Nicholas Stoller finds himself in a new creative territory this year. He has just directed his first sequel. strong>Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising marks the return of the hilarious writer and director, who has never directed a sequel before, and he reveals that making sequels isn’t as easy as it sounds.
We were recently invited to the film’s press conference where Stoller talked about writing and directing a sequel, the responsibility of giving females their own version of Animal House, him franchising his work through spinoffs, and writing other sequels. He also addressed some of the bigger issues like how five middle-aged guys who worked on the script were able to write female college freshman so well and finally having a gay character in one of his films. Find out what he had to say about all of this and more in our coverage of the Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising press conference below.
Which one is more challenging: staging a party for a sorority or a frat?
Nicholas Stoller: This one was more challenging because we really did versions of nighttime parties in the first one, and we kind of like really did a good version of nighttime parties in the first one, so it is hard to figure out what the new kind of party would be and that’s why our big party sequence in this one, I’ve now become an expert on extreme parties, is a daytime party, it’s a tailgate. Just for that reason, we wanted to try to do something different, and so that seemed like the thing to do. The Fast and Furious gets a new car each time, we get a new party.
A lot of the comedy comes from the ladies and their behavior, and we’ve never seen that before. Seth spoke earlier about how they looked to the actresses to help with the script, and with the script being written by five males, how did you approach writing the female roles in this film?
Nicolas Stoller: I would say the emotional thing they are going through is relatable to men or women. In the first movie, Zac’s character is scared to graduate from college, that’s something whether you’re a guy or girl, that’s something everyone’s gone through. This is the same thing, about 18-year-olds going to college being scared to form their own identities. So it was important for us that it be emotionally honest, and that aspect was easy to write to since it was something everyone has gone through, no matter your gender. For the specifics, I spent a long time with all the actors I have worked with, and this is true in all the movies, kind of interviewing them and making sure that everything makes sense and stuff they are comfortable saying and that seems honest and truthful. I did that with Beanie [Feldstein], Chloë [Grace Moretz] and Kiersey [Clemons], we sat and had a long session where we talked through everything, and we also had two writers on set, Amanda London and Maria Blasucci, who are really funny comedy writers just so that when we were pitching jokes we weren’t – there is nothing more annoying then when girls in the movie talk like guys, so we wanted to make sure it all made sense. If you read early drafts of the script you would be like “what is going on here? this is not the way women speak! What is this?” A lot of that kind naturally fell out during our process.
How do you keep maintaining the balance of writing women intelligently while also making a movie that seems to be targeted towards the male 18-34 demographic?
Nicolas Stoller: It’s in the first movie where it was 50/50 in terms of the people who came men and women. At the end of the day, I try not to think about that, I try to tell the story that the movie calls for. We very quickly were like “it probably should be a sorority,” that seemed like a funny idea that seems different. Then we kind of just followed where the story took us and its organic took us to this kind of female empowerment story and feminist story, it just naturally led us there. I think it is the kind of thing where guys show up because it is a hard comedy, Seth [Rogen] has a big guy audience, and I think Zac [Efron] does too at this point. The whole thing where women are like “I also want to see that” versus “I will go to that because you want to see that.”
We learned earlier today that sororities weren’t allowed to throw their own parties, and it just so happens that there hasn’t been a sorority party before, what responsibility did you feel to give women their own Animal House?
Nicholas Stoller: Our main thing was, when I was in college, the women I went to college with drank as much as the guys, they threw up as much, their rooms are often grosser than our rooms because of the hair, there is a lot more hair. We just wanted to reflect reality. It has changed a lot recently, which is good, or over the past five, ten years. A lot of the times women in movies are either the saints or they’re the nag or they’re held to a higher standard, we wanted to reflect reality where kids are trying to figure their stuff out, and when they try to figure their stuff out chaos ensues.
Since we are on the subject of learning that sororities aren’t allowed to party, how much did learning that change the first drafts? And what about the fact that you were able to represent the gay community in this by introducing a gay subplot?
