Chris Miller & Phil Lord on Constructing the Perfect Whodunit in 'The Afterparty'

27 Jan

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Chris Miller and Phil Lord have been responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed movies and tv shows of the last 10 years. Their new show, 'The Afterparty', premieres January 28th on Apple TV+. We sat down for a brief chat with them to talk about the making of the show and what film genre their life would be.

Screen Times: I was someone who grew up on a Agatha Christie. So I really love the fact that it's a real, legit murder mystery. There’s all kinds of clues and little mini mysteries and things like that. How important was it for you to create that whole mystery properly so that it's enjoyable to viewers, as well as the comedy aspects, like Jamie Dimetriou dancing, which was one of my favourite moments.

Christopher Miller: I could not keep a straight face during that scene, he is a genius that guy, but yeah, I also grew up on Agatha Christie. And Colombo and watching parlour mystery movies, like last of Sheila and even CLUE. So we've been a huge fan of the genre. You know, trying to figure out how to construct something in that world, because it always feels so like a magic trick when you reveal who ‘done it’, and it's a surprise, but all of the information was there, if you just knew where to look and you feel like, “oh, I should have noticed that”. That's the feeling that you want to have when you watch these things. So that was the goal - how do you manufacture a murder mystery in a new way? And so taking those Rashomon elements was sort of the thought.
So each character, each suspect could tell part of their version of the night. Each story could have a clue. And then altogether, those clues could point you to who ‘done it’ is a fun idea, but it's really hard to execute in reality and have the narrative keep moving forward while you're seeing the same scene over and over again. It feels different and you're learning something new each time. So you stay engaged. It was a real puzzle and it took a while to figure out. But luckily we had a lot of help and a lot of smart people on.

Screen Times: So I imagine, did you have some sort of JFK conspiracy theory on the wall with all the lines coming off it?

Phil Lord: You would think that those yarn charts are just visual aids for movies, but that's actually how it's done.

Christopher Miller: Right? We did. We built this thing, you know, I'd worked out a structure and it was originally written as a movie. And then we expanded it into a series when we realised that would give you enough time with each character to really get an understanding of them as a complex individual. And so making it a series where each character could have their own episode and it could really lean into the different film genre styles was key. But then that required us to have this massive map on the wall of here's the timeline of what really happened. And here's how each character perceived the events, how they happen and here's where they cross over. And it did seem like a crazy person that needed to be locked up but, it all worked out in the end.

Screen Times: I like the way that you've told each different story in a different film genre. These ‘mind movies’. So I kind of wondered if you were telling your life story as a ‘mind movie’, like what sort of genre would it be and do you think that you would maybe embellish some of the details like I think quite a few of these characters do?

PL: This is all just a long confession to a murder by Chris!

CM: That's right! Are lives in real life are like those rambling comedies where there's not a lot of plot, but people just sort of like tell jokes and hang out and stuff. But in the way we would tell it, I think it would be a lot more like Uncut Gems or something where it's an anxious time where everyone's trying to spin a bunch of plates and things are going wrong all the time. Hopefully without dying at the end, but we'll see. We'll see how it ends.

PL: What if Chris, you were a ghost this whole time.

CM: Yes. I'm talking back from the dead.

PL: That's how you visited us. Yeah, exactly. To point the finger at someone.

Screen Times: Well, your life sounds very stressful. If you comparing it to Uncut Gems, I'm slightly worried about you.

CM: I know I've had a hard time watching that movie, like just pacing and I had to look away at times.

PL: Yeah. I like in that movie, how they're like “we could balance this by having a calming eerie soundtrack, but nope, we're going to make that full of anxiety also.”

Screen Times: Yeah. Very, very anxious experience. Well, thank you so much for speaking to us and we’re really excited for people to check out the show and I'm excited to get involved with some of the theories ‘cause I've got some of my own, I've been holding them in it for a while. So I'm excited to see what other people's theories are. So thanks very much, guys.

PL: Yeah, do it!

CM: Thanks so much.

Interview edited for clarity.

Check out our full review here.

'The Afterparty' premieres on Apple TV+ Friday January 28th with the first 3 episodes. Each subsequent episode will premiere every Friday.

‍Jonathan Reed
Jonathan, ScreenTimes’ Contributing Editor has been lucky enough to work on Apple products his whole life, ever since his Dad brought home a Mac Performa aged 11 (him, not his Dad). Apple is just engrained in his life, especially nowadays, as a graphic designer. His nerdy enthusiasm for Apple is only matched by his love of TV and film. Whether a buzz-worthy new show or blockbuster, a small cult show or an indie film, he’ll watch it. So Apple TV meets right in the middle of that Venn diagram! He also writes on his personal site, He lives in London and is writing his own bio in the third person.