Chris Miller and Phil Lord interview: 21 Jump Street, Cloudy 2, Lego, cameos and more

The co-directors of 21 Jump Street look back at their film, talk about keeping it surprises intact, and find time for Lego, Cloudy 2 and Jump Street 2 as well...

One of the nicest surprises of the year, and still the best big comedy of 2012 for our money, is 21 Jump Street, which has now made its way to DVD and Blu-ray. We spoke to its co-directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, earlier in the year, just when the film was about to be released. You can read that chat here. 

Since then, they’ve got to work on their planned Lego movie, as well as overseeing Cloudy 2, due out at the end of next year. Fortunately, they could still find a bit of time for a natter with us… 

When we last spoke, it was just before the cinematic release of 21 Jump Street, and you were playing your cards close to your chest. When was the first point that you figured it all might have worked, and would find an audience? 

Well we could tell from the camera test that Channing and Jonah were going to have great chemistry, so we were all really excited. But the directors’ job is not to be the one going “This movie is awesome.” Our job is to be terrified that the movie is going to be a disaster, so that we work really hard to make it as good as possible. So honestly, if you let us we would probably go back in there and keep working on it. Actually, we wouldn’t.

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How much, given the history of the project, were you left to find your cut on the film? There are elements of the film that it feels like you might have had to fight for?

We were fortunate to have so much support on this project from the studio to our producers to our actors. We put together a cut that everyone was pretty happy with from the start and the test audiences seemed to respond well to it. We wish we could tell you there were huge fights with the studio where they wanted us to add a dog or something because it would make us seem like cool iconoclastic filmmakers who fought the fat cats at the studio, etc. But truthfully we took a bunch of studio notes and they most always made it better.

There was some chatter about a sequel, too, around the time of the film’s release. Has there been progress there?

Sony was very happy with the movie and they have started the process of trying to tackle another one. It seems like a lot of people would like to see where Schmidt and Jenko go from here, but it’s still very early on and we all need to try to crack a satisfying story and a new direction to take these guys.

Is a sequel something you’d direct, or oversee?

We’ve been so busy on the Lego movie that we haven’t had much time to dedicate to future projects. We did have a great time on the first one though, and it would be a lot of fun to get the band back together. To make another movie, not an album or something. “Get the band back together to make a sequel” is a badly mixed metaphor. Bands are not the best at making movies, generally.

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What have you added to the disc release of 21 Jump Street? Is the DVD release a bit like cleaning up after the party for movie directors? Or can you get very hands-on with it?

We did take some time with it to make sure we could put some fun material in there. On set there was so much room for improv, there was a ton of great footage that unfortunately there just was not time for in the finished film, so we tried to make sure a lot of our favourite deleted moments were included on the Blu-ray.

In particular, Jonah and Channing’s bedtime discussion about hooking up with high school girls, Channing’s all-in-one-take destruction of the high school band, and Jake Johnson’s ad-libs as the principal stand out as some of our favourite moments we worked on for this release. There are also a lot of embarrassing footage of us that you should not watch.

How hands on are you able to be with Cloudy 2?

It has been a really busy last year and a half for us between Jump Street and Lego, so we have had a lot on our plate but we have tried to stay as involved as we can in Cloudy 2. We feel pretty lucky to have such a solid core team there to run the day-to-day while we have been bouncing between our other projects. Kris Pearn and Cody Cameron, who are directing the sequel, are close friends and colleagues of ours from the first film, and we trust them.

We all worked out a story we were excited about, and we love the direction they are headed in, and luckily they are good enough that they don’t actually need us, but nice enough that they let us periodically chime in. 

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How is the Lego movie going? Can you tell us anything about that? Does it mean that your houses are full of free Lego at the moment? Are you sick of the sight of it yet?

Lego has been going really well. We are very excited about the story we’ve developed as well as the look of the movie. We have a great team around us including Chris McKay, our co-director (from Robot Chicken), and we have been busy taking credit for all of their ideas. As for our houses, we’ve abandoned them and built new ones completely out of Lego. Turns out they’re pretty easy to break into, though. 

How does your directorial relationship work? I spoke to Ricky Gervais once, and when he’s co-directing, he says that if either director doesn’t like something, it’s instantly vetoed. How do the two of you work? 

We’ve invented a computer algorithm that generates the average of each of our ideas if we have a disagreement. But luckily we have similar taste so we’re on the same page most of the time. When one of us doesn’t like something, we instantly fight to the death. Which usually ends in a draw, followed by lunch.

Are the stages in 21 Jump Street a direct parallel to the stages you go through making a film?

We definitely went through ‘The Giggs’ a few times while making it. The experience definitely felt like ‘Tripping Major Ballsack.’ We never felt ‘Over-Falsity of Confidence’ for one second. But when it was not a total failure, we had our own subdued ‘Fuck Yeah Motherfucker!’ More like a ‘Whew, Motherfucker. Let’s go get tacos and fall asleep at 10:30.’

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Now we’re at the DVD release, can we talk about the cameos? How did they come together? Were they on the cards from the start?

We knew we wanted to try to include the members of the original cast. As for Johnny [Depp], we heard he was interested. We and Jonah had been talking to his agent frequently, and we heard he wanted his character to die. Then we ran into him out at a holiday party and introduced ourselves and chatted with him about it.

He still wanted to die, and he added he also wanted to do his scene with his old partner on the show, Peter DeLuise. From there we just set out trying to figure out how we wanted to kill off Tom Hanson and Doug Penhall, which meant rewriting the entire third act, which turned out to be worth it.

How tricky was it to keep them under wraps? Were you pleased with the response to them?

With all of the chatter on the internet its pretty impossible to keep anything a secret anymore, so we wanted to hide Johnny in plain sight, so when he showed up, you had almost forgotten your friend had told you he was in it. People were pretty good about keeping the secret. Except for people who had never seen the show, and would tweet “WTF why was Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street? #rando”

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Finally, which upcoming films excite you the most?

The two right now would probably be Dark Knight Rises and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. They’re basically the same movie. 

Chris Miller and Phil Lord, thank you very much.

Chris and Phil, thank you very much! 21 Jump Street is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Cloudy 2 is due in 2013, and the Lego movie is set for 2014.

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