LOS ANGELES — The new dark comedy "This Is the End," which opened Wednesday, started as a 2007 student film by Jason Stone.
Featured actors Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel always liked the idea of making an end-of-the-world movie, but they thought taking "Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse" from a short to a feature was never going to happen.
That changed when Rogen and "This Is the End" co-writer and director Evan Goldberg came up with the idea to have all the actors in the movie play themselves.
"That's when the idea of making the short into a feature began to pick up speed," Goldberg says. "But it continued to linger around until we figured out the third act that features a seed of redemption."
The dark comedy has more celebrities than a People's Choice Awards audience.
All of the actors — from stars Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson to cameos by Emma Watson, David Krumholtz, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna and others — play twisted versions of themselves.
There's redemption, but getting there is a full-frontal assault on the Hollywood community. For most of the actors, the Rapture doesn't go so well. Those who are left behind go through a brutal battle for survival — both against demons and equally vicious attacks on their careers.
So how does someone get such a long list of actors to do a low-budget movie containing humor so dark the filmmakers expected it to get an NC-17 rating?
"We just put out calls to a mix of people we knew, people we heard were fans of ours and people who we were fans of, that we just took a shot at in the dark at getting," says Rogen.
Not everyone they called leaped at the idea. That's because some of the portrayals of the "real" celebrities go to extremes, such as the way soft-spoken Michael Cera is shown as a wild, drug using, sex-crazed maniac.
"We sent him the script, called him up and he said, 'Yeah, I'm in.' Then there was a pause and we were waiting for all the questions and concerns," Goldberg says. "Then he said, 'I'll see you on the set.' He showed up for work and his only request was to be able to wear this windbreaker. We said it looked stupid.
"He said it was his personal windbreaker and the core of his character. So we said he could wear the windbreaker and he was cool with everything else."
Others agreed without hesitation or wardrobe requests. Robinson, who had seen the original short film, was immediately on board. He liked that he gets to sing what has become the film's love theme, a tune called "Take Your Panties Off."
"This film really fits my sense of humor," Robinson says. "We make each other laugh. You know there's going to be a lot of freedom and you know it's going to be good."
In the end, about half of the movie came from the script and the rest was improvised. A lot of the jokes spawned on set were shots each actor took at the careers of the other actors. Rogen's much criticized work in "The Green Hornet" was a popular target.
None of the actors had any problems with their work being mocked. But other jokes were off limits.
"As for the jokes about each other's work," Goldberg says, "most everyone was mature enough not to go so far as to hurt anyone's feelings."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.