Just released this week on Blu-ray and DVD, “21 Jump Street” is that rare movie based on a TV series that actually works, thanks to the innate chemistry between the leads (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum) and inspired work from the supporting cast (which includes Brie Larson’s as Hill’s love interest and Ice Cube as the officers’ tough talking boss).
The special features on the Blu-ray come with audio commentary (featuring co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum), several featurettes, a gag reel, and 20 deleted scenes (which has a run time of over 29 minutes).
During a recent phone interview, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller talked about the challenges of making “21 Jump Street,” and they also discussed an extended Channing Tatum sequence (one of my favorite scenes from the film), which is featured as one of the deleted scenes. The filmmakers, who previously directed “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” also briefly talked about their future projects and also confirmed that they are in talks to helm the inevitable (which in this case is a good thing) sequel to “21 Jump Street.”
Outbreak: I read in an earlier interview that both of you are interested in movies which contain some kind of visual hook. What did “21 Jump Street” offer on a visual level?
Lord: Well there were a couple of things. There was something great about doing an action movie combined with a John Hughes movie for us. I thought it would be cool to have a movie that guys would want to be in, which was an action movie, and a movie that the guys were actually in, which is a John Hughes movie. And sort of trying to have the movie kind of evolve into the kind of movie they wanted to be in by the end. And the other thing was we wanted to set this movie in a kind of generic city like many movies often are, because (the original) 21 Jump Street was shot in Vancouver and they were in this fictitious city named Metropolitan City. We weren’t sure where we were going to shoot for a long time, so we started just designing all of the street signs, police cars, and street signs to have generic Helvetica font. We tried to make everything kind of like in Repo Man how the products are all generic. We tried to make the entire city generic.
Outbreak: Was your previous experience in animation an advantage in mounting a live action feature?
Miller: Well it would, in theory, and it certainly was helpful in the action scenes which we storyboarded heavily. But in a lot of the scenes we had an idea what we wanted to do and we got everybody together and it sort of evolved into something different. A big part of it is being able to be flexible to let the scene be what it wants to be. Jonah and Channing, they’ve done a ton of movies themselves and they had strong ideas on where they wanted to be in the scene and how they wanted to block themselves and what felt natural to them. A lot of times the thing we had planned out for the day turned out to be something totally different because one of them had an idea that was even better and we sort of evolved from there.
Outbreak: How important was it to make “21 Jump Street,” although it’s derived from previous source material, to stand on its own?
Lord: Well that’s the whole point. For us, we work really hard to try to have there be a kind of original feeling to a movie like this. Just because it sounds like cynical, studio garbage, doesn’t mean that it can’t have an original voice. That it can’t have a singular..the tone of an author behind it. That’s the kind of thing we insist on to our great peril again and again. It’s to try to make sure it’s not just good but it feels like us. Obviously, it’s a big group effort and all of our collaborators like Jonah and Channing and Neal Moritz and the studio have their own voices as part of this but we wanted it to feel like there was a real, directorial hand behind it.
Outbreak: Although the film has its share of dick jokes, the comedy actually comes from a good natured place. How did you achieve that balance?
Miller: We generally aren’t fans of mean spirited comedy. It just doesn’t make us laugh as much and we also wanted to make sure that the relationship between the two guys was something you ended up caring about because it’s something that will end up having to carry the whole movie. Plus Channing and Jonah became great friends during the shooting of it, and we were lucky enough to capture some of their natural chemistry. We wanted to make sure that people didn’t cross a line, or the jokes were coming from a place of anger or nastiness. It’s kind of amazing how many dick jokes were able to make it in this film, it’s almost a weird, artistic accomplishment.
Lord: I think there were some reviewers who called this film 21 Dick Jokes. A friend of mine who is an art filmmaker read the movie like a critique of movies like this with the fact that there were so many dick jokes. It seemed like a joke unto itself to him.
The movie’s opening moments is a flashback to Schmidt’s (Jonah Hill) teenage years, when he had the gall to emulate Slim Shady (aka Eminem). Here’s exclusive behind the scenes footage of Hill rapping to the beat of a different drummer (this footage can be found in the “Back to School” featurette).
