Skip to main content

Phil Lord and Chris Miller on leaping from animation to Jump Street

Phil Lord Chris Miller 22 Jump Street
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Early on in 22 Jump Street, undercover officer Jenko (Channing Tatum) makes a new friend. He’s trying out for the local college football team in an attempt to infiltrate and expose a drug ring responsible for the overdose death of a student — and in the process, he literally butts heads with the team’s captain, Zook (Wyatt Russell). Jenko accidentally drops a Q-tip into Zook’s roast beef sandwich, and the two man-children mutually identify their situation as a “meat cute.”  

It’s a very cute moment, but perhaps not quite as cute — and certainly not as fiery — as the meet-cute that brought Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller together for the first time. Lord and Miller met each other at Dartmouth College, and their partnership is one that was literally forged in fire. 

“I accidentally lit Phil’s girlfriend’s hair on fire when we were freshman,” Miller told Digital Trends. “Somehow, that sealed our friendship.” 

“We like to tell interesting and fun stories in whatever medium that story requires.”

For his part, Lord wasn’t upset to see this stranger setting his at-the-time girlfriend’s hair ablaze. “I thought, ‘That’s great. I need to get to know that guy more!'”

“The fact that he wasn’t mad at me, and that he kind of thought it was funny, made me realize, ‘Okay, we should be friends,'” said Miller. “He’s a very forgiving person.” 

Following the trial by fire, Lord and Miller’s friendship evolved in the form of their mutual interest in filmmaking. It was Lord who first suggested to Miller that the two should sign up for an animation class, and their casual interest quickly caught fire. 

“We took some more film classes and made some student films, and helped each other on each other’s films,” said Miller. “It ended up taking over our college careers, even though Phil was an art history major, and I was a government and studio arts double major. We ended up spending most of our time making animated films and short films. We decided that maybe we should try and do that type of stuff professionally.” 

After graduation, Lord and Miller cooked up the idea for Clone High, the MTV animated series that focused on an experimental high school populated by clones of historical figures of varying degrees of note. The series, featuring voice work from Lord and Miller as well as comedian Will Forte, only lasted 13 episodes, but it proved to be an invaluable experience for the duo’s future projects. 

Phil Lord Chris Miller 22 Jump Street
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“It was the great film school for us,” said Lord. “The budget was very small, and we ended up having to do a lot of the work ourselves. We handled the animatics ourselves, a bunch of storyboard revisions — we had a great crew as well and an amazing writing staff, but the budgetary limitations ended up being a great learning experience for us.” 

“We had a lot of freedom — or negligence, is another way to look at it,” added Miller. “There was a lot of creative freedom and a lot of tools to just try things in a different way. When you give somebody that opportunity, they’ll come up with their own vernacular, instead of copying somebody else’s. It was an opportunity for us to come up with our own style a little bit, and develop that in kind of a vacuum.” 

Following Clone High‘s cancellation in 2003, Lord and Miller were hired to write and direct Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Despite the film’s eventual success, it took Lord and Miller several attempts to come up with a version of Cloudy that satisfied studio brass, audiences, and themselves. When it was released to rave reviews and strong box office returns in 2009, the future was wide open for Lord and Miller, leading to their first-ever live-action feature film: 21 Jump Street

“Every movie is scary, and we don’t get interested in a movie unless we’re a little bit scared.”

“It’s faster, which is nice,” Lord said of what he’s learned from making live-action movies like Jump Street versus working in animation. “There’s a lot that’s out of your control in a live-action film, in a cool way. You get really natural, spontaneous performances that feel very real. You’re limited by daylight and other time constraints, so you have to make quick decisions.” 

A second Jump Street was a foregone conclusion following the success of the original, but it didn’t come at the expense of Lord and Miller’s animation roots, what with the release of The LEGO Movie back in February, several months before the release of June’s 22 Jump Street. Even as Lord and Miller have “graduated” to live-action features, the directors have no intention of trading in one style of filmmaking for the other. 

“I think it’s refreshing to go back and forth a little bit,” said Miller. “Animation is such a grind. Four years on the same movie and you can really go crazy, so it’s nice to be able to take a break from that for a second. It’s neat to see how the different styles of filmmaking influence one another. The live-action approach to improvisation is something we carried over a lot into The LEGO Movie, way more than we did on Cloudy.” 

