Zack and Miri Make A Porno (2008)

Zack and Miri Make A Porno (2008)

Taglines: What would you do to get out of debt?

Late twenty-somethings Zack Brown and Miri Linky, who have been friends since they met in grade one, are platonic roommates, who have never had sex with each other or have seriously contemplated it. Both work in dead end retail service jobs, and cannot make ends meet. They have no money for their upcoming rent, and with several utility bills past due, their electricity and water have been shut off. After speaking to a friend of a friend at their ten year high school reunion, Zack comes up with an idea to make money: make a porn movie, with themselves as the lead actors, and distribute the final product themselves.

Zack figures they have a built-in initial market of their 800 high school classmates regardless of what those classmates think of either of them sexually, and that neither of them have any significant people in their lives who they would embarrass by having sex on camera.

Beyond the obstacles of production, such as costs for equipment, the sound stage, sets and other actors and actually finding those actors, Zack and Miri have to face the obvious question of what having sex with each other will do to their friendship. They decide that they will treat it as a job with no effect on their friendship. Through the obstacles of production, working on this job does have an effect on both Zack and Miri which does have the potential to affect their friendship.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno (2008)

Beyond whether this project will get them out of their financial hole, the questions are whether the effect they each face are the same, whether they will confront the effects objectively, and whether they will be truthful with the other. What happens when two best friends up to their eyeballs in debt decide to have sex on camera for money? Kevin Smith was desperate for answers.

He took a group of ragtag actors to Pittsburgh for two months to find out. Not many actors have successful directors sitting around, writing movie scripts with them in mind for the lead character. But for Kevin Smith, Zack was tailor written with Seth Rogen in mind. Kevin explains that when he watched THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, he fell in love-with Rogen. “I thought he was hilarious,” Kevin explains.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a 2008 American romantic sex comedy film written and directed by Kevin Smith and starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. It is Smith’s second film (after Jersey Girl) not to be set within the View Askewniverse and his first film not set in New Jersey. It was released on October 31, 2008.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno was a box office flop. The film opened #2 behind High School Musical 3: Senior Year with $10.7 million from 2,735 theaters, an average of $3,906 per theater. The bankable Rogen experienced his “worst box-office opening ever”. In an interview with Katla McGlynn of the Huffington Post, Smith himself observed: During its 13 weeks in release, the film grossed $42.1 million worldwide.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno (2008) - Elizabeth Banks

About the Production

“I started thinking about him for this film, but I didn’t get around to writing the script for while. When I finished the script, I started seeing his face everywhere. He was on billboards all around LA for KNOCKED UP. I figured he’d never consider my flick anymore.”

Harvey Weinstein introduced the pair casually a year earlier while Kevin was working on CLERKS II and Seth was shooting a cameo in FANBOYS. Kevin took a chance and emailed Seth about the project. Kevin recalls Seth replied five minutes later. “Seth’s email said, `No bullshit. When I first got to Los Angeles and an agent asked me what I wanted to do, I said that I wanted to be in a Kevin Smith movie. And that hasn’t changed.’ I was stoked.”

Smith personally delivered the script to Rogen’s door. The curly-haired comedian was roaring with laughter and couldn’t put it down. “I almost never do that with a script,” says Rogen. “I just loved it. I thought it was great, I thought the idea was really funny, I thought it was sweet, and I thought the romance of it worked really well. I then gave it to my girlfriend to read, and she’s a really good gauge of this stuff also. If we both like a script, then I generally think its good, because we kind of have pretty different sensibilities. And she really liked it too.”

“Zack is the kind of guy who never really did much after High School,” explains Rogen. “I assume he never really went to college, although it’s not explicitly explained, and I’m the type of actor who does no back story whatsoever for himself. So, you know, he works in a coffee shop, and he lives with his best friend who he’s known his whole life, and he’s definitely not the happiest guy in the world, but he’s not miserable. He’s just kind of floating through life.”

Zack and Miri Make A Porno (2008) - Traci Lords

When Rogen and Smith finally met again in Pittsburgh to shoot, “we got along really, really well, and I thought, this is a guy I would spend two months in Pittsburgh with,” says Rogen.

“It’s really strange though,” says Rogen of joining Smith’s world. “I kind of feel like I’ve stepped into another universe in a weird way, but its hilarious. Jason Mewes really makes me laugh, and they’re all great actors. It’s awesome.”

Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen hit it off so well that when Rogen suggested Elizabeth Banks would be “funny” in the female lead of Miri (having worked with her on THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN), Smith said, “done.” Banks read the script, which she said she “loved immediately.” A week later, the spunky blonde actress was in.

Rogen pulled in some other friends too, like Craig Robinson (as Delaney), Gerry Bednob (as clueless Mr. Surya, a coffee shop owner), and Ricky Mabe (who plays porn star/sex machine Barry).

Rogen also mentioned, off the cuff, how hilarious it would be to make Brandon Routh and Justin Long a gay porn couple. “They kind of look alike, and one’s really tall, and one is kinda short,” says Rogen. Two days later, the two busy actors were in Pittsburgh, ready to shoot.

Why all the friends around? “Because it was my first time really working outside of my group of friends,” says Rogen. “I felt I had to bring them on board just to keep me comfortable. Basically because I’m chicken shit. So, I tried to make sure familiar faces were around.”

Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen had amazing on-set and offset chemistry. They really each impressed the other. “I think we have been cursed with the `adorable stick’ as I like to call it,” says Banks. “We’ve just been beating adorable over the head. And cute, there’s a lot of cute between us, a lot of `meet cute’ as they like to say in the romantic comedy world.”

Working with Seth was “a constant surprise,” says Banks. “And I mean that on a lot of levels actually. He does a lot of improvisation, so I have no idea what’s going to come out of his mouth half the time. But also, he is such a great actor. He’s a really legitimate romantic lead in this movie. I think it’s thrilling, and it’s going to be so fun for audiences to see him play something like this. He’s got that sort of stoner quality to him, like he has in most of his other roles, but in this one, he is truly a leading man, and I think that’s really special.”

Former adult porn star Traci Lords was also in awe of Rogen and Banks chemistry. “It blows my mind that he is in his twenties,” she says. “He’s so young, and he is so completely on-the-money, and he’s really hilarious,” says the former porn star. “I’ve enjoyed standing across from him, and next to him. He’s got impeccable timing and he is really good.”

From his raunchy reputation, you would think Rogen would relish shooting sex scenes, but his favorite scene to shoot was actually a simple scene with him and Banks, where the two are walking and talking in the snow. “I also liked shooting the scene where we walk up to our high school reunion,” says Rogen. “That was one where I felt very in-tune with Elizabeth” says Rogen.”

They were almost too in-tune on set. The two would laugh off camera constantly and keep the energy flowing. They spent one entire afternoon figuring out every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that could be turned into a porn title, like TOTAL RECOCK or KINDERGARTEN COCK. Or even just TWINS.

The playful thespians have no qualms talking about their first interaction with pornography. “I’d say the very first time-I mean the first time I saw dirty pictures, like Penthouse and Playboy were under my uncle’s bed,” says Banks. “And he had a water bed. So, my cousins and I used to climb under there, slide under there. I think we were like seven. We’d try to get a page out perfectly, so he wouldn’t notice.”

Rogen’s first porn experience wasn’t as playful, but even dirtier-literally. “I think I was around eleven years old and I was doing a play in Chinatown in Vancouver, and my mom had dropped me off, and I was a little early, so I walked around,” he says. “And bunched up in the gutter was a few pages of a porno magazine. It was kind of in a ball, and I remember I walked by it, but I saw there on the street, and I just kept walking. I walked like ten feet and I stopped. I was like fuck…I have to go back and get it… and so I like circled it a few times like a shark, and then, when the coast was clear, I just grabbed it and shoved it in my pocket, and it was all wet I remember because it had been raining. And I shoved it in there, and I didn’t look at it. I went in and rehearsed my play, it was in the pocket the whole time, and then I went home and I looked at it and I remember it was all kind of like wrinkled, and it was stuck together, and when I finally looked at it-it blew my mind.”

Rogen became a collector of porn magazines, and like most young kids, he slowly accumulated his own private stash. “It was pretty high on my list of priorities,” he says. But he did not trade magazines with other friends, like baseball cards. “I didn’t rely on other people for my porn,” says Rogen. “I wanted my own.”

When Seth Rogen was in high school, he remembers overhearing his friends singing the “Berserkers song” and asked where that was from. They told him they had just seen the movie CLERKS and that it was filthy, and real, with guys who actually spoke like them, and not some made-up, phony Americanized suburban language. It was a precise portrayal of the real thing.

“It’s the first movie that anyone had really seen that was like that,” said Rogen. “I mean, I guess movies like DINER started that trend in a way, but CLERKS was the first one where the guys really talked how we talked to one another. We would just have a ten-minute conversation about blowjobs, you know?”

