When you think back to your college days, nothing comes to mind except drug-fueled parties, elaborate pranks, and parents with babies ripping shots in the corner, right? No, that was just me? Kidding, not even I lived that crazy a college life, but Nicholas Stoller’s new movie Neighbors has all of that, until turning into an all-out fraternity war between Zac Efron’s legendary Greek family, and the parents next door suffering a midlife crisis. Yes, the film is as riotously funny as that scenario sounds, which I was happy to report after screening Neighbors when it premiered at South by Southwest this year.
While doing his press rounds in New York City last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with director Nicholas Stoller to talk about this wild, one-of-a-kind comedic event featuring so many hilarious comedic talents. I was sure he’d have a ton of great stories from working with the likes of Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, and a score of other funnymen and women – and I wasn’t wrong. Aside from the anecdotal stories, we also chatted about Stoller’s Harvard college experiences, deleted scenes featuring some dynamite cameos, what the next Muppets project could be, more details surrounding his next project, Black And White, and of course, Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s fake penis. Yeah, I’m not sure you’re ready for this conversation.
WGTC: So I caught Neighbors at SXSW this year and loved it, but I remember you mentioning that only one person on the production team had any fraternal experience…
Nicholas Stoller: Yeah, only James Weaver. [Laughs]
WGTC: So describe your college experience then, what was it like?
Nicholas Stoller: Well I went to Harvard, so I guess my experience was a little different than a lot of people’s, but you’re still partying. People might laugh at this, but I had a “kind of” fraternal experience in that I was on the Harvard Lampoon, which was a little dumb, but it was coed, which was one thing, and we drank a lot, threw crazy parties – we did all that stuff, but it was just with a bunch of comedy nerds.
WGTC: So what was your big Animal House – or Neighbors I should say – moment in your college partying career?
Nicholas Stoller: A tradition at the Lampoon is that you dance on the tables. So you eat lobster [laughs] – we’d boil lobsters and leave them on the ground for two weeks, it was disgusting – and then we’d wipe the tables clean and everyone would dance on the table. A friend of mine at the time, who is now a very successful comedy writer, was a diver in school, and he would always do standing flips on the table. So he’s in loafers, on a slick table – this is the parent in me talking – doing standing flips. He could have broken his neck so easily, and he’s lucky he never did.
WGTC: It’s like a viral video waiting to happen…
Nicholas Stoller: It really is! I remember there was a night we called “Blood Guy” where someone came into a party and got cut or something, there wasn’t a fight, he just got cut, and he started bleeding profusely everywhere. He ran around the whole building freaking out, there was blood everywhere, and it just got all over. We called that the night of “Blood Guy.”
WGTC: So can we expect a “Blood Guy” movie any time soon?
Nicholas Stoller: Not from me, that’s more of a Sam Raimi movie. [Laughs]
WGTC: Since we now know your past, which Neighbors character do you relate to the most?
Nicholas Stoller: The reason I wanted to do Neighbors, even before I read the script when it was just a concept, is because it’s about three characters having meltdowns, and I had the same meltdowns. I had a meltdown when I graduated from college, and I had a similar meltdown when I had my first child – but I’m incredibly good looking, so of course I relate to Zac Efron’s charater. [Laughs] No, I relate to both Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s characters because I’m in that stage of my life now, but a lot of the emotional stuff Zac’s going through in the movie, I went through in college.
WGTC: Is there an art to balancing such rude, crude comedy with a certain air of respectability? Neighbors is one of the most outlandish mainstream comedies I’ve seen in a while, but it can’t be easy balancing phallic jokes with deep emotional struggles. How do you pull it off?
Nicholas Stoller: It’s a few things. You have to make sure the emotional story makes total sense. If the emotional story doesn’t make sense, or if there isn’t one, even if the jokes are really funny, you’ll find that you’re getting bored because it’s just not working as a story. That’s the first thing you make sure of, then you pile all the jokes on top of that.
I shoot a lot of options. I love broad jokes and broad humor, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s too broad. I ended up filming a ton that aren’t in the final movie that I cut out. There’s a lot of behavior and acting that was too broad which I directed them towards, and I also cut a lot of that out. You basically get as many jokes as you can and discover the film in editing.
WGTC: What’s your favorite bit of material that didn’t make the film? What did you struggle to cut because you loved it so much?
Nicholas Stoller: Oh there’s a lot of stuff, but there’s a whole set piece where Ike Barinholtz’s character, Seth and Rose’s friend – they’re all attacked by the frat and their airbag prank, then Ike goes back to his apartment and he gets a DVD. He puts the DVD on and it’s Scoonie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character, having sex with his ex-wife. Barinholtz starts freaking out, getting really upset, then he gets an e-mail on his phone and he hits it, opening a YouTube video of him watching the sex tape. He realizes there’s a camera hidden somewhere so he starts destroying his apartment trying to find it, and there’s a second YouTube email he gets of him destroying his apartment – and he realizes his entire apartment is filled with cameras. On the B-side of that, at the very end, Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets a video email and it’s Ike having sex with his parents, who are played by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. It was hysterical, but the story didn’t support it, so I had to cut it. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever shot. We shot it like a snuff film, I didn’t use any professional cameras – like Big Brother. They all went into a room with these little cameras everywhere.