His latest film “22 Jump Street,” will hit theaters on June 13. We sat down with him in November 2013 to discuss the sequel.
Q: How would you compare the scale of this movie to the first one?
It’s much more bigger. It’s a much bigger scale and what we are 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 everybody always thinks needs to be bigger, louder, faster, bigger explosions. And whereas we have some of that, I don’t think that that’s the core of the movie. You know, I’ve learned a little bit from doing all the “Fast and Furious'” is about what has to happen in sequels and I think kind of the most important thing is why people liked the first one is that they loved the relationship between Channing and Jonah and so if there’s at any time worth thinking about explosions or bigger budgets or bigger actions sequences are overshadowing that, we’re really careful to make sure that we get our priorities straight as to what is the important thing of this movie and that really is that relationship between the two of them. And we don’t want to try and do the same thing with that relationship; we are trying to grow the relationship from the first one.
Q: Now that they are in college, is there a movie that you can kind of compare it to?
We set out to make a great college movie, not to make fun of the college movies or something. But just really to make a really good college movie that can stand on its own whether there was the first one or not. I think a lot of people end up making sequels to movies just because the first one did a lot of business and I think what people have learned is it doesn’t matter if the first one just did a lot of business that people want to go see another one. No, you might have been able to fool them the first time, but you really can’t make a successful sequel today unless people really really like the processor. And with our exit polls just being in so many theaters when we saw the movie play, and just doing a lot of research and talking. What we have going for so much on this one is there is just a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the franchise which was considered when we first announced we were going to do a “21 Jump Street” movie. I don’t think there was a more cynical group of people in there about trying to make a movie of “21 Jump Street”, probably myself included like when I really think about it, I was really really nervous when we made the first one. When we decided to make the first one more of a comedy though, then just a straight ahead remake of what the series was. I think that was kind of the best decision that we made and I think the movie stood on its own whether it was based on a TV show or it was based on nothing. And so this one, we are trying to have fun with the fact that it’s a sequel but everything is not just riding on that.
Q: Talk about paying homage to the original “21 Jump Street.”
I think that we’ll always pay some homage. We have two nods to the first one, which I don’t want to really give away. But whereas the Johnny Depp thing was really unexpected, and I think really came out of the blue for people … I wouldn’t say we were trying to repeat that, but we’re trying to do other interesting things that are not to the original. I think the genius part about the Johnny Depp thing was that not only what’s he doing showing up in our movie? But the fact that we just riddle him, to people it was probably a really unexpected thing that anyone thought would happen. So I think what Chris and Phil are really good about is really giving the unexpected.
Q: What’s it been like working with them on this film?
Honestly, they are just two of the kindest, nicest, hardworking guys. I think what makes the difference between them and so many other people I’ve worked with is that they really know how to instill heart and character into movies. You know just even like a silly comedy scene, they know how to get that heart into it. And they really know how to track relationships from beginning to end to make sure that that’s the main thing we’re interested in – in the movie, is that really staying forefront and center at all times. They are really good at that. The first one since I had never worked with them, I was kind of all over it, trying to put as much of my imprint on the movie as possible. And on this one, obviously you know I’m involved, but I really have when there’s been any creative major decision that had to be made, that maybe we had- I would say maybe even disagreement is too strong a word but we just had different opinion I just rolled with what their thoughts were. I had confidence.
Q: Talk about the decision to shoot in New Orleans. I know it’s not set here.
We’re not actually using 21 Jump Street, but we’re using the new building that’s across the street. So there are definitely reasons that we came back here that made it easier for us. But I mean everybody knows unfortunately, today we’re making movies where we get these tax rebates. Now saying that, shooting here is incredible. The community and local government and state government have been very very helpful in getting us things that would’ve been very tough to get in L.A. Like the last two days, we shut down the port of New Orleans, which would’ve been very hard to do in L.A. The only shame about the whole thing is that a lot of people who live in L.A. have to move away from their families to go shoot a movie down here. Other than that, I couldn’t say anything more positive. It’s been a glowing experience here and I would come back here again. I’ll be coming back here in another movie in a few months. But between here we’re shooting this, in Atlanta I’m shooting “Fast and the Furious” and you know those are the places we seem to be shooting today.
Q: Does the success of the first film make it easy for you in terms of greasing the wheels to keep it moving or does the pressure get to you?
