Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Still unsure what to make of 22 Jump Street? Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord have you right where they want you.
“Everything we’ve ever done has been riding on low expectations,” Miller said. “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs? 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. Because we all know that sequels are terrible, right?”
“We are here to lower your expectations,” Lord added. “You need to go back and write about how you’re not really sure. It might not be that good.”
It’s November 10, 2013 and Miller and Lord joke are joking about 22 Jump Street in between takes on New Orleans set of the sequel. The anticipation is a stark contrast to 2012, when most people instantly wrote off a remake of a ‘90s TV show starring that guy from Step Up and the loser in Superbad. We now know 21 Jump Street became a monster hit that surprised audiences with its audacity, subversion and comedy. That unexpected but welcome success had fans and the studio clamoring for a sequel. However, no one behind the scenes wanted to make one unless they could surprise audiences again.
Fast forward to day 33 of a 55-day shoot on the set of 22 Jump Street. Sure the film is a sequel to a remake of a ’90s TV show, but after seeing two scenes filmed, each featuring hilarious jokes, an awkward self-awareness and lots of surprises, I have bad news for Mr. Lord: expectations have actually been raised.
Below, read all about our visit to the set of 22 Jump Street and check back later this week for the full interviews with the directors and stars.
When first arriving on the 22 Jump Street set, star, co-writer and co-producer Jonah Hill was quick to explain everyone making the movie knows exactly what the public is going to think when hearing the words “22 Jump Street.”
“When we were writing this one, the biggest thing to keep in mind, like we did in the first one, was we called ourselves out for the lameness of recycling the idea from a TV show into a film,” he said. “And I think that worked to our benefit. We call ourselves out right out of the gate in this one, that sequels are bigger and crappier than the first ones. That’s the approach we’re taking with this is to have a very aware attack at ourselves for making a sequel in the first place.”
The co-directors then went back and forth explaining how that plays out in the plot. “Management wants the guys to do the exact same thing they did the last time because that’s what was so successful,” Miller began. “So we’re playing the department like the studio. They’re saying ‘You guys are messing up. What you need to do is exactly the same thing as before,’” Lord added. “Then it starts out similar, ‘We’re giving you a drug case, do the same thing you did.” “And they’re like, ‘But we don’t want to do the same thing, it’s feeling kind of dull’ and they’re trying to break out of the pattern.” “Then it gets more and more different as the movie goes along.”
Well before filming began, everyone involved was aware of the trappings of a sequel. For a long time, though the studio tried to push the film forward, everyone – from Hill and co-star/co-producer Channing Tatum to directors Lord and Miller – was hesitant to do it. Multiple writers wrote drafts until, finally, writers Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel found the hook. 22 Jump Street is not only sequel to the story of the first, it’s the sequel to the relationship between Janko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill). “That got interesting,” Lord said. “It’s really more about how you make a marriage work….About being deeply entrenched in a relationship with another man.”
So basically 22 Jump Street is an action-comedy male romance, very aware of its sequel nature. But a hook and an ethos are just the first step. Now you need a story.
Metropolitan City State
21 Jump Street ended with a huge tease saying the guys were going to college, so it’s no surprise that’s where the sequel takes us. Janko and Schmidt will go undercover to investigate “illegal activity” at “Metropolitan City State,” my vote for funniest fake college name ever. While on set, everyone was pretty guarded about plot specifics. Even the multiple trailers we’ve seen in the five months since don’t give a lot of details. But the scenes we observed had some clues. They both involved Janko and Schmidt attending walk-on tryouts for the MC State football team, The Statesmen. Their motto? “Make a Statesment.”
Filming took place at the Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, a big park four miles away from Bourbon Street, where several high school football teams regularly play. About 50 actual football players were on set as extras, running sprints and different plays in the background, and while this is the college stadium in the film, it’s the only scene shot there. The rest of the college scenes were filmed at Tulane, Loyola and Xavier.
First up, Schmidt and Janko arrived on the field and Janko meets Zook, played by Wyatt Russell. (He’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn). The second scene was further bonding between Zook and Janko, which Schmidt is not happy about.
“A Weird Time To Q-Tip”
Lord and Miller shoot scenes in long takes with three cameras: One master and then two inserts, all running simultaneously. This allows for maximum improvisation and blending of their takes. Both major scenes shot this day were done like this.
The first scene we saw took place on the sideline at the stadium. Janko, a former football player, is happy to be back in his glory days. “Fuck yeah,” he whispers as he glances around at the stadium. Then, out of nowhere, he puts a Q-Tip into his ear. “That’s a weird time to Q-tip,” Schmidt says. “Uhhh, it feels so good,” Janko squeals in delight. “Plus you gotta be able to hear, and be as light as possible.”
