Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Phil Lord Talks LEGO Movie, 21 JUMP STREET, CLOUDY Sequel

     July 6, 2010

Phil Lord interview slice 21 Jump Street Lego movie

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

Cloudy Sequel

  • 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:

Lego_imageLego Movie

  • 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.


phil_lord_chris_miller_image_02Collider: 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?

Classic Miller and lordPhil 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?

Lego_image (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?

cloudy_with_a_chance_of_meatballs_posterPhil 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.

Lego_imageThat sounds crazy.

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?

Phil Lord Prom King Scott PilgrimPhil Lord: 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.

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.


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