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Neighbors producers talk frats, families, and stuff they cut that went too far

In filmmaker Nicholas Stoller’s new comedy Neighbors, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a young couple with a newborn baby whose lives are thrown into chaos when a rowdy fraternity becomes their new neighbor. Led by fraternity president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and vice-president Pete (Dave Franco), the frat makes life unbearable for their next-door neighbors. Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) set out to force the fraternity to move elsewhere, but it has other plans — and isn’t afraid to fight pranks with even more audacious pranks.

Digital Trends spoke with Neighbors producers James Weaver and Evan Goldberg about the new film, which arrives in theaters May 9 and attempts to carry on the grand tradition of wild, college fraternity comedies established by films like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds (and more recently, Todd Phillips’ 2003 comedy Old School).

“For the first time in our careers, we had too many dick jokes. Like, way too many.”

It’s a lot to live up to, but as our review of the film attests, Neighbors proves more than up to the task.

Before we even get started, I have to tell you that I suspect you made this movie for me. As a guy who lived in a fraternity house during college and recently became a parent, I feel like I am the personification of your target demographic for this film.

James Weaver: [Laughs] Well, that’s actually true. We did make this movie just for you, Rick. When we were sitting around thinking about making a movie, we wondered, “What would Rick really want in a movie?” And we knew we had it when we came up with this idea.

Evan Goldberg: Honestly, we really tried to make it for you – or rather, the “yous” of the world – and for the frat boys of the world, too. That came from something Zac [Efron] said to us. The initial version of the script made the frat fully villainous, and Zac wanted to make it so the frat boys are just as relatable as the new parents.

Were either of you in a fraternity?

Weaver: I was in a fraternity in college and was president of the fraternity and my pledge class, so I think that Zac brought up a really great point in making the fraternity relatable. And he does a good job with it. Zac and Dave [Franco] and Chris [Mintz-Plasse] and Jerrod [Carmichael] are so likable that it makes it feel real – like how it really is in most fraternities. They’re good friends and they do stupid stuff together.

Neighbors Q&A James Weaver Evan Goldberg

Goldberg: I didn’t do any frat stuff in college. I rushed a bit to get some free booze, but I’m from Canada where frats aren’t as big of a thing. I was always like, “Frats are lame,” but this movie made me wish I’d been in an American frat.

Weaver: So now we’re calling you to ask if you want to start a fraternity with us, Rick. We’ll be the first three guys to join it. What do you say?

Well, seeing as how my college fraternity no longer exists due to some incidents not unlike what happens in the movie, I’m in. We don’t have to pledge, do we?

Goldberg: [Laughs] We’ll work all of that out after the interview…

Getting back on track here, I couldn’t help thinking about the legacy of college fraternity movies when I saw Neighbors. It’s been a while since we had a great fraternity comedy – maybe going all the way back to Old School in 2003…

“Seth has made a very good living at having great chemistry with a lot of his costars.”

Goldberg: Yeah, we did similar research, and that’s the conclusion we came to…

Why do you think it’s been so long for the next wild fraternity movie to come along?

Goldberg: I think it took a while for somebody – and in this case, those somebodies were [Neighbors screenwriters] Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien – to come up with a take that was different. Animal House was about a frat. PCU was about a modern-day frat. And Old School was all about a frat with older guys in it. No one could figure out what the new twist would be on frat movies. This is the first fresh, exciting, new way to tackle a frat movie.

Weaver: To give even more credit to them, they came up with the idea and we just liked the thought of a fraternity house living next to adults, and how you would survive that. It wasn’t really until after we got into the script and got closer to making the movie that we realized we were playing in this sort of every-decade genre of movies. It happened down the road.

What is it about Neighbors that gives the movie its own identity in that genre? How did you go about making it different from the other iconic fraternity comedies – and more importantly, how did you make it different from the fraternity comedies that are entirely forgettable?

Goldberg: In the original pitch, they came to us with the idea of pairing Seth [Rogen] as the “Mac” character and Zac as the head of the fraternity, and that was something that helped articulate the theme of the movie: a “Seth vs. Zac” dynamic. But it also evolved into something about this relationship between Seth and Rose [Byrne]’s characters, which is what I think really makes it special – the fact that you have a real marriage in the middle of it all. Rose’s character feels very contemporary and not the classic, shrewish wife. She’s on Seth’s team, trying to grow up and find herself as a parent and not sure how to figure that out. 

The chemistry between Zac and Seth really is fantastic. Did you see that right at the start when they were paired up?

