Last week we reported the guys who directed the wonderful Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Chris Miller) were attached to write and direct the Lego movie at Warner Bros. Since the original report had very little information about how they planned on bringing Lego to life, I used some connections to get Phil Lord on the phone for an exclusive interview. Since he’s also hard at work developing the 21 Jump Street movie at Sony, he also gave me an update on that project and what’s the status of the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs sequel. Here’s some highlights:
21 Jump Street
- Plan is to shoot at the beginning of the year
- Script is being written by Michael Bacall with Neal Moritz producing
- Confirms it’s a big live-action R-rated movie
- Talked about going to the Santa Monica High School Promo recently to do research for the film
- Says it’s 2D and the movie “winds up becoming this really sweet coming of age story except the guys that are coming of age are in their early 20’s instead of 17 and 18.”
- They’re still casting who will play the other cop alongside Jonah Hill
- They’re watching a ton of action movies right now in preparation for the movie
- Not sure who is shooting the movie (Director of Photography)
- They don’t know who is doing the music yet
- They’re working on a treatment with a writer who Lord says is, “way smarter and funnier than us.”
Hit the jump for all the Lego info and the full interview:
- On how they got the gig: They wrote a 40-page treatment with a lot of images and stuff and that got everybody excited
- They are planning on writing and directing the movie
- Aim is PG for Lego
When I asked how this will look and get made, Lord said:
“I don’t know how we’re exactly going to execute it, but I would say the vast majority of the film takes place in an immersive all-Lego environment. So it’s going to star mini-figs and we’ve created these really cool characters and a really nice character story between these mini-figs. And it’s going to take place in a universe that’s made entirely out of Lego to the point where if there’s water or clouds or like a big explosion, that will be made out of animated Legos. And our goal was to make it look like a super charged stop-motion. Something like if Michael Bay kidnapped Henry Selick to make a movie for him.”
On the various worlds of Lego and how they might include them:
“We found a way to incorporate all of those worlds into having one uber world basically so that we can include all those kind of classic set pieces that you’re used to seeing.”
I then asked about the Star Wars and Harry Potter Lego sets and could they find a way to incorporate them. Lord said:
“Yes, there is a way. I hope that way can happen. It remains to be seen how much of that we can actually do. But it’s certainly a possibility.”
While Lord’s take on Lego sounds crazy, I’ll admit to being incredibly excited to see this on a movie screen. Not only because I grew up with Lego, but Hollywood seems to produce the same type of movies again and again. At least this Lego movie sounds original and new. I’d rather that than a rehash of what we’ve already seen 10 times before.
And with that…here’s the full interview with Phil Lord. You can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. Also, a big thank you to Phil Lord for a lot of the photos used in this article.
Collider: I haven’t really prepped for this, so this is going to be…
Phil Lord: Free-wheeling, yeah. We can be loose.
Yeah, exactly. Okay, so let’s just get started. Since Cloudy came out what’s like the last… I guess how long has it been? Has it been a year?
Phil Lord: Yeah, gosh Cloudy came out September 18th, yeah so about 9 months I guess.
So what’s the last 9 months been like for you?
Phil Lord: How have the last 9 months been? We knew the movie was very successful. We were very pleasantly surprised and we were already proud of the movie but everybody was pretty psyched that it did as well as it did. And we went on kind of a lap around Hollywood. We’ve met a lot of really nice people and got to hear a lot of really great ideas and one of those people was Dan. We met with Dan at a meeting at Joan’s at like 6:00 in the evening after they got a round of… I don’t know I think we had like 8 meetings that day. We were exhausted but Dan brought his team down and wound up having a really great time and relaxing and really got to know him and he was a very real person and we sparked him right away. We knew they had this property which we kind of had our eye on for awhile anyway. And yeah, that was part of… meeting Dan was part of that big round of meetings basically. It was like 6 months of like going around town and meeting people. So it was crazy.
We should mention it’s Dan Lin, the producer.
Phil Lord: Dan Lin. The very same.
Otherwise people might say, Dan? Who’s this Dan character?
Phil Lord: Yeah, I made up a Dan character who I work with. It’s pretty good. Yeah, Dan Lin is an awesome producer on the Warner Bros. lot and a gentleman with a lovely family and a kind of calm demeanor.
