WARNING: This article contains passages and descriptions that are heavily NSFW in nature. DO NOT READ if you are under the age of 17.
So, after months of skepticism, debate, and some internet outrage over a leaked script, Sausage Party is now in theaters. Whatever you might think about the film, you can’t argue that the movie – tonally, stylistically, thematically – is unlike anything else out there in feature animation.
Yesterday, we told you all about the details revealed by Seth Rogen after the film’s screening at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Now, it’s time you get to hear from the directors (Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon), who spoke to Indiewire last Thursday about the ups and down of trying to make this film.
While you might not know it from the trailers, Conrad revealed that he a clear goal for the film beyond just wanting to bank off the ‘shock and awe’ novelty factor of an R-rated animated feature. “One of the biggest reasons I wanted to do this was for the industry itself, just to be able to knock down the door and prove that R-rated animation has an audience,” He said. “It just depends on how you tell the story and we think animation’s not just for families and kids and that it’s a medium and not a genre.”
Conrad’s vested interest in the film stems from his childhood, as he grew up with the works of indie darling Ralph Bakshi and niche hits like the 1981 anthology film Heavy Metal. Ironically enough, he began his career as a storyboard artist on Bakshi’s 1992 film Cool World, where he first met his Sausage Party co-director Greg Tiernan.
So when Seth Rogen approached the two with the idea of directing the film, he couldn’t refuse the offer: “When he got to the part where he said we want to do a movie about a bunch of sausages trying to escape their packaging to go f**k buns, I was totally sold right then and there.” Eight years and many rejected pitches later, indie mega-producer Megan Ellison’s studio Annapurna Pictures agrees to co-finance and Vernon approaches Tiernan with the offer to co-direct (which Tiernan accepts).
The animation for the movie was done at Nitrogen Studios Canada, a small animation company that Tiernan co-founded. After a script was written and a voice cast was put together, the directors went to work with a team of 150 artists to try and achieve – on a small budget of $19 million – cinematic-quality animation.
They began with a proof-of-concept test featuring the main characters (mostly the sausages). Initially designed with a hyper-realism that made violent scenes look disturbing, the visual style gradually shifted towards a cartoony look and feel to keep it funny. According to Vernon, the animators took some classic inspiration for the shift in aesthetics: “We pulled back a little bit by giving our characters rubber hose arms with big Mickey Mouse gloves and giant, floppy feet,” Said Vernon. “We went back into the old Warner Bros. Bob Clampett, Goofy and Popeye cartoons.
The search for the right visual aesthetic also reflected the search for the right tone to strike for the film, sparking countless conversations between the directors, Rogen and his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg, and the writers. “We were constantly questioning ourselves,” Tiernan said. “Fortunately, our only confines as far as creativity was concerned was our own taste levels.”
Perhaps their most well-documented challenge in making the film was their tug-o-war with the MPAA over its rating. When it came time to run it by the organization, Vernon and company already had ideas about what would stay and what would be left on the cutting room floor to avoid the NC-17 rating: “I have a sneaking suspicion that we made those guys laugh because they weren’t as hard on us as they could’ve been,” Vernon said. “We definitely made it a helluva lot dirtier than we had to so that when we cut something we knew what wasn’t going to go.”
That being said, the directors were surprised by how well the actors handled the sex scenes, even to the point where Edward Norton suggested his character (Sammy) have sex with Lavish (David Krumholtz): “Even when Conrad and I were working with the actors on the sex shots, and it could’ve gotten weird and uncomfortable, we kept it funny and goofy,” Said Tiernan. “It’s food porn — more ridiculous than offensive.”
While the filmmakers clearly had fun indulging in the film’s R-rated insanity, even they had some lines that they couldn’t cross. The goriest scenes in the film came from an action sequence that occurs in the third act, where all of the food characters rise up against the humans. But even those scenes had to be toned down to keep the ‘gross’ factor low. “ We had blood running out of people’s eyes,” Vernon recalled. One scene that got cut involved a guy having his Achilles tendon ripped out by potato peelers.
The recording process was also different from most other animated films, with the actors engaged in a free-flowing and collaborative process where they would often improvise and bounce ideas off of the directors, producers, and writers (like live-action). “New running gags and story points came about,” Tiernan said. “One of the improvs that Nick Kroll did [as Douche] was he had a pun thing where he’d have an idea and then a light bulb pops up and says, ‘Who, me?’ And he says, ‘Not you!’ And Selma Hayek took over in the booth and surprised everyone when she said, ‘Go f**k yourself, El Duce!’”
Defying all the odds (and most of the controversy surrounding the project), Sausage Party opened to a massive opening weekend (in second place) of $33 million, marking something of a watershed moment for animated films of this type. This is great news all involved, as the directors (like Rogen) have their hopes set high on sequels as well as more R-rated animated films in the marketplace. “Hopefully, it works in a funny, comedic way in CG and we can make a lot more of these in the future,” Tiernan said.
What do you think? Any thoughts on the directors and the film’s development history? Stay tuned tomorrow for a special Sausage Party-related article!