Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are having a pretty good year. Their latest animated effort, The LEGO Movie, has pulled in north of $400 million worldwide since its debut earlier this year. In fact, the directing team was busy finding time for that film’s editing process while filming their contrasting live-action sequel, 22 Jump Street. It was during this hectic period in their schedule that I joined a small group of online journalists to visit the set.
Lord and Miller talked about managing expectations of the sequel after the first film surprised people, subverting the conventions of sequels within the sequel itself, finding the limits of being too meta, a not-much-bigger budget, collaborating with everyone on set, and exploring the themes of bromance. Hit the jump for our Phil Lord and Chris Miller interview, and be sure to check out 22 Jump Street when it opens June 13th.
Question: Talk about the expectations of this. The first movie came out came out and you guys had never directed a live-action movie. It blew up, it was hilarious, and now we have a summer release and everyone’s expecting it to be much better.
Chris Miller: High expectations?
Phil Lord: No, that’s what you guys are for. [laughs] We are here to lower expectations. You need to go back, and write all about how you’re not really sure. You think maybe it might not be 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 is a terrible idea. The LEGO Movie sounds like a terrible idea. If people think this is a good idea, we’re screwed.
Lord: We’re in deep trouble.
Miller: Guys, we all know that sequels are terrible, right?
Lord: Yeah, who wants to see a dumb sequel?
Actually, we were talking with Channing and Jonah, and they were saying that this was part of the idea, that you’re subverting the idea that sequels always had to be bigger. Can you talk a bit about that?
Miller: Very much so, yes. That was part of the joy of it for us, was trying to find a hooky idea about doing a sequel. The first one was a lot about buddy cop movies and bromances in general. We felt like this one should have the same attitude toward sequels.
Lord: And we’re trying to make it work for the story of the movie, so the movie’s 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.
What is the line at which things become too meta?
Miller: That’s the thing. We’re always looking.
Lord: We’re gonna find it! We’re like explorers.
Miller: We always did 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; we had sort of packed in all these little hidden meta gems, but any time they crossed the line and didn’t make sense as a real story, we ended up taking it out because it didn’t fit. So the same is true.
Lord: For sure.
Miller: Exactly. We can have lots of fun and then you go, “Oh, that’s too far. Now we’re just disappearing up our own asshole.” [laughs]
How much do you rely on what’s already on the page versus relying on Jonah and Channing doing improv?
Lord: Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to shoot the thing that’s on the page at all. It’s definitely a free-for-fall. We’re sitting there, we’re writers, Jonah’s a writer, Channing’s now a writer, and we have a writer on set, so we’re just trying to get the most out of every sequence and every scene. I would say we pretty quickly diverge from what’s on the page.
With the success of the first film, did you get more money? Did you get more room to work with?
Miller: We did get more money, but not as much …
Lord: [Laughs] It’s definitely more expensive.
Miller: Yeah, not as much more as you might think. Turns out that studios have like…
Lord: Budgets and finances and stuff that they care about.
Miller: Whatever. But yes, a lot of this has been about, yes, there’s a joke about how sequels have to be bigger and crazier, but it also should be bigger and crazier, right?
Lord: Yeah, it’s like a joke that came true. Like something we were making fun of and then we got in it and we were like, “Oh no … everything we’ve been making fun of is real.”
We forgot to ask Jonah, but the Q-Tip thing … where did that come from? We were all laughing so hard at that because it’s so absurd.
Lord: Well, you guys are the audience for that. Let’s see what happens when we take it to Orange, California.
Do you think we’re a Q-Tip savvy audience?
Lord: You’re very Q-Tip savvy. You have very clean ears, all of you.
Miller: That was like a weird bit idea that Rodney Rothman had when he was working on the movie with us, and we thought it was really funny, but we were also like, “Maybe that’ll work? I don’t know.”
Lord: Yeah, Rodney said, “I have the worst idea for the movie,” and I was like, “You should put it in there, we’ll probably love it.” And then he did, and we were like, “That’s too crazy.” And then we read it at the table and everybody laughed, so we were like, “Well, let’s give it a shot.”
Miller: But you might have noticed that we also shot a version where they didn’t do that at all, sort of like how we were talking about protecting ourselves from getting too meta.
Can you speak about the world of animation and the world of live action, and what you love about each?
Lord: This is more spontaneous. Every take is different, there’s a million ways to cut it. In animation, you do so much planning ahead of time, you have to be so precise … although, I will say, with The LEGO Movie, we did a lot of dialogue recording and, unfortunately, the Jump Street mode infected the LEGO process a great deal, but it’s looser. That’s scary, because you don’t get to plan things out ahead of time, you don’t know how things are going to work, but it gives you a lot more latitude in editing.
How are you guys balancing your schedule right now?
Miller: Oh my God, it’s the worst!
Lord: It’s so bad.
Miller: It’s absolutely the worst. We shoot these full days and then we go home and look at dailies, and talk on the phone to Australia, and it’s not fun right now. We’re almost done with The LEGO Movie, and we’re locking picture in a couple of weeks.
This movie, you’re setting in college so we’re in a completely separate setting, but how much of the first film do we see influencing things? Does Brie Larson come back at all?
Lord: You know, we’re trying to think of a funny way to do it, it just wasn’t sticking in the movie. There’s definitely some familiar faces.
Miller: Cameos for people, besides just Jonah, Channing, Ice Cube. There’s also … I don’t want to spoil anything.
Neal already spoiled everything.
Miller: Riggle and Franco are in it, that’s true. There are others.
He talked about Rob and Dave.
Miller: That’s a good scene. I will say that’s a good scene.
