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The Mellow Moguls: Seth Rogen and His Point Grey Partners Dish on Their Expanding Hollywood Empire

Seth Rogen and his Point Grey partners continue an incredibly ambitious output of mid-budget comedies (HBO Max’s 'An American Pickle') even as their low-key empire expands into big-budget TV and animated franchises: "They’re giving us more at-bats. And we’re taking them."

Shortly after the pandemic sent all of Hollywood to work from home this spring, the 13 employees of Point Grey Pictures inaugurated a new ritual. Each week, the staff of the production company run by Seth Rogen, his writing and producing partner Evan Goldberg and former assistant James Weaver watches the same movie and then meets on Zoom on Friday afternoon to discuss it. Recent titles, which Point Grey employees take turns selecting, include French psychological thriller Caché, sci-fi satire Starship Troopers and the supernatural horror film Suspiria — both the 1977 Dario Argento version and the 2018 Luca Guadagnino version.

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“Our office was like a little campus,” says Goldberg, 37, of Point Grey’s 1920s building in Hollywood, where he and Rogen, 38, sit on the same side of a shared desk during normal times (Weaver, 39, has his own office). “We had to create a social environment to keep our company having the fun vibe it always had. So we introduced this movie thing. I just slug through this shit with my kids all day, and then Friday I get to spend two hours talking about a movie.”

As the novel coronavirus ground production and theatrical releases to a halt, Point Grey quickly adapted. Its new film, An American Pickle, which was produced at Sony and slated for a theatrical release, instead will become the first original film on HBO Max when it premieres Aug. 6. The second season of its Amazon show, The Boys — one of the streamer’s most popular series, according to Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke — premieres Sept. 4, and the show was just renewed for a third season.

Since launching in 2011 with the indie cancer comedy 50/50 and finding box office success with mid-budget studio comedies like Sony’s This Is the End ($126 million worldwide) and Universal’s Neighbors ($270.7 million), Point Grey has expanded into animation, with the R-rated Sony film Sausage Party, and TV, with AMC’s Western noir comic book adaptation Preacher.

“We’ve never been people with a long-term strategy, because in the film industry, it’s silly,” Rogen says during a Zoom interview from his dining room table in mid-July, with Goldberg and Weaver also participating from their homes. “We just always did whatever seemed exciting to us and seemed like we could potentially sell it to somebody.”

While navigating the pandemic as producers, Point Grey is taking a cautious approach. “I’m waiting to see what Chris Nolan does,” Rogen says, in a tongue-in-cheek response delivered on the day Warner Bros. announced it was delaying the release of Tenet for a third time. ” ‘WWCND’ is basically what we’re saying at all times. ‘What would Chris Nolan do?’ For a while, it seemed like the answer was to kill his greatest fans. But that’s not the answer of today, it seems, so that’s good. But we have no idea. We don’t want to be the first to rush into anything.”

Even before COVID-19 closed theaters, Point Grey had been exploring different distribution plans for An American Pickle, a quirky comedy based on a Simon Rich short story about a 1920s immigrant laborer who falls into a vat of pickles and is preserved in brine for 100 years. Rogen stars in a dual role as both the pickled immigrant and that character’s great-grandson, a kombucha-drinking app developer living in contemporary Brooklyn. “It’s about grief, ultimately,” Rogen says, explaining why An American Pickle was perhaps not best suited to be released by the studio that made Jumanji. “It’s a movie about loss, and about family, and about legacy. These are just not things that generally are said in the Sony marketing meetings. Nowhere in our films do people get sucked into a board game. I love those movies; this is just not that.”

In striking the American Pickle deal with HBO Max, Rogen says, Point Grey was selecting a partner that they believed would help the film stand out in a crowded marketplace. “The fact that we’re their first film, instead of one of 800,000 films on another platform, alleviated a lot of the fears that one might have about your film landing on a streaming service, like, ‘How special will it seem?’ ‘How much focus will I have from the service itself?’ ” Rogen says. (Point Grey’s Netflix movie, the $27 million action comedy Game Over, Man!, came and went in 2018 with little notice.) Without disclosing the terms of the HBO Max deal, Rogen says the film had a budget of more than $20 million.

Making enough money to stay in the game has been a goal at Point Grey since Rogen and Goldberg launched the company to make 50/50, an independent film that was tonally distinct from the broader comedies where they had established their writing bona fides, Superbad and Pineapple Express. “We’ve, knock on wood, managed to hit more than we’ve missed,” Rogen says. “And they let us keep playing. I’m bad with sports analogies.” Weaver says, “They’re giving us more at-bats. And we’re taking them.”

At the core of Point Grey is Rogen and Goldberg’s friendship and creative partnership — the company is named after the Vancouver secondary school they attended. The duo met in a Hebrew school class called T&T: Tallit and Tefillin while preparing for their bar mitzvahs, and at age 13 began writing the script that would become their breakout 2007 hit, Superbad. “Honestly, it was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read in my life,” says Matt Tolmach, who was president at Columbia when the studio bought the film. Tolmach later produced the Point Grey Hulu show Future Man and is now producing an adult animated film, Bubble, with the company. Although Superbad arrived in the middle of the raunchy teen comedy franchise American Pie and built on a tradition forged by movies like Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it was the first film from producer Judd Apatow’s popular stable of R-rated comedies to star teenagers, not adults. “At the time, there was a lot of concern,” Tolmach explains. “Can you market an R-rated movie about teenagers? The answer was resoundingly yes, because there was something universally true about how awkward and painful growing up can be. [Rogen and Goldberg] live super close to that thing, which is the authenticity of what it feels like to be misunderstood, overlooked, awkward.”