Nicholas Stoller: The initial idea that sororities can’t party was in the draft, but the natural process of writing a movie right would be to write 800 drafts. We wrote every version of this movie at this point. So that wasn’t the first idea. We even did a table read where women weren’t able to party in it. We did a very different table read where we didn’t have the escrow plot in it and the table read didn’t work at all, and we completely rewrote the movie before we shot. That is the kind of chaos of making a movie. The natural kind of evolution of a script as you shoot. It wasn’t there in the beginning, and one of their interns brought up that idea, and we were like “that has to be our plot.” It is so ridiculous, and it seems so fake, I actually shot Selena Gomez look in the camera and say “no seriously guys, this is real, sororities can’t party.” But it broke the reality of our movie, so we couldn’t use it.
As for the gay subplot. The first movie, one of the reporters asked why I never had a gay character in my movies, and I was like “That is bad. I don’t have an answer for you.” It seemed to make sense in this movie. There is a lot of homoeroticism in the first movie between Dave [Franco] and Zac, and it was just like Dave’s character is probably gay. If you watch that movie, he might be in love with Zac. We all are in love with Zac, but it’s hard not to be. He’s a beautiful specimen. But it seemed to make sense. It was really important for us that the joke would not be “haha, he’s gay,” but that it’s an emotional thing they are going through. So I spoke to comedy writer friend who’s gay and sent the script to him and pitched jokes on it and also made sure we weren’t accidentally being offensive in any way. When I say offensive, I mean we just wanted to tell an honest story, we weren’t dishonest in any way.
On the topic of being respectful, was it difficult to write the female characters in a respectful way while still being funny for the hard comedy fans?
Nicholas Stoller: What was hard about it, in a comedy it is always easier to make stuff funny when the goal of the characters is stupid. So the goal of Zac and his friends in the first movie is stupid like they just want to party. So it is easy to pull out the rug from under them constantly and make it really hard for them. In this movie, it was a little harder because the women’s goal is noble, they need to ultimately succeed. At the same time, you want Seth and Rose [Byrne] to succeed in going through escrow, so it was a constant debate going on with all of us that we want to sorority to succeed but we also don’t want the family to lose all their money and go bankrupt so a group of kids can party. So that was the debate that we had. We finally figured out the ending that kind of married everything together. What was interesting was we had a whole subplot, like the joke of the Neighbors movie, is that everyone is stupid except Lisa Kudrow, like that’s our role. She’s smart but she’s given up a long time ago, and we had a joke that the women are calling themselves feminists but they don’t get it really. The guys in the audience just rejected that idea. As soon as they heard the word feminists they were just like “you’re attacking me with the vibe.” Women didn’t, they thought it was funny. We had to strip it out because they didn’t get it, beyond that it wasn’t hard to figure out.
How many takes was it to get Zac Efron oiled up?
Nicholas Stoller: It was one hour-long take. We rolled out and they just kept rubbing it on him. No one objected to that, that’s what I will say. What was funny was that the pork shoulder was real. My prop guy was awesome. He was explaining to me that you can’t fake meat. It’s really hard to fake meat. So what we ended up having is a real pork shoulder that we injected with baby oil. So Zac ended up smelling like pork that day, which was kind of funny.
Will there be a Neighbors 3?
Nicholas Stoller: We’ll have to see how this one – we haven’t really talked about it or what it could possibly be. But I love everyone. I love the producers on this. I love the cast. It’s why I wanted to make another one. To have the opportunity would be great but we haven’t talked about it really.
So with the baby oil and dancing, is there a cognitive effort to appeal to Zac’s gay fanbase?
Nicholas Stoller: Oh. Uh, no, we just thought it was funny. I didn’t think about that fanbase. Yeah, we just thought it would be funny. What was funny is that I was like “It’s a comedy so maybe the joke should be that he’s bad at dancing, and Seth was like “no, he’s good at dancing, that doesn’t make any sense.” No, we just thought it would be funny.
