Director Nicholas Stoller and Producer Judd Apatow Talk THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT

     April 21, 2012


The comedy The Five-Year Engagement, from co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek) and producer Judd Apatow takes a look at romance in a very real, funny and often awkward way.  When engaged couple Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) keep postponing their wedding, two people who once dreamed of the perfect day just keep spiraling further apart.  Meanwhile, Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) spontaneously marries Violet’s quirky sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), and they have two kids, all before Tom and Violet even set a wedding date and the two begin to wonder if their relationship is even right.  For more on the film, here’s the new red-band trailer, 5 clips, and 24 images.

At the film’s press day, Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow talked about how hard it is to make a final cut for a film when you have so much great material, what aspects of their personal life they brought to the relationships in the film, how the Elmo and Cookie Monster fight between Alison Brie and Emily Blunt came about, and maintaining pacing for a two-hour comedy.  Check out what they had to say after the jump:

nicholas-stoller-judd-apatow-imageQuestion: When you’ve got all of these talented people, working on this very smart script that has room to play, how hard is it to make the final cut?

JUDD APATOW:  I’m always going, “Keep it longer.”  I’m the worst person for that.  I try to just save a fresh, clear head for whoever I’m working with, so hopefully it’s helpful that there’s someone who doesn’t have to sit in the editing room for 12 hours a day, and who’s blinded by the massive footage and options that they have.  I’ve been editing my movie, This is Forty, and I need Nick, and people like that, to come to cuts to answer, “Does it make sense?  How did it feel in that section?”  I’ve watched it 400 times and I have no idea if its working or not.  We do a lot of previews because we like seeing where the laughs are and reading the cards.  If the audience doesn’t understand it, then we’ve failed.

NICHOLAS STOLLER:  I don’t really get attached to anything.  I’m pretty brutal about cutting stuff.  With each successful movie, I’ve discovered anything that’s not connected to the immediate story is going to be cut out of it.  I learned that the hard way in Get Him To The Greek, where anything that didn’t have to do with getting him to the Greek was cut out of the movie.  There was one section of the movie where they weren’t going to the Greek, and we ended up having to do a little bit of a re-shoot to fix that.

How did you decide just how graphic to go with the hunting?

APATOW:  I’m learning that people like animals.  When we did Anchorman, Jack Black kicked the dog off the bridge and Mike De Luca, the head of DreamWorks Pictures at the time, said, “People are going to go crazy.  You can’t kick a dog off a bridge.”  I said, “It’s a stuffed animal.”  We literally made sure you can tell that it’s a stuffed animal.  He was like, “People are not going to like it.  You’re going to have a problem.  You’re going to have to do a re-shoot.”  And, people were so upset.  We had to do a re-shoot where you see Baxter climb out of the river.  Then, people were like, “Yay, the stuffed animal came back to life!”  There were definitely discussions about how fake the deer needed to look, in order to kill it.

STOLLER:  We did the deer as puppets.  They look intentionally fake.  We tried a visual affect.  We paid a fair amount of money to make the deer look real, and right before the deer got shot, it like blinked.  It was so horrifying.  And, they put blood spray.  So, it’s really cute and it blinks, and then it gets shot in the head and blood sprayed.  We had to take out the blinking and go back to it looking fake.  Deer are like dogs.  Except for Bambi, they’re pretty personality-less.

Was there ever an iteration or version of the script that ended with Tom and Violet not necessarily getting their happy ending?

STOLLER:  No.  At the very beginning, Jason and I talked about that, but that’s not the point of the story that we’re telling.  We’re telling a story about two people who are, at the end of the day, right for each other and are trying to figure it out.  That would feel not correct for the story we were telling.

You guys are both married.  Did you bring any personal things to the script?

STOLLER:  Yeah, just in terms of having a relationship over many years, and some of the specific wedding planning stuff.  I remember having a lot of trouble finding the venue.  That was a big problem for us.  In terms of the emotional underpinning, if you’ve been in relationships, you understand what’s happening.

APATOW:  I only influence with my passive-aggressiveness and my co-dependence, and then I give out the book Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You? We understand that weird people pleasing thing, where you would go to Michigan to make your girlfriend happy, but you really want her to owe you.  That’s one part of the movie that I thought was really interesting because I think a lot of people do that.  They try to be the angel in the relationship, but there’s so many strings attached to it.

