Franchise Fred Interview: LEGO Movie Producers Dan Lin and Chris McKay

LEGO Movies are a double franchise. They’re based on the LEGO toy franchise and they are a movie franchise with sequels and spinoffs. Actually, triple franchise because they also use licenses like Batman, Star Wars and Gremlins.

So the producers of the LEGO Movie franchises were who I wanted to talk to about The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Dan Lin and Chris McKay are very franchise friendly producers. Lin produces Lethal Weapon for Fox as well as It and the live-action Aladdin. McKay directed LEGO Batman and will direct the live-action Nightwing movie. The LEGO Ninjago Movie is now in theaters.

Franchise Fred: Is each LEGO movie a different kid playing with their LEGOs?

CM: I think as far as building a cinematic universe, the idea that these movies take place on one block somewhere with a bunch of different kids, or that they are from the imaginations of people who live in the same neighborhood or maybe know each other tangentially or something like that. I think that’s absolutely the right way to think about all of these movies. The LEGO Movie stories with Emmet are always going to be with Finn and his family, The Man Upstairs and his family. That’s definitely where that is going and that’s going to continue. These other movies can take place in the same sort of neighborhood or kids that go to the same school or have their houses near each other and that kind of thing.

DL: That is the internal logic where the stories are what’s happening in a kid’s mind as they’re playing with LEGO. We want to capture the LEGO experience but in a different way for every LEGO Movie.

FF: Since live-action was such a surprise in The LEGO Movie, are there discussions on each LEGO movie about if and how you might incorporate live-action?

CM: Absolutely, because now the audience knows that trick so you have to be careful about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. There’s absolutely a lot of discussions about do you need it? What is the relationship here? If you’re tackling a theme, does the idea support a story in both worlds? It’s a real tricky balance.

DL: The conversation is always the story that we’re making is ultimately what’s going on in a kid’s imagination while they’re playing with LEGO. The question is how much do we reveal of that actual story versus do we show just the animation versions. The LEGO Movie, you actually see the kid and his dad actually playing with LEGO. The question on every movie is: Okay, we have our story. What’s actually happening in real life? How much of that is shown in the animated version of the movie and how much of it is shown in the live-action version of the movie?

FF: Do you have a live-action story you refer to internally even if we never see it?

CM: Yes, we do. Absolutely.

DL: You should talk about LEGO Batman.

"The Lego Batman Movie" (2017) - Weekend Box OfficeFF: Yes, what was the live-action story behind LEGO Batman?

CM: It was Adam West, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale and Michael Keaton hanging out at a party playing with their mini-figs. No, that’s a good question. Some of that stuff I think might be revealed in future movies so there may be a component of that that gets revealed later. These things are tricky. There’s a tricky balance between when we’re telling these stories, when you go to that other world, you want to make sure it’s additive and not repeating what you’ve just seen because that’s when it starts to not work. The live-action story has to be something that adds to your knowledge or your experience and isn’t just repeating a beat that you’ve already expressed in the other world.

FF: Are the live-action Kung Fu montages we see things the live-action characters may watch?

DL: Yeah, basically.

CM: My son is nine years old. He does martial arts. He plays Ninjago. He also watches YouTube videos. So what’s an experience of a kid of that age.

'It' (2017) - Weekend Box OfficeFF: Congratulations on It. Are you already thinking about Chapter Two?

DL: We are. We were thinking about it even before the movie came out but now everyone’s asking the question you are.

CM: Who’s the cast? Who’ve you got?

DL: It’s shocking, I’m getting a lot of calls.

CM: I’ll bet.

DL: Actors who all want to be in the movie.

CM: Can we fan cast right now?

FF: Are any of the actors calling you people you thought you couldn’t get who are now on the table?

DL: Absolutely, absolutely. I would never have thought to ask some of these actors. We’re getting incredible response. I think people really respond to the coming of age element of the movie and the real nostalgia factor. They really feel for these kids but we’re getting amazing calls.

CM: Can you give us any initials?

FF: Is it through their agents they’re calling?

DL: No. Listen, I’ve made many movies at this point and know a lot of actors, so certainly some agents have called but a lot of actors individually have reached out.

CM: John Travolta.

DL: No comment.

FF: Are you just thinking about Chapter Two or could it expand further at this point?

DL: We can’t talk about it too much. I would say Ninjago is It for kids.

FF: Chris, are you directing Nightwing next?

CM: I hope so. I’m excited about getting into that and working with a character that I’ve loved since I was a kid.

FF: What are some of the Nightwing comic book arcs you’re looking at for the movie?

CM: I’m looking at all of them. The tough thing about answering a question like that is then people are going to assume that that’s what the movie is going to be. So I probably can’t answer that entirely but I’m a huge fan so I can’t even tell you what my favorite ones are because then people are going to think that’s the thing I’m going to do.

FF: Dan, you’re also working in the Disney world with Aladdin. Is It’s a Small World still in the works?

DL: It’s A Small World still is in development but Aladdin we’re actually shooting right now in London. We’re doing that with Guy Ritchie directing and Will Smith as the Genie. It’s really exciting because we’ve built the whole world of Agrabah on a set in Longcross an hour outside of London. We built the whole city because it’s easier for us to control. There are so many things we want to do, chase sequences, musical sequences, musical numbers that it ended up being much easier to actually build a set.

CM: Would you say it’s a whole new world?

DL: [Laughs] Ba-dum.

FF: Is there new music besides the classic Aladdin soundtrack songs?

DL: There is. We’re using certainly the classic songs from the soundtrack but Alan Menken is back and he’s been writing music along with Pasek and Paul who are writing the lyrics. Pasek and Paul worked on La La Land so yes, there are going to be new songs to complement the classic songs.

FF: How are you finding a story for It’s A Small World?

DL: Actually, The LEGO Movie is a great jumping off point. In many ways, it’s also a coming of age story. What’s similar about all these movies, all joking aside, even with It, they’re all about these ragtag groups having to overcome the villain. So we’re looking at those mini-dolls and treating them like a ragtag group that has to go on an adventure together.

FF: Is there a lot more music in addition to “It’s A Small World” which no one can get out of their heads?

DL: It’s too early to really talk more about it.

FF: Are there similarities or differences working in the LEGO world and the Disney world?

DL: In the case of LEGO movies, most of the time they’re original stories. The first LEGO Movie you’re starting from nothing and creating an original story. With LEGO Batman, even though we’re dealing with characters we know, that was a completely original story. It wasn’t like we’re riffing off a specific storyline in the comic book. Ninjago was probably the closest where we actually had a mythology. There are touchpoints we really used for the movie but Disney’s actually the opposite where you’re dealing with a classic storyline with Aladdin so there’s only so much you want to mess with it. Certainly we want to update it and we certainly have a much stronger female character with Jasmine. Certainly Will Smith brings a whole new take on the Genie but that is a classic story and part of it is you don’t want to mess with it too much.

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