Over the years, their partnership has been tested by standard industry stumbles — like their critically derided 2011 Green Hornet adaptation, which Rogen has called a “fucking nightmare” — and an international incident when their 2014 political satire The Interview appeared to spark the Sony studio hack, which ultimately led to the departure of studio chief Amy Pascal. In describing their conversations with current Sony chief Tom Rothman over how to handle An American Pickle, Rogen quipped that “technically … you could say he owes us, I would argue.” Goldberg adds, “You could say. We would not say that.”

Though they were just 24 when they sold Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg had already accumulated some impressive comedy writing experience — Rogen as a writer on the Judd Apatow series Undeclared, in which he also starred, and both as writers on Da Ali G Show. Apatow had been impressed by Rogen’s improvisational abilities as an actor on the producer’s previous show, Freaks and Geeks, and gave the creatively precocious teenager an opportunity. There are marks of Apatow’s mentorship on the Point Grey process, including a tolerance for spirited debate and the encouragement of on-set improv. “When I was a writer on Undeclared, I was 18,” Rogen says. “I had very different tastes than a lot of the other writers, and I was very argumentative, telling them the shit they thought they liked was lame and the shit I liked was cool. And now, I’m almost 40, and we need people who aren’t just like, ‘Yeah, this is good.’ We need people who are like, ‘No … this sucks.’ “

Two Point Grey projects were killed by vocal first-year assistants, including a script on its way to a studio green light that prompted one to send Rogen a damning email critique. “She just pointed out a flaw that our older, dumber brains wouldn’t have noticed,” Rogen says. “I try to create an environment where everyone knows if there’s a problem, just say it. If we weren’t the people you worked for, what would you think of this material?”

While Rogen and Goldberg set the creative tone at Point Grey, Weaver, as president, runs the business. Formerly Rogen’s assistant, he distinguished himself as an organized producer who fit well into a team that values both work ethic and a laid-back lifestyle. (Among the trio’s other businesses is Houseplant, a Canada-based company that sells cannabis-infused beverages.)

“Their appetite for creative work is voracious,” says Lionsgate Motion Picture Group chairman Joe Drake, whose previous companies, Mandate Pictures and Good Universe, financed several early Point Grey films, and who released their 2019 romantic comedy, Long Shot. “When you go, ‘Seth’s really a fun guy and kind of a stoner,’ people automatically go, ‘Well, that’s the opposite of work.’ That’s just not the case with these guys.”

As Point Grey and its founders have matured, they’ve begun taking on projects with broader scope and bigger ambitions, including TV. Preacher, which ran four seasons on AMC and won praise from critics for its stylish, well-acted adaptation of a gory, controversial comic book, also granted Point Grey a new level of credibility with other creators, particularly in the comic book universe. Since then the company has made the sci-fi comedy series Future Man for Hulu, the Wall Street comedy Black Monday for Showtime and the superhero show The Boys for Amazon. “In movies, we were very known for comedies specifically,” Rogen says. “And in TV, Preacher was our first show, and it opened the door for us right away to do a lot more different stuff. All of a sudden, in the TV world, we are playing in levels of budgets that, if you were to transfer over to the movie world, is a much bigger arena than we are generally working in. Hopefully it will transfer over into movies. The Boys has shown us, when we make these big scope-y things, while still having our sensibilities, they can work.”

While Amazon has singled out The Boys as a success, Rogen says Point Grey does not know the show’s streaming numbers. “They’ve conveyed to us that it is quite popular,” Rogen says. “It’s for sure the most popular thing we’ve made. I could quantify every failure I’ve ever had for you, but I could not give you specifics on our success.”

Point Grey has also managed to bolster its home genre, the oft-threatened mid-budget comedy, most recently with the $110 million-grossing 2019 coming-of-age comedy Good Boys. “When Good Boys was a giant hit in the movie theaters, that happened at a time where people were saying it’s not going to happen,” says Tolmach.

Though Rogen has starred in many of Point Grey’s films and he and Goldberg co-directed This Is the End and The Interview, part of evolving as producers, they say, has been learning to support other peoples’ visions, particularly in TV. “We used to get our hands in there too much, and now we know to stay back a bit, and support when needed,” Goldberg says. They are producing a CG-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film for ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon division to be directed by Jeff Rowe (Gravity Falls); it would mark their company’s biggest-budget film to date. “We’ve just grown comfortable dealing with large sums of money that made us more uncomfortable when we were younger,” Rogen says. In a sign of their stylistic range, Rogen and Goldberg are also writing a Searchlight film about Hollywood hustler Scotty Bowers for Guadagnino to direct.

In 2019, Point Grey signed a joint venture, multi-platform content deal with Lionsgate, which reunites the team with Drake and Lionsgate’s president of motion pictures Nathan Kahane. “We were shopping ourselves around for a bigger deal, and it just was completely logical to us to go to them,” Goldberg says. “We know when to get out of each other’s way and when to support each other. And they made a good offer.”

Their Lionsgate deal could involve bigger projects and even the possibility to be included in the mini studio’s theme park division. Absent Point Grey movies that would yield obvious attractions, Goldberg suggests a Rogen ride. “It’s like hanging out with me for four minutes,” Rogen says. “You sit on a couch next to an animatronic me and we watch 90 Day Fiancé together. It’s a great ride.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.