While speaking with filmmakers Chris Miller and Phil Lord, one thing was unmistakable: these guys were really, really tired.
The duo, who created the beloved (albeit short lived) MTV animated series Clone High went on to become one of the most in-demand directing teams in the business, helming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, surprise smash 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie and this week’s 22 Jump Street. The Lego Movie proved to be one of the most critically and commercially successful films of the year and 22 Jump Street should follow suit. (They also helmed the pilot for the Will Forte series The Last Man on Earth, which will premiere at midseason.)
So it’s understandable why they looked so beat: helming two of the year’s biggest studio movies, launching a new network series, and being in contention for at least one hugely anticipated sequel (Ghostbusters III) takes a lot out of you.
We got to talk to them about the deconstructionist nature of 22 Jump Street, what the nature of their relationship will be after this film (they each plan on independently directing things), what genre they’d like to tackle, what’s going on with the Lego Movie sequel, and how real those talks were for Ghostbusters III.
Movies.com: Accepting this job – was it predicated on being able to pick apart what a sequel is? If they had just asked you to do another one would you have said no?
Chris Miller: They did say, “Do another one.” And we did say, “No way.” And they said…
Phil Lord: Just think about it!
Miller: Develop it and see if there’s a way to do it that could get you excited about it. We said, “Well I don’t think so, but okay.” We were very skeptical, which I think is a very healthy way to approach doing the sequel. And ultimately we figured out, when we were banging our heads against the wall about how hard it is to make a sequel, we found the parallels between that and the next step of a relationship and how hard that is to re-create the magic and we thought, Well that can be movie – a movie about sequels and the sequels to relationships. Then we thought, Oh man this could be good. Then it was like – they got us again!
Movies.com: Were there any meta sequels you were looking to? The closest thing is probably Gremlins 2. [Note: they both shouted Gremlins 2 at exactly the same time.]
Lord: We did think a little bit about it.
Miller: We did. But I never rewatched it. I just remembered it.
Lord: We did talk about we wanted to rewatch it just to see how crazy it is.
Miller: They broke the film in that movie.
Lord: Hulk Hogan literally comes out and yells at the projectionist to put it back together.
Movies.com: And there was a different version on the tape.
Miller: The cassette tape?
Lord: Oh they shot something different for the VHS?
Miller: That’s amazing! Is there a new version where they break the Blu-ray or the digital download? Pixels!
Lord: We do share a little bit with Joe Dante in that sense, of a playfulness. And the first Gremlins is such a playful movie that isn’t winking the whole time.
Miller: We found that only gets you so far. You can’t make a whole movie that’s just, Oh sequels are weird, right? It doesn’t work that way. You have to actually surprise people still and tell a story that’s interesting and have some real character moments. So that stuff was pretty front-loaded in the movie, just to let everyone know that we were in on it as well and as the movie goes on, you just felt like you wanted less and less of it.
Lord: We wanted to make it, emotionally, even deeper, if that was possible. Just because you get the confidence a sequel brings to you doesn’t mean that you can rely on that in the storytelling. You actually have a heavier burden to tell a compelling story. I think that’s the flaw of some sequels. Where it’s like, Oh great let’s just have fun! But you actually need the story more.
Movies.com: How hard was it to get this thing done?
Lord: It was so fast. And prep was really quick. So we walked on every day of shooting going, “Alright – what should we shoot?” We just talked to our DP Barry Peterson, who is shooting a movie in New York. And we asked how it was going and he goes, “It’s crazy. We have shot lists. We storyboard stuff. We’re going to be crazy prepared. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like.”
Movies.com: Was there ever a threat of it not getting finished in time?
Miller: Oh my God. Every day. And we were very meticulous in the editing room and our biggest fear was how much time we were going to have there. We’re a little bit obsessive-compulsive at times and really like to work scenes out and test every possible version and make sure we’ve gotten the scientifically proven best version of the scene. And we were worried that we weren’t going to be able to do that. But we just didn’t sleep again and got it done somehow.
Movies.com: Was there anything that you wanted to try that the studio just said, “This is too weird?”
Lord: Most of the time the studio was right.
Miller: Mostly it was about the fact that we had so much footage and so much crazy stuff in this movie. It was just getting it down to under two hours long. The first assembly was over four hours and we felt some sense of accomplishment when we got it down to Wolf of Wall Street length. And then we just kept working at it and working at it. So most of the things the studio was saying was just, “You’ve got to get it shorter, you’ve got to get it shorter.” Nobody was saying, “Ah this is too crazy!” They had faith that, if the audience didn’t respond, we wouldn’t stick with it.
