This is the End is a hysterical film. It features several of Hollywood’s actors playing hell-bound versions of themselves, a perversely comedic interpretation of the book of Revelation, and the biggest demon penises you will ever see. Gross, over the top, eccentric — Yep, it’s all of the above, and it’s going to go down in history as the peak of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s creativity.
But if this exact script had been written by an unknown writer, there is about a zero percent chance that it would have been made.
I’m not talking about the problem of casting celebrities as themselves. (No unknown can hope to sell a script that requires such a specific cast — that’s a given.) I’m talking about the numerous leaps in logic and the countless comedic sequences that don’t just cross the line — they eviscerate it.
Don’t get me wrong: the film is great, and I think it works very well, partially in spite of and partly thanks to the many ways it breaks the rules. It’s meant to be a shocking, crazy comedy, and it is. But that’s not what readers want to see.
What do readers want to see, you ask? In my experience, and from all of my reading and study, I’ve found that readers want to read scripts that fit the mold.
I’m being a bit cynical right now, and I will admit that there are agents, managers, and producers out there who are willing to take a chance on something that is out of the box. Some producers are even actively searching for scripts that break the rules.
But the sad truth is, if you haven’t been recognized for your writing talent just yet, you need to start by coloring inside the lines.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t take risks. You absolutely need to use all of your creative power and create a story that approaches an old form in a new way. This comes first and foremost. But alongside all of that creativity, you must study, practice, and become an expert at the craft of screenwriting as it has been established by all of your predecessors. Only once you have become a master of the rules can you start breaking them.
Seth and Evan have done that. They’ve paid their dues and shown the film industry that they know how to get butts in the seats. If you haven’t done that, you can’t hope to write a script about celebrities facing demons with giant willies in the midst of the apocalypse from the safety of a house that is somehow magically fireproof and expect readers to take you seriously.
I mean, you can try, and you should try. Just make sure you have a deep and abiding knowledge of the craft of screenwriting before you start throwing the rules out the window.
That said, once you are established, once you know you’re that good, throw out rules to your heart’s content. Take chances, break boundaries. That’s the only way you will make film history.