Chris Miller & Phil Lord Interview: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Movie Reviews

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the dynamic filmmaking duo responsible for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie, and the live-action comedy 21 Jump Street and its sequel 22 Jump Street. They are also producers on Fox’s Last Man on Earth and Cartoon Network’s Unikitty! The pair's most recent project is developing, and being producers for, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Screen Rant: I think you guys made the best animated film of the year. I think you guys made the best superhero movie of the year.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller: Oh, man.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller: Oh, wow.

Screen Rant: For sure, one of the best movies of the year.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller: That’s very high praise.  There are a lot of good movies.

Screen Rant: So, when I talked to Jake [Johnson] a while back during Tag, and he told me that he had never seen the full script. Has anybody, with the exception of, any of the cast I should say? Have they actually seen the full script?

Phil Lord: That's a great question.

Chris Miller: I don't think so.

Phil Lord: I don't know.

Chris Miller: Maybe Shameik [Moore], maybe Shameik.

Phil Lord: There was a script.  We might have given it to Jake. I don't remember.

Screen Rant: He said he didn't. He never got the full script.

Phil Lord: I guess not. I guess it was just like, “Hey, here's an act.”  Originally it was like, “Hey, will you just lay some of this stuff down, so I could show everybody how great this is going to be?” And he was like, “Sure.” And we sent him like 30 pages.

Screen Rant: Really?

Phil Lord and Chris Miller: Yeah.

Screen Rant: Because even during New York Comic Con, he said that he was still doing additional like audio.

Phil Lord: Yeah. We recorded for two and a half years.

Chris Miller: Up until a few weeks ago we were, or even like a week ago we were stil jamming a little things in. We never stopped, never stopped.

Phil Lord: It informs the process. You see what they do, and you go like, “That was really cool. We should rewrite this whole scene. So, it's more like that.”

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Miles Morales

Screen Rant: One thing that I absolutely loved in this film too, is that you took all these different Spider-people and they were almost different genres of animation. Because you had Peni, the anime, obviously.  You had Noir, this old timey kind of noir. What went into informing that decision? That you wanted to go in that direction?

Phil Lord: It was like the first call, was to the production designer going, “I think we could make a movie with multiple animation styles all living in the same frame at the same time.” He's like, “No, you're never going to get away with that.” And it was like, “I'm going to write it so that we have to do it that way.” [chuckles]

Chris Miller: Yeah. And so, it was right from the very beginning. That was the ambition of the movie, was to be able to, obviously to feel like you're walking into a comic book and you're surrounded by a world that feels like nothing you've ever seen before. And because sequential art is done in so many different styles, and you want to feel the hand of the artist and it, it just lent itself to saying like, “Oh, in different universes, they're rendered in different styles.” And bringing them all together shows how different we all are. But then what we all have in common.

Phil Lord: And it's right over the plate for us. We really liked the idea of like individual artists all coming together to create something new. Right? And it's such a good metaphor for what's happening in the movie. All these people from different walks of life, they all have their own style, and they all are interpreting this persona in a different way.

Screen Rant: Talking about something new, that art style blew me away. Obviously, I've never seen anything like that before. What went into that?

Phil Lord: That was the idea. Can we make something that no one's seen before?

Screen Rant: Well you did it.

Phil Lord: It's easy to say and hard to do. Right? And so, the whole time, for at least year, we just kept saying, “Nope, that's too conservative.”

Chris Miller: You were like, “Look at this beautiful sort of impressionistic concept art painting. Let's make it look, not just inspired by this, but look exactly like this, but moving.” And they're like, “Yeah, let's go for it.” But you're not 100 percent sure how to do it. And it took a lot of smart people figuring out a process that involved both CG animation and hand drawn 2D animation. And a bunch of crazy new like texture renders for lighting. And backgrounds that had like halftone dots, hatch marks, line work, all sorts of crazy stuff, coming together to make every frame looked like it was a painting.

Phil Lord: And unwinding some of the stuff that is stock, that we've gotten used to doing in an animated production. So, we would go through early lighting passes and turn stuff off. Turn all of these studio lights off. Light it with that window and like a bounce card. And that's it. Because we said like, “We want the movie to be at a heightened exaggeration.” But you know, because that's what an illustration is. But we want it to be at a heightening of something that you can observe. That's based in like looking at these people and what their lives are like. What Brooklyn looks like. What it's like to be in a dark room with all the lights off. We don't want to goose anything.

Chris Miller: And it was something that was just really, really slow. Because it took a week for an animator to animate one second of footage. Normally, they could do at least four plus seconds. Which was about four times as complicated and challenging to make this movie on every step of the way. It was four times harder.

