Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
“Popstar” is both ridiculing and sympathetic about Justin Bieber. So where do you actually land on the subject?
ANDY SAMBERG There are two sides to it: On the one hand, pop stars got it made. They’re super catered to, they’re super rich, and they travel the world having a wonderful life making art. On the other hand, in cases like Bieber’s, they grow up in public, are judged super-harshly for making teenager kind of mistakes and are expected to behave the way a mature adult would because they’re afforded the things that a successful, mature adult gets. And that was definitely something we were interested in exploring. But the thing we even were more interested in was the relationship between pop stars and their fan base. Because of social media, it’s all, “I’m best friends with my fans.” And what happens when those fans decide they want to move on? What do you fall back on? How have you treated your friends? How have you treated your family?
Andy, is it easier or harder to be directed by your two best friends?
SAMBERG It’s easier.
JORMA TACCONE You don’t have to tiptoe around. If you were directing Jodie Foster, you’d never say to her, “Maybe on this one, let’s take it down a little.” With us, it’s [bluntly], “You’re being too big.”
SAMBERG There’s also something freeing about knowing that we were going to edit it. If you’re on someone else’s set, and they’re pushing you to do something out of your comfort zone, you’re going to be so much more hesitant — it’s up to them to decide whether or not you look bad. I’ll say this: You know when it’s not funny.
AKIVA SCHAFFER That’s also true about comedy in general. Most people just want to say the best jokes. If you have a good suggestion for them, it’s not that rude to yell it across a room.
These are just some of the talking heads in your movie: Nas, Akon, 50 Cent, Seal, Pink, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Questlove, DJ Khaled. How did you cajole so many A-listers into coming onboard?
TACCONE Usually there’s some element of getting on the phone to explain what we want to do. Then there were people like Seal, who had no idea if he wanted to do it or if it was going to be funny. So someone said: “Seal is open to an idea. He needs someone to call him.” Then we had Andy call him.
SAMBERG We worked at “S.N.L.” for seven years. You spend every single week pitching crazy ideas to super famous people. We’re very good about not taking it personally also.
What’s the trick to getting committed performances out of music heavyweights?
SCHAFFER We’d [say], “When you think of Style Boyz, just think of Beastie Boys, like a party band that has a lot of fun.” Then you ask them a question, “What did you think of the Style Boyz?,” and they’d just answer with the Beastie Boys in their minds.
But you also let them improvise, right?
SAMBERG When you’re dealing with people who are charismatic, big personalities in their own right, someone like Ringo Starr all the way to ASAP Rocky, you want them to put it in their own words because it lends authenticity. And the more they’d do that, the funnier it was to us. [ASAP Rocky] is a very nice dude. These flowers are from him. [Points to white lilies on the coffee table.] He sent them over because I did an intro video for him for Coachella. And they’re just making the whole room smell great.
There’s just a single, fleeting shot of Justin Bieber in the entire film. Why not more?
TACCONE We reached out and asked if he wanted to do an interview. In his defense, he was probably just busy. We’ve worked with him twice before. He was in the 100th Digital Short for us. We have a very nice relationship with him.
Do you remember when you all met?
TACCONE Not the first day, but [Akiva and I] were both very short guys, and Akiva was very excited to see another guy who was probably under 5 feet at the time. We were tiny.
SCHAFFER There weren’t that many teeny little white guys at our school.
One hallmark of your work is that your hip-hop parodies actually show how good you are at the form. How closely do you study music videos? Do you have conversations about movement?
SCHAFFER [laughs] I’m going to go ahead as the nontheater major and say no. The word “movement” has never been used. The only thing we do is go, “You look really dumb there.” Sometimes in editing we cut out the part where I look really stupid. That’s what you do for a real artist as well. Sometimes, though, you watch a music video and think, “Ooof, they left in some of the lame stuff.”
An earlier version of this article misidentified a concert film about Katy Perry. It is “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” not “All of Me.”