Ariel Shaffir, one of the co-writers of the current R-rated, animated hit “Sausage Party,” first met Seth Rogen on a camping trip to the Holy Land in 1998. Years later, Shaffir befriended Rogen’s writing partner Evan Goldberg at McGill University.
After Rogen and Goldberg found some success, Goldberg suggested Shaffir and his writing partner Kyle Hunter come work for him.
Shaffir has been involved as a writer or a producer on several films, most starring Rogen, including “This Is the End,” “The Interview,” “50/50,” “Goon” and “The Night Before.”
I spoke with Shaffir about the making of “Sausage Party.”
At what point did you become involved with the project, because I’ve heard Seth Rogen say that it was long in development?
I got involved in 2008. Seth was actually just talking about this yesterday; originally he and Evan and Jonah Hill just joked about making a movie with the title “Sausage Party” without any concept of what the story might be and then after just joking about that for I don’t even know how long, it could’ve been months, I think one of them realized it could actually be a movie about talking sausages. Then that idea was pitched to us, myself and Kyle Hunter, my writing partner, to just do an R-rated Pixar-style movie and that was in 2008. Then we kind of broke the story together and started writing.
So was it a collaborative thing. Or did individuals contribute things?
No, it was totally collaborative. It was myself, Kyle, Seth and Evan, we sat together in a room and talked about the story and worked on it for years and years and years. And it's collaborative to the point that between writing drafts, we would send it to as many friends who would read it and they would give us notes and we’d incorporate those. It was a very collaborative process.
What were some things you specifically contributed to the script or did it all just get so mixed together that it is hard to tell what’s what anymore?
Yeah, that’s generally how it is. It is hard to really remember who came up with that. I wouldn’t want to take credit for specific things.
Was there one part of the movie you really enjoyed working on?
Yeah, actually, I can remember a very defining moment, at least for me, was when we were filming “50/50” in Vancouver, which is another movie that we all worked on together, we were writing “Sausage Party” in the trailer and I remember the moment we came up with the idea for the Gum character. And we took out a pack of gum and started reading the ingredients in it and typing them out like the “sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol…” that whole joke. I remember thinking at the time, this is maybe the funniest joke that I’ll ever be a part of for the rest of my life. That is actually a thought that I had and to this day I don’t think I’ve been apart of anything as good as that joke in my mind.
Did you have a favorite character to write for?
I would say writing for the Sammy Bagel Jr. character came pretty easily just being a slightly neurotic Jewish person myself. That was easy. I don’t know if it was the funnest. I would say gum is one of the funnest and easiest characters to write for us well. I love all the characters. I can’t really single out one character one to write. They were all such different voices that they were all cool.
Was Sammy Bagel Jr. always intended to be a Woody Allen parody or was that something Edward Norton brought to the table given that he actually did a film with him?
Sammy Bagel Jr. wasn't intended to be a Woody Allen parody. It just so happened that Edward can do a spot on impression of Woody Allen and when he read the script, he wanted to do that role. Then we sort of rewrote the character with more of a Woody Allen voice in mind.
How did composer Alan Menken (who has written for such Disney films as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “Tangled”) become involved? As a musician, what was it like working with him?
Conrad Vernon (one of the directors) had worked with Alan before and asked him to do it. We were thrilled that he said yes. And it was amazing working with him. I think he brought us a lot of legitimacy that this movie really needed.
What I really like about a lot of the movies that Seth Rogen has either worked on as a writer or director or producer and that you’ve been involved in, too, like “This Is the End,” “The Interview,” “Sausage Party” is that they are audacious and bold. There’s that line from George Carlin that it’s the duty of the comedian to draw the line and then cross it and I like that these movies do that. Is there ever a discussion about how far to take things?
When we write we try not to censor ourselves too much, just to put everything on paper and then hopefully after some time passes you are able to gain some perspective on where that line is. But there are certainly times where we came up with characters and things that we realized went a little bit too far. It was certainly something we talked about. But we also talked about how we wanted this to be edgy and we knew going into it that this is something that not everyone is going to feel totally comfortable with, but we were fine with that and kind of intrigued by that.
Yeah, because I’ve talked to people and said “Oh yeah, it is funny” and a lot of people have just rolled their eyes at me and said “Oh, that just looks really stupid” or they dismiss it because it's crude. What I think a lot of people who watch might be surprised about is that it actually does have something to say. Were the satirical elements from the beginning or did they develop over time?
It developed over time, but it developed pretty quickly like we knew going into it that it was going to be a Pixar-style movie about the secret life of food. And we knew if we were going to try to parody Pixar that those Pixar movies are incredible, they are always really smart and have something to say like you just said, so we knew that we needed something. As we talked about the secret life of food, we realized it was going to be a film about food discovering that they get eaten, so if they don’t know that they get eaten then what do they believe happens? And that kind of lent itself very naturally to beliefs and belief systems and the fact that groceries stores are generally categorized by ethnicity, it all just really naturally fit together as being a movie about religion and belief. It's honestly one of those situations where puzzle pieces kind of naturally fit together, which does not always happen or usually happen with the writing process, but, for this one, somehow it all worked together really well.
If there were a sequel, because you’ve kind left it open to this other concept, would it be the animated food interacting in the real world?
That is a great question, and I hope to have an answer to that within the next few weeks. You would get a different answer depending on if you asked me or Kyle or Seth or Evan, we haven’t really discussed anything at length but I am hoping that that discussion will happen soon.
Because the movie is doing well enough to certainly warrant a sequel, which is great that a weird, crude movie like this could do so well.
Yeah, I could not be more thrilled about the whole thing. It has done better than we had all hoped it would do. The fact that it is commercially successful is surprising and delightful. But to answer your question, there would have to be some interaction (with the real world). We ended it in a way that it would be weird if there wasn’t.
What food do you think you would be?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza bagels in my time. Maybe one of those if you are what you eat. I don’t know. What food would you be?
I don’t know. I guess, my nickname in high school was Noodles.
Ah, you should be Noodles then. Yeah, I didn’t have a nickname or a food-based nickname so that question is a lot harder for me to answer.
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