“And I remember seeing it and just thinking, `Holy shit! This is crazy,’” said Rogen. “’This guy just actually did it. He made a movie about guys like us.’” Ironically, CLERKS is what inspired Rogen to start writing the first drafts of SUPERBAD, riffing on CLERKS’ conversation style. But coming to set was a different story.

Being an improvisation whiz, Seth Rogen is used to winging scenes, adlibbing and not sticking to the script religiously, or even memorizing lines. So, working with Smith, a filmmaker who is notorious for sticking to his script, was a lot different than what Rogen is used to.

A huge fan, Rogen knew that Smith doesn’t like improvisation, and that’s the one thing everyone warned him about going in. So as two adults, it was one of the first things they got out of the way, and one of the first conversations they had. They agreed to meet in the middle, promising to both try a more flexible approach.

“Kevin’s style is a lot different,” says Rogen. “Visually there’s a lot more going on, so I think as an actor, part of your job is to understand what’s actually usable on film, and how the movie’s going go be edited.” Smith let Rogen loosen up the dialogue and add little jokes here and there, but when Rogen would get nervous about adding something into the script, he would mention it to Smith during other actor’s time, just to test the waters and see if Smith would laugh at it.

Banks’ experience with director Smith was new to her. She went to his house and they spoke, but there was never any major audition process. “He kind of just said, `do you want to do this?’ I didn’t really believe he was offering me the part in that moment, so I was like, `yeah I want to do it.’ But really, I didn’t know what was happening,” says Banks. “The next thing I knew, it was official. I was Miri.”

“We built a good rapport,” says Banks. “I love his films. I’ve read a lot of comedy scripts, and I can honestly say that Kevin writes real, hilarious women better than just about anybody. He finds that balance between raunchy and daring yet feminine and genuine which is rare and a true talent.”

Lords began reading the script and burst into laughter. “It was some of the rudest shit I’ve ever read,” she says. “It was really funny. One of the things about the film that I think is surprising, endearing, and really works is that, you’ve got this very explicit, provocative dialogue, like in SUPERBAD. The characters, these young kids would say stuff and you were just kind of like, `whoa!’-the way that they said it.”

Lords was hooked and accepted the job, heading to Pittsburgh with her 4-month-old baby and her husband, an undertaking unlike anything the 15-year-old runaway had “ever done before,” she says.

Beware: Kevin has turned the raunchy dial up to 11 for ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO.

Smith admits “shooting nudity and simulated sex could’ve been off-the-charts uncomfortable, but since it was with folks like Mewes and Katie-folks who’re inordinately comfortable with their bodies either dressed or not-it wasn’t Hell on Earth for me. The two of them didn’t seem to mind wearing next to nothing during the scenes.”

“This is a dirty movie,” adds Rogen. “There’s literally assholes in this movie. A lot of people figuratively say their movies have assholes in it-like actors or grips who behave like assholes. Our movie actually has an asshole in it.”

“It got real the day that we went to the strip club,” said Banks. “When we were sitting there staring up into this girl’s voluptuous… um… you could see her brains I think. Uh, and her pierced clitoris.”

One day, Lords came into work and was told that Mr. Smith wanted to speak with her. He had decided that a scene he’d written was a bit repetitive and he wanted to do something different. He asked her how she felt about strapping on a certain appendage and pretending to mount Barry (played by Ricky Mabe).

“It takes a lot to shock me,” she says. “But I was rather taken aback. I was stunned, and then I said, `you know what? That sounds really interesting.” Lords says “thought, `well this could be quite funny if it’s done quickly, and I think the way Kevin set it up, and the way that David Klein shot it, and the way that Ricky Mabe-his reaction was so brilliant, it was hilarious. So, I’m glad that I was brave at that moment, and that I went with it, and that I had a fabulous costume, and I’m glad that it all came together, because it’s really unlike anything I’ve ever done in a film before. It actually ended up being alright.” But Rogen couldn’t help but feel mortified for his friend.

Elizabeth Banks enjoyed working with Jason Mewes, who played sex maniac Lester, mostly for the fact that his penis is an “amazing character” in the movie. “I mean it just has taken on a life of its own,” she said. “He’s a little fella, but he gets the job done, and Mewes really brings a lot of spirit to his role.”