This relatable randomness will be a theme for the day on the 22 Jump Street set. After the Q-tip talk, Schmidt is mistakenly shoved into Janko, who is subsequently pushed into Zook, the blonde starting quarterback. The collision causes Zook to drop his roast beef sandwich; Janko apologizes for getting his Q-tip in his meat. Zook says it’s not Janko’s fault. He got his meat on Janko’s Q. You read that right. The pair are joking about the marriage of Q-Tip and roast beef, dubbed a “Meat-Q sandwich.” It’s instantly obvious these total idiots are going to be friends. Schmidt is jealous. “Back to our conversation,” he dryly adds and that’s where the scene ends.
If you think the idea of a roast beef Q-tip sandwich is random, you aren’t the only one. “That was a weird bit (co-writer) Rodney Rothman had,” Miller said. “We thought it was really funny, but we also were like ‘Maybe that’ll work? We don’t know.’” “Let’s see what happens when we [test screen] in Orange, California,” Lord jokes.
As a safety, the pair shot a Meat-Q free take with the Janko and Zook speaking at the same time and doing the “jinx” thing. It accomplishes the same budding friendship goal while being a little less absurd. We’ll see which take the guys decide to use when the film opens in June. After about four takes of this scene, running the three cameras at the same time, with tons of different variations on what you read above (One personal favorite from Janko: “Sun’s out? Guns out.”) the gate is checked.
“Happy Halloween, Motherf***er”
Between takes, Lord and Miller walk over to their actors, talk about what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they can change and it all seems like a very collaborative process. This will be especially prevalent in the next set-up featuring our leads. (In between shots with Tatum and Hill, the production shoots lots of B-roll of football practice, a few big tackles with stuntmen and, yes, even a close-up insert of the Meat-Q, complete with intricate conversations at how it should fall and break on the floor).
In the second Scene, Janko will come over and smack talk a defender he just scored a touchdown on by screaming “Happy Halloween, motherfucker!” Zook comes over, congratulates him on an awesome catch and invites him to a party. Meanwhile, Schmidt wanders up and stands directly between them. Oddly, Zook ignores him while continuing his chat with Janko. “I guess the volume knob is turned down when I speak,” Schmidt says loudly. Eventually Zook acknowledges his presence and is weirded out the pair are brothers. Reluctantly, he invites both of them to the party.
Talking about his character, Russell said “He’s a football quarterback and he and Channing create a relationship. All the stuff that ensues in a bromance is really funny. There is stuff that is really crazy and really out there but at the same time there is stuff that really touches.”
Over the course of four takes, again shot with three cameras, this scene is all about Hill. Tatum and Russell just have to deliver lines and believably start to become friends, but Hill has to be both funny for the audience and just annoying enough so Zook won’t like him. He repeats lines loudly, says stuff under his breath, stares at Zook with that classic Jonah Hill open-mouth surprise face. It’s really funny.
What’s also interesting about this scene is none of the takes were perfect. They all had some flub or joke that didn’t land as hard, but that doesn’t seem to be how Lord and Miller shoot. They don’t keep shooting until they get the perfect take. They got lots of takes with lots of good stuff and then mold it in the editing. “We’re just trying to get the most out of every sequence and every scene,” Lord said. “We pretty quickly diverge from what’s on the page.”
As an actor who continues to work with some of the best directors in the business, Tatum loves that style. “Dude, [Miller and Lord] are awesome. Because they come from an animation world, all this is almost painful for them. They’re just like, ‘God, I just want to get in and edit.’ They’re just like, ‘Put me in a dark room with an editor and a screen’ and that’s when they really want to make the movie. This is their second movie, really, and they’re so much more comfortable than the first time, but still, we get here and we’re just like, ‘Alright. There’s infinite possibilities of where the camera could go, where you can set the people, what’re you gonna have in the foreground.’ And they are just amazing to collaborate with, because they’re not these sorta really like, ‘It has to be this way. This is the way we’ve envisioned it.’ They really want everybody’s input and to kinda go on the fly and it’s a lot of fun.”
In the end, Phil Lord sums up 22 Jump Street by asking a simple question. “Can you make a great sequel to a comedy? [It’s] really challenging. The list is pretty short. There have been funny sequels but I don’t know if there’ve been that many that feel they’re just as great a movie to watch, just as fun an experience but different. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, again raising expectations.”
Exactly. After seeing the way Miller and Lord shot hilarious footage on the set of 22 Jump Street, there are officially no chances at low expectations. Every choice we saw sounded funny, clever and was in service of something different. “The basic idea is [going] from Bad Boys I to Bad Boys II,” Hill said. “But more ridiculous,” Tatum added. For a sequel to a remake of a ’90s TV show? That sounds like pretty high praise.
22 Jump Street opens June 13. Check back over the next few days for the full on-set interviews with Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.