Very calm demeanor.
Phil Lord: You would kind of think that maybe he’s not as powerful or as on the ball as he actually is. You know, he keeps it very mellow. That’s good. He’s a real guy.
No, absolutely. So you obviously… what’s that like when you’re taking the sort of victory lap around town. Are people then pitching you guys you know like a whole bunch of stuff or is it more like general meetings where they’re feeling you out?
Phil Lord: It’s a little bit of both. We got so lucky that at that time, the movie popped a little bit, people liked it and so we became like legitimate candidates to direct movies, so when there were things that needed a little bit of extra help through development people tended to pitch those to us and we heard a lot of really nice ideas and people were really like friendly and lovely about the movie and giving us a lot of nice compliments about the movie. That was great. That never gets old. And it wasn’t a lot of us pitching stuff; we really were completely out of ideas after 3-1/2 years on Cloudy. Just exhausted. So going around and getting free bottles of water from people and getting to talk about movies is great.
It sounds very, very tough. So let’s jump into…
Phil Lord: Oh yeah, it’s really hard.
Very difficult. Let’s jump into… obviously I have a whole bunch of questions on two properties, but let’s start with Lego. Obviously they’re probably trying to get Lego off the ground for awhile. So how was it that you guys were able to land that gig?
Phil Lord: Gosh, we’re two very lucky dudes. You know, we always sparked to the idea that Dan had developed that there was… we always sparked to the idea that you could make a super large scale brick film. Have you seen those brick films online? There’s a zillion of them. People literally make them in their basements with little Lego mini-figs and they build elaborate sets and they range from being like the most low production value to some of them people have spent years on and they look beautiful and they’re really intricately detailed. And we kept thinking, gosh there’s got to be a way to take… if somebody wants to make a Lego movie they should make one of those on an enormous scale where you could actually build enormous, beautiful Lego sets and put a camera on the deck at mini-fig eye level and bring the kind of bravado that like the contemporary action-adventure film does, but do it on like this micro-scale. So we always sparked to that idea and it was just about trying to crack the character story to carry that. So we ran a few different rounds with Dan like going back and forth going “hey what about this? Or maybe this, a version that’s like this?” and we slowly within the course of a few months found something that would work for everybody and we felt was really exciting. And I know that’s kind of vague. I’d love to tell you super specific details but it’s still a little bit early. But basically we came up with a treatment that was about a 40-page crazy treatment with a lot of images and stuff and that got everybody excited and then we were off to the races trying to make a deal for the last four months.
So is the plan to write and direct?
Phil Lord: Oh yes, to write and direct. We have a 21 Jump Street coming up that we’re going to shoot at the beginning of next year. And that script is being written by Michael Bacall and we’re working really hard with him trying to get that ready. We’re going to start prepping that movie in the fall, so between now and then we’re going to try to get a draft out. Neal Moritz is producing and has been amazing to work with – I’ve never met anyone who can get more done with fewer minutes on the phone than Neal Mortiz. And we’re obviously really happy to be continuing on with Sony, who went out on a limb with us on Cloudy and have been so supportive of us. They have a great exec team and we’ve been very fortunate to be able to keep working with them. Also Amy Pascal wrote me once that it would be morally wrong if we didn’t make our next movie with them and as you know I am a man of strong virtue and impeccable ethics.
And so I guess I think a lot of time with movies, the studio loves to see a concept like a proof of concept if you will…like a video or some sort of visual aide when you’re going in to pitch the studio on making a movie. Have you guys done something like that or was it just the 40-page treatment that said we got this?
Phil Lord: No it’s a lot of… we made the treatment our presentation basically. Similarly with 21 Jump Street, where we had to… we really had a tough road out. We had to convince people that we could do a big live-action R-rated crazy action movie. And coming off of Cloudy like you might see if from watching cloudy but I don’t know that it was necessarily evident. So we created a whole like pitch bible basically that had a lot of images and stuff and kind of laid out in a visual way what our vision for the movie was. And then with Lego we didn’t have quite as big a burden to kind of show oh yeah, we can do this or we’re the kind of guys that can do this movie. But we still put, I mean the treatment’s 40-pages, it’s got at least 15 pages of images in it, a lot of which were just Chris like monkeying around on Photoshop trying to basically paint the picture so that it’s easy for everybody to get. You want to eliminate as much guess work as possible when you present something. So many people have to look at it and you have to build a consensus around something like that, get everybody excited and getting people to agree. And you don’t want to put anyone in a position of having to say “no, you’ve just got to envision it. You know, just try to imagine”. Like you never want to put the burden of that on a huge group of people who are from 2 different companies trying to make a decision. It’s not fair. So we tried to take the guess work out by just putting a lot of visuals in.
