'22 Jump Street' filmmakers face big expectations, bigger scale on the set
By day, they're hard at work on "22 Jump Street," the sequel to their 2012 live-action feature debut, which went from an adaptation of a FOX TV drama that nobody thought they needed to being one of the most profitable and best reviewed blockbusters of that year.
By night, they're deep into post-production on their latest return to animation. Like "21 Jump Street," it's based on a property fueled by nostalgia. And like "21 Jump Street," it's a property that faced skepticism throughout its development process, right up until audiences got a glimpse at the first trailer.
It's quite possible, then, that "22 Jump Street" is the first movie the "Clone High" veterans have done that will actually be greeted by an audience without an initial wave of skepticism. Is that prospect scary for the longtime collaborators?
"No, that's what you guys are for," Lord tells a small pack of reporters huddled just off the turf at Ted Gormley Stadium outside of New Orleans. "We are here to lower expectations. You need to go back to the and write all about how like you're not really sure, you think it may not be that good."
"All of everything we've ever done has been riding on low expectations," Miller admits, aptly. "'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,' a terrible idea. Doing '21 Jump Street' as a movie is a terrible idea. 'The Lego Movie' sounds like a terrible idea. If people think this is a good idea, we're screwed."
[Yeah, that animated movie they're cutting together is "The Lego Movie." This is the fall of 2013. It's hard to know if there's an audience for a movie about building blocks. Pretend like you aren't psychic.]
It's here that Lord & Miller go into what could best be described as the opposite of damage control.
Think of it as damage exacerbation mode?
"We're in deep trouble," Lord says, feigning concern.
Miller jumps in immediately.
"'Cause, guys, we all know that sequels are terrible, right?"
Lord seals the deal: "Yeah. No. Who wants to see a dumb sequel?"
There you go. Expectations lowered, right?
On the set of "22 Jump Street," everything is as meta as possible. If "21 Jump Street" was about how stupid it was to make a movie based on "21 Jump Street," "22 Jump Street" is at least in part about how stupid it would be try to do a sequel to a better-than-expected movie based on "21 Jump Street."
"That was part of the joy of it for us was trying to find a hook-y idea about doing a sequel, You know, the first one was a lot about buddy cop movies and bromances in general and then we felt like this one should have like the same attitude towards sequels," Miller says.
Adds Lord, "And we're trying to make it work for the story of the movie, so the movie's really about can you recreate the magic of that first time that you meet somebody, those first dates? Like how do you sustain that over the course of a relationship? And or in our case a movie."
This prompts me to ask a dangerous question on a set like this: What is the line at which things become too meta?
"We're gonna find it," Lord admits. "We're like explorers."
Miller adds, "[W]e always protect ourselves with safety stuff whenever we feel like we're getting too meta. The story has to work on its own obviously and there was the same issue for us when we did the first one is that we had sort of packed it with all these like little hidden meta gems, but anytime it crossed the line and it didn't make sense as a real story, we had, we just ended up taking it out because it didn't fit."
So it's something that you learn to recognize in the editing room?
"The movie kind of tells you," Lord says.
Miller confesses, "Yeah, and then you go, "Uh oh, oh that's too far. Now we're disappearing up our own a**holes."
But "22 Jump Street" isn't just meta on the level of the difficulty of recapturing the magic of an original movie on a sequel. It's also about the inevitability that sequels have to be bigger and more expensive than originals.
Lord: "It's definitely more expensive."
Miller: "Yeah. But not as much more as you might think. It turns out the studios have like budgets and finance and stuff and they care about whatever. But yes, I mean, you know, a lot of this has been about yes, it's a joke about how sequels have to be bigger and crazier, but it also should be bigger and crazier, right?"
Lord: "It's like a joke that came true."
Producer Neal Moritz knows a few things about escalating sequels and he's simultaneously excited about perpetuating the idea that "22 Jump Streep" is bigger, while also underlining that it remains grounded.
"It’s a much bigger scale, and we’re trying to do is have fun with the fact that it’s a sequel, but also, you know, talk about the trappings of a sequel which everyone always thinks needs to be bigger, louder, faster, bigger explosions, and whereas we have some of that, I don’t think that’s what’s at the core of the movie," Moritz swears. "You know, I’ve learned a little bit from doing all of the 'Fast and Furious' movies about what has to happen in sequels and I think kind of the most important thing is why people like the first one is they loved that relationship between Channing and Jonah, so if there’s at any time we’re thinking that explosions or bigger budget or bigger action sequences are overshadowing that, we’re really careful to make sure we get our priorities right as to what is the important thing of this movie and that really is the relationship between the two of them and we don’t want to try to just do the same thing with that relationship. We’re trying to grow the relationship from the first one."