“21 Jump Street” writer talks cameos, car chases, and the sequel he’s already working on


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21 Jump Street” arrives in theaters this week, and it’s already generated a lot of buzz for doing what many thought was impossible: making a movie based on a television series that’s actually, well… really, really good.

IFC recently spoke with “21 Jump Street” co-writer Michael Bacall about the positive vibes surrounding the film as it approaches opening weekend, and his unique approach — along with co-writer and star Jonah Hill — toward paying homage to the source material while creating one of the year’s funniest films.

IFC: Given everything we’ve seen from movies based on TV shows so far, let’s be honest: no one expected this movie to be as good as it is. I’m sure you were aware of that from the start. What was different about your approach to the film that made it so different from its predecessors?

MICHAEL BACALL: A lot of that has to do with Jonah’s brand of comedy, at least in terms of where he started — with movies like “Superbad.” It’s an edgy, hard-“R” arena that you’re getting to play in here. That’s what was initially so exciting about it for both of us: getting to take something on and try and make it of the moment and really push the limits of a great “R” comedy in terms of the kind of gags we could get away with. I think we’re both fans of the buddy-cop genre, and “21 Jump Street” seemed like a good property to get to play around with in that genre. We’ve talked about working on an action comedy together for about a year before this idea came up, and Jonah called me up and said “21 Jump Street” and kind of blew my mind — because I watched that show when I was a kid, and at the time it was one of the coolest things on TV and incredibly edgy for the moment. If you watch it now, it probably seems a bit dated, but I used to love that show. It made you feel cool watching it.

IFC: A lot of times with films like this, it feels like they’re wavering between sincere homage and parody, and they collapse trying to balance both elements. What went into your decision regarding what sort of movie this is going to be?

BACALL: We knew we wanted to tell a new story, but also give some clever winks and nods to the source material. We didn’t want to become bogged down in parody, and we didn’t want to milk nostalgia as the primary goal of the movie. We wanted to tell a good story first, and come up with these characters who have a nice emotional journey. But as fans of the show, it was really enjoyable after we had that character foundation down, to go and find places to have some fun with it.

IFC: There’s always a lot of improvisational comedy in Jonah’s films, and Rob Riggle mentioned to me that there was a lot of ad-libbing and improv during the filming of “21 Jump Street.” Is that something you allow for when you’re writing a film with Jonah?

BACALL: Well, I try to write a draft that’s as tight as possible, and my goal is is that the draft is tight enough so that there’s a really good foundation for extremely talented improvisational actors like Jonah to jump off of in any given scene. My goal for something where improvisation is part of the process is to have a draft that’s good enough that, when it alternates between the draft and the improvisation, you can’t really tell the difference. That way, I can steal credit for all of the great lines the actors throw in. [Laughs]

IFC: Well, I have to ask you about the cameos in the film. We all know Johnny Depp appears in it, so without revealing any more details about his cameo, can you tell me how you handle that sort of thing from a screenwriting perspective? Did you write him in and then hope he’d do it, or was it something added after the fact?

BACALL: We had a few versions of it written, but we didn’t know until later in the process that he’d actually be doing it. The way that we wound up with what, well… what that cameo actually entails…. was that Johnny said he’d be interested, but only if we handled his role a certain way and did a certain thing with his character. That was really exciting for us, as you can imagine. We ran off and tried to come up with the most extreme way to satisfy his request that we possibly could.

IFC: Let’s talk about the moment this project was announced, and there was a collective groan from just about everyone not involved with making the movie. Is that sort of response intimidating? Is it a challenge?

BACALL: For me, it was almost an advantage. It’s a really enjoyable challenge to go into a project with full certainty that once it’s announced, the reaction will be… less than effusive from the community of people who follow that kind of thing. I really enjoy a good challenge, though, and I think we just wanted to exceed the expectation that most people have for remakes and reboots and rehashing, and try to do something really interesting with it. I think we kind of reveled in that challenge and expectation.

IFC: So now that early reviews are coming in and people seem to think so highly of it, do you feel vindicated?

BACALL: Not so much vindicated as relieved, excited, and appreciative that everyone involved in the production just knocked it out of the park. Our actors turned in world-class comedic performances. Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller] are amazing directors, and pulled off some incredible stuff. We had a great producer for this thing with Neal Moritz, so yeah, I’m really excited and grateful that everybody brought their A-game to it.

IFC: Well, since we know there was a lot of improv in the film, what’s the scene in the film that you’re most proud of writing and seeing on the screen in the way you wrote it?

BACALL: I really loved the car-chase sequence. I’ve been wanting to write a good car chase since I knew what a car chase was, and just being able to build the gags into that sequence and have some fun action at the same time… I’m really grateful those guys were able to bring it to life in such an effective way. I think I hugged Phil and Chris after that sequence played through for the first time.

IFC: So with any film that has positive buzz, the next question becomes… when will we see a sequel?

BACALL: I’m actually hashing that out right now.

IFC: You’re working on the script for the sequel now?


IFC: Okay, then… Good to know!

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was written, produced, directed and narrated by Robert Evans. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

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He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

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Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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