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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.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…