Atop the coffee table inside the house where Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Prods. lives sit some very on-brand periodicals — titles like Heavy Metal, Fangoria and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine. The Twilight Zone issue is a gem. It not only boasts a photo-realistic illustration of a human baby with a cat head but also a David Lynch retrospective covering his career “From ‘Dune’ to ‘Blue Velvet’” and a special report that takes readers “Inside the New Horror.” The magazine is dated 1988. Its owner was 9 years old when it was published.
Thirty years later, it’s a pretty good emblem for what he’s up to.
The Monkeypaw house is an unorthodox place for a production company. First of all, it’s, yes, a house — balanced precariously on a Hollywood hillside, tucked into a residential neighborhood. Peele sits on the balcony of the upper floor, under the Hollywood Sign, a view that recent New York transplants in his company still gawk at. It’s from that perch that he’s running a mini empire, having leveraged the surprise success of feature directorial debut “Get Out” into a power position as a producer. Fueled by the box office returns of that film, along with an Oscar for original screenplay, he’s become one of the entertainment business’s most sought-after creators.
“‘Get Out’ is the beginning of a movement of representation in genre of social relevance in fun movies — of elegant, artistic movies that also can have great box office potential,” Peele says. “It’s the same in television. I think people recognize that if you’re going to make something in this subgenre, we’re the experts.”
The guy from “Key & Peele” is now a top-tier filmmaker able to get almost any TV show he wants made — and he’s crafting a company in the mold of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot to power his ambitions. He’s about to begin production on “Us,” his next feature as director and writer, and has five current or forthcoming series at six networks or platforms, a brand-new first-look deal at Amazon Studios, an animated feature and a Spike Lee joint with his name on it.
Little is known about “Us” other than that Universal plans to release it next year and it will be a socially minded thriller with a relatively modest budget (though not so modest as the $5 million spent on “Get Out”). That intersection — of smart genre entertainment and social consciousness — is where Peele is building his company and his future as a producer, filmmaker and creator. Listen to him talk about any of his projects long enough, and you’ll begin to see where their DNA shows a shared ancestry with “Get Out.”
“Genre is important to me because that’s what I love to watch,” Peele says. “Every now and then, a drama will really get me, but for my money, I look to cinema, I look to television as an escape. And that means an escape from reality. I think one of the things that we try and do is provide an escape for our audience — but to not let that allow us to shut our eyes to what’s really going on in the world.”