’22 Jump Street’ Set Visit: Chris Miller and Phil Lord Talk Expectations, Cameos, Sequels and Bromances
Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
This is part two of our coverage from the set of 22 Jump Street. Read our full report here and check back soon for an interview with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
November 2013 might not seem like a long time ago, but for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller the months between then and now are like a lifetime. At the time, they were hard at work shooting 22 Jump Street, the highly anticipated sequel to their surprise 2012 hit. Simultaneously, they were still approving shots for the yet-to-open The Lego Movie. In the interim, The Lego Movie became an international phenomenon, anointing the pair as Hollywood’s current “It” directors. (Now they’re rumored to be up for Ghostbusters 3.)
But six short months ago, Miller and Lord were simply worried about making their second live-action movie ever as funny as possible. Below, read a full interview the pair conducted with me and several other journalists from the set. We talk about the huge expectations of this sequel, the nature of sequels in general, celebrity cameos, the new cast and lots of bromance.
Here’s a transcript of a group of journalists talking to Lord and Miller on the 22 Jump Street set visit on November 10, 2013.
Talk about the expectations of this film. You guys never directed a live action movie [before the first], it blew up, was hilarious. Now we have a summer release and everyone’s expecting you to be, you know, much better.
Chris Miller: High expectations?
Are you guys scared?
Phil Lord: No, that’s what you guys are for. We are here to lower expectations. You need to go back to the and write all about how like you’re not really sure, you think it may not be that good.
Miller: All of everything we’ve ever done has been riding on low expectations. 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.
Lord: We’re in deep trouble.
Miller: ‘Cause, guys, we all know that sequels are terrible, right?
Lord: Yeah, no, who wants to see a dumb sequel.
Channing and Jonah were saying part of this is that you’re subverting the idea that sequels always have to be bigger and they’re technically not good. Can you talk a bit about that?
Miller: Yeah, I mean, part of the joy of it for us was trying to find a hooky idea about doing a sequel. You know, the first one was a lot about buddy cop movies and just and bromances in general and then we felt like this one should have like the same attitude towards 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? Like how do you sustain that over the course of a relationship? And or in our case a movie.
What is the line at which things become too meta?
Miller: Well exactly… well that’s always the–
Lord: We’re gonna find it. We’re like explorers.
Miller: We always 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 it with all these like little hidden meta gems, but any time it crossed the line and it didn’t make sense as a real story, we just ended up taking it out because it didn’t fit. So the same is true.
So is that the kind of thing where it becomes more visible in the editing room?
Lord: For sure. Yeah.
Miller: Exactly, so we can have lots of fun…
Lord: The movie kind of tells you.
Miller: Yeah, and then you go “Uh oh, oh that’s too far, that’s… Now we’re disappearing up our own assholes.”
How much do you rely on what’s already on the page as opposed to Jonah and Channing making improv babies?
Lord: Well… I don’t know, sometimes we have to remind ourselves to shoot the thing that’s on the page at all. But it’s definitely a free for all. You know, we’re sitting there, you know, we’re writers, Jonah’s a writer, Channing’s now a writer. Like we’re all sitting there and we have a writer on set, so we’re just trying to get the most out of every sequence and every scene. So I would say we pretty quickly diverge from what’s on the page.
Did you get a little bit more money and more room to work with after the first film?
Miller: We did get more money, but–
Lord: It’s definitely more expensive.
Miller: Yeah. But not as much more as you might think. It turns out the studios have like budgets and finance and stuff and they care about whatever. But yes, I mean, you know, a lot of this has been about “Yes, it’s a joke about how sequels have to be bigger and crazier, but it also should be bigger and crazier, right?”
Lord: It’s like a joke that came true.
Lord: Like something we were making fun of and then we got in and we like “Oh no. Everything we’ve been making fun of is real.”
Where did the Q-tip thing come from? We were laughing so hard at that ’cause it’s so absurd.
Lord: Well you guys were the audience for that. Let’s see what happens when we take it to Orange, California.
Miller: You might notice we also shot a safety.