I think it’s a combination of the two. The studio really wanted the movie, the hardest part was scheduling everybody. And the budget has gone up but not significantly more than you would think for a movie that was as successful as the first one. So there’s pressure to deliver as good of a movie with a little bit more of a budget. And that to me is the thing that’s always the hardest to me is that I just want to deliver a good movie no matter what the budget is, no matter where we shoot it, no matter any other things, because at the end of the day, because when we’re sitting at first test screening of this movie, that’s when we know whether we’ve succeeded or not. I honestly feel really good about what we are doing but after making 50 movies or so, I realize when we really know how good the movie is, is the first time we screen it. Not the first time we screen it for ourselves or the studio but the first time we screen it for the general public. I’m feeling very confident about this, I have seen the teaser that we cut for the movie, and I think what we’re doing is giving people something that they’re accustomed to from the first one but giving them a twist upon that as well. The characters are people that the audience wants to follow. I ended up speaking to a lot of colleges, different groups and so on. Not only did the movie do really well in theaters but also the life outside of it has had such an incredible life through home entertainment, downloading and whatever. There really is a high anticipation for this movie whereas on the first movie, there was no real expectation. I don’t think people expected it to be good and I think people are expecting this one to be good so it’s a little harder bar to cross.
Q: Jonah talked about how there was a much shorter window to write and get the workings to go before rolling, how do you as a producer manage to know when to pull the trigger on something when shooting for a release date?
We had a couple of drafts early on that I don’t think captured the essence of what the movie was and then we were at a crucial moment in time where if we didn’t commit, probably Channing and Jonah weren’t going to be available and the directors weren’t going to be available. There was a writer by the name of Oren Uziel whom I worked with before who in a very short time turned around a draft. And kind of as soon as we all read that draft, we knew we had a movie. But up until then, we were very doubtful did we have a movie worth making or not? But he found something that we all sparked to. And it was like sure, we’ve continued to work on it every day up until the day we were shooting each scene but that was the turning point on this particular film.
Q: What was the struggle?
Coming up with some good idea for a movie to exist. Why should this movie exist? I knew kind of the motto we kept talking about but couldn’t really realize was kind of like the seven year itch. Here are two guys in the first one who didn’t know each other, didn’t like each other who come to be great friends and great partners and now through their relationship has kind of become complacent. And what we are trying to do is kind of follow like a marriage and I think coming up with that central thematic idea was really the main thing that turned it on set.
Q: Was it what Oren brought in this draft? Was there a specific narrative thing?
We talked about that idea and I don’t think we ever got it down on paper. He was able to get that and the spine of that story was really good and we knew in terms of making it funny or more action, we can do that; that’s the easy part. The hard part was finding that character relationship journey that made sense and that was emotional.
Q: Can you speak about collaborating with Channing and Jonah?
They’ve been our partners from day one. Jonah and I came up with the idea for the first one and how to turn it into a comedy. We worked on that all the way from the beginning. All of us have worked very closely and on this one, from the day we saw the screening of the first movie, we were like this has got great potential. We are not going to say anything about a sequel because we are not going to jinx ourselves but in all of our minds, we had a really good experience making the first one. We wanted to do a second one so we started really early on postproduction as the movie was nearly released. We really started seriously thinking about the sequel early on, we were all involved.
Q: The last one was released early in the year and this one is going to be a summer release. How does that change the film?
There’s more competition in the summer but I think we have such a good identity with this movie and I think we’ve earned our right. Kind of like the first “Fast and Furious” franchise. We didn’t earn our way into the summer until down the line and now I think with this one because there’s a such an anticipation for it, it doesn’t matter what the budget was, we’ll be going against movies that have budgets by four times our size but in the summer, I don’t think that is as important as “What is the anticipation of your movie? Can you get through the clutter of summer and have you earned your way to be in that grouping?” And I just know now we can release this movie anytime in the year right now, because there’s that much of anticipation. But what we’re really looking forward to is having kids out of school and being able to see the movie Monday through Friday whereas during the off summer, it’s harder for them.
Q: What’s the long game on this? 27 jump street?
If anybody would’ve told me I’d be making number 7 “Fast and Furious” I would say you’re crazy so I have no idea. Every time, I’m like that is the last one and then my wife says “don’t say that, you know that’s not the truth” and I’m like okay, so I don’t know. Honestly, as long as we have something that we think is funny and a relationship that we think we can keep evolving, I think we’d all like to do them. We’re actually having fun. Sure, Is it hard work? Yes. Is it long hours? Yes. Is it a pain in the ass? Yes. But as long as we feel like we’re evolving and we’re having fun doing it, we would like to keep doing them. But, come June 13, we’ll have a much better feeling if the public feels the same way. I don’t want to go backwards, let me put it that way. I don’t want to make a movie where people go “ehh” that’s no fun.
Q: Channing and Jonah could probably knock in a retirement home.
We’ve discussed that, it’s funny we were very clear in the last one like where the next one would go and I think that the writers have come up with a good twist at the end of this one where we are not so clear. It allows for a lot of different possibilities if we are lucky enough to do it.
