They may not be household names yet, but 22 Jump Street directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord are on the fast track to being the “it” boys of comedy filmmaking. Having spent 2014 rolling out the enormously popular The Lego Movie practically back-to-back with the follow up to their surprise hit with 21 Jump Street, Lord and Miller seem to have their finger on the pulse of moviegoers, everywhere. We sat down with the college roommates to talk about the trials and tribulations of bringing a successful sequel to life, all whilst working almost simultaneously on their animated Lego hit.
What made the making of this film different than 21?
Chris Miller: We felt like we knew what we were doing a little bit more this time. We only had to fake it 10 percent less. Everybody was more comfortable. Everyone was confident that Jonah [Hill] and Channing [Tatum] knew that they had good chemistry together. Channing was more comfortable and confident doing comedy. We all had a lot of faith in each other. I think that was the biggest difference.
PL: It also came together really fast. With the first Jump Street, we spent a year working on the script with Michael Bacall before we started shooting. This one was just like, “Alright, we’re prepping! Okay, here we go! Oh no, let’s rewrite this scene on set!” So it had a looser feel in production.
CM: And luckily everybody we cast in the movie is really great at improvising, so we leaned on everyone to sort of help us make the movie as fun as it could be. They all did a great job.
There are lots of action sequences in this, obviously. Was there one that was tougher to do than the others?
CM: The helicopter stuff is in Puerto Rico and on top of everything; a thunderstorm comes by every hour on the hour. A thunderstorm comes by, everybody squeegees the deck, and then you can shoot for 10 minutes, and then you have to send everything away—the helicopter can’t fly in the rain. That was a drag.
PL: And that one was exhausting, people were hanging on wires in wind and weather,.
CM: I can’t think any of them were simple.
PL: No, the 18-wheeler one was obviously a challenge too. Luckily, Channing is really one of the best stunt men you’ll ever find. That’s really him on top of an 18-wheeler that’s driving through the Port of New Orleans really fast. He’s literally flipped himself onto the thing and was running around on top of there for real. He’s got a safety harness that we erased but other than that it’s really him. So we can get some pretty fun shots that way.
Is this the first time the insurance company is going to hear about this?
PL: [Laughs] Shhh.
CM: It’s too late now!
PL: The studio was mostly the one who was nervous about him doing the more difficult stuff. There were a lot of arguments. “What happens if he breaks his leg and we have to shut down production?!” and sometimes we just didn’t say anything and let him do it—
CM: “I’m not going to have a stunt guy jump from one roof to another— I’ll do it myself!” We’re like, “oh god… alright!”
Was the making fun of the sequel idea: was that in the script?
CM: That was in the script. There was a lot more of it than what you guys saw finally.
PL: And then some of that stuff was improvised or came up on the day. That stuff about Cube’s $800 shoes—
CM: —Just riff about how ridiculous looking the office was.
As far as the ending…you guys just laid all of your cards down on the table—
PL: It’s every idea we got.
CM: We’re shooting all of those back-to-back, starting next year.
PL: We had a lot of fun making that with those guys. It came together really fast. We had the help of the company Alma Matter that worked with us on 21 and The Lego Movie, and Cloudy 2— and they do great work. It was fun.
What’s the experience of making two films [like Jump Street and Lego] so close together?
PL: It was so hard!
CM: Oh man, it was so hard! Because we’re shooting for 14-hour days, then we go home and we’re on our computers giving notes on lighting dailies from the Lego movie— and unfortunately because of the time difference—
PL: —with Australia—
CM: —there we [had] a production working 24 hours a day. There was no hour where everyone was asleep at the same time.
PL: Often times, we’d get home from the shoot at 10:30 at night and start another conference call for another hour and a half before we went to bed. And then on our weekends, we were all Lego Movie, so it’s really— [we’d] not want to replicate it again—doing two movies at the same time.
CM: It does help that there are two of us.
PL: That is true.
CM: If somebody was so sick and ill that they couldn’t work on it—
PL: —the other one would pick up the slack.
CM: The other would pick up the slack, yeah.
Speaking of two of you; talk about the twins in the film?
CM: Keith and Kenny [The Lucas Brothers]? Oh my god.
PL: What a discovery. We were so lucky because we had this idea that those guys are such a yin and yang with each other that they should have roommates that were two yangs. So, we were looking for twins that were funny. It was the hardest thing to do and we almost gave up and just decided we were going to find one funny person and then do sort of a split-screen movie trick. But at the last minute our buddy Rodney suggested this guys, the The Lucas Brothers, who were stand-ups here in New York. We saw their stuff, and then brought them out to our audition. They were so hilarious, and they had their own unique voice. We were like, “oh, this is perfect” and we completely re-wrote the thing for those guys.
