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

Phil Lord Chris Miller 22 Jump Street

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

“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.

Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Cars

Volvo plans to face the future without sacrificing its identity

Volvo is embarking on an ambitious push to fill its lineup with electric and hybrid cars, as well as an infotainment partnership with Google. Volvo Americas CEO Anders Gustafsson explains how the Swedish automaker plans to pull that off.
Home Theater

GoPro changed how we watch. Now Jabra wants to change how we listen

Jabra and Red Bull spent two years developing the perfect action microphone, aiming to capture the sounds of athletes without wind or background noise. Here’s how the game-changing tech works, and where you’ll hear it in the future.
Movies & TV

'Halloween' sequel gives new life to an old killer

David Gordon Green's Halloween sequel finds the right balance between the familiar and the new with a terrifying return to the blood-soaked saga of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.
Home Theater

They’re not just for gaming: Watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X

While the Xbox One S and Xbox One X boost the visuals of your games, they also can pull double-duty as Blu-ray players, but there's a bit of set up needed. Need help? Here's our guide on how to watch Blu-rays on the Xbox One S and X.
Movies & TV

You can ditch cable but still get your 'SportsCenter' fix with ESPN+

ESPN's streaming service, ESPN+, is finally here. Despite appearances, ESPN+ isn't a replacement for your ESPN cable channels, and it differs from other streaming apps in a few key ways.
Movies & TV

Title logo for 'John Wick 3' makes its debut during licensing show

The third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, John Wick 3: Parabellum, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Podcasts

Michael Myers returns, Jonah Hill goes back to the '90s

This week on Between the Streams, we'll be discussing the latest take on the Halloween saga, aptly titled Halloween, as well as some major TV cancellations, Marvel and DC news, an intriguing new movie from Jonah Hill about the '90s, and…
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this fall with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Curse of La Llorona,’ ‘Jonathan,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. To simplify things, we round up the best ones each week. On tap this week: New trailers for The Curse of La Llarona, The Kid Who Would Be King, and more.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (October 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.