You think we’re a really Q-tip savvy audience here?
Lord: Yeah, you’re a very Q-tip savvy audience. You just have very clean ears, all of you.
Miller: Yeah. That was like a weird bit idea that Rodney Rothman had who’s been working on the movie with us and we thought it was really funny, but we also were like maybe that’ll work, we 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 then you might have noticed, we also shot a version where they didn’t do that at all, so it was like as we were talking about protecting ourselves from getting too meta.
Lord: Oh yeah.
Can you talk about the world of animation, the world of live action and what you love about each of those mediums?
Lord: Well this is more spontaneous. Every take is different. There’s a million different ways to cut it. In animation, you do so much planning ahead of time, it has to be so precise. Although I have to 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 you do get to… It’s looser, you know. And that’s scary, because you don’t get to plan things out ahead of time. You don’t know if things are gonna work. But it gives you a lot more latitude in editing.
How are you guys balancing your schedule right now?
Lord: I don’t know.
Miller: Oh God it’s absolutely the worst.
Lord: It’s so bad.
Miller: We shoot these full days and they we go home and look at dailies and talk on the phone to Australia and…
Miller: And it’s not fun right now. You know, we’re almost done with The Lego Movie.
Miller: We’re locking picture in a couple weeks and…
Actually if I can quickly ask, is that Will Forte voicing Abraham Lincoln.
Lord and Miller: It is.
Miller: Reprising his role.
This movie you’re setting in college, a completely different separate setting, but how much of the first film do we see? Does Brie Larson come back at all or…?
Lord: You know, we really would, we were trying to think of a funny way to do it, it just wasn’t sticking in the movie. The, there’s definitely some familiar faces have returned.
Miller: Cameos. People.
Miller: Besides just Jonah, Channing, Cube. There’s also I don’t wanna spoil…
Neal [Moritz, producer] already spoiled.
Lord: Okay, well I guess there’s still some surprises.
Miller: Yes, Riggle and Franco are in it, that’s true, and there are others. It’s a good scene. I will say it’s a good scene.
Lord: Yeah, we rolled out on every take. And that’s 47 minutes each time. Every single setup we rolled out. There’s something like five hours of footage now…
For just that one…
Lord: For what should be a two minute scene. If that, maybe a minute.
Miler: Yeah, we’re cutting it down.
Lord: Joke’s on us if it’s a minute long scene in the movie. But I think it’ll be longer. Yeah, it’s just a lot, it’s Rob Riggle Theater.
We’ve heard it may be the funniest scene ever. So no pressure.
Lord: It’s really, I know, that’s not, we can’t do this.
Miller: Low expectations, come on.
We asked Channing and Jonah this earlier: after the first one, which of their actor friends were begging them to just come and do a day on this? For you guys kind of as second feature, are you having interest–?
Lord: Director friends that wanna direct it? Please…
No, no, celeb fans that you’re surprised liked the movie?
Lord: I’d have to say that we don’t run in the same circles as Channing and Jonah. I’m trying to think of like,well, I have to say that the craziest one, the craziest person who wanted to be in the movie is going to be in the movie. So I’ll leave it at that.
Messing up those expectations.
Miller: Yeah, damn it.
Lord: Yeah, I know. I know. You might be pretty disappointed with that one.
Talk about like the type of bromance films or sequels too that might have been [influences].
Lord: Yeah, sure, but that’s kind of the thing you’re going for, right, is like can you make a great sequel to a comedy? Which is really challenging. I mean, like the list is pretty short.
Lord: There have been funny sequels, but I don’t know if there have been that many that feel like they’re, you know, they’re just as great a movie to watch, just as fun an experience but 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 and we were not on board for a long time. Because we couldn’t figure out how to crack it as far as like 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 that just inspired you to go forward?
Miller: Yeah, we worked really hard on it with some people on the script and…
Lord: Yeah, Michael Bacall and Oren Uziel, you know, we did a bunch of iterations and we finally got to a place that made it about the sequel to their relationship and that got interesting. Where it was like “Oh, how do you make, it’s really more about how do you make a marriage work?” The first one’s kind of like how can you express yourself to somebody, to another man? And this is more about like being deeply entrenched in a relationship with another man.
