Chris Miller and Phil Lord directed both "22 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie" at the same time. Credit: Getty Images
“22 Jump Street” is the second movie of the year, after “The Lego Movie,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller — a year, mind you, that isn’t even at the halfway mark. Even more impressive, they didn’t make them back-to-back. They did them at the same time.
“Often times we would get home from the ['22 Jump Street'] shoot at 10:30 at night, and do a conference call for another hour and a half before we went to bed,” recalls Miller.
Making it worse, the “Lego Movie” production was in Australia. “Because of the time difference,” says Lord, “there was production going 24 hours a day. There was no hour where everyone was asleep at the same time.”
They don’t recommend doing that yourself, though it could have been worse. “It does help that there’s two of us,” Lord explains. “If one was so sick and ill that they couldn’t work on it…”
“…the other could pick up the slack,” Miller says, finishing the thought.
Perhaps just as cumbersome was the idea of doing a sequel, especially to a film that owed so much to the surprise of it actually being good, namely “21 Jump Street,” which paired Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in a comedic riff on the ’80s Fox drama.
“It’s very challenging to do a sequel, especially to a comedy. There’s not that many that are great,” says Lord. “We didn’t know how to do it until we thought of the idea of making the idea of a sequel rhyme with trying to keep your relationship going. What’s it like to make a sequel to the first time you fall in love with somebody? That’s something we relate to. You can feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again.”
It wasn’t exactly the same, though. “It came together very fast,” Lord remembers. “With the first ‘Jump Street,’ we spent a year working on the script with Michael Bacall before we started shooting. This one was like, ‘We’re prepping! Let’s rewrite this scene on the set!’ It had a looser feel.”
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill get directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord on the set of "22 Jump Street." Credit: Glen Wilson
This was only Lord and Miller’s second live-action film. (They also made the first film adaptation of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”) “We felt like we knew what were doing a little bit more this time. We had to fake it 10 percent less,” says Miller. “I think everybody was more comfortable. Everyone was more confident. Jonah and Channing knew they had good chemistry together. Channing was more comfortable and confident about doing comedy.”
Action scenes remained an issue. “They were all so hard,” Lord exclaims, rattling off tales that sound like they came from the set of “Apocalypse Now.” “The helicopter [action sequence] is in Puerto Rico. There’s thunderstorms that come every hour on the hour. The storm would come, everyone would squeegee the deck, then you could shoot for 10 minutes. And then you have to send everything away. The helicopter couldn’t fly in the rain. It was a drag.”
“22 Jump Street” takes its stars to college, but Lord and Miller were shocked by how little it had changed from when they were undergrads. “For ’21,’ we went back to high school and were just flabbergasted at how different it was and how the social structure had changed,” Miller says. “This time we went and visited colleges and were like, ‘Oh, it’s the same.’ College hasn’t caught up to high school yet.”
“22 Jump Street” is another film that distinguishes itself by doing something with a less than reputable genre: in its case, the sequel. “We like to challenge ourselves and feel like we have something to say. We try to do things smarter than you’d expect them to be. We’ve had the luck to have projects that have had very low expectations,” Miller says, laughing. “So exceeding the low expectations has become a hallmark for us.
“I don’t know if it works if it’s something people expect to be good going in. That might be our downfall.”
Adds Lord, “We do have a great community college film professor career that we keep having to put off.”