I feel like as a franchise filmmaker you’ve had all sorts of variety. You did the spinoff to your own movie Get Him To The Greek, this is your first sequel as a director, you did a reboot of The Muppets and a sequel to that. Have you notice any differences or similarities throughout your franchising?
Nicholas Stoller: On The Muppets I was a writer and an EP on that, so I wasn’t quite as in charge on it. And plus The Muppets is more serialized. It’s closer to a Marvel movie in a weird way where you know it’s a group of characters and you can tell different stories, they’re genres. This is the first proper sequel. Even Get Him To The Greek, while a spinoff of Sarah Marshall, like for a long time it wasn’t a spinoff. But then it was too weird to have Russell Brand playing a different rock star, so we made it a spinoff because it made more sense logically. This is the first proper sequel that I have been in charge of as a director. It’s really hard in a way to understand. I thought it would be like the second episode of a television show. I could have a whole TED talk about why sequels are hard. Especially if you don’t want it to suck. The beginning of this movie, Seth and I were like our main goal is for this not to suck. If you want it to suck then it’s easy, you’re like “They’re neighbors in Hawaii, so let’s all go to Hawaii and shoot in Hawaii for a while,” maybe that will be the third one.
The big difference with a comedy, and I think it’s true with horror too, is that you have to have the same premise. So it’d be like in the New Girl pilot, Zooey Deschanel moves in with a few roommates. It’d be like the second episode of New Girl would be like she moves in with more roommates. That’s the premise of the show. It’s not. So with this, it has to be nightmare neighbors movies, and so we had to figure out how to tell an original story that has that premise but enough of an original story that it is still satisfying for an audience.
Does it make your job any easier to have one of your writing partners also be in the cast or does it make it more challenging?
Nicholas Stoller: It’s great. Comedy is inherently collaborative. On the first Neighbors, we all ended up writing and rewriting together. Seth is an incredible writer. I’ve written with him since Undeclared. We were really old kind of relationship. I’ve kind have always written with the actors, you know. Whether it be like Jason Segel on Sarah Marshall or Five-Year Engagement. Get Him To The Greek, I kind of workshopped that script forever with Russell and Jonah Hill, so it’s always ending up being collaborative. My approach is to always write and work with the actors. I wouldn’t know how to do it. There’s certain writers who write their thing, and actors act it. But I wouldn’t know how to actually do that. So I can’t really separate it from that. And he knows a lot about weed and weed paraphernalia, which is a part of the story. So I would be like “what is the weed thing here,” and he’ll pitch three weed jokes. In addition to many other things, that just happens to be expert.
What exactly was it about Chole Grace Moretz that made her the right person for this role?
Nicholas Stoller: She’s just a talented actress. I loved her ever since I saw her in Kick-Ass and Hugo she was amazing. I wanted someone who is close to the age of freshman, and she’s 18, or she was 18 when we shot it, she might be 19 now. She’s also little but scary and aggressive. You need someone who can actually scare Seth. All of those things. She’s just an awesome, great actress. Very funny and very appealing. She’s a movie star, and that’s why we were lucky enough to loop her into the project at an early stage. She had a friend who was in a sorority who we got information from and stuff like that.
So then what was it like to cast Kiersey and Beanie?
Nicholas Stoller: Well, it was a long casting process and you know it was the same thing in the first one. My main thing is I want these people to be warm. Because they are technically the villains if you are looking at the story structure, but I don’t believe in villains in comedies, other genres they need them, but in comedies I think villains are uninteresting. So you need to understand where they are coming from, you need to root for them. So it was the same thing as the guys in the first movie, I wanted somebody who would be friends, who seem warm, and brought a different kind of comic energy to the parts. As soon as Beanie Feldstein came in I didn’t realize she was Jonah’s [Hill] sister. I didn’t know. She was really funny. I really enjoyed Kiersey Clemons in Dope. She kind of more than anyone is really playing a character in a movie. She’s not a lot like Beth, she kind of creates this whole character, which is something I tend to build around the personalities of the people in the movie due to my own laziness, but she brought her own character.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising opens in theaters on May 20, 2016.