Do you direct like other buddy movies or bromances?
Miller: We tried to stay away from any spoofy type of things, it’s more of like genre…
Lord: There’s more Bad Boys in this one and Bad Boys II than there was in the…
Miller: Yeah, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of Michael Bay in it in general and there’s a lot of… And as far as I think we really are going to the extreme in the bromance side of it.
How much “Chris and Phil” is in it? You guys are a buddy movie.
Lord: Yeah, we met in college.
Miller: That’s right.
Lord: Yeah, there’s a little bit.
Miller: A living buddy movie.
Lord: Yeah. We’re super shy about like putting stuff that’s too self referential in the movie. But the, but there’s definitely things and hallmarks from our college days, particularly there’s like — I don’t know if it’ll stay in the movie, but there’s a whole like beer pong playing sequence. If it stays in the movie, the guys playing pong on the other side just off camera are us. And we have a lot of experience thinking and talking about what it’s like to be in a marriage with your friend as a, you know, who you can’t sleep with. So the complexities of a long term male friendship where you’re working together all the time and you’re forced, like a lot of friendships, you’re not really forced to deal with the hard stuff. And when you work together like we do, you have to deal with that stuff.
Something we haven’t really heard much about is what they’re actually investigating.
Miller: Illegal activity.
Lord: Yeah, there’s… I’m not sure what we’re supposed to say.
Miller: Yeah, I don’t know.
Lord: It’s not like really exciting.
Lord: Yeah, well the bit is–
And there’s the headline right there.
Lord: There it is.
Miller: The, you know, one of the bits is that the management wants the guys to do the exact same thing they did last time ’cause that’s what was so successful.
Lord: So we’re playing the department as like the studio and they’re saying like you guys are messing up. What you need to do is exactly the same thing as before.
Miller: Right. And then so it starts out similar and then it’s like we’re giving you a drug case and just do the same thing you did, but then the movie sort of–
Lord: But they’re like we don’t wanna do the same thing and it’s feeling kind of dull.
Miller: Do the same thing.
Lord: And they kind of are trying to break out of the pattern. It’s kind of the–
Miller: It’s more and more different as the movie goes on.
So the scene we saw, the Q-tip scene is where he meets his new bromance?
Lord: Yeah, right, the other woman.
Can you talk about your new cast? We have two new faces that we saw today.
Miller: Oh yeah.
Lord: Jimmy Tatro, yeah.
Lord: He’s fantastic. He’s like a big Internet sensation. So when we go on like college campuses, we were all pretty shocked that like all the kids like they were really wanted his autograph and stuff.
Miller: He’s a really funny guy. We can just give him a thing and go okay, you’re gonna be in the background in this shot trying to open a bag of Doritos the whole time. And he like makes it hilarious. And Wyatt [Russell] is super, a really natural performer and really funny.
Lord: I can’t imagine why.
It’s not like in his blood.
Lord: It’s not like he comes from like two awesome actors.
Miller: D.N.A. yeah. We also have a couple other people, Jillian Bell from Workaholics who is just hysterical. And the Lucas Brothers.
Lord: The Lucas Brothers, yup, who say everything in unison just like we did.
Miller: Amber Stevens and those guys are all doing a great job.
Rodney Rothman wrote one of my favorite books, Early Bird.
Lord: Oh yeah, it’s great. He’s a great writer.
He’s worked with the Apatow crew and everything. I’m wondering what he brings to this?
Lord: Well he comes from that school of thought where there’s like 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. And we’re great friends and known each other a long time and we have Clippers tickets together and we’re both, it’s really nice to have just like a friend a collaborator nearby to tell you when you’re messing up. Yeah.
And if you do a sequel where Channing and Jonah are in a retirement home, he could write that one.
Miller: That’s right.
Lord: Yeah, exactly.
22 Jump Street opens June 13. Check back later this week for the final part of our set visit with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.