CM: It was supposed to be an Asian guy, and , and then we were going to double him, and then those guys showed up. The other thing that is funny is they said, “You are the first directors not to tell us to stop mumbling.” Then when we got into the sound mix we realized why! [Laughs]
PL: There is something really unique about their performance that we didn’t want to—
CM: We thought that would kill it, you know. There was something about how they speak that’s so funny; we didn’t want to change anything.
Because 21 Jump Street was such a surprise and 22 is already doing really great, do you feel pressured to actually go on and do at least one more?
PL: Anything’s possible.
CM: I’m sure the pressures will start to mount, but we’ll see. It all depends on how it performs.
PL: Yeah, we don’t know. It hasn’t come out yet, so we don’t want to think about that yet.
CM: Yeah, exactly. We just want to think about taking a nap and some time off.
What was your goal with this movie? What did you want to communicate?
CM: What got us excited about it was— It’s very challenging to do a sequel, especially to a comedy. There’re not that many ones that are great. That challenge is interesting. We didn’t know how to do it until we thought, “Well, maybe the idea of making a sequel rhymes with trying to keep your relationship going.” Once it was about, “Oh, they’re having to make a sequel to their relationship. What’s it like to make a sequel to the first time you fall in love with somebody?” That started to get interesting to us. And that’s something that we relate to. To feel like you’re doing something over and over again. And that’s something that every couple has to deal with.
PL: Maintaining the freshness and fun and having a positive work and friendship is very close to home for us.
CM: And then the idea that there are two movies, and the movies are kind of twins, but they’re kind of different. We related to that.
What can you tell me about Cube? What are the misconceptions about Ice Cube that you saw?
CM: That’s interesting…
PL: Oh man…
CM: I guess most of the world just thinks he’s just a super scary person, because he has very scary eyebrows.
PL: He’s angry and frustrated at certain—
CM: Yes, he can get angry about things. He can get angry about socio-political issues in South Central, Los Angeles—or at a beer can.
PL: He is really a phenomenally talented in all media. The guy has written movies, produced, directed, changed the face of music and American culture. He is a multi-talent. We leaned on him a lot. In the scenes that he was in he had strong opinions of what he thought his character. He’s a great guardian of who he thought Dickson was.
CM: He’s calm. He’s almost like a Zen Master. He’s steady and he has a really philosophical approach to his entire career. We got a chance to hang out with him yesterday a little bit and talk to him about his whole career. In a Zen kind of way, he’s about the process. That’s what I love about him. He’s about the work and the process, like a true artist.
PL: He keeps on makin’ things.
CM: He keeps making stuff. If that guy has a day off, he’s compelled to think of something. It’s like uncontrollable to him, and to me that’s the mark of a real artist.
You guys went to college together, right? Did you ever look back to your own experiences for inspiration in this film?
CM: Oh yeah.
CM: Well, the beer pong playing is the most authentic beer pong playing ever committed to film. You can’t buy that.
PL: It was in the Dartmouth-style.
CM: The Dartmouth-style is authentic beer pong.
PL: So, off camera playing with Channing and Wyatt were us, because we were the only ones—
CM: —who knew how to play that way.
PL: We took some of our personal college experiences and put them in there, and then we even went back to Dartmouth to see what was going on. We talked to some other people at UCLA and went to a fraternity there just to see what life was like and how it had changed since we’d graduated 20 years ago. It turns out, surprising not much has changed.
CM: It’s literally the exact same thing.
PL: On 21, we went to high schools and we were just flabbergasted by how different it was, and how the social structure was so different. And so that’s what we made the first one about. And then this time, we went to colleges and we’re like, “Oh, this is the same.”
CM: It was literally no difference.
PL: It fit into our theme to do it the same.
Still drink until you pass out.
CM: It’s still that, it’s still about how great your body looks.
PL: It’s about drinking to excess and—
CM: —and working out—
PL: —and sports are still important culturally. College hasn’t caught up to high school yet.
You guys have so many consecutive hits—
CM: We should get out of the game right? Get off the table?
PL: No, let’s cash the chips in and that’s that.
Do you ever look at each other and say, “What is going on? How long can this charm go on?”
PL: We feel very lucky, obviously, because you never know when you put something out how the world is going to respond to it. We try to make things that we like and that challenge ourselves and that we feel like we have something to say. We try to do things smarter than you’d expect and I think we’ve had the luck of having a lot of projects that have had very low expectations. [Laughs]. So, exceeding the low expectations has become a hallmark for us. I don’t know how it will work if we do something that people expect to be good going in— that might be our downfall.
22 Jump Street is now playing in theaters everywhere.