Caught up with the directors of “21 Jump Street”, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, recently to talk shop.
“21 Jump Street, The Movie” is a lot different from the TV series and is just different times I guess, that you had to go that way and you couldn’t just do it a straight-up serious, guys dressing-up kind of film now. [chuckle] You needed to shake it up in other words, I guess?
Chris Miller: Yeah, we felt… This is Chris, we felt like we wanted to honor the spirit of the show and we put a lot of detail and hidden things in there for the people who were fans of the show. But obviously, we went in a different direction with the tone of the movie, going with a pretty raunchy, R-rated, action comedy. But I think, that as you were saying, it’s a movie and not a TV show, and we had to do something to make it its own thing rather just a recreation of something that happened 30 years ago.
And that’s the thing I guess, that audiences these days are a different audience too than what we were in 1988 and what worked for us then, might not necessarily work for them now. So, they’re looking for something a little bit sassier and funnier, and they’ve grown up with a lot of these adult star comedies, haven’t they? So you have to cater for the audience now, but as you said, you’ve also thrown some things in there for the old school fans like myself who has… I’m looking right now at the DVD sets on my shelf.
CM: Yeah, and ourselves too. That’s fantastic. We watched the show, growing up as well, and so we have a great fondness for the show. And we re-watched all the episodes from the first four seasons and just to do the research while working on the story.
PL: And we definitely… We tried to make a movie that was kind of like a response to the TV series and one of the things that was exciting about what Michael did to the script was to make it in continuity with the original series. So, all of those events of the original happened. And now here we are 20 years later, and we’re watching it happened to different people.
Yeah, yeah. Which I think it’s great. Because it’s respectful I think too, to the original show and to the fans that still with, watching like myself [chuckle], the old show now and then. [laughter] And obviously you’ve got Channing and Jonah. A bit of a different kind of mix than what we had on the TV series, but a fantastic duo.
CM: Oh, yeah. We got lucky that they had such great chemistry with each other. They didn’t know each other before making this movie and right away, they became instant friends. And throughout the shooting of the movie and now the junkets and everything, they become really, really good, close buddies in real life. And you can never predict that, but it really showed up onscreen.
I was just going to say that hopefully their relationships work the way of Mel and Danny and the “Lethal Weapon” franchise but get to a number five.
CM : Yes, well we should be so lucky, if it gets to four versions, four installments.
It’s a great template though. I mean you can always keep shaking it up. You know, I’m up for more.
PL: Well, that’s good to hear. You know, one of the things that I was thinking about, that you’re saying how the film is very updated from series is that, one of our responses to watching the original series is just that we’ve noticed how much high school has changed over the last few years or a couple of decades. And how it used to be because there were these jocks, and there were the nerds, and never the plain show me. Chris and I went around to different high schools and with this movie, what the kids told us is not really like that anymore, that social groups are more complex. The cool kids are sometimes like the skinny ones who wear cool sneakers and glasses and it didn’t strike that loud the idea of what cool is, is so different. Which was a big inspiration for how we treated Channing and Jonah in the movie and it gave us an opportunity, one who thinks the casting. Channing gave us the opportunity to explore both sides of that change. One, what happened to a jock when he goes back and now being a jock isn’t cool anymore and what happens to a guy who might have been considered a nerd a few years ago and is now suddenly can be cool.
Yeah. Definitely. And certainly true, that’s reflecting what’s going on out there as is the technology that’s in this movie that the guys have got access to things like the internet and cell phones and stuff, and where as back in the TV Show they have a notepad. So, it’s definitely different times.
CM: Yes, definitely. We wanted to make sure that we portrayed an accurate version of how today’s teens are communicating and what part of the social structure that is. There’s a lot of texting and itabbing going on in this movie. And that seems to be the way that people talk to each other these days.
PL: Yeah. It’s weird to live in a world where… I’m sorry, it’s weird to live in a world where email is outdated. But I think…
CM: It’s just so slow.
I know. Yes, I know. It is, it is, it is [Laughs]. And look, they bring all this up too in the new “American Pie” movie – that these guys go back home and all the kids are different from what they were just 10 years ago using their cell phones and they’re sexting and everything else now. And so it’s constantly changing. This world is constantly changing, especially with terms of technology …. and that might bring me to my next question. You guys are most known for “Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs.” How did you get on to “21 Jump Street”!? It’s such a, I mean, it’s a big transition, I imagine?
