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I am honestly surprised by just how omnipresent LEGO is in the daily play lives of my kids.
When I was young, LEGO was a make-your-own sort of thing. Sure, there were plenty of playsets, but they were still general things like "space" or "construction" or whatever. These days, LEGO is a licensing powerhouse, working with dozens of partners on videogames and toys and even movies.
Chris Miller and Phil Lord only have two credits so far as directors for feature films, but when "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" and "21 Jump Street" are the two films you've made, that's a pretty strong one-two punch. What those two films have in common is the way they took unlikely premises and spun them into very effective and sincere piece of entertainment. These are guys you can trust to take the difficult and figure it out, so maybe they're the perfect fit for Warner's upcoming gamble, "The LEGO Movie."
Right now, they're reaching out to you, the eventual audience for "The Lego Movie," and they're offering you a chance to have an impact on the film you'll eventually see in theaters. They're in the home stretch, and they want to make sure that anyone that might be interested has a chance to enter.
The ReBrick contest is a chance for you to design something in Lego, shoot video of it, and then share that with the community via the official Lego site. The best video will actually end up in the movie.
That's an amazing opportunity, and they're not kidding around. They didn't quite explain how they'll use the footage in the movie, but I get the feeling that's because they don't want to ruin the moment. It sounds like they figured out a fun way to have the footage show up in the film. The rules are simple, and you can read the details RIGHT HERE.
The film comes out February 7th of next year, and it tells the story of Emmet, a Lego minifigure living a normal minifigure life until he gets drawn into a massive heroic quest to try and save the world. If what I've heard about the film is correct, in some ways this is going to deliver the same kick as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in which we see all sorts of different fan properties collide in one storyline.
That's where my conversation with Lord and Miller started this afternoon. The publicists told me that they were sorry for the tight turnaround on when the contest is over, but they're doing everything they can to get the word out right at the finish line to make sure they cast as wide a net as possible, and so even though Monday is the deadline, the phone rang mid-afternoon on a Thursday. I answered the phone and told them I was very intrigued by what they're up to.
"Uh-oh," replied Chris. "What are we up to?"
I told them that the movie is interesting if only because of how many different intellectual properties they're playing with under one umbrella. "Yes, that is true," said Phil. "It's the only movie where Batman, Gandalf, and Dumbledore can all hang out with Morgan Freeman."
I told them that's pretty much what my living room is like every afternoon when the kids are playing with all of the various Lego sets they've accumulated, all jumbled up together.
"That is certainly what inspired us," said Chris. "When Dan Lin and Warner Bros. first approached us, we got really inspired by the brick films we saw online, which are just people making movies in their basements with little Lego bricks. It took the big corporate blockbuster thing down a peg by marrying it to something that is essentially creative and homemade."
"And tiny," added Phil.
"Yeah," continued Chris. "We liked the marriage of a big corporate movie with something driven entirely by people at home with no money. We wanted to figure out a way to include real brickfilms in the movie, and we figured it out, so that's why there's a contest. We thought it would be the ultimate homage to all the people and their creativity."
"Anyone can enter," said Phil. "Basically, you just have to make a brick film of a certain length to certain specifications. There have been people submitting for weeks now, and the deadline is coming up. The winners, who are judged by us and our co-director Chris McKay, are actually going in the film. We figured out how to do it and actually have it make sense. It's not just a gag."
I've never really seen a film contest like this, and it seemed amazing to me that Lego, which has built such a major reputation in the last fifteen years, would be willing to play around with their own identity like this. Lord and Miller talked about how they remember a time before Lego was licensing things like "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter," the same childhood I remember, and how strange it's been to see them become such a crossover phenomenon.
More than that, we talked about how the Lego games serve the same function for today's kids that "Mad" magazine served for me in many cases, where I would read a film parody before I saw the film, and in many cases, when I did finally see the movie, I would have that earlier version bouncing around in my head as well. My kids haven't seen the "Lord Of The Rings" movies, but they know many of the key beats of the films thanks to the game. Same with the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" films. I asked if there was much of that in their film, or if they're remixing the familiar faces in new ways.
"The guys who make those games are excellent, and they put a lot of love into those things," said Phil. "And the guys who make the games are the same way. They put so much care into every brick and even the chemistry of how they make them. We went to the Lego factory, and we'd see them throw out one out of every 20 bricks because the printing was slightly off or they just didn't quite line up correctly. They care about everything they make, and that translates to the games or to this film."
"I pulled out a bucket of Legos that I had as a kid," Chris said, "so my kids could play with them, and they combined them with the new Lego bricks, and they still work perfectly and are in just as good a shape now as they were 30 years ago."
It's amazing that Lego continues to re-invent themselves this successfully. "There are very few brands that are this successful and that are actually this well loved. With something like McDonald's, there's a dark side for people, but with Legos, it's just about creativity."
I asked if that makes them difficult to deal with, but Phil called it a "fertile collaboration," saying their designers in Denmark have been in constant communication with everyone working on the film, and they feel like they've had great luck in terms of everyone's sense of humor connecting, with only a few exceptions.
"Yeah, we've had one or two conversations where they come to us and say, 'Guys, we know you think this is really funny, and it is, but we have a lot of experience with kids and moms, and we're pretty sure this is just going to bum everybody out.'" said Chris, laughing about it.
I asked if they feel like it helps doing something as unfettered and raunchy as "21 Jump Street" between more overtly family friendly comedies like "Cloudy" and "The Lego Movie," but they said they don't really see any difference. They can use the f-word more frequently in "21 Jump Street," perhaps, but it all still comes down to character and finding the funniest beats that also serve the story they're telling.
I think it would be a blast to see my work in this film, and if you're someone who is already part of this community, I hope you take advantage of the opportunity. I can't wait to see what these guys have come up with when "The Lego Movie" opens in February of 2014.