So I guess the issue is obviously with Lego we’re talking about something famous around the world, huge corporation. When you’re writing that thing, how much were you sort of able to do what you wanted to do vs. what Lego wants you to do, the studio wants you to do? Where’s that line in the sand that you’re able to sort of walk on?
Phil Lord: Well, we’re lucky because you know we get to… we’re lucky because they give us a lot of creative freedom—the Lego Company did—and so did Warner Brothers. And they wanted us to do what we did on Cloudy which was bring all these sort of characters and all these sort of ideas of something that people already love. So they were very encouraging in that regard. Also, the Lego brand is such a great brand and the value that it stands for are so in line with the values of the movie that we want to make that it was a really nice fit. It’s not like they wanted to… they want to make a super high quality product. They want to make something that not only appeals to young kids but also appeals to families and grownups and people like you and me who just like to go see movies. You know that they know that their product is more than… they know that this movie is more than like some kind of a cash generation machine. That company is on really sound financial footing. They don’t need a movie to jump-start them. They just need… so they can take the time to get it right and we were really excited about that. And they’re basically… they have this amazing product that is all about inspiring creativity in children. And that to me is like a good fit with my agenda in filmmaking generally.
It’s just funny to go Cloudy, R-rated, you know 21 Jump Street, back to most likely PG Lego.
Phil Lord: Yeah, that’s right. I mean that was kind of like a dream of ours to be able to do both. And we couldn’t make really the next movie after Cloudy being in the same sphere, but we love animation. That’s where we got our start. And I like making films for families and children. I think it’s the most fun thing in the world. It’s also like this great thing when you go into the… the first screening we had of Cloudy we were so nervous. A bunch of critics and reviewers and we got in the theater and the place was crawling with kids like screaming and running around and throwing popcorn at each other. You know like oh, this is a good audience. These are people that are excited to go see a movie. So we didn’t want to do that right away next, but because we were lucky enough to get the Jump Street opportunity it kind of freed us up to do something back in the same sphere as Cloudy.
So I guess the question with Lego is are you guys planning for all live-action? Is there going to be like could you describe is it going to be part CG? I mean what’s the format that you guys are thinking?
Phil Lord: I don’t know how we’re exactly going to execute it, but I would say the vast majority of the film takes place in an immersive all-Lego environment. So it’s going to star mini-figs and we’ve created these really cool characters and a really nice character story between these mini-figs. And it’s going to take place in a universe that’s made entirely out of Lego to the point where if there’s water or clouds or like a big explosion, that will be made out of animated Legos. And our goal was to make it look like a super charged stop-motion. Something like if Michael Bay kidnapped Henry Selick to make a movie for him.
Phil Lord: Yeah (laughter) I know.
Is this the… so is the film going to be made… I guess so it’s going to be… is this computers? Is this animation… I mean like what exactly… ?
Phil Lord: Who knows? I think it might wind up being both, but it’s basically going to be a movie made out of… and that’s what I love about looking at the brick films that you can see online is that they’ve got such a tactile quality. They feel like they’re homemade and you can feel the creativity like permeating throughout them and it reminds me of what’s so special about animation when it’s working great it feels handmade. And regardless of how much CG is in the movie, I think that’s the feel that we’re trying to go for.
Yeah, I mean listen I give you props for… I like the..it sounds very cool and it also sounds very unique and that’s something that I think all movies should always strive to be.
Phil Lord: Oh yeah. And it’s hard because there’s been a lot of movies. It’s hard to make something that you haven’t seen yet which is another reason why this opportunity was really cool for us. I don’t think anybody’s really tried to do that on that scale. So that was a big draw was just the excitement of not knowing exactly how to execute it, but having a very clear vision of what it needed to look like.