In a scene within the faux porno movie, called “Swallow My Cockaccino,” Mewes takes on Stacey (played by adult film icon Katie Morgan), a “whorista” behind the counter of “Ween and Dong,” a faux espresso joint. “God, it was awesome,” says Morgan, who counts this as her first mainstream movie, after starring in over 200 adult porn movies. “Wow. I don’t even know quite how to put it into words.”

USA Today ran an article saying, “Will people go see this movie?” which initiated a conservative argument about the title and whether the younger generation should be exposed to such material.

“Okay, people seemed to be verklempt about the title, bent out of shape about the title of the movie,” says Rogen. “I think it’s weird that people would be so up in arms.”

Banks admits to doing “way worse things in movies than I did in this,” and said “it was kind of fun and tame,” actually. Rogen also said that he’s done “unquestionably more graphic stuff,” especially compared to the explicit sex scenes he did in KNOCKED UP. “My ass isn’t even in this movie,” he adds. “I shaved my back for nothing.”

“The movie is very light,” he explains. “Is there anything in this movie that you haven’t seen in other movies? The answer is no. I really don’t think there is. And is there anything in this movie that will really be damaging to anyone who saw it? Again, the answer is definitely no. I mean, I think it’s way more damaging to see, you know, a movie like `Saw,’ where someone is tortured for forty-five minutes than it is to see people having sex.”

Smith explains “We shot a scene one day that was about as dramatic a scene as I’ve ever shot in anything I’ve ever done. And Seth tuned around and literally said `this is in the same movie as all that other stuff?’”

The director had a formidable task explaining to others, including the MPAA that the film was relatively tame. “There’s nothing erotic about the sex in the movie,” says Smith. “We’re lampooning porno sex, which is over-the-top to begin with. So we had to go more over-the-top. But in our film, it’s for comedy, not for titillation.”

mith submitted the film to the MPAA three times. On each submission, it was slapped with an NC-17. Uncomfortable with cutting any further, he elected to take the film through the appeals process, in an effort to overturn the rating without making any cuts. “This was our third appeals screening,” Smith says, referring to two previous run-ins with the MPAA over CLERKS and JERSEY GIRL. “Even though we were successful at flipping film ratings twice in the past, I felt like this was the one appeal I only had a 50/50 shot at winning, based on the skin factor. Mercifully, the appeals audience agreed that we didn’t take the material into NC-17 territory and they overturned the rating to an R.”

It is vintage Kevin Smith. There is filth and raunchiness and sexually explicit material, but his films have all-at their core-been about loving relationships either between best friends or romantic interests. In this film you get both: best friends who become love interests.

The cast confirms that it’s not just another porn movie or a movie about porn. The film is fun and quite silly. It has dirty language and a pure heart.

Audiences will hopefully get a kick out of seeing SUPERMAN’s Brandon Routh whose gay porn star boyfriend is played by actor Justin Long and also watching Jason Mewes, dressed up as Lube Skyballer, runs around with goofy sex toys, slapping them against people’s cheekbones.

And then there’s quite a touching love story between Zack and Miri. “In terms of the stuff I’ve done in the past, Smith admits, it’s probably closest to CHASING AMY. It’s very direct and dirty but it’s very sweet.”

“It is a love story,” says Lords unequivocally. “It would seem that it would be such a fine line to have a film with a subject matter being porn, and to have this really explicit language, and yet have characters that are so completely endearing,” says Lords. “Seth and Elizabeth, the way that they work together, and their vibe and their chemistry, and the way that Kevin has written this and put it together, and dressed it all up, and all the people merge-you absolutely love them all. There’s nothing icky about it,” she confirms. “There are shocking things about the film, but I wouldn’t say that anything is vulgar about this film. It’s got that sweetness to it. The heart of it is really, really special.”

Katie Morgan concludes that while the movie does have R-rated porn in it, it’s not really about porn at all. “It’s about two people who actually didn’t know they loved each other and then find out they do,” she says. “See, it’s a good, happy movie. The boobs are just for, you know, looking at. A little bit extra.”

Zack and Miri Make A Porno Movie Poster (2008)

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Traci Lords, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Kenny Hotz, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Nicholas Lombardi, Brandon Routh
Screenplay by: Kevin Smith
Production Design by: Robert Holtzman
Cinematography by: David Klein
Film Editing by: Kevin Smith
Costume Design by: Salvador Pérez Jr.
Set Decoration by: Diana Stoughton
Art Direction by: Elise G. Viola
Music by: James L. Venable
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for some some graphic sexuality.
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: October 31, 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *