his team found an ingenious solution to the central challenge: the film would either have to be shot in sequence – a scheduling impossibility, considering the busy schedules of the six lead actors – or find a way to have the house go back and forth between pristine state and earthquake-damaged state. It would have to be the latter, but how to do it? “We made it so there was a giant crack from the earthquake, and the house broke at certain seams,” says Spellman. We could take out the ‘crack’ section of wall and the pristine piece could go in. We did that in three different sections of the house – we’d pull out one panel and put another in, and then painters could come in and touch up. We had two sets of paintings, two sets of furniture – the pristine set and the damaged set.”

Spellman and his team also designed a full-scale convenience store. “We had to have a car crash into it, we rigged all the shelving and coolers to fall or shake in an earthquake, we cut holes in the ceiling to Rapture some of the people in the market. That was a big undertaking.”

In the film, Franco’s house is filled with art. Not surprising, in a way, because the real Franco cares deeply about art. However, the filmmakers and the real Franco make it clear that there’s a blurry line between the art he cares about and the art that the pretentious character he plays prefers. “My first conversation with James Franco was about the fact that the character is a ‘version’ of James Franco,” says Spellman.

“People know I’m interested in art,” says Franco. “I just went to school for it and for a while I was collecting art – I sold most of it a while ago so I could go to school and not work so much. So it was kind of a funny idea that the Franco character would be collecting art, and Seth asked me if there was any particular artist that I wanted to have in the character’s house. And I thought, there’s a way to take this to a different level. There’s a painter that I really like named Josh Smith – his work is hard to place because a lot of it has a very humorous feel, even though it’s abstract work. Josh was interested. Not only interested, but wanted to create new work, and it would be special because it would be work that was only intended for this movie. And as Josh and I were talking, we came on the idea that we could do the paintings together. Josh and I spent two days together and we painted a lot, through the night, ten huge paintings and a bunch of little ones.”

Together, Franco and Smith created art that directly references the movie. “The idea is that my character is somewhat obsessed with Seth,” says Franco. “So the subjects of the paintings are shows I did with Seth – there’s a Freaks painting and a Geeks painting, there’s a Pineapple Express painting.”

And there is also a pair of paintings with Franco’s and Rogen’s names. “Josh does these name paintings in which he uses his own name, Josh Smith, in a Jasper Johns kind of way – it’s just a form that he can then forget about. He can just use the same form over and over again because the painting isn’t about the subject of the painting, it’s about the paint itself, or the application, or the execution. Still, we thought it was fun to do name paintings for the movie – a Seth Rogen painting and a James Franco painting. It’s almost like they’re credits for a movie – for these guys, they’re the stars of their own lives.”