Although “Neighbors,” the new comedy starring and produced by Seth Rogen, was fully financed by Universal Pictures, it reflects the need for a deft touch when navigating an original laffer within the studio system.
Writers Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien brought the project to Rogen and producing partner Evan Goldberg, who immediately sparked to the idea, which revolves around suburban parents struggling to raise a toddler when a fraternity moves in next door.
U bought the pitch in 2011, and Nick Stoller signed on to direct. But getting execs to give the production the go-ahead was another matter. “It seemed like we were going to enter development hell,” Rogen told Variety at SXSW. “We went into a phone call that we thought was going to be our green light, and we got a bunch of notes. We went back to the studio and said, ‘What is the amount of money we can make this for where we stop having these conversations.’ ”
That number turned out to be $18 million, roughly half the original production budget. It also meant a short, 38-day shooting schedule.
Independent of the studio, Rogen, Goldberg and Stoller hired Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco to star. They partnered with indie production company Good Universe, which cash-flowed the production. By enlisting Good Universe’s infrastructure to pact with the actors and crew, “All of a sudden we didn’t have to deal with massive overhead, and the company was instantaneously reimbursed by Universal,” Rogen added, noting the studio also shouldered P&A costs.
The movie, which opens May 9, is getting positive reviews. “It’s a hyper-marketable idea,” Stoller said. “Just look at the poster; you don’t have to read to understand what’s happening. It’s easy, and people like easy.”