I used to play with Lego when I was a kid and I’m familiar enough with Lego to know that they have different motifs. They have like the pirate line, the space ship line, you know what I mean the different lines of…
Phil Lord: They have all those different worlds. For me it was the Classic Space Lego world from going up in the 80’s and they also have all these different environments. There’s the castle one. There’s underwater stuff. There’s the whole like Lego city sets like the kind of the classic stuff. And we found a way to incorporate all of those worlds into having one uber world basically so that we can include all those kind of classic set pieces that you’re used to seeing.
Well the big question of course is Lego made licensing deals with Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Star Wars, a whole bunch of movie stuff, right? Is there a way of incorporating those Lego worlds from the other movies in your Lego film?
Well, is it easier since the film’s at Warner Brothers to get the Harry Potter one?
Phil Lord: (laughter) I mean you never know. That’s probably up to Warner Brothers and JK Rowling and a lot of other people before us, but we’re certainly… that’s obviously like a real exciting part of this concept.
Well, I don’t mean to keep on asking questions but of course the real issue… well of course I do mean to keep on asking questions, who’s kidding who?
Phil Lord: (laughter) That’s your job. I thought we talked about this.
Yeah, exactly. Obviously when you’re entering the world of Lego you need to have a protagonist and an antagonist in any film. So have you guys already identified who those 2 characters might be?
Phil Lord: Yeah, we have. We have like created original characters that are new to the Lego universe so they’re going to kind of be both of those things.
Because Dan mentioned to me when I spoke to him, I think he even said this in the interview, I hope he said this during the interview, that the issue with Lego or the villain could be like Lego’s coming apart.
Phil Lord: Oh you mean like the villain’s evil plan or something?
Well I don’t know if that’s the evil plan, but you know Lego need to be put together and when they’re taken apart they can’t do anything.
Phil Lord: Oh right.
Collider: So is that still…
Phil Lord: I can’t offer specific plot details but yeah, I mean a bit part of the Lego universe is about building and re-building and construction and stuff like that. I mean, we’re definitely going to integrate what’s awesome about Lego into the storytelling, which is that you can take these things apart and put them back together really in a new way. And again, it goes back to those themes of creativity and how that the super power that everybody has. You know, Chris and I talk a lot about… especially now that there’s less art being taught in schools, but one of the things that really got us really excited about this movie is that it’s really a story about creativity and how creativity is a power that everybody has innately and that a lot of people unlearn as they get older. And what’s so fun about hanging out with kids and making movies for kids is that they haven’t unlearned that yet. So we’re basically going to try to do the super funny, entertaining version of conveying the message that creativity that you unlearned you can learn again.
Oh I completely get that. Let’s jump into… because I could obviously ask you more Lego questions but I don’t want to cause you to spill the beans if you will.
Phil Lord: (laughter)
So basically the plan is you guys do 21 Jump Street and then Lego after that.
Phil Lord: Afterwards, yeah. Yeah, Jump Street is our first priority and then once we make an awesome movie out of that hopefully, then we’ll go onto Lego.
Phil Lord: (laughter) That’s true. I went to the Santa Monica High School prom and I met the Prom Queen. I have a picture. It was a great night.
If I’m not mistaken, because people were re-Tweeting what you were saying, you were like Tweeting live who’s going to win certain awards stuff like that.
Phil Lord: (Laughter) Yeah it was fun. I mean it was a little bit weird being part of somebody else’s prom because you sort of feel like you were intruding but the kids were so nice and we’ve been there the week before..been to Santa Monica High School just to hang out with the kids and look around and stuff. They were really gracious to let us look around. And they were so nice inviting us to the prom and letting us spend time there. So we actually hung out with some kids from the school newspaper that were there covering the prom and they were like the only other people that were there without dates that weren’t like actually participating. So we were able to get the scoop from them. And then Chris and I got to experience what it’s like to not be one of the cool kids because afterwards there’s all these after-parties that the kids through. We were like oh man that would be amazing research if we could get into one of those. And we failed miserably. (laughter) Nobody wanted us there.
That’s very, very funny.