Screen Rant: Wow. It's super refreshing to see that. Because you're so used to seeing like this Pixar style now. But it's super refreshing to see something different. I really liked that. Obviously, there are Easter eggs in this film. And I don't want to go too deep into there, because I won't spoil anything. But the Seth Rogan Easter egg, I kept trying to catch it.  What was the billboard?

Chris Miller: It says, “Hold your horses,” and he's a jockey.

Phil Lord: Yeah. If you get a chance to talk to Rodney [Rothman], he'll tell you about it because it was his passion. What's getting these alt-universe things in Times Square. And he wrote to Seth and Evan Goldberg, and they had an idea that Rodney wanted to do, and they approved it. And then the next morning woke up and change their minds. And wrote, “Wait Rodney, hold your horses, we want to rethink this thing.” And he says, “Okay, good, thank you. And now I'm going to call it, Hold Your Horses. That's going to be you as a jockey in a series of films.” And now it came true.

Chris Miller: The idea, obviously, because it's another universe and the multiverse we wanted to show any chance we could that this world is slightly different from the world that we know. And so, throughout the movie there are little hints of like, “it's like the thing you know, but different.”

Phil Lord: Like Planet Inglewood.

Chris Miller: Exactly.

Screen Rant: How freeing was it, or how much freedom did you have with the Spider-Man characters?  Were you guys able to do kind of what you wanted to do? And how far were you able to take it? Did the studio jump in and say, “Oh, well we don't want to…?”

Phil Lord: I think the only limitations were the decisions that we put on ourselves. We wanted to get the story right. So, we didn't want to mutate a lot of the details of the characters origins.  But we did get to slam them together, in a way that they've never been slammed before. And having Spider-Ham in the same frame as Spider-Noir seemed like an opportunity only we could get a chance to do.

Chris Miller: And the only real limitation, it didn't come from the studio, it came from the story itself, which wanted to be Miles’ story. Miles Morales is coming of age. Is turning into the person that he's going to be. And so, whenever it got too a diffused with other characters and ideas, it lost our focus on the person that we were following. And so, at the end of the day, we always had to keep coming back to Miles. Because that's what we really cared about. So, we fit as much as we possibly could in this story while still having it be Miles’ journey.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Peter Parker Suits

Screen Rant: The Stan Lee cameo, it almost had, It had me like a little....

Phil Lord: It's really sweet, right?

Screen Rant: And I know that you're the co-writer on this film. Was that the only kind of iteration you had of Stan throughout this process?

Phil Lord: That's a good question. We wrote a lot of drafts. And I'm trying to remember if we had another one. It was always the ambition to include Stan. And I think we finally landed on this. And this was really the one idea. He had to do something that was formative for Miles. And we knew it had to be warm and a tribute to Stan and the work that he's done. But it couldn't just be like, “Oh, it's a cutesy thing. Like he's the bus driver.”

Chris Miller: It had to have something that advanced the plot. And was at a really important emotional moment in the movie. That was the discussion.

Phil Lord: It really needed to be at that frame in the film--

Chris Miller: And I can't remember who came up with the idea of that being a shop owner and having that--

Phil Lord: I think Miles was always in the costume shop and somebody had the idea, maybe Bob [Persichetti] that like, “Oh, it's got to be Stan that gives it to him.”

Chris Miller: And we were like, “That's the perfect thing.” And Stan was super excited to do it and was really happy with it. The directors showed him his character design and he loved it and—

Phil Lord: I just went back and looked at the footage of him doing the recording. Which is like him at his desk, in front of a microphone, and like saying those lines.  It was just like a really sweet guy.

Chris Miller: And he was so happy to be involved. And was so supportive of the project. And been so supportive of us for years. So, we're going to miss him.

Phil Lord: And it's really sad to see him go, but it is also, you know, it's happy sad. Because you're looking at the body of work and what it meant to people. And what he and Steve Ditko accomplished. And what they said to other people. It's basically like, “You're not alone.”

Screen Rant: Well, I mean, I almost felt like Peter Parker, you guys. It was like me. It was like you looked at my life and said, “I'm going to make his life.” But you guys did a great job. Are you guys coming back for the sequel? Or the spinoffs?

Chris Miller: It’s still early.

Phil Lord: Certainly, that's the idea. But you know, we we want to be a part of this going forward for sure.

Screen Rant: I certainly hope you guys are. Thank you so much for your time.

More: Our Interview With Into the Spider-Verse's Directors

Key Release Dates
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
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