PL: Yeah, well one of the things that’s exciting… I mean one of the things that’s great about animation background is, in animation you make a movie in slow motion and it takes three and a half… It took three and a half years to make “Cloudy.” And so, in that time you make the movie three or four different times. You talk about it with all these smart people. You talk about the camera work, you talk about the audio quality, and the voice performances and you get all these chances to go back and revise what you’ve done and correct any mistakes you might have made. It’s really like going to film school and you really get a great education in animation for film making in general. There were certainly differences and when you’re on the set you have to move a lot quicker and you have to make decisions on the fly and improvise and you don’t have time to go back and think about it and ask a million people for advice. You just kind of have to go with your gut. So we had the benefit of all of us thinking it went into “Cloudy” and it all paid off on the set of “Jump Street.”
CM: And then we also had the benefit of working almost a decade on sitcoms, where that is a job where it does requires a lot of quick thinking where you’re on the stage and you’re shooting a scene and you got to go through a whole episode in a half a day and the joke’s not working, the scene’s not working, everybody huddles up and has to rewrite the scene in a matter of minutes and that kind of quick thinking was helpful for us, to get us to be able to be ready for the high pressure, quick on your feet moments that come up when your shooting a movie.
PL: One last thing is that in animation, it’s a very meticulously planned film making process, but what you’re trying to do, more than anything, is get spontaneous moments onto the screen. And even though Chris and I are very meticulous people and have a particular chase, with all of our animators or actors and every member of the cast and crew we tried to give then enough agency to contribute their own piece of creativity to the movie. So, it was a great preparation for being on set with people like Jonah, who are improvising all the time, and having ideas for scenes. We work, even in animation, with an openness to that kind of new idea, someone else’s idea, with openness to changing, what you were originally.
For sure. And I mean, how did you convince Sony that you were the right guys for the job?
CM : Well, when we sort of decided to come in for “Cloudy” that we wanted to do sort of the opposite of what we did before. And so, we happen to know Jonah socially through comedy circles we were a fan of his. He is a very, very, funny, smart guy. He had been developing a script with Michael Bacall and it was sort of right in the wheel house of what we were looking to do, like an R rated, action comedy, that was all out crazy and fun. And so, we obliviously not the obvious choice to do that movie, so we made a little presentation packet of what we thought the tone would be and the look of the movie would be, and what we thought we could bring to the story to make it even better and that’s what convinced Neal and the studio that we might be okay to do the job. And luckily, Jonah was very supportive of us from the beginning and Sony, we had such a great relationship with them doing “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” so that everyone they’re familiar with us and they were, they trusted us, so it was great.
How long ago did you get involved because I know, was this when Stephen J. Cannell was still on board and when he was alive? And…
Yes, we met with Stephen and it was really, it was very sad for us when he passed away because he was just a really great and magnanimous guy with a bunch of amazing stories and a really prolific career of writing so much stuff.
It was really incredible going to his enormous office in Hollywood.
PL: Yeah, he was the real you know, he employed a lot of people with a great godfather to a lot of people and it was a big disappointment to us that he didn’t get to see the movie that we all made and participate in it more. But he was there at the beginning and we certainly, we’re really lucky to have met him.
CM: And we worked on the script with Michael McCall and Jonah for almost a year before we started prepping the movie and we had shown stuff repeatedly to Stephen and he was very excited and on board with everything, he was really very supportive of the film and it’s a shame that he won’t get a chance to see it.
Unless, they’ve got movie theaters in heaven, which I hope they do. I really hope they do. I’m telling you.
CM: It wouldn’t be heaven if they didn’t.
PL: I’m certain of that.
Have you shown the film to anyone involved in the original “21 Jump Street?”
CM: Well, I think we’re… I think from here, we’re going to be showing some of the people hopefully.
CM: That’s great.
CM: So, that’ll be interesting.
My producing partner is friends with Dustin Nguyen from the original series.
CM : Oh, yeah? We really wanted him to be a part of the… We were trying to get the entire original cast to be part of it, but he was shooting a movie in Vietnam, so but we got him in there a little bit. Sneaky, I don’t know if you know..
Maybe for the sequel? Will there be one?
PL: Well, certainly. It’s just a matter of the, you know, how many people go to see the movie in the first place, so we’re encouraging everyone to see it multiple times. If they want a sequel. [chuckle] And you know, we have had some preliminary discussions about where the story might go next and what kind of things might be funny and what things might be unexplored that we haven’t already looked at. So, it’s very early discussions about that.
And so, would Booker be in the next one?
PL: I honestly have to say if I have one regret, it is not including Booker in a more substantial part of this film. [laughter] He is serious because we have the idea that maybe that all the Jump Streeters, they went on and got different jobs you know. And what was the street that Chris as the limo pulls up for this shoot, right?
CM: And when the doves fly out of the limo.
PL: The doves, that is Booker Avenue.
CM: If you look very closely in the background you can see the street sign.
Very nice. Very nice.
