Whether you’re looking at The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, or AppleTV’s latest genre series The Afterparty, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have played their part in creating some of the greatest comedies of our generation. As well as writing and directing, the duo has also played a role in the production of various hugely successful projects, such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and its upcoming sequel Across the Spider-Verse: Part One.
In creating The Afterparty, however, this is their first major foray into producing a project that is in no way based on any existing IP. The concept is a brilliant one, a murder mystery where each episode retells the fateful events of one night from the colorful perspectives of each suspect at the scene. With these perspectives comes fresh takes on multiple genres as seen in every installment of the show, with just the opening 3 episodes being a rom-com, action film, and a musical.
Read on and find out how The Afterparty came to be, what to expect from the hotly anticipated Spider-Verse sequel, and Lord and Miller’s favorite films of last year.
How did The Afterparty come about?
Chris Miller: You know, I grew up as a huge murder mystery fan and read all the Agatha Christie books and watched Columbo, Clue, The Last of Sheila, and whatever we could get our hands on, and had always wanted to do a murder mystery. Then I had this idea to do it in a sort of Rashomon way where each suspect could tell their version of the night, and then you could figure out who did it by hearing all of the different stories, which was a fun puzzle to solve, so we wrote it as a movie.
We got busy making some other movies for a while and then got a breath of air a few years ago, and realized it was about how you see the world through your own lens. And sometimes it will sort of be a caricature or make people seem two-dimensional, because that’s how you see them. But if you see it through someone else’s eyes, you’ll realize that they’re surprising, complicated, and going through their own stuff – there’s a lot more going on than you realize.
But in the format of a film, there’s only two hours or less to tell that story. Each story, each person’s perspective doesn’t give you a lot of time. So we thought, what if we open it up into a series where we give each character their own episode, then we can really dive into them individually and get to empathize with them. Then also, we can lean into how they see the world and the styling of how they are the hero of their own movie. That really let us push them each as their own film genre. And that’s when the whole thing really blossomed into something special.
Did you guys have a favorite genre over the course of making The Afterparty, either to write or when you watched it back in the editing bay? When I spoke to Sam Richardson he said his was the Noir episode if you were curious…
Phil Lord: That’s interesting. That episode turned out better than I would have guessed somehow. Because when you’re on set, it’s just sort of spooky. You’re not sure. Is this gonna do anything? It’s so dependent on the music and timing, and you can’t just put a bunch of silly jokes in it the way we’re used to. It’s hard to know if you’re succeeding when you’re shooting that stuff, at least that’s what I noticed.
Whereas, like, the musical is the opposite. Where it’s like, you’re doing all this preparation and it comes together at that moment, and the way Chris decided to shoot it was in a lot of big chunks that were, you know, pretty long shot takes. And so it comes to life, and it’s there and it feels like magic and you get really excited. That was a really fun experience to witness on stage.
Chris Miller: What’s crazy about it is that each one was really hard because you’re making a bespoke movie for each episode that has all of its own unique things, like there’s different lenses and film camera styles, there’s different lighting, there’s different costumes, etc. Each character has a slightly different costume in each episode that only really savvy viewers will notice. There are different challenges and like the musical one, obviously, you have to make and write a bunch of songs and do a bunch of choreography and rehearsals to prepare for that.
There is an animated episode as well, so that has its own separate pipeline we had to build just for that episode and have caricatures of all the actors and the environments that we were shooting in. At the same time, while we’re trying to shoot a really ambitious show, it ended up being really rewarding because each day you’re going, “alright, we’re doing something totally new,” and it was really fun.
Time for some quickfire questions – if you don’t mind – starting with, favorite old school murder mystery?
Chris Miller: The Thin Man
Phil Lord: Murder by Death
Favorite modern murder mystery?
Chris Miller: Knives Out.
Phil Lord: Have to say Knives Out, I voted it for Best Picture!
So, biggest inspiration for The After Party?
Chris Miller: It’s impossible to answer that question! I mean, there are so many influences, but overall, I would say it was… I’d say Agatha Christie.
Phil Lord: I thought you were gonna say Last Of Sheila!
Chris Miller: Oh, yeah. Last of Sheila probably, in all honesty. Last of Sheila is a better and truer answer. Written by Stephen Sondheim!
Favorite film and TV show of 2021?
Chris Miller: Hmm. 2021?
Phil Lord: Well, this is subject to change because I haven’t finished everything, and there’s a lot of great film this year I thought.
Chris Miller: I mean, besides obviously Mitchells vs The Machines, which… no you know what? I’m just gonna cop out and say Mitchells vs The Machines. Like, I thought this season of Succession was very compelling. It’s funny how they always sort of like ring a bell and then spend the season unringing the bell and then ring a new bell at the end of the season. But it’s so wonderful. It’s a comedy, but it’s a drama and it’s a mystery to me because all the characters are terrible people conceived by wonderful people. And I still somehow empathize with them. And I’m compelled to find out what happens which is sort of goes against my very understanding of how stories work. So it’s a real feat that show.
Phil Lord: I love a lot of stuff. I love King Richard. I love Coda. I loved Cmon, Cmon. I love Power of the Dog. You know, I thought there have been a lot of great movies and the ones that I’ve gravitated towards are the ones that don’t just hold up a mirror to how challenging our times are, but rather offer something hopeful or inspirational, or try to help us imagine what goodness looks like. That’s what I appreciated about a lot of those movies this year.
I have to ask, and I know you can’t say much, but one sentence on Across the Spider-Verse: Part One. What can we expect?
Phil Lord: The unexpected?
Chris Miller: Oh Nice! Yeah, I think you know, each dimension that we visit is in a different art style and that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s really mind-boggling and stupendous.
Wonderful. So, in closing, your production company Lord Miller is now firing on all cylinders. You’re using it to produce your own future directorial projects such as Clone High and Project Hail Mary, as well as projects for other filmmakers such as Cocaine Bear and the live-action Spider-Man TV deal. How do you both envision the future of Lord Miller with all of these projects under your umbrella going forward?
Phil Lord: Well, we’re hoping to focus as much as possible on original content, even in the world of Spider-Man and things that we adapt. We’re trying to put new spins on it. But we’re really hoping to create things that future generations can reboot. Because we’re a little bit concerned that we’ve been a little bit part of the problem of being steeped in so much nostalgia that our generation forgets to create new things. So we’re really focused on that. And we’re focused on collaborating with great filmmakers and getting to know new people and trying to remember that every project is a chance to learn from somebody else and just try to get better at what we do together.