Here’s a peek behind the curtain at how your Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg movie is made: With a lot of help from Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir. The two lesser known writers and friends have been the semi-secret spice in the famous duo’s stew for the past eight years. The R-rated, animated Sausage Party, however, marks a culmination of the moment Hunter and Shaffir officially took a seat at the table.
The two met each other, and also Goldberg, while attending McGill University in Montreal—around the time Rogen was playing a college student on the campus comedy Undeclared. Not only was Rogen acting on that show, though, he was writing episodes too, and Goldberg was on the cusp of joining him in the quest to take over Hollywood. The two had been writing together since high school, when they spun out the initial draft of Superbad. Kyle Hunter, who was enrolled in the same school with them, remembers this ambitious process from a distance.
“You’d always see Seth and Evan in the halls and you knew they were talking about something, but nobody had any idea what it would turn into,” he says. “We just knew they were really close friends and they liked to write stories together. They took it really seriously, even when they were 14. That sort of inspired me.”
Hunter and Shaffir took their writing seriously, but they also took law school seriously. While the duo impressed Goldberg so much he left an open invite to come work for him, they were not ready yet. Instead, they kept in touch and provided jokes and other suggestions on the scripts Goldberg sent their way–the scripts that were just starting to turn he and Rogen into certified Big Deals. The relationship began to evolve into full-on apprenticeship, though, when Rogen and Goldberg guided the greener writers through their first original screenplay.
“When we started writing Camp Sawyer, we truly had no idea how to write,” Shaffir says. “We didn’t outline it. We literally started with the first scene and were like, ‘What should the second scene be? What should the third scene be?’ We had no idea how it worked as a whole.”
The would-be film was about a young kid who goes missing at summer camp. (Years later, Wes Anderson would go on to make Moonrise Kingdom, which has a very similar premise.) Under the tutelage of Rogen and Goldberg, the pair managed to finally marry their joke-writing skills with their storytelling instincts and narrative structure.
“It really was a master class in screenwriting,” Hunter says. “They gave us notes on every draft and told us what we’d done wrong and what we’d done right and that’s how we learned to write a screenplay.”
He and Shaffir sold Camp Sawyer to a studio and moved out to Hollywood in 2008. Now that they could call themselves professional screenwriters, they came on board at Goldberg and Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures and started pitching in on several screenplays in the pipeline. Although their names weren’t listed in the credits of a film until 2011’s cancer dramedy 50/50, the pair spent the next few years in a full collaboration with their mentors. Before This Is The End or The Interview, or anything else, really, there was Sausage Party. It just took nearly a decade to get made.
Sausage Party was originally a vague idea Rogen and Goldberg dreamed up with Jonah Hill: The secret life of food. But it wasn’t until the experienced screenwriters sat in a room with their proteges that they cracked the story together. (Hill wasn’t involved with the actual writing.) The resulting movie is a deliriously twisted supermarket romp that packs in every possible metaphor one could ascribe to foodstuffs. Stoned philosophy majors will kick themselves for not having found corollaries to religion, racism, and the Israel-Palestine conflict in the sausage aisle first. In this world, all the items in a grocery store have been told that there is a heavenly place waiting beyond the threshold of those automatic doors once they’re “chosen.” Leave it to a group of horny pork-tubes to discover that this is not true.
Though fascinating metaphors were the order of the day for Sausage Party, the film also is a celebration of wordplay and puns. Man oh man, are there a lot of puns–foods whose names can be taken literally, words that sound like other words, etc. A sausage who believes he is destined to be with just one bun forever, for instance, is “bunogamous.” It turns out pun-generation actually comprised a significant part of the writing process.
“Once we got past the original concept of sausages trying to get out of the package so they can have sex with the buns,” Shaffir says, “We started a giant email chain that was just the silliest food puns we could think of, and then we wrapped a story around those.”
The original draft packed in even more wordplay. A character called “El Guac-o” spoke solely in puns, but he had to be cut for time. Had he stayed, the number of puns in the film would have increased dramatically–either a blessing or a curse depending on your comedy proclivities. What’s probably going to be more of a crowd pleaser, though, and what will definitely be talked about a lot this weekend, is the inevitable food orgy scene. It’s one for the record books.
“We wrote some pretty awful beats ourselves, but the animators came up with so many crazy disgusting gags, we couldn’t use them all because it would double the length of the scene,” Hunter says.
As gross as the scene is–and it is indescribably, psyche-scarringly gross–just as with the original level of puns, it could have been way grosser. The writers describe the original cut as having a lot of jokes involving sauces and liquids; Ranch dressing spurting onto the face of lettuce, for instance. Let’s just put a pin in those descriptions, and not come back to them.
Over the eight years it took to get Sausage Party made, Shaffir and Hunter worked on a lot of other projects, too–many of them overlapping. It’s the way they prefer to work. This way, if their sold script for Camp Sawyer or a Where’s Waldo? movie didn’t seem to be getting off the ground, they could focus their energies on the next thing that seemed like it would. At the moment, the pair hopes that next project will be Future Man.
A cross between The Last Starfighter and The Terminator, but funny, Future Man is the pair’s most ambitious original idea since joining the Point Grey team. It’s a potential TV series they’ve been developing for years, and there’s a chance it could be ready to air as soon as 2017. If the show does get picked up, the duo predicts that this project is the one they’ll eventually make their directorial debut on. Since Goldberg and Rogen began directing their own movies with 2013’s This Is The End, they’ve been teaching Hunter and Shaffir about that process as well.
Guess the sausage doesn’t fall very far from the shelf.