CM: It says Booker Avenue. It’s that little things like that throughout the whole movie, but that only real super geeks would ever notice.
Yeah, yeah or you have to go back and watch it twice, which I’m now thinking I’m gonna have to do, just to see things like this. Is there any other old classic TV shows that you could breathe new life into? I mean if for a film version? [laughter] “Simon and Simon,” “Knight Rider,” “Silver Spoons”?
CM: I think…
PL: I would love to do a movie of a crossover episode of “Facts of Life” and “Different Strokes.” It’s like there’s a movie in there somewhere. The action version. I’m trying to think what was my favorite old TV shows that I would, that I grew up with. One of my favorite shows now already has movies associated with them, such as Friday Night Lights. I’m trying to think of like an old show from that era. It’s like the equalizer.
Yeah, the Equalizer. Yeah. Which is being done at the moment?
CM: You know what show I loved that they should really make a movie out of? Mission Impossible.
That’s an idea. That’s an idea. [laughter]
CM: Get that. Get that. I should look into that to see, and see who has the rights. [laughter] The Fugitive? I’m just gonna pitch one until…
PL: I don’t know. What about a Get a Life movie?
There you go! There you go! There you go! What are you guys up to now?
PL: Let’s do that. I will do that.
CM: We’re actually working on a Lego movie for Warner Brothers and we’re using Animal Logic in Sydney as the animation house, so we’re traveling back and forth to Sydney quite a bit.
Oh, wow! So, a Lego movie? Where do you start with a Lego movie? I mean, obviously, a family film and… Yeah. Can you tell us anything about it? I mean…
CM: Yes. It’s mostly animated with a small, live-action component. And it has like… Have you ever seen any of those brick films that are online where people move around those little mini figures in Lego worlds in their basement and make little stop-motion films? It’s kind of like that, but if you gave one of those people a massive budget and a huge sound stage and millions of like… It’s kind of like that.
Wow! And can we expect Mr. T to be playing a Lego character?
CM: We really should. We really should.
PL: Good idea.
CM: He’s the best! He’s awesome! He was awesome in Cloudy…He’s a wonderful man as well.
Yeah. Yeah. I imagine. I’ve heard that, actually, and I applauded the fact that you guys used him in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. You just… It was so suitable for that role. It was fantastic. And I look, if Ice Cube hadn’t have done the captain in 21 Jump Street, he would’ve been great.
PL: Yeah. Mr. T would not have been the worst idea. Sadly, the list for that part was a list of one person because we sort of voted it’s not like Ice Cube and this is not… I have no idea who it would be, and we would probably just have to write the role. It would be a totally different thing.
I can imagine. Yeah. Was Ice Cube cool with putting Straight Outta Compton in there?
CM: Oh yeah, absolutely. We put it in after we had shot the movie and edited it together. We were looking for a song for that sort of montage sequence and we thought that would be an interesting choice in the end. It really had the right feel for it.
Yeah. It does.
CM : Luckily, he had a really good time shooting the movie and has felt very positively about it, so it was easier to get the rights to it.
Yeah, yeah. For sure. Well, guys, congratulations. Oh, and Chris, I have to tell you, the other Chris Miller that did Puss in Boots wants to meet you!.
He said he wants to meet you.
CM: Oh, I know! I want to meet him too! I was thinking about emailing him because, honestly, everybody I know congratulated me on my Oscar nomination that I didn’t get, including my own cousin, who was like, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Yeah, he was telling me he’s gonna take the credit for “Jump Street” if it goes well…
CM: Yeah. So I definitely need to meet him. Well, I’ll take the credit for Puss in Boots, so it’ll be fine.
PL: Chris, tell the story of your basketball.
CM: Oh, yeah. So one other thing happened to me last year was that Jeffrey Katzenberg whom I sort of know, barely. We’ve emailed with him a few times. Emails and asks if I wanted to go to a Lakers game with him. He sits in fancy floor seats. And I said, “Sure! Yeah! That sounds great!” And then I talked to Phil about it and he said, “I think maybe he was thinking it’s the other Chris Miller and accidentally emailed you.” I was like, “Oh, no! You’re totally right!” That’s exactly what happened. So I had to email him back and say, I think… I think you want the other one.” But then I was very tempted to go and just have him be slightly confused when I showed up.
PL: So really, I’m so mad at myself that I didn’t force you to go.
CM: Yeah. Well, look. There’s a positive, and that’s the fact that you’ve got Antonio Banderas for the 21 Jump Street sequel if you need him.
PL: He’ll be confused when we show up and we’ll just throw us some dust in the face and feeling disoriented and I can’t think.
PL: Because I changed.
CM: Yeah. Well, I’m going to get in touch with him I’ll let you know how it goes.
“21 Jump Street” is now showing