Movies.com: I’m assuming all of this will be on the Blu-ray.
Lord: Yes! A lot of it is on there.
Miller: There’s a ton of crazy stuff that didn’t make it.
Movies.com: Obviously on the subject of sequels, we have to bring up Ghostbusters. How close did that come?
Lord: It was mostly rumors.
Miller: Yeah, speculation mostly.
Lord: I’m really excited to see what happens with that franchise. I think it’s a huge potential win for somebody and the studio. We obviously love the first movie and Ivan and stuff. As a fan, I don’t understand the folks who are saying, “Ah, it’s gonna be bad,” even before it actually happens. Like – it could be good! Why don’t you just think it’ll be good for awhile?
Miller: Yeah that’s our general approach to movies, too. Huh Lego Movie?
Lord: Yeah you cheat yourself out of too much good stuff if you do that.
Movies.com: What is the dynamic going to be going forward? Because you’re developing things independently but also producing each other’s stuff. What is that going to look like?
Miller: Your guess is as good as ours.
Lord: Who knows? We started in college doing that. We shared a studio and made separate films but helped each other out a lot. So in theory it’ll be just like that.
Miller: But hopefully we’ll be a little bit smarter about the films that we’re making. So we’re going to, hopefully, keep doing things together and separate. As we get busier and busier, we split up tasks because there’s just so much to do. So this feels like a natural extension of that.
Movies.com: Where are you with the Lego Movie sequel?
Lord: Great question.
Miller: It’s very early.
Lord: Chris McKay is directing and we have some folks working on the treatment right now and they’re doing a great job. We’re going to do a draft of the screenplay this summer starting on…
Miller: June 14. As soon as we get a spare minute. So we’re going to work on the script and produce it. And we’re producing the Ninjago one as well. We’re starting up a little company with Dan Lin. We’ve got a building that we’re calling Bricksburg…
Lord: The Bricksburg Chamber of Commerce…
Miller: The Bricksburg Chamber of Commerce! And we’re filling it with a bunch of creative, talented people.
Movies.com: Were you surprised by how much of a phenomenon the Lego Movie turned out to be?
Lord: Oh of course.
Miller: For sure.
Lord: We always think we’re going to fail and crash into a brick wall and when that doesn’t happen we’re always surprise.
Miller: It’s less happiness and more relief.
Lord: They say relief is the only positive emotion you can feel in the film business. Our career bears that out.
Miller: That’s something Craig Silverman from Warner Bros told to us. He was very right.
Movies.com: You guys have, up until this point, developed things based on preexisting properties. Are you now looking for something original?
Lord: For sure. But we don’t have any vanity about what we do. There’s not a lot of difference between making a Lego movie and making a Captain America movie. Either way you have to come up with something out of whole cloth. That’s how Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was and that’s obviously what this movie is inspired by something but not afraid to be different from the original TV series. I don’t mind either one. I don’t mind using a preexisting thing to get you to an original place.
Miller: Hopefully our careers are long enough that we can do a whole bunch of different things.
Movies.com: How seriously are you being wooed to do the next big superhero thing and is there any genre you’re itchy to explore?
Miller: Interesting. We’re definitely getting a lot of opportunities right now and trying to figure out what the next step is and what gets us really excited and passionate. Because you work so hard for so long on these things; if you’re doing it because it’s a job, it’s not worth it.
Lord: Yeah, it’s like falling in love with somebody. You don’t know why. You just fall in love with a project. So until you feel that way, it’s irresponsible to get into it.
Movies.com: You guys should do a horror movie.
Miller: Well, Drew [Goddard]’s horror movie was great.
Lord: Yeah totally. There are a lot of parallels between horror and comedy, that’s why there are so many funny horror movies.
Miller: For sure. Surprise is obviously the key ingredient for both of them. I love a good horror movie. It’s one of those genres where, like comedy, it’s better in a group. It’s a communal experience and you’re going there so you don’t go home and cut yourself to feel something.
Lord: And one of my favorite horror movies is Drag Me to Hell…
Miller: So great!
Lord: … And what makes it great is that the horror is a really relatable thing. She’s still trying to impress her boyfriend’s parents even though this horrible thing is going on. That’s the great element of great horror or great comedy – it’s about something that we’re all afraid of.
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