Directing duo Phil Lord Christopher Miller are the geniuses behind “21 Jump Street,” “The Lego Movie,” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. On June 13, you will get to enjoy their latest creation “22 Jump Street”.
We had the opportunity to see them in action on set in New Orleans in November 2013. At the time they were simultaneously working on the “Lego Movie” and “22 Jump Street.” They then participated in a roundtable interview with a small group of journalists. Read highlights from the conversation below.
Q: Talk about the expectations of this. The fact that the first movie, it came out, you guys never directed a live-action movie, it blew up, it was hilarious. Now you have a summer release, everybody’s expecting it to be much better.
Lord: That’s what you guys are for. We are here to lower expectations. You need to go back and write all about how you’re not really sure, you think it may be not that good.
Miller: Everything we’ve ever done has been riding on low expectations. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” what a terrible idea! Doing “21 Jump Street” as a movie was a terrible idea. LEGO Movie sounds like a terrible idea. If people think it’s a good idea we’re screwed!
Lord: We’re in big trouble.
Miller: Because, you guys, we all know that sequels are terrible.
Lord: Who wants to see a dumb sequel?!
Q: When we were talking to Channing and Jonah they were saying how the best part about this idea is that you’re subverting that idea that sequels always attempt to be bigger.
Miller: Oh, very much.
Q: So can you talk a bit about that?
Miller: Yeah, I mean that was part of the joy of it, for us was trying to find a hook-y idea about doing a sequel. The first one was a lot about buddy cop movies and bromances in general and then we felt like this one should have the same attitude towards sequels.
Lord: We’re trying to make it work for the story of the movie. So the movies really about can you recreate the magic of that first time that you meet somebody? Those first dates. How do you sustain that over the course of a relationship? Or, in our case, a movie.
Q: What is the line where things become too meta?
Miller: Well, exactly. That’s the line we’re always walking.
Lord: We’re gonna find it! We’re like explorers!
Q: Which side are you going to try to fall?
Miller: Well we always, you know, protect ourselves with safety stuff whenever we feel like we’re getting too meta. The story has to work on its own , obviously. There was the same issue for us when we did the first one where we sort of packed it with all of these little hidden meta gems but any time it crossed the line and it didn’t make sense as a real story we ended up taking it out because it didn’t fit and so the same is true.
Q: So is that something that becomes more visible in the editing room?
Lord: For sure.
Lord: The movie kind of tells you and then you go, “Oh, that’s too much. Now we’re just disappearing up our own asshole.”
Q: How much do you rely on what’s already on the page as opposed to Jonah and Channing making improv babies?
Lord: I don’t know. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to shoot the thing that’s on the page at all but it’s definitely a free for all. We’re sitting there…we’re writers, Jonah’s a writer, Channing’s now a writer, we’re all sitting there and we have a writer on set so we’re just trying to get the most out of every sequence and every scene so I would say we probably quickly diverge from what’s on the page.
Q: With the success of the first film, did you get a little bit more money? Did you get more room to work with?
Miller: We did get more money.
Lord: Definitely more expensive.
Miller: But not as much more as you might think. Turns out the studios have like…budgets and finances and stuff that they care about. Whatever. But yes, I mean, a lot of this has been about…yes it’s a joke about how sequels have to be bigger and crazier but it also should be bigger and crazier, right?!
Lord: It’s also like a joke that came true. It’s something we were making fun of and then we got in and we were like, “Oh no.” Everything we’ve been making fun of is real.
Q: Can you speak about the world of animation and the world of live-action and what you love about each of those mediums?
Lord: Well, this is more spontaneous. Every take is different, there’s a million different ways to cut it. In animation, you do so much planning ahead of time and it has to be so precise although I do have to say with The LEGO Movie we did a lot of dialogue recording and unfortunately, the Jump Street mood affected the LEGO process a great deal. But it’s looser. And that’s scary because you don’t get to plan things out ahead of time, you don’t know how things are gonna work but it gives you a lot more latitude in editing.
Q: How are you balancing your schedule right now?
Miller: Oh my God it’s the worst! It’s absolutely the worst. We shoot these full days and then we go home and look at dailies and then we talk on the phone to Australia and it’s not fun right now but, you know, we’re almost done with The LEGO Movie and we’re blocking picture in a couple of weeks.
Q: This movie, you’re setting in college now and it’s a completely different setting but how much of the first film do we see kind of influencing? Does Brie Larson come back at all?
Lord: You know, we really were trying to think of a funny way to do it but it just wasn’t sticking in the movie. There’s definitely some familiar faces.
