Phil Lord And Chris Miller On The Afterparty's Evolution From Film To TV, Honing Its Music, And More [Interview]

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of my favorite working filmmakers. I also love Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries. So when word came out that Miller had taken an unrealized movie idea from more than 10 years ago and converted it into an eight-episode series for Apple TV+ called "The Afterparty," it seemed like a best-case scenario. I've seen the first seven episodes, and if, like me, you enjoyed the way "Community" paid homage to different genres while staying true to its characters, this new show will be right up your alley. It's Miller's brainchild — he's listed as the creator, showrunner/executive producer, writer, and solo director for multiple episodes — but Lord is on board as a writer and executive producer, and the series is bursting with the duo's signature comedy style, keeping a beating heart amid the laughs.

I spoke with Lord and Miller about how the project evolved over the years, the fake movies within the show, and shaping the music in its big musical episode.

"If you open it up to a series, you give each character time to dive in and really see the world through their eyes."

Chris, I know this story was originally envisioned as a movie many years ago, and the TV format probably gave you more room to expand some of your ideas. But can you tell me how else the story evolved over the years?

Miller: Sure, yeah. When I started writing it or coming up with it about 11 or 12 years ago, I really got excited about trying to do a murder mystery in a "Rashomon" style, where each character would give their version of the night and it would be wildly different from each other and you'd have to add them all up to figure out what really happened. And it was a really fun puzzle to solve. I wrote it as a movie, and just like you said, after we got busy making a bunch of movies and came up for air a few years ago, we came back to revisit it. And it felt like we didn't get enough time in each person's story. Because in the format of a movie, you've got less than two hours to tell the story.

But if you open it up to a series, you give each character time to dive in and really see the world through their eyes. When we started thinking about doing it that way, it became the idea of pushing the stylization of how they're telling their stories. They were always told in different ways, but it seemed like you could really lean into different filmmaking styles and genres to tell the story, and make each one extra distinct. That's where I think it really became something really special in its evolution. And that informed how we rewrote the characters, because they each naturally had a genre that felt right. But then we had to push them in that direction, so they felt part of — that's the way they see themselves and see the world. This character thinks he's in an action movie, and this one experiences her life as a thriller, and that sort of thing. So it was really fun and it really opened it up, and we brought in a room of talented people to help make it even richer, and then brought an incredible cast together that elevated it again. So it was a really fun but long process.

"The one I really hope we get to make someday is the Hall and Oates biopic."

Phil, I have to ask about the fake movies within the show. Can you tell me a little bit about how "Private Eyes" and "Hungry, Hungry Hippos" came about?

Lord: Yeah. Out of our respect for the board-game-turned-movie genre, we made an homage called "Hungry, Hungry Hippos" based on our favorite game from childhood. [laughs]

Miller: It was based on the many pitches — people pitching us movies that we said "no" to. That was representative of, but not specifically, one of.

Lord: It's not the worst movie idea we've heard. And I just love [Will] Forte in that. [chuckles to himself] But the one that I really hope we get to make someday is the Hall and Oates biopic.

I was wondering if you guys were interested, because it seems like there's enough there. "Walk Hard" was several years ago now. It seems like there's enough there, and Hollywood still keeps making these movies. There's room for another twist on that.

Miller: Yeah, we had so much fun shooting with the two of them, and there's more that we shot that did not make it into the show because it was irresponsible. [laughs]

Lord: But we tried.

Miller: We really tried. We tried to jam –

Lord: We really tried to shoehorn it in there.

Miller: Yeah. But it was so fun, and we're like, "Oh man, you could do a real lark of a movie." What was funny is, that was an idea that I'd had in the original script from a decade ago, before this boom of musical biopics happened. And it suddenly became more relevant than ever.

"Have a song that's catchy and fun, have it be funny, and have it advance the story."

I probably only have time for one more question for you guys, but Chris, I really love the music in the Jasper episode. That's one of my favorite episodes of TV in many years. I was just wondering if you could tell me about the process of honing those songs with Jack Dolgen a little bit.

Yeah, yeah. So, Jack is a super-talent. He wrote that episode, and he's a really talented writer as well as musician. He worked on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." And we had some really funny thoughts of what we wanted the story to be and how we were going to advance the story. And then, we also worked with this guy, Jon Lajoie, who did the music for ["The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part"] and is a really funny songwriter. Between the two of them, we actually were able to accomplish the thing that we wanted to from the beginning, which is have a song that's catchy and fun, have it be funny, and have it advance the story. Having something that does all three of those is really, really hard, but we were able to get it done. And then, we had Kat Burns, an incredible choreographer, and Ben [Schwartz] and Sam [Richardson] were really putting their all into it. When it all comes together, it feels really special.

The first three episodes of "The Afterparty" are streaming now on Apple TV+.