Outbreak: There are two huge car chase sequences in the film. What was the challenge of mounting such elaborate action scenes?
Lord: The one in the middle of the movie, the freeway chase, was obviously a huge production. We had to shut down the major freeway bridge in New Orleans for three consecutive weekends. It was expensive and there was a lot at stake with this one idea of things not exploding. We had a lot of very specific shots and specialty props and all different things that had to be done to make it work. And it was a very, very, expensive joke and people were going, “Are you sure this is going to work, are you sure it’s going to be funny?” We said “Oh, it’s going to work, don’t worry about it” but secretly we were going, “Oh I hope this works.” It would really suck if we spent all our time and energy and it didn’t work. But luckily, it came together in the end.
Outbreak: What happens when there is a strong creative disagreement? How does that affect the collaboration.
Lord: That is the worst feeling in the world, because Chris is my friend and I don’t want to have any conflicts with him. It’s not fun to argue with him because he’s smart so I don’t like it at all. But it does happen and it usually makes the film better because if you’ve got two guys who can agree on an approach, and we don’t dumb down in agreement, so if you get something we both love then it tends to be better than something that just one of us loves. With all those moments you have conflicts, you also have support the rest of the time and it makes it worth it.
Miller: The truth is, as we were saying earlier, filmmaking is a collaborative process and we like to bring in everybody and make sure we get the best idea and let the best idea win. So if we’re struggling with how to do something, we would talk to Jonah and Channing, we’d talk to Neal Moritz, we’ll talk to our DP.
Outbreak: The Blu-ray has over 29 minutes of deleted/extended scenes. Can you talk about what viewers can expect from these scenes?
Lord: My favorite scenes are Channing Tatum in the band practice, which was a continuous take and he only did it once. It was the end of the shooting day and we didn’t have any time. We just said, “Look we’re going to set up a lot of band obstacles for you.” And we walked him through the course, and we told him to go into the scene and pretend (his character) was coked out of his mind. We didn’t know what he was going to do, but it looked like he had a plan in his eyes when he started the take. But none of us expected to do what I think is a physical tour de force of comedy. I only wish that a movie like this could have tolerated a minute and a half long, uninterrupted and running around.
Outbreak: Was it Michael Bacall (the film’s screenwriter) who inserted the line “F**k you Miles Davis” while Channing was going crazy in the band room?
Miller: That was Channing Tatum improvising the whole scene. Literally, there was no script written for the whole thing. It was just Channing Tatum going nuts in the band practice and he did it all himself. All the kids were real band kids from the high school we were shooting at and we were staying there till two in the morning just to do this one shot. We told them we had only time to do one take and told them not to crack up. (We instructed) them to look at Channing like he was the weirdest guy on earth. As soon as we yelled “Cut” the whole set erupted with crazy laughter. No one expected him to drive through a crazy gong and all those other crazy things he did.
Lord: I also want to highlight Jake Johnson’s riffing in the principal’s office. We just had to go fast in that section of the movie but it’s all really funny. Also Jonah and Channing have a heartfelt scene where they talk about hooking up with high school girls that was one of our favorite scenes we had to cut.
Outbreak: Along with “Lego: The Piece of Resistance” (for more info check out this Variety piece), you’re also developing “Carter Beats the Devil.” Is it important to surprise your audience with every film you direct and not be creatively complacent?
Miller: We’re trying to keep surprising people in trying to do things people won’t expect. We are in talks about doing a sequel to “21 Jump Street.” And we are doing very preliminary stuff on “Carter Beats The Devil,” it’s (currently) more of a development type of situation. It’s a book we really love and it’s a book I read a decade ago and thought it should be a movie. We’re working pretty hard right now on this Lego movie so that’s what we’re into right now.
Lord: It’s hard to say. We’ve really only made two movies. It’s tough to do a lot of animated movies in a row because they take four years. I think we were a little impatient and wanted to go a little faster than that. We’re also scared of being pigeonholed so I think it’s just honestly fear based. We want to have fun and not feel like we are in a rut and feel like we’re challenging ourselves and learning all the time.
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posted by Greg Srisavasdi (Twitter: @gsrisavasdi )