Phil Lord, Chris Miller talk The Afterparty

Hosts Phil Lord and Chris Miller during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Oscar Week: Animated Features” event on Saturday, February 8, 2020 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller spoke with Solzy at the Movies about their new Apple TV+ comedy series, The Afterparty.

The Afterparty is a murder mystery comedy series but each episode is told in the form of a movie genre with accompanying visuals to match the character’s perspective. Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Zoë Chao, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, Jamie Demetriou and Dave Franco star in the series.

Miller serves as showrunner, director and executive producer, and Lord as executive producer through their production company, Lord Miller. Lord Miller’s SVP of Television, Aubrey Lee, serves as producer. The series was produced TriStar TV and Sony Pictures Television.

Apple TV+ will stream the first three episodes on January 28. Weekly episodes will follow until the end of the eight-episode season.

It’s so nice to meet the two of you after finding out Woody Norman was actually British a few weeks ago.

Chris Miller: I know.

Phil Lord: I know. That was crazy. It really blew my mind.

Chris Miller: I found out after watching that movie. I feel like I needed to tell the world because it’s insane. It is insane. The movie’s so good.

Comedy whodunits have come back in a big way since Knives Out was released in 2019. One thing that I love about The Afterparty is how it’s not just a murder mystery but one that tells the story using various film genres. How much fun was it to work on this series?

Chris Miller: We had an absolute blast. I felt almost guilty because we’re in the middle of this pandemic and it was a really sad time outside of work. But showing up to work every day and getting a roomful of the funniest people on Earth and getting to try out all these different styles of telling stories was about as great escapism as you can imagine, during a really hard time. It was hard because, as you pointed out, every episode is its own movie. Every episode has different lighting, different camera work, different lensing different costumes, different music, different everything, and different challenges.

You’re making action movie one day where you’re like, Okay, we got to figure out a car chase and a fistfight. And then you’re like, Okay, we have this musical, where we have to write songs, do choreography, and do the rehearsals for that. We’re doing an animated one where we have to design everybody as an animated character and have that separate pipeline. The ambition of it was insane but that’s sort of what we like to do is we never like to do anything easy. We only like to do things that haven’t been done before.

Phil Lord: I agree with Chris in all things.

It’s my understanding that this was originally planned to be a feature film. When I binged through the first seven episodes, I felt that the storytelling was still cinematic in nature. How much work went into the cinematography, design, etc.?

Phil Lord: The thing that’s neat about it going from a feature Chris started thinking about 12 years ago—but as it turned into a series, the opportunities to make it cinematic only grew because now every episode gets to be in its own style. When Chris thought of that, the idea really felt like it was going to be its best self. It just lit everybody up creatively to figure out how to pull that off and still have somewhat of a unified feeling. We have a great DP. Carl generated how many different looks, Chris? Twelve?

Chris Miller: I believe there are 11 different looks in the show but each one has its own package. We worked through, what’s the aspect ratio gonna be? What kind of lenses are we going to use? What are the sort of styles of lighting that sort of feel of this genre. We wanted to make sure that nothing ever felt like parody. It always felt like this is how the person sees themselves and this is the world that they see themselves in. It’s not a reference land. It’s a sort of loving each of these styles of telling stories and trying to do the best version of that possible. Part of the fun of that is you have to make sure each one feels differentiated from the other. You have to be cinematic or else, it’s all going to look the same and the concept isn’t going to be clear. Everyone got really into it. Every department really was so excited for the challenge because it was just different from what they were normally doing.

Phil Lord: Yeah, Pemberton did eight different scores. Poor guy.

Chris Miller: Yeah. Amazing job making—take a TV job and you’re like, oh, this will be simple. I’ll write the little theme and we’ll do the thing and we’ll be done.

Phil Lord: We’ll just repeat the same cues much of time.

Chris Miller: Nope, nope. You’ve got to do the thriller music. Oh my G-d. But he was amazing and I think the music for the show is really top notch.

I really enjoyed the musical episode.

Chris Miller: We had a lot of fun making that one too. It’s one of those ones that take a lot of preparation because you have to get the songs written. They have to be funny, interesting, and good catchy songs that also advance the plot. You gotta then get your actors to record them, learn choreography, and put it all together in the sort of fantastical lighting. But when it all comes together, it’s sort of magical and that’s sort of the fun of doing something like this. As ambitious and crazy as it was, it was also a lot of fun every day.

The Afterparty
Sam Richardson, Jamie Demetriou, Ben Schwartz, John Early, Tiffany Haddish, Tiya Sircar, Kelvin Yu, Genevieve Angelson, Illana Glazer, Zoë Chao and Ike Barinholtz in “The Afterparty,” premiering January 28, 2022 on Apple TV+.

What were some of the challenges that came with making this series during the pandemic?

Chris Miller: The big thing is it’s hard to be creative when you’re scared. A big thing was just making sure we left no stone unturned to make the crew safe and make that our top priority. We tested very regularly. I still have calluses in my nostrils and masking works great. Everybody took it really seriously so that once we got on set, everybody felt comfortable being creative together.

Phil Lord: It was great. Everyone really took to heart. No one wanted to be the one who was responsible for the show shutting down. Everyone was really like, we’re not gonna be ding dongs on the weekends. We are loving what this is and we don’t want it to stop. Because of that and because of our very rigorous testing and safety protocols, we emerged without ever having to shut down, which was fantastic. Everyone was able to feel loose, creative, and funny. They just added and brought so much to the show.

Could we get a full-fledged live-action Hungry, Hungry Hippos movie?

Chris Miller: (Laughs)

Phil Lord: The Hungry, Hungry Hippos movie is gonna have to wait in line behind the Hall and Oates movie but there’s no reason we can’t do both at once.

Did you have to do double duty with The Afterparty and The Mitchells vs. The Machines or was the film far along in production that you didn’t have to worry about it?

Phil Lord: We were mixing Mitchells while we prepped Afterparty. Right?

Chris Miller: That’s right. It was pretty much done and it was done by the time we started shooting. There was a little bit of double duty there during pre-production. We’re used to juggling a lot of things by now, unfortunately.

When it comes to a making series of this type, do you recommend the block-shot filming style?

Chris Miller: For this, it really was the only way to go. It was conceived as a movie and it has this cinematic feeling. We only had the high school for a certain number of days so it was a lot easier to sort of shoot things in the locations based on the location. It also required a very adept cast because you would shoot a scene in a hallway as a rom-com and we lit one way. We’d have a lunch break and then they would relight it. Everyone would change their costumes and do the same moment but now as a thriller. It’s a bit of a mind bender as an actor to be like, Okay, Alright, hold on, give me a second, I need to get headspace—

Phil Lord: You’re doing a contrast right there so if the idea is to make the two performances really different and the two lighting packages really different, doing them back to back actually really helps you. Because I think if you like left for a month and came back, I don’t know if you’d quite—

Chris Miller: What are we doing there again?

Phil Lord: Yeah, what did we do last time? It makes it really intentional that they’re really different. It’s really fun for a film crew that understands there’s a lot of different ways to do things to be able to flex all their muscles on one show.

I can’t wait to see the eighth episode in my eyeballs

Phil Lord: We’ll slam it in there.

Chris Miller: I hope you are satisfied. We’ll jam it down them.

Apple TV+ will launch The Afterparty on January 28, 2022 with three episodes. Weekly episodes will follow.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.