Director’s Notebook: How 'Rear Window' and 'Ocean's Eleven' Inspired the Best Scene in ‘Neighbors’

Director’s Notebook: How 'Rear Window' and 'Ocean's Eleven' Inspired the Best Scene in ‘Neighbors’

Sep 24, 2014

In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Nicholas Stoller about the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy Neighbors (on sale September 23).

Known best for doing comedies that explore relationships, Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement) continues that trend with Neighbors, but this time he also highlights what it means to get old and suddenly be thrust with responsibilities.

In the movie Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have a newborn baby but struggle to push away temptation to party like they did in the prebaby days. Things don’t get any better when a fraternity suddenly shows up next door. Soon the couple has enough of the frat (presided by Zac Efron with Dave Franco his VP) leading to both neighbors hating each other. Byrne’s character decides the only way to get the frat to move is to pull off a stunt that will break Efron and Franco’s characters’ “bros before hos" mantra.

Here Stoller explains how he planned out his favorite scene, which included finding the right layout for the frat house and watching some classic films. 



“A dumb heist movie”

For me the most complicated sequence and probably the sequence I'm most proud of is the one where Seth and Rose’s characters try to put hos before bros. That sequence I jokingly say is one of the few parts of the movie where I was a movie director. It was very planned out. In terms of the script I'll rewrite a zillion times and we rehearse with it and we find improv in the rehearsal, and that goes into the script and we do table reads so it gets really hammered out.

Then on the day we'll end up shooting a lot of improv and the jokes we craft. But this sequence was carefully planned. I do a thing called "photo boarding" that a friend of mine, Ruben Fleisher, showed me where I go to the locations and rather than storyboarding, I take my camera and take photos of every shot in the sequence. I might not stick to that when we get on set but it makes me have a great understanding of the scene.

So this sequence is very carefully photo boarded, and what I did was I watched a lot of heist movies because, yes, I wanted it to be funny but I also kind of wanted it to be tense, like a heist movie -- a dumb heist movie. And so I watched Ocean's Eleven and noted how Soderbergh shot a lot of that stuff. I watched a bunch of heist movies. And my other goal was to have the audience applaud when Rose walked away from [Dave and Halston Sage] making out. That was another big goal, so if that happened [the scene] would work. So it was very carefully plotted and I discovered from watching heist movies that you need to explain the goal to the audience, which she does at the beginning and you have to show with your camera what the problem is and what the obstacles are. So that's what I did. And the obstacle was getting Zack to turn around and see Dave and Halston walking up the stairs, but it was all about throwing as many obstacles into that as possible. 



“I watched a lot of serious movies”

On my films I'm constantly calling my editor and asking if we need to pick up anything. Fortunately we were shooting on location and didn't really move much so I could pick things up if need be, but that sequence was so well planned that I didn't need to pick anything up. The main thing in postproduction for that scene was just shortening it. The original version, like all movies, it was just long. It was all about chopping it down and making it quickly. Another movie I watched a lot was The Conversation. People will think it's funny that I watched a lot of serious movies for this scene, but there are a lot of great POV shots and people looking at people, and Rear Window was another movie I watched. Seth and Rose are constantly looking at the frat house, so there's a lot of weird slow zooms that we thought would be fun to have for a silly movie. 


“I put a lot of my ego as a director into this scene”

I was worried about the scene when showing it because I really put a lot of my ego as a director into this scene. I was worried if it didn't work people would think I really didn’t do my homework, and throughout I thought I had. But what really sealed that scene was our music supervisor, Manish Ravel, who found that Flo Rida song that has this crazy energy. So I showed it to friends and family and I'd give it a B-, but it was basically working. And what happened was our editor did his pass and just cut out a lot of stuff and focused it around that song and suddenly it took off. When we screened it for the first time for a real audience they just applauded when Rose turned around, and I was like, "Oh, we got this." 





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