Dan Lin, producer of The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Movie, shares insights into how the new animated release was put together ahead of its release this Friday
Warning – spoilers for plot points from The LEGO Batman Movie contained within
In the first part of our exclusive interview, The LEGO Batman Movie Producer Dan Lin explained the development process that the movie underwent, the challenge of balancing humour for all generations and introducing Robin into this world. Here, he reflects on his own Batman experience, discusses the fun of franchise-mashing and looks ahead to The LEGO NINJAGO Movie.
What was your earliest experience of Batman?
It was the Adam West TV series. I did not know at the time that they were in on the joke, there’s a lot of dry humour that I loved. I started off watching the TV series , the Cesar Romero version of Joker was iconic for me. Of course the Keaton/Nicholson Batman movie just completely blew my mind, because they took what was a slightly campy TV series and treated in a very serious way and I’ve been a Batman fan ever since.
Which version informed you personally on this project?
As you’ve seen from the movie, we really pay homage to all of them. I think we all love the trilogy of Nolan Batman movies because it’s a complete trilogy, very well told, in a real ‘filmmaker way’. I also love the Tim Burton Batman because that’s the one from when I was young kid that I remember, Michael Keaton saying ‘I’m Batman’. But we took a little something from all of them – you see even the way we have exclamations such as ‘Pow!’ and ‘Bam!’ We had our crew watch all the different Batman movies and we talked a lot about it before we made this movie.
Do you have a favourite character in the movie or one who turned out better than you anticipated?
I love how deep we went with the Batman villain lore, then when you see them in LEGO minifig form they are just so cute, for example Condiment King. I love seeing characters that we already know in iconic LEGO minifigure form because you can see it one way in live action, then you see it in LEGO and there’s just something about the design element that’s so cute.
For how long was the Phantom Zone part of the story?
Pretty early on Chris McKay and Seth Grahame-Smith brought that in, you probably remember it from the Donner Superman movie, it came in pretty early in the process.
What is it challenging to get the different franchises on board to be a part of that?
We got every franchise that we wanted, except for one – and if you watch the movie closely you’ll probably guess which one we didn’t get. But it was a lot easier than the first movie, when people didn’t know what a LEGO movie was. This was the second time around for some of these franchise rights holders, whether that’s J K Rowling or the Saul Zaentz estate, they had worked with us before and had very good experience. We brought in some new franchises, such as the Daleks from Doctor Who, but it was a lot easier because they saw what we were trying to do with the first movie. We’re trying to tell the LEGO versions of the characters, so we’re not doing the exact Daleks from Doctor Who, we’re doing the LEGO version of them. When they see that, and they understand the comedy in that, it makes it a lot easier.
How is The LEGO NINJAGO Movie going to be different, and similar, to what has come before?
In the first LEGO Movie it was all brick built. In The LEGO Batman Movie we’re introducing organic natural elements a little bit. In the first movie when you had Metalbeard’s pirate ship on the ocean, that water is all built of bricks, whereas now in The LEGO Batman Movie when you see water, it’s actually real water.
We’re taking that to the next level in NINJAGO because that movie, in our mind, is taking place in a kid’s backyard. You’re going to see real sand, real dirt, real trees and real bamboo juxtaposed in a LEGO brick world. So I think the look is going to be on the next level. NINJAGO is also a very colourful world, Batman’s a darker world because of Gotham. NINJAGO is a pan-Asian world, think Hong Kong or Shang Hai.
The core thing that you’re going to see is that NINJAGO is a LEGO version of a martial arts movie. Batman is a LEGO version of a super hero movie. The LEGO Movie was a LEGO version of a call to adventure movie. We’re putting our own spin on these genres, meaning each movie has irreverent humour, there’s some real joy to it and it has a really unique visual style. So I’m excited about Jackie Chan being one of the leads, he plays Master Wu, alongside Justin Theroux. We’ve hired the JC stunt team to do the martial arts in the movie so it’s actually Jackie Chan Martial Arts told in a LEGO way. His stunt team is doing all of the hand-to-hand martial arts action, then our animation team looks at that action that we’ve filmed, then translates it into LEGO style. It’s something that you haven’t seen before, we’re really excited about pushing the possibilities of this format.
Since working on these LEGO movies, has it led to you doing any more LEGO building?
When this first started I was inspired by son Miles building, he was five years old at the time. I started playing with him, I now have two boys and as they get older they buy more and more intricate sets. They’ll have so much time to do it before they have to do their homework, sports and go to bed. I find myself up at night building them, most recently I was building an old theatre set.
When they’ve gone to bed and everyone’s sleeping, it’s me building, finishing the set – it becomes quite calming. I find after a busy day, something about just LEGO, in this case it was just following the instructions and building it, is very satisfying. What I make takes a lot time, these LEGO movies at the fastest take about two and a half years, but you can actually make a LEGO set in one night and I think there’s something about that achievement that feels really good.