“We like to tell interesting and fun stories in whatever medium that story requires,” added Lord. 

And it seems like audiences are willing to follow Lord and Miller wherever they go, no matter the medium. The duo are teaming together with their Clone High partner Will Forte for Fox’s upcoming post-apocalypse sitcom Last Man on Earth. They’re attached to a LEGO Movie sequel, if only as producers. Based on the ending of 22 Jump Street, the possibilities of where the hard-R franchise can go next seem virtually endless.  

But the wide-open future is a far cry from the confined quarters of their college youth, and even their Clone High days. Expectations for Lord-Miller projects are much higher now than they were a decade ago. That fact isn’t lost on Lord and Miller — in fact, it drives them forward. 

“We’ve had the good fortune of having projects that have low expectations going in,” said Miller. “It’s a lot easier to meet low expectations than to come in with lofty expectations and try to exceed that. It’s a little bit dangerous [right now].” 

“But every movie is scary, and we don’t get interested in a movie unless we’re a little bit scared,” added Lord. “Hopefully our careers are long enough so that we’re trying all sorts of different movies. I hope each one presents its own challenge.” 

Luckily, Lord and Miller know full well that if they ever find themselves hitting a creative wall, all they need is some hair and a lighter to burst their way through. 

“The fact that that really happened, and it happened during college, and we didn’t put it in this movie — I can’t believe that,” Lord laughed. “Is it too late to put it back in? Do we have time for a quick reshoot?” 

22 Jump Street is in theaters now.

Josh Wigler
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Josh Wigler is a freelance entertainment reporter who has been published by Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance…
The best Christmas movies on Amazon Prime Video right now
Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Most of the major streaming services are currently overflowing with cheesy Christmas movies that never saw the inside of a movie theater. Instead, their Christmas flicks are either streaming originals or films that migrated from Lifetime, Hallmark, or any other TV network that pumps out dozens of Christmas movies every year.

Amazon Prime Video has a lot of those films, too. Fortunately, Prime Video is also the home of actual Christmas classics that offer so much more than these made-for-TV flicks. For this holiday season, we're throwing the spotlight on The Man Who Invented Christmas, Scrooged, Last Christmas, and Violent Night as they join our roundup of the best Christmas movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.

Read more
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles live stream: watch the NFL for free
DeVonta Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles flexes in the end zone.

The two best teams in the NFC square off in Week 13 in what could be the first of two matchups this season as the San Francisco 49ers (8-3) travel to Lincoln Financial Field to play the Philadelphia Eagles (10-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET/1:25 p.m. PT on December 3. The game airs on Fox and will be called by the network's top broadcast team –  Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen, Erin Andrews, and Tom Rinaldi.

Last season, the 49ers and Eagles met in the NFC Championship Game. However, it wasn't much of a competition after Philadelphia knocked 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy out of the game with a right elbow injury. The Eagles then injured Josh Johnson, the 49ers backup, forcing the team to finish the game without a healthy quarterback. Philadelphia went on to win 31-7. Vegas thinks this game will play out differently with a healthy Purdy, as the 49ers are a 2.5-point favorite on FanDuel.

Read more
NFL games today: schedule, channels, live streams for December 3
Kyler Murray prepares to throw a football.

Heading into Week 13, the two best teams in the NFC are the Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) and the San Francisco 49ers (8-3). The 49ers and Eagles met in last year's NFC Championship Game in a highly-anticipated showdown. However, the Eagles knocked San Francisco quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson out of the game, resulting in a 31-7 blowout victory in favor of Philadelphia. With Purdy back under center, Sunday's matchup between the Eagles and 49ers should be much closer.

There are 11 NFL games scheduled for Sunday, December 3. Many teams are jockeying for playoff positions and need to win to move up in the standings. Remember that every game is available to watch on NFL Sunday Ticket through YouTube TV. NFL Sunday Ticket only costs half the price for the rest of the season. Explore the NFL Week 13 schedule, channels, and live stream information below.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots start time, channel, and live stream

Read more