Phil Lord: Also this other weird thing that happened which is that Jon Voight was for some reason like kind of wandering around in the lobby of the, I think it was the Beverly Hilton. That’s where the Golden Globes are right? It was the same room that we were in for the Golden Globes like in February. And he was just kind of like hanging around chatting up people and stuff. It was really weird. It was a very surreal night.
I cannot even imagine what it would be like to go back to high school like this, which is sort of I guess the 21 Jump Street kind of thing. So how did that help your writing? Did you guys make any changes after, you know, or offer any… how did that possibly effect the script that night of discourse?
Phil Lord: Well, details of that scene in the script takes place partially at the prom and so when we were working on that with Michael Bacall, who’s this awesome writer, we were able to… he also went to a prom a year ago to do similar research so we were able to like poll all of our details that we noticed and kind of put them into the script. One thing that seems universal is the kids dance extremely dirty. Much dirtier than I remember. And that was a big part of the script and then there’s a lot of other like smaller details like I kept seeing this security guard in the prom like just lingering around the food buffet and just kind of when no one was looking like grabbing donuts and stuff. I thought that was kind of weird. And there was another… a DJ from the prom had a … I can’t remember the woman’s name but she’s like a local radio DJ and she had like a … oh man I wish I could remember her name right now… anyway she had her DJ name as a sample and… Charisma is her name. She kept pushing the sample so like the whole prom like 100 times the sample of “Charisma” kept playing. Sort of like oh my God. That’s the most annoying thing in the world. So we put in a DJ that does that.
You guys… when did you say you start filming this again? The 21 Jump Street.
Phil Lord: We are planning to film at the start of 2011.
Right. And you already have, if I’m not mistaken, an August 2011 release date?
Phil Lord: I think it is… I think they moved it. It’s now in early 2012. I think it might be January.
Yeah, I might be mistaken. I might be looking at an older article on the site right now. So what’s been interesting is that I believe Jonah has been saying about the film… he describes it as a John Hughes movies with Bad Boys style action.
Phil Lord: (laughter) Yeah, that’s right.
So when he says stuff like that, is that sort of like how daunting is that? Because John Hughes, Bad Boys, it’s like he’s reaching for some A-level stuff here.
Phil Lord: Yeah, you can’t do half of… you can’t do like a pretty good John Hughes movie combined with some crazy action. You have to like… when you try to do a mash up like that you have to do a kick-ass action movie on top of an amazing heartbreaking John Hughes movie. You know what I mean? You have to go all-out on both. And that is super hard. But that’s the ambition that all of us have going into the movie and Chris and I came out of the project that was one of the things that got us really excited about it because it sounds crazy. It sounds like a really challenging thing to do. Again, it’s like that thing that I don’t know if I’ve seen somebody do that yet.
Are you guys… is there any pressure to possibly do this in 3D or is it a definite 2D release?
Phil Lord: I think it’s a 2D release. I think when you probably balance it all out there’s probably the speed and savings of going 2D is probably… outweighs the 3D stuff.
And getting back to like the whole John Hughes aspect of this, so does that mean that it’s like… I guess what makes your 21 Jump Street like a John Hughes… how can it be talked about as a John Hughes type movie? What’s that kind of catch in it?
Phil Lord: Well, you’re talking about like 2 cops, you know, youngish cops who go back into a high school and then start to relive it all these issues that they had when they went to high school originally. And so it winds up becoming this really sweet coming of age story except the guys that are coming of age are in their early 20’s instead of 17 and 18. So it’s still kind of that thing of watching 2 guys who really have had a delayed adolescence let’s say. You know, really grow up and become men and become better friends. I mean it really winds up being about character comedy and character relationships and you know a lot of buddy comedies aren’t like that. They’re really about a relationship between 2 guys and what can that be like? And so part of it what was exciting about it especially for Chris and I being a 2-man team talking about like how do guys relate to each other in this day and age? And how can you have like… we’re also sort of talking about it like it’s kind of a story of a marriage, you know? A lot of those funny cop movies are kind of like that. They’re guys that get thrown together and have to work out a working relationship. But for Chris and I that was kind of exciting because that’s kind of the story of our partnership, too.
Now obviously Jonah is in it. Have you guys already started figuring out the rest of the cast?