STOLLER:  I certainly do the, “I can give more than you,” martyr race.

The-Five-Year-Engagement-Nicholas-Stoller-Rodney-RothmanNick, was the whole Elmo and Cookie Monster fight a little bit of payback for spending so much of last year obsessed with felt?

STOLLER:  Oh, yeah, I think so.  It was.  We tried to get Elmo into The Muppets because there’s always Sesame Street cameo.  The joke was that they were trying to get celebrities, and they try to get Elmo.  In the background, you see Elmo, and in the foreground, you see his lawyers, and they’re like, “He can’t do it.  He’s not going to do it.”  And then, in reality, Elmo’s lawyers said that he wouldn’t do it.  I have a four-and-a-half-year-old and, when she was two and a half, she would make my wife and I do voices, like Woody and Jessie the Cowgirl, or Elmo, or Yogi Bear and Booboo.  If we didn’t do it, she would scream at us.  So, my wife and I would have adult conversations as Yogi Bear and Booboo.  It was just a nightmare year.  Right now, she’s really into Nala from The Lion King.  It just seemed really funny to me to have Alison [Brie] doing an Elmo voice to get this conversation to going. And Jason [Segel] was like, “Well, if Alison is doing Elmo, then obviously Emily [Blunt] should do the Cookie Monster.”  That’s how the scene happened.

Standard comedies typically run 90 minutes, but your films tend to be two hours.  How do you ensure that you maintain the pacing for that?

APATOW:  We’re fighting the attention span of earth.  I don’t think there’s that many great 90-minute comedies, to be honest with you.  The ones that I always liked, whether it’s Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, or Fast Times of Ridgemont High, they were all about two hours, or a little bit over two hours.  With that extra 15 or 20 minutes, you can get to real character and you’re not just stuck in plot.  There are people who like short movies, and I think they should just watch our movies on DVD because they can pause, go to the bathroom, eat dinner, and come back to it.  Every time I’m in editing, there’s always a moment where you think, “Maybe this should be six or seven minutes shorter, but I’m losing character and story that I think is important.”  When I like things, I’m not in a rush for them to end.  But, there are people that entertainment is something they do at the end of a long hard day at work, and they want to be entertained and have it over quickly.  They’re like, “Entertain me fast!”

STOLLER:  So, they can watch it in two sittings.

APATOW:  We debate it all the time, but sometimes it gets worse as we cut it.

The-Five-Year-Engagement-posterSTOLLER:  They get less funny.  It’s interesting to have the awkward moments play out, and the real human interactions.  The more you cut that down, you lose the joke, which is that this is painful and hard.

There is always that one day that blows up and is just untenable, where you just incur expenses and stresses that you never envisioned.  What was that day?

STOLLER:  Well, it’s never expenses.  We just don’t go over budget; otherwise the studio doesn’t let us make them.  There was one day on this where we did not have enough time to shoot he final wedding in San Francisco.  We had a day to shoot it.  I like to do a lot of takes, but we did probably two takes of each thing because there was so much coverage to do.  We ended up slopping over onto a second day and pushing some other stuff a little bit forward.  That was the way we handled it.  But, that was the only day.  That was the only day I decided I would try yelling to get everyone excited to move forward, and it just turned into an apology.  I started like, “Okay, guys, we’ve really got to move forward!  We’re slowing down.  We’ve got to move forward!,” and went to, “I know this is really hard.  I get that this is super-hard, and I really thank you.  I’m sorry for yelling.”

What didn’t make it into the final cut, that was the hardest to get rid of?

STOLLER:  I don’t know.  I’m pretty brutal about getting rid of stuff.  There wasn’t anything where I was like, “Oh, I miss that,” because usually it’s for a good reason.  The dumbest joke, that actually got a laugh when we tested it, but just was too dumb, was after the deer falls off of the car.  The deer is sitting next to Jason and his phone rings.  He drops the phone on the floor of the car, and he pulls over to reaches down to get the phone and a person is walking by, and it looks like he’s giving the deer oral.  It was just hilarious.  But, we were like, “It’s 30 seconds to get a deer oral sex joke.”

APATOW:  Sometimes you need seconds.

For more on The Five-Year Engagement including on set interviews, our set visit, trailers, posters and images, click here.

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