Weaver: When they brought the project to us as producers, they wanted Seth in that lead role, but they suggested Zac as the Teddy character. We pitched Zac on it, and when he came in the room you could tell right away that he really loved the idea of playing a fraternity president. You could tell he was ready to do something like this. That’s always a great place to get an actor. And to give credit where it’s due, Seth has made a very good living at having great chemistry with a lot of his costars, so I think he’s just really good at that. So it was apparent early on that this was going to work.

So tell me about the research that was done for this film. Was it an excuse to go to fraternity parties?

Goldberg: [Laughs] Well, Brendan and Andrew did go and meet with fraternity dudes to chat about it, but between everyone working on the project, there was plenty of frat experience…

Neighbors Q&A James Weaver Evan Goldberg

Weaver: … or frat-esque experience!

Goldberg: [Laughs] Yeah, when you have Andrew, Brendan, me, Seth, Weaver, and Nick [Stoller] all working to get the script where it needs to be, that’s a lot of dudes who went to a lot different universities and know a lot of frat stories…

Weaver: … and partied a lot. [Laughs] But seriously, Nick provided a particularly important perspective, because the rest of us were all on one side of the family dynamic – we were either close to having kids or just had kids – but Nick was having his second child when he signed on. So he really provided the perspective from the other side of this story. That was so valuable to opening up the movie. He really pushed for the amping-up of the Rose’s character when he signed on to direct it. That was super helpful, and his point of view as a full dad – he’s been doing the dad thing for a while and can tell you all about it – that was so valuable.

Were you ever concerned about some of the jokes not being relatable enough for people who weren’t in fraternities or weren’t parents?

Goldberg: To us, it all seemed relatable. If you weren’t in a frat, you knew someone in one. People seem to get it. If you don’t relate to the frat, you relate to the parents, and if you don’t relate to the parents, you relate to the frat…

“If you don’t relate to the frat, you relate to the parents, and if you don’t relate to the parents, you relate to the frat.”

Weaver: … and if you don’t relate to either of them…

Goldberg: … you’re just not a human being! [Laughs]

Weaver: Well, there’s also the idea that the frat is just a really shitty neighbor you have to deal with, and that’s a really relatable idea that everyone can understand.

I noticed that there were some scenes in the trailer for Neighbors that didn’t end up in the final cut of the film. Is there a story behind that, or did you just end up with too much footage?

Goldberg: For the first time in our careers, we had too many dick jokes. [Laughs] Like, way too many. We watched it at one point and thought, “Wow. We went too far.” So we had to tone it back.

Weaver: It was too dicky… [Laughs]

Goldberg: As for the fireworks scene in the trailer, though, we all loved that one and Nick is going to ensure it’s on the DVD – but it had to go. There were also some held-back sex scenes – one with Chris Mintz-Plasse and his gigantic penis, for example. But for the first time, much to our chagrin, there was too much partying in our movie. We originally started the movie with the frat. You see them burn down their old house with the fireworks because they had a fireworks fight. They had a Civil War reenactment party and put fireworks in their pledges’ butt-holes, and they used them like cannons, carting them around to shoot at each other. We had to remove that scene because – much to our surprise and no one else’s – it was just a little too extreme and it was just too intense. More importantly, though, the movie always should have started with Seth and Rose and their family. You want to settle in with the family, get to know them, and then, “Boom! Who are our new neighbors?” Starting with the frat was a mistake.

Neighbors Q&A James Weaver Evan Goldberg

You’ve had a few films like This Is The End that started a little slow but then exploded once word-of-mouth got around. Is that something you think about when you’re making a movie now? How do you account for that sort of unpredictable element?

Weaver: We’re actually talking about that a lot right now. With comedies that you release in the summer, you have to rely on word of mouth, because movies like X-Men and Spider-Man are probably spending 7-9 times your budget in marketing. So on some level you’re going to be relying on people liking your movie. I think This Is The End did that remarkably well. We were up against Man Of Steel and that was a decision we made with our partners at Sony that was incredibly stressful, but…

Goldberg: … We thought we were going to crush Man Of Steel! I don’t know what happened! [Laughs]

Weaver: [Laughs] … But on this movie, we’re the first R-rated comedy in a while and the first one of the summer. We finished the movie in time to be able to do that, and that – combined with the material we’ve put out so far – seems like it’s a very advantageous storm of things happening for us. We’ll see next Friday, though.

Neighbors hits theaters Friday, May 9. The film is directed by Nicholas Stoller and stars Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Roberts, and Jerrod Carmichael.

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