Photo courtesy of Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

The ‘Sausage Party’ Directors Promise a Movie With Brains. And Dicks

“It’s about a bunch of hot dogs who escape their packaging to go have sex with buns”

Hollywood funnymen Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill and writer/producer Evan Goldberg had a proposal for Monsters vs. Aliens director Conrad Vernon. They told Vernon they wanted to make the world’s first CG-animated R-rated movie. And they wanted Vernon to direct it.

Featuring Rogen, Hill and Michael Cera (Superbad reunion, anyone?) as sausages — as well as the likes of Kristen Wiig (as a bun), Salma Hayek (as a taco), Danny McBride (as honey mustard), Edward Norton (as a bagel), Craig Robinson (as grits) and Nick Kroll (as a douche).

“Before this movie, Nick already had two credits on IMDB for a character named ‘Douche,’” jokes Goldberg. “We gave him his third.”

Vernon and his co-director Greg Tiernan promise Sausage Party will have the same humor as previous Rogen/Hill/Goldberg projects like Superbad, Knocked Up and This is The End. But they also swear it will have unexpected depth. After all, who doesn’t like their hot dog with a side of introspection?

What was it like working with Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Evan Goldberg?
Greg Tiernan: It’s awful.

Conrad Vernon: I loved it, so there. It was really great to work with them. When you start a project where you love the person you’re working with’s sensibilities to begin with, it makes it not only it so much easier but also so much fun.

Tiernan: Okay, I loved it.

How’d you get to direct?
Vernon: I came to be on the project after I had directed Monsters vs. Aliens. Seth played Bob the Blob, and he called me and said, “Do you mind coming over? We have something we’d like to pitch to you.” I had no idea what it was going to be. So I showed up, and Evan and Jonah were there, and [they] said, “Nobody has done an R-rated animated comedy in CG. We want to be the first. We have an idea about a bunch of hot dogs who escape their packaging to go have sex with buns.”

In the back of my mind I had already [agreed] as soon as he said “R-rated comedy.” It didn’t matter what it was.

What made you go full animation?
Vernon: We’ve seen R-rated animated movies done traditionally before, with Ralph Bakshi and Heavy Metal, and all that. But that specific [Pixar] look and style and feel is what they were going for.

It definitely is better than dressing people up in hot-dog outfits and doing it live action. We actually were going to have P. Diddy play a bottle of cognac. Seth and Evan had pitched the movie to him, and he was really excited about it. Then he called back and said, “Wait, this is animated? I thought I was going to dress up in a cognac outfit.”

Did you enjoying working with adult themes in animation?
Tiernan: [Conrad and I] worked together on Cool World with Ralph Bakshi back in the early ‘90s. As most animators do, we were drawing all sorts of weird, filthy, and just wrong cartoons to spend our time. It wasn’t an R-rated movie, but it definitely pushed the envelope for PG movies; it was way more mature content than your usual animated movie.

Vernon: It was such a freeing experience to be able to pitch dirty jokes for an animated movie. They pitched to us and we pitched to them, the pages would go back and forth. The storyboard artists would be throwing in gags, too.

It was all about the funny — and how outrageous we can get and still be funny. We never did outrageous for outrageousness’ sake. It was always, “What’s the funniest thing we can do with these characters and still remain driven by story?”

But how much story can there actually be in a movie about sexy food?
Vernon: It started with hot dogs wanting to have sex with buns. We definitely could not carry that one gag through a two-hour movie. We put in some deeper concepts for the story. We want people to leave saying, “I was not expecting that.”

Tiernan: That’s the feedback we’ve been getting from the folks who have been fortunate enough to attend one of our screenings. The first thing they’re going to think is, “It’s a Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg movie. It’s going be a bunch of dick jokes.” And that’s going to get old really quick. It’s not that at all.

Absolutely there are the funny R-rated jokes in there and various sex references, but this movie explores deeper themes, with a lot of a cool analogies and comparisons to everyday existence.

Vernon: The word “smart” has been used, which is good. I’m happy about that.

Do you think Sausage Party has a standout moment — the one that people will be talking about?
Tiernan: There is an orgy.

Vernon: Originally we did it as a two-minute test piece, so that we could visualize the movie for people. It wasn’t until then that everyone could see how funny it was and that it actually could be great.

How did you two resolve directorial conflicts as they came up?
Vernon: Luckily, Greg and I have known each other for a long time, and we knew each other’s personalities, so… we just sat down and started talking about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. And we pretty much saw eye-to-eye on all that stuff. That really helped, as far as conflict. There was never any big, huge meltdowns.

Tiernan: We went on a rule of thumb that worked very well for the two of us: If I felt that something should be handled in a particular way, and Conrad felt that it shouldn’t have been, if Conrad felt way more stronger about it than I did, or vice versa, we handed just it over.

We knew either way it’s going to be great, so there’s not a lot of point getting bent out of shape about, “I’ve got this great idea,” “Well, I’ve also got this great idea.” We just deferred to each other, and it worked out really well.

Conrad: We had many creative differences, as everyone has. In the end, it’s whatever’s best for the movie. What’s the funniest, best way to tell the story visually? How is this going to work? We would debate and then if one of us came out on top and said, “Okay, we’ll do it that way,” but if it was something we both felt very strongly about, we said, “Screw it, we’ll do it BOTH ways and see what’s better for the movie.”

Tiernan: Most of the time we were laughing too bloody much anyway; there’s no room for ego. We laughed way more in this movie than [we had] conflict.

Vernon: It’s hard to angrily argue whether a douche should walk on his hands or have feet. It’s a strange argument to have and take seriously for any amount of time.

You two have also had a prior relationship before coming on this film. How has that helped you?
Conrad: It was great working with Greg, not only because we were friends but also because it was good to have someone you can count on to pick up something you might drop, and vice versa. If you had had a particularly bad day, and I or Greg came to the other one and said, “I just can’t handle this right now,” then the other one would say, “Don’t worry, I got you.” It’s always good to have someone like that who you could count on.

Greg: One hundred percent agree. Conrad was my movie wife. I guess we’re a boring old married movie couple.