"We said, '45.' Sony said, '30.' And we said, 'Whatever you say,'" Goldberg said.

To get as many celebrities as possible into the film, the production initially was going to shoot the party scene in Los Angeles. But even when the production relocated to New Orleans, about the only prominent name "This Is the End" lost was Cameron Diaz. Paul Rudd flew to Louisiana for one night of filming, and came home the next morning.

"We really did get everyone we wanted," producer James Weaver said.

To procure about 600 visual effects shots on the cheap — the budget for the apocalyptic effects was just over $3 million — the filmmakers turned to the upstart company Modus in Montreal, which like Rogen and Goldberg wanted to prove it could deliver the goods at a fraction of the usual rates.

The script may have read well enough on paper, and scenes played funny on the New Orleans set. But there was still the risk that audiences would find "This Is the End" desperately self-absorbed.

"Our first concern was: Is playing ourselves like a massive failure on all fronts?" Rogen said. "Which is like a horrifying thought that kept coming up over and over as we were making the movie. I've actually never been more nervous before a preview than for this one, because it could be complete concept rejection. And it would just be catastrophic for the movie. And we couldn't go around it."

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It turned out not be catastrophic, as the film went over well with test audiences. Still, the box-office prospects are vague. Audience tracking surveys suggest the movie could gross as little as $15 million and as much as $32 million in its first five days of release. Early reviews have been largely favorable, some even glowing.

Even though "This Is the End" has yet to open, Goldberg and Rogen have several similarly budgeted movies in production and development with their producing partner Weaver and their company Point Grey Pictures.

"Townies," which recently wrapped filming in Los Angeles, is a Universal Pictures frat house comedy starring Rogen opposite Zac Efron and Rose Byrne. Rogen and Franco will next star in Sony's "The Interview," which Rogen and Goldberg will direct, a comedy about two journalists caught up in a North Korean assassination plot. They are hopeful that their long-in-the-works "Sausage Party," an R-rated animated comedy about the secret lives of food, could soon start production as well.

"I feel like we've really hit our stride. I feel like we've been smart about the movies we're doing," Rogen said. "I think we made a lot of mistakes in the past, honestly, that have taught us not to do those things anymore. We've made movies for budgets that we shouldn't have been making them for and for ratings we shouldn't have been making them with."

Goldberg said Sony is encouraging them to take more risks, which ultimately means more extreme humor.

"They said, 'You guys have to keep pushing it. We don't know how you're going to do it, but keep pushing it,'" Goldberg said. "Every movie has something they're terrified by. And I think they're beginning to realize that they like that."

john.horn@latimes.com