’50/50′: Seth Rogen on how to sell a cancer comedy

Rogen takes a break on the set of "50/50."

Seth Rogen knew that with “50/50,” he had an important and entertaining story to tell — his friend (and screenwriter) Will Reiser’s battle with a cancer diagnosis at the age of 25. But he also knew it was going to be a tough sell. So here’s how Rogen, who produced the film and co-stars in it with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, went about bringing a “cancer comedy” to theaters.

Don’t fear the C-word.

“The first decision you have to make is to not shy away from what the movie’s about. I think you have to let people know it’s about cancer and then let them know that it’s not f—ing miserable to watch, and that was kind of our entire goal with the marketing, was to really represent what the movie is and really let them know that it’s honest and what it’s about and that it’s going to be a very truthful experience but at the same time it’s funny and it’s ultimately an enjoyable experience.”

But don’t put the C-word in the title.

“We’re not stupid. We know a title like ‘I’m with Cancer’ is repellent to some people. I liked it, but something you have to acknowledge being a filmmaker who wants people to see his movies is that what you like and what you know other people are going to like are two vastly different things at times. We thought it was stupid to go through great lengths to make a movie that was really accessible and enjoyable and crowd-pleasing and then give it a title that would potentially alienate most of the people who wanted to go see it.”

Find a new title — from wherever you can.

“It’s hard to think of a f—ing title. We literally had a box on set that crew members put suggestions in. We offered, like, thousands of dollars if you could think of a title. And I don’t think ‘50/50’ was any of those titles. I don’t know who came up with it ultimately. No one got the prize money. One guy on the crew put in like 50 names, and so I think we ended up giving him a couple hundred bucks. ‘50/50’ is a fine title, you know, I get it. It’s a title that doesn’t repel you from the movie, which for a movie like this is huge.”

Aim for as large an audience as possible.

“I’ve got to be honest, I’m not the kind of guy that goes and sees little independent movies. It’s just not the types of movies I go see. I go see big commercial movies, generally speaking. I honestly don’t think a movie has to be built for a small audience in order to be creatively worthwhile. I think that you should be able to take an idea and make it in a way that everyone understands. To me, that’s what art is — taking a feeling and articulating it to people, you know?”

As for the movie itself, keep it real.

“We really knew that we couldn’t do a bulls— version of the movie. We knew ultimately we had to make it hard to criticize the overall feeling of the movie, which we wanted to be like an honest one, you know? There was a scene where we’re coffin shopping that Will wrote into the first draft, which was funny, but we were like, ‘We never go f—ing coffin shopping. That’s insane.’”

And lastly, know the marketplace and hope for the best.

“I think that people go to movies about much more graphically horrific things than this — and those movies aren’t funny — so I think people are open to it, honestly. I would go to this movie, and again I don’t like little boring independent movies.”


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