Phil Lord: We’re still working on another casting piece. And still trying to figure that out. There’s a lot of amazing options. Jonah, obviously one of the funniest people of his generation, an amazing comedian and a great actor. I don’t know if you’re seen Cyrus yet. He’s awesome in that.
He is awesome in Cyrus.
Phil Lord: He’s so good and it’s just showing so many different shades like between that and Get Him to the Greek and Super Bad like I feel like that’s a comedian that can have more than one shade and that’s what you want in somebody that’s going to help you carry a movie. Plus he’s such a good writer. He’s so funny. He really has like a fresh sensibility. I think all that stuff is going to help make the movie feel really fresh.
So basically you guys have been meeting with people to play opposite Jonah? You just haven’t figured out who you’re going with?
Phil Lord: That is a fair assumption.
I’ll go out there on a ledge. Now obviously there’s certain people… certain actors that have been like in iconic roles in high school movies. You know whether it be back in the 80’s or you know whatever. Is there any sort of thought of having some of the teachers in the high school be from previous like high school based films?
Phil Lord: Oh that’s interesting. We haven’t talked about other casting yet. We’re sort of trying to nail down our 2 cops first. But that’s totally a great idea actually. But you get like the cast of Fast Times or whatever and have them now play teachers.
Yeah, or from Breakfast Club.
Phil Lord: Yeah, totally.
Just throwing that out there, you know?
Phil Lord: I’m in. I’m in.
I expect a “thank you” in the end of the credits.
Phil Lord: Absolutely. We would be blessed to have actors of that caliber.
So my one question about the action in the film, obviously you guys haven’t exactly directed Bad Boys type action—live action. Are there certain films or certain… how are you sort of preparing for that?
Phil Lord: We’re watching a ton of action movies. We’re going to storyboard the film heavily. In a way those action sequences are similar to what you’d do in animation. Obviously like our own experience on Cloudy is relevant because those were some pretty elaborate action sequences there. They required a lot of care, a lot of pre-visualization. We used some live action storyboard artists on that film and they’re really helpful in teaching us a lot about what it’s like to execute an action sequence. So a lot of that previous experience comes to bear and then just being a fan of the genre and watching those movies gives us a lot of inspiration.
Have you guys already figured out who you’re going to get to shoot the movie?
Phil Lord: No. I wish. I have a long wish list. But obviously it would be really exciting to have somebody who’s been on some of those high octane movies before.
Now how does that work at the studio level? Do you sort of go in there and say, “we’re looking at these cinematographers” or does the studio come back at you and say, “here’s some of the people. Who do you want from this list?” How does that work?
Phil Lord: I’ll let you know.
Okay, there we go. (laughter) And so you obviously haven’t figured out then anybody for scoring or any of the other kind of things?
Phil Lord: No it’s so early still, yeah. We’re still doing re-writes and we haven’t started pre-production yet and it’s still a little bit of a ways out to figure that stuff.
Okay, because you never know. It’s always…
I’m curious how that actually all works. That’s something I don’t know about.
Phil Lord: Me, too. I’ll keep you posted. How about that. I promise to give you an answer to what’s my experience on…
I do appreciate that. Is there anything about 21 Jump Street or the Lego movie that I haven’t asked that you want people to know?
Phil Lord: That’s a good question. You know, I mean basically… no I think I basically got everything out. You know there’s a Lego thing, I just want people to know that it’s not going to be a soft movie. It’s going to be a pretty bad-ass version of a Lego movie. And I promise it’s not going to feel like a sellout. I think like the thing everyone’s come up with is really original and the brand is such a beloved and very cool brand like all the way up to the very top people that we’ve been able to meet at the Lego Company. We’re just really pumped up about the project.
I am too actually. I love Lego. I’m really hoping you guys nail this thing.
Phil Lord: Yeah. I hope so too. It’s a tall order.
Oh, one last thing, what’s up with the Cloudy sequel?
Phil Lord: Sony Animation has been great and we’re excited to be working with them again by exec producing the Cloudy Sequel – we have a great team lined up, including a few people who were critical to making the original and are far more talented than we are; we’ve got a killer story that expands on all the possibilities of the original and is super duper funny. Sort of Avatar with food. We’ve already seen some artwork and it’s gorgeous and very very weird. We’re all working on a treatment together with a writer who is way way smarter and funnier than us.