DID YOU READ

“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?

BACALL: Yeah!

IFC: Okay, then… Good to know!

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Bill Murray in Ghostbusters II

Hopebusters, Too

Ghostbusters II Predicted the World Will End on Valentine’s Day 2016

Catch Ghostbusters II this month on IFC. Provided the world doesn't end, of course.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Far be it from us to contradict Mr. Bill Murray, but a prediction made in a scene from one of his films is about to be put to the test. If you remember Ghostbusters II, then you know that at the beginning of the film, retired ‘buster Peter Venkman is the host of a chat show called World of the Psychic. According to a guest on the show, the world will end on February 14th, 2016 — this Valentine’s Day.

Now, before you start looting, keep in mind the source of this information is a tad unreliable. Elaine (played by Sid and Nancy star Chloe Webb) sits with Venkman and relates how she received this intel from an alien who may or may not have disguised a UFO to look like a Holiday Inn in Paramus. Let’s just hope she misheard, otherwise there will be some awkward date nights this year.

Check out the grim prognostication in the clip below. Hopefully the world will still be here when Ghostbusters II airs Monday, Feb. 15th and throughout the month on IFC.

“The King of Kong” adaptation writer hopeful film will still happen

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It seems like every movie hitting theaters lately is either a sequel or an adaptation of a book or television series, but it’s not often we get a movie based on a documentary. When IFC spoke to Michael Bacall, one of the writers on “21 Jump Street” (which happens to be based on TV series, of course), we made sure to get a quick update on his screenplay for “The King of Kong,” a movie based on Seth Gordon’s celebrated 2007 documentary of the same name about the competitive world of vintage video games.

According to Bacall, he turned in his script for “The King of Kong” a while ago, and is still waiting to find out whether the project will move forward.

“I’m not sure what [the studio] is doing with it,” he said. “But for the time I was working on it, it was a blast. I got to relive my arcade years, when I was seven years old and running around Chuck E Cheese with a pocket full of quarters.”

Even if the film doesn’t move forward, he’s thrilled about one thing that came out of it: his vintage Donkey Kong machine.

“I bought a Donkey Kong machine for the time I was working on it and I got to call it research,” he laughed.

While he couldn’t share too many details about his take on the film and how it might differ from “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” (other than being, well… scripted), he did offer a few details about the research he put into it that didn’t involve playing Donkey Kong for hours.

“I flew out to New Hampshire and got to follow around some of the participants in the documentary, so that was a lot of fun for me, getting to dip my toe in that world of vintage arcade games,” he said. “So hopefully they’ll move forward with the project at some point.”

He was also quick to add even more praise to the accolades heaped on the “King of Kong” documentary, and offer his own take on why it was such a success.

“The documentary did such a knockout job of making something that should feel very low-stakes feel like it has the highest stakes in the world,” he said.

Would you like to see “The King of Kong” movie get made? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

That 70s Show Fez

Good Day, Fez!

10 Quotes That Prove Fez is That ’70s Show’s Secret Weapon

Get groovy with Fez on That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Carsey-Werner Productions

Who is Fez? Wilmer Valderrama’s foreign exchange student was a lot of things on That ’70s Show. Loveable. Confusing. Creepy. For eight seasons he operated as the heart of the show, adding a pinch of weird to their ’70s stew. If Kelso was the show’s puppy, and Hyde its attack dog, Fez was the loveable stray you welcomed into your house, and then found humping the vacuum cleaner. Before you catch Fez on That ’70s Show (airing Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC), we thought it was high time to revisit some of his funniest and weirdest lines, from hitting on girls to hitting on himself.


10. He knows how to pamper himself.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


9. He’s a deeply spiritual man.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


8. He has his priorities straight.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


7. And he doesn’t work for free.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


6. He knows when enough is enough.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


5. And always minds his manners.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


4. Really, he’s a kid at heart.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


3. He has modest dreams.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


2. And still knows how to kick back.

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions


1. And of course, when to say “Good Day!”

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

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