Miller: Cameos from…people. Besides just Jonah, Channing, and Cube. There’s also, I don’t wanna spoil…
Lord: I guess there’s still some surprises.
Miller: Riggle and Franco are in it, that’s true. And there are others.
Q: You talked about Rob and Dave that that could be…
Lord: Rob and Dave…
Miller: That’s a good scene, I will say.
Lord: Yeah, we rolled out on every take. And that’s 47 minutes. So every single setup we rolled out there’s something like, five hours of footage. For what should be a two minute scene, if that, maybe a minute. Jokes on us if it’s a minute long scene in the movie. But I think it’ll be longer.
Miller: It’s just a lot. It’s Rob Riggle theater.
Q: I asked Channing and Jonah this earlier after the first who of there actor friends were begging them to just do a day of shooting.
Lord: Director friends that want to direct it?
Q: Or like, celeb fans that were surprised like, “Wow, you like this movie?”
Lord: I have to say that we don’t really run in the same circles as Channing and Jonah. I have to say that the craziest person who wanted to be in the movie is going to be in the movie. So I’ll leave it at that.
Q: Can you talk about the type of bromance films that you both like?
Miller: Oh yeah.
Q: And sequels too! That maybe you might have been like inspiring or ones that you respect.
Lord: Yeah sure. That’s kind of the thing you’re going for, can you make a great sequel to a comedy? Which is really challenging. I mean the list is really short. There have been funny sequels but I don’t know if there have been that many that feel like they’re just as great of a movie to watch or just as funny but it’s different. So that’s what we’re trying to accomplish, again raising expectations.
Q: Was there a reluctance to do this? To make a sequel?
Lord: For that reason!
Miller: Yeah, we were very reluctant and not on board for a long time because we couldn’t figure out how to crack it as far as telling a real relationship story that meant something and not feeling like, “Oh, this is cynical.”
Q: So was it just the script that you saw that inspired you?
Miller: Yeah, we worked really hard with some people on the script.
Lord: Yeah, Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel.
Miller: We did a bunch of iterations and we finally got to a place that made it about the sequel to their relationship and that got interesting where it was like…oh, how do you make–it’s really about how do you make a marriage work? Instead of how do you…the first ones like, how can you express yourself to somebody, to another man?
Lord: This is more about being deeply entrenched in a relationship with another man.
Miller: We try to stay away from many sort of spoof-y type of things, there’s more sort of genre…
Lord: There’s more Bad Boys in this one and Bad Boys 2 then there was.
Miller: There’s a lot of Michael Bay in general. I think, we really are going to the extreme in the bromance side of it.
Q: At a comedic level?
Miller: Oh yeah. It’s comedically uncomfortable.
Q: How much Chris and Phil is in it? You guys are a buddy movie.
Lord: And we met in college.
Miller: We’re a living buddy movie.
Lord: We’re super shy about putting stuff that’s too self-referential in the movie. But there’s definitely things and hallmarks from our college days, particularly … there’s a whole beer pong playing sequence and if it stays in the movie, the guys playing pong on the other side just off camera are us. And … we have a lot of experience thinking and talking about what it’s like being in a marriage with a friend who you can’t sleep with because he’s married to a woman. And you have a girlfriend. The complexities of a long term male friendship where you’re working together all the time and you’re forced…like, a lot of friendships you’re not really forced to deal with the hard stuff and when you work together, like we do, you have to deal with that stuff.
Q: Something we haven’t heard much about is what they’re investigating. Without giving too much away, what is it?
Miller: An illegal activity.
Q: Can you speak about the new cast?
Lord: Oh yeah, Tatro.
Lord: He’s fantastic. He’s like a big internet sensation.
Miller: He’s a really funny guy. We can just give him a thing and go okay and he’ll be in the background of a shot opening a bag of doritos the whole time. And he makes it hilarious. And Wyatt is super…a really natural performer and really funny.
Lord: I can’t imagine why.
Miller: We also have a couple of other people. Jillian Bell from “Workaholics” who is just hysterical, The Lucas Brothers–
Lord: Who say everything in unison like we do.
Miller: Amber Stevens and those guys are all…
Lord: I want to represent in the media that The Lucas Brothers are one person.
Miller: We’re Winklevossing them.
Lord: So if you could do that I’d really appreciate it.
Q: Rodney Rothman — he’s a great writer and obviously he’s worked with the Apatow crew, what does he bring into the equation?
Lord: Well, he comes from that school of thought where there’s a writer/producer on set all the time and that’s been awesome for us to have somebody writing funny jokes all the time and we were great friends and we have Clippers tickets together and we’re both…it’s really nice to have a friend and collaborator nearby to tell you when you’re messing up.