Building 'A LEGO Brickumentary' Brick by Brick: An Interview with Director Daniel Junge

Building 'A LEGO Brickumentary' Brick by Brick: An Interview with Director Daniel Junge

Shakefire spoke with Academy-award winning director Daniel Junge about his more recent documentary, A LEGO Brickumentary, which he co-directed with Kief Davidson. The film encompasses the history of everyone's favorite construction toy, LEGO, and highlights the passionate community of fans and their amazing creations out of LEGO bricks.


Shakefire (SF): How big of a LEGO fan were you before you came on board for the documentary?

Daniel Junge (DJ): I was definitely not an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO). I was not a fan in the AFOL sense of the word. I have a tremendous nostalgia for LEGO, and it was a big part of my childhood, but I was one of those people who stepped away from it. I didn’t think about much until I had my own kids and the ability to make this project came around.


SF: So how did you get involved? Was this a passion project of yours or were you approached to direct?
DJ: A lot of times documentaries comes from happy accidents. Although this is a subject I really love and jumped on and embraced, it was an opportunity that presented itself. One of the executive producers of the film asked if we could work with him on a film on a specific LEGO convention, BrickWorld in Chicago, and we thought that it was really interesting but rather limited. What about something on the entire community on LEGO that we discovered when we researched? Then I looked into it further and no had done the consummate film on the whole world of LEGO, inside and out. THen we thought what if we pitched LEGO the idea of this all encompassing film. Thankfully I think they liked the team that we had, and they liked our approach and said yes. It was a labor of love, but it certainly didn’t come out of the kinda passion that AFOLs have for the toy.


SF: LEGO culture runs deep. I was fascinated to find out all the various terms and acronyms the community has come up with, and the passionate people you come across at these conventions.
DJ: As a documentary filmmaker you are blessed when you are in a community that is so passionate and so into what they are doing. You’re going to have a very specific subculture and you’re going to have internal discussions there, but we’re impassioned because people care so much about this. In the case of LEGO, it’s much more visual. Everyone is creating. Ultimately it’s about creativity. Also, it embraces all ages. While that core community, which is probably a little bit geeky at its core, is a great passionate core in the film it kinda explodes from there.



SF: Another thing I found interesting with the documentary is how diverse the fans are. You interview everyone including adults, kids, celebrities, athletes, artists, etc. They’re all talking about their love for LEGO. How did you decide who to interview?
DJ: That was the most difficult thing because the LEGO universe is so massive and touches on so many people including celebrities that we needed to be selective. Actually our most intense conversations were about what to include and what to keep out. I think in the case of the celebrities in this film, there are many celebrities who have professed their love of the brick, but we just wanted to chose the most big spirited examples of that. You can get more big spirited than the most intimidating player in the NBA or a teenage pop star for example. That was our goal from the beginning; to show how wide and diverse this world is. That’s why we also traveled to I think it was 12 countries that we shot in just to show the expanse of this so-called toy.


SF: Because LEGO is so expansive and universal. We’re you worried about the film becoming too big and covering too wide of a spectrum?
DJ: Yeah, I think that was probably one of the biggest difficulties in making the film is when to say when. I wish I could tell you that we wisely chose all the right stories, all the perfect stories, and knew when they would start and end, but to some degree we just ran out of time and money and resources as you often do on these films and then have this big mess of footage that we had to sort out in the edit and figure out how to tell a cohesive story around this.


SF: What kind of access did you have from LEGO? Ever get to visit the famed “LEGO Vault?”
DJ: We did. I did go to the vault. In the end, it’s not very interesting to film; it’s like filming in a library. But it’s pretty amazing to see in person. There just wasn’t a place to put it in the film. We had unprecedented access for a documentary team with LEGO, but that didn’t mean we got to shoot in the most coveted places. We were not able to shoot in the design room. There’s a little bit of design room footage in the film that we got from LEGO because it was shot for The LEGO Movie. We’re talking about a company that, at its core, is all about its IP and its ideas and new products so that was a place we were not allowed to shoot.


SF: The documentary features a lot of stop-motion LEGO segments. Did you enlist Master Builders to create the sets?
DJ: It was critical to us that the animation in the film be stop-motion, not computer generated, and be made by AFOLs. So all of the animation in the film are from dedicated AFOLs that we met in the community. Most of the interstitial pieces that we used with our mini-figure narrator, those were done by Tommy Williamson who we met in the LEGO community who also works in the film business. He put all of those together, built from scratch and stop-motion animation, in about six weeks time. It was pretty amazing what he did.


SF: Speaking of the narrator. How did Jason Bateman come on board?
DJ: That was a connection our executive producer Jim Packer had. We had heard that he was a LEGO fan and obviously of all the voices we could think of he just lent the perfect voice to this film because he’s likeable and smart, but also a little snarky, maybe a little naughty at times. Hopefully that adds a slight irreverence to the film as well.



SF: There’s a lot of impressive LEGO structures in the film. Which was your favorite?
DJ: My favorite is actually the core of the story which ended up on the editing room floor. It’s done by a LEGO users group, a LUG, that actually they don’t live in one town together. They live all over the country and all over the world, and they get together and build just for conventions. They always love to build post-apocalyptic dystopian landscapes so they did a cyberpunk build, kinda like a Blade Runner city that’s just unbelieveable. That’s my favorite build that I saw and it just so happens that that story got cut from the film, but it’s one of our DVD extras.


SF: I’m curious to know what do you look for in a subject when deciding on your next documentary? You’ve done LEGO, you’ve done a lot of serious subjects in the past; what do you look for next?
DJ: This film is a perfect example that it’s gotta be something that you love and you know you can immerse yourself into for often years at a time. But then there have to be happy accidents. I don’t think you can wake up in the morning and say, “I want to do a film about X” and then that film is going to come to fruition. You need access. You need some timing. You need to make sure there’s not another very compelling film made or being made on the same subject. There’s a lot of different things that have to line up.


For me personally I have made, as you’ve pointed out, a lot of so-called serious films; pretty heavy duty social justice human rights films, and I just needed a little break from that. I made a conscious decision to do a little more populous fare for just a little while. So I did this LEGO film and at the same time I was doing a film on Evel Knievel that was at Sundance last year and was just released this summer as well. I just chose to do more populous films right now and challenge myself in that way as a filmmaker.


A LEGO Brickumentary releases on Blu-ray and DVD on November 3, 2015.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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