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Chris Miller And Phil Lord On The Afterparty And The More Ambitious Spider-Verse Sequels - Exclusive Interview

Even if you don't know the names Chris Miller and Phil Lord, you surely know their work. The talented duo are behind some of the funniest and most beloved animated and live-action films from the past 10 years. After gaining notice with the short-lived cult classic TV series "Clone High," the pair went on to co-direct the critically acclaimed movie reboot of "21 Jump Street" and its sequel and co-wrote and co-directed the cleverly amusing blockbuster "The Lego Movie." The long-time collaborators also won a Best Animated Feature Oscar for producing the much adored "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

Now, the pair have teamed up to bring "The Afterparty" to the small screen. The brain child of Miller, who directed all eight episodes of the Apple TV+ series, the story centers on an afterparty for a high school reunion that takes an unexpected turn when someone is found dead and everyone in attendance becomes a suspect. Each episode of the show focuses on one of the characters sharing their recollections from the evening with the driven Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish), with their personalities reflected in the episode's genre and visual style. This enables the series to be everything from a gritty action movie to a crowd-pleasing musical. Told with Miller and Lord's signature humor and intelligence, the show is often hilarious and singularly creative while still telling a head-scratching whodunit that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Miller and Lord sat down for an exclusive interview with Looper where they discussed the origins of "The Afterparty," how they collaborated on the new project, and teased what fans can expect from the two-part "Spider-Verse" sequel, "Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse – Part One and Two."

A show over a decade in the making

I loved "The Afterparty" and I was wondering, Chris, how did you come up with the idea for the show?

Chris Miller: Well, it was an idea I had about 11 or 12 years ago, crazily enough. I've always been a huge fan of murder mysteries. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and watching "Columbo" and movies like "Clue" and "Last of Sheila" and anything I could get my hands on, really. I always wanted to try and figure out how to manufacture a good murder mystery and then had the idea to do it in this "Rashomon" way, where you have each character get to tell their version of the night, and that gives you, in total, a picture of what really happened. That seemed like a really fun idea. I wrote it as a movie, [but then] we got sidetracked making a bunch of other movies and shows and stuff with "Lego" and the "Jump Streets" and the "Spidermanses."

We came up for air a couple of years ago and looked at the script and realized that in a movie format, you've got less than two hours to tell the story. You don't have enough time to dig into each of these characters' perspectives, and if you opened it up to a series, you could give each character their own episode and they could really get more complex and nuanced and [you can] see them as a whole person. The point of the show is that we all see the world through our own lenses. But maybe you see people as two-dimensional or caricatures of people or stereotypes and then, if you see the world through their eyes for a bit, you realize they're more complex and surprising than you expected. It grew from there and became what it is today.

A growing partnership

You collaborate a lot but this project was a little bit different in that Chris was the creator, he directed the show. What was different about this collaboration experience for both of you?

Phil Lord: Well, Chris thought of this a million years ago. It's been rattling around in his head for all this time, so he was definitely the right guy to realize this. One of the things that's neat about being partners for so long is the partnership grows to accommodate a lot of different facets of each of us, and I've done things where they've taken a little more of my focus than Chris'. I think the pillars of the temple are wide, right? You have to allow for each partner to grow and develop and do their thing. It's been really lovely to be able to support Chris, and we were on the set together the whole time and [have]  been working on it together a lot. In many ways, it wasn't that different.

Miller: It was still a total collaborative effort. Phil was there every step of the way, from the inception and writing the scripts and being there on set, so it really was still a team effort. Filmmaking is such a collaborative effort. We had [such] a great writing staff and an amazing cast that everybody added a lot to the show, but it was great having Phil's wisdom throughout the process.

Lord: Wisdom? I don't know.

Miller: [Laughs] His thoughts.

Lord: Yeah, it's more like talking.

Returning to the Spider-Verse

You have a number of upcoming projects, but fans are really excited about the sequels to "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse." I was wondering if there are any updates you can share about that, plot elements you can tease, any little tidbit?

Lord: We're working hard and then we have a great team on both of those. It's one movie broken in two parts, and it's all happening. It's exciting. It's scary. We're pushing ourselves. We're pushing poor [main character] Miles [Morales] into challenging directions. It's fun and hard because you have to top yourself and you have to think of things that you haven't tried before. If we just ran it back, I think it wouldn't deliver what people are expecting.

Miller: Right. We always feel like we have to do the most ambitious, hardest-to-execute version of whatever it is that we're making. This "Spiderverse" is even more ambitious than the first one and we're going to all these different worlds that each have their own art style, and it's a massive challenge. It's not unlike "The Afterparty" where each episode is its own movie [and] you have to have your own separate lighting, and camera, and costumes, and music, and everything about it is different. In one episode, you're making a musical, [and] in [another] episode, you're making an action movie. ["Spider-Verse" is the] same sort of thing where you're like, "Let's do the most difficult, hardest to accomplish, most ambitious thing that hasn't been done before." [Laughs] That's what we end up doing with everything we do, somehow.

The first three episodes of "The Afterparty" are now streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes available on Fridays.