Q: So there is sort of a semi tease like that but it’s just a lot more?
It’s much more ambiguous like tease where you could also say how we’re saying about it we’ll never do it again, so it’s kind of a twist on that moment. I think it’s going to be really intriguing for the audience. I don’t think you can just do the same thing, if you do the same thing and I don’t mean you have to top yourself and just bare explosions, you just have to give the audience enough of what they came for the first time that they liked and a little something different that says “Wow, that’s cool. Let’s see that”. I mean obviously the group we’re going for they’re a finicky group.
Q: This movie and the first one has action. Have you sort of balanced “I don’t want to do a ‘Fast & Furious’ with this movie” or “I don’t want to outdo myself”?
Because I don’t see this as an action comedy. I see this as a comedy with action. I can’t tell you that I thought our action in the first one was like the greatest action ever but it served the plot and it served the relationships. I mean I don’t know if you guys remember in the first one their being chased and if the truck doesn’t blow, it doesn’t blow. I have to be honest, when I first read the script, I was like I don’t know if that’s going to work and it didn’t work because our action was so great, our action was okay. It worked because it was inventive and that’s what we’re trying to do. We are not trying to out explosion the other six movies during the summer … We’re trying to do it well but that’s not all we’re spending all our energy and resources on. We’d rather have that comedic moment within that action piece be a great comedic moment. We don’t have chase scenes where the people are just there driving and they’re chasing somebody and they don’t say anything. If there’s not a joke or if there’s not some relationship between the same thing it doesn’t work.
Q: Can you talk about the new faces in this new movie?
You’ll see a lot of faces from the last one. I think possibly, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco’s scene in this movie, might be the funniest scene ever. Seriously! But you know Ice Cube returning is great. We’ve got a lot of really great supporting characters. We are not trying to announce them all really because we want them to be surprises but I think Wyatt Russell who plays Channing’s counterpart in the movie is terrific. He’s a great new face that we have found, we were lucky enough to get because “Hunger Games” really wanted him at the same time as us. And luckily, he chose to do ours. I think Amber Stevens who plays Maya … in the movie is terrific. So what we are trying to do is put a lot of new fresh faces in here and some surprises.
Q: You mentioned there is a distinction between having an action movie that has comedy and comedy that has some action. Is that a distinction that is easy for studios to understand?
I think that in a certain way the studio says “ahh it’s a comedy you don’t need so much action” but my feeling is you don’t need so much action but the action that we need to do needs to be good and action takes a long time to shoot. It was a very difficult to shoot to do right, so it just requires more shooting time which most of the time the studios are like “well, it’s comedy. It doesn’t need that” but we have a little difference of an opinion on that and I don’t mean just Sony, I’m talking about studios in general. So that’s kind of an ongoing battle, but I’m always fighting. The one sequence that we are shooting right now at the port is a much bigger action sequence than we’ve had in the first one. But it’s really funny. We were actually at the port yesterday, we were shooting first unit at the port yesterday and second unit at the port and I think the second unit stuff looked really really good. We’re very happy with what we’re getting.
Q: Is it difficult to market this movie?
No, you know we did a lot of research. People love the comedy, they love the relationship and they like action. So, it’s now how do we bottle it in a way in which we’re getting a little of each and hopefully making it better than the last time. The good thing is in the first movie, we had a little bit of cynicism to overcome. This one, I don’t think we have the cynicism, which allows us to get into the movie a little quicker because we do not have to establish characters. The characters have already been established so, some of that stuff, we do not have to do this time.
Q: Would you rather people have high expectations where they might be disappointed or low expectations where they might be impressed?
No honestly, I hate high expectations because they are hard to beat. I think that when audiences find a movie that they don’t expect to like, it adds for great word of mouth. And so I think that’s what happened on the first one, is people were like “Oh, i’ll see it” but I don’t think they were expecting a lot; so it allowed them to talk to their friends and say “oh you’ve got to see this”. So it’s devilish work sure. In the marketing portion, I’d rather have high expectations, in the viewing portion; I’d rather have low expectations. So hopefully, we have somewhere in the middle and we have something new and unique to show but I think we do. I really do. I’m pretty confident in that.
Q: What’s your schedule like in general?
Crazy! Honestly we’ve got this and “Fast and Furious”. We don’t wrap this one until the end of the year. We don’t wrap “Fast and Furious” until February. They’ve both got to be at the studios next summer, so it’s the shortest post I have ever had on either of these movies. And it’s pretty crazy. We are starting “Goosebumps” right after the first year so that’s going to be a little crazy. There are a couple of other things going on.