Lord: Yeah, we rolled out on every take, and that’s 47 minutes each time, every single [time] we rolled out, so there’s something like five hours of footage. For what should be a two-minute scene, if that; maybe a minute. Joke’s on us if it’s a minute-long scene in the movie, but I think it will be longer. It’s just Rob Riggle theater.
Lord: That guy … he can’t do this. [laughs]
Miller: Expectations! C’mon!
I asked Channing and Jonah who of their actor friends were begging them to just come out and do a day on this one. For you guys, do you find yourselves gaining new celebrity fans?
Lord: I have to say that we don’t 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.
That’s a good tease! But you’re messing up those expectations.
Lord: I know, I know. You might be pretty disappointed.
What types of bromance films and sequels do you both like?
Lord: But that’s the thing you’re going for, right, is, can you make a great sequel to a comedy? Which is really challenging. The list is pretty short. And there have been funny sequels, but I don’t know if there have been that many that feel like they’re just as great a movie to watch, or just as fun an experience but it’s different. So that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Again, raising expectations!
Was there a reluctance to do this, to make a sequel?
Lord: For that reason!
Miller: Oh yeah, we were very reluctant. We were 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 just cynical.”
So was it just a script that you saw and it inspired you?
Miller: Yeah, we worked really hard with some people on the script.
Lord: Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel. We did a bunch of iterations and finally got to a place where we made the sequel about their relationship, and that got interesting. It was really more about, how do you make a marriage work? You know what I mean? Instead of … the first one’s like, how do you express yourself to somebody, to another man [laughs] and this is more about being deeply entrenched in a relationship with another man.
Miller: We tried to stay away from any spoofy type of things. There’s more genre…
Lord: There’s more Bad Boys in this one, and Bad Boys II, then there was in the first one.
Miller: There’s a lot of Michael Bay in general. As far as, I think, we really are going to the extreme in the bromance side of it.
Will it get uncomfortable? At a comedic level?
Miller: Oh yeah.
Lord: For sure.
Miller: It gets comedically uncomfortable.
How much Chris and Phil is in it? You guys are a buddy movie, right?
Miller: We met in college.
Lord: There’s a little bit.
Miller: We’re a living buddy movie, yeah.
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, I don’t know if it’ll stay in the movie, but there’s a whole beer pong-playing sequence and, if it stays in the movie, the guys playing on the other side just off camera are us. And there is definitely … We have a lot of experience thinking and talking about what it’s like to be in a marriage with your friend, who you can’t sleep with [laughs], who’s married to a woman, and you have a girlfriend, you know? The complexities of a long-term male friendship where you’re working together all the time and you’re forced … A lot of friendships, you’re not really forced to deal with the hard stuff, and when you work together, like we do, you actually have to deal with that stuff.
Something we haven’t heard much about is what they’re actually investigating. What is it, without giving too much away?
Miller: An illegal activity. [laughs]
Lord: Yeah, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to say. It’s not like really exciting … [laughs]
Miller: Well, one of the bits is that management wants the guys to do the exact same thing they did last time because that’s what was so successful the first time. [laughs] We’re playing the department as, like, the studio. They’re saying, “You guys are messing up. What you need to do is exactly the same thing as before,” right? And then … so it starts out similar: we’re giving them a drug case, just do the same thing you did…
Lord: But they’re like, “We don’t want to do the same thing, and it’s feeling kind of dull.” And they kind of are trying to break out of the pattern.
Miller: It’s more and more different as the movie goes on.
The scene we saw, the Q-Tip scene, is where he meets his other bromance.
Miller: Yeah, right! The other woman!
So what are we shooting this afternoon?
Miller: This is the other part of that same idea. It’s the same day…
Miller: With the walk-ons. And these guys are really starting to connect, and he invites, and Schmidt starts to feel like a third wheel.
Miller: Tricycles have three wheels though, and they’re awesome, so …
Lord: And they’re really fun.
Can you speak about our new cast? We have two new faces that we saw today.
Miller: He’s hilarious.
Lord: He’s like a big internet sensation, so when we go on college campuses, we were all pretty shocked that all the kids really wanted his autograph and stuff.
Miller: He’s a really funny guy. We can just give him a thing like, “Okay, you’re going to be in the background of the shot trying to open up a bag of Doritos the whole time.” And he makes it hilarious. And Wyatt is a really natural performer.
Lord: I can’t imagine why. [laughs] It’s not like he comes from two awesome actors.
Miller: DNA. We also have a couple of other people. Jillian Bell, from Workaholics, who is just hysterical.
Lord: The Lucas Brothers, who say everything in unison just like we did.
Miller: And Amber Stevens. Those guys are all doing an amazing job.
Lord: I want to represent, in the media, that The Lucas Brothers are one person. [laughs].
Miller: Yes. Oh, we’re Winklevossing them.
Lord: So if you could do that, I’d really appreciate it.
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, just to have somebody writing funny jokes all the time. We’re great friends, we’ve known each other a long time, we have Clippers tickets together, and it’s really nice to have a friend and collaborator nearby to tell you when you’re messing up.
If you do a sequel where Channing and Jonah are in a retirement home…
Lord: That’s right, he could probably write that one too!
For more from our 22 Jump Street set visit:
- 35 Things to Know from Our Set Visit to 22 JUMP STREET
- Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill Talk 22 JUMP STREET, Dealing with High Expectations, Returning to College, Collaboration on Set & “Michael Bay” Levels of Action
- Producer Neal H. Moritz Talks 22 JUMP STREET, Its Focus and Scale, Paying Homage to the Original Series and Film, Cameos, and Possible Future Sequels
- 7 New Images from 22 JUMP STREET Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube