The Toys That Made Us: Telling the LEGO story – Part 2

The Toys That Made Us is back tomorrow with four new episodes, including one focussed on nothing but the beloved LEGO brick

Everyone has a favourite toy that they grew up with. For some, that passion continues in adulthood, as the immersion in playthings continues. The Toys That Made Us is a documentary series for both groups, as it nostalgically looks back at beloved toys while sharing often previously untold stories about how they came to be. Tomorrow, Netflix launches four new episodes of the show – including one about LEGO.

In the first part of this interview, Creator and Executive Producer Brian Volk-Weiss explained his background with LEGO products and how the episode came to be included. Here, he explains to Brick Fanatics what it was like delving into the behind the scenes story of the LEGO Group.

What was your biggest take away from interviewing so many LEGO employees for the documentary?

As with most people, I have a bunch of friends in my life who are alcoholics and one of the things that I know about alcoholics is, one of the things they are really taught in the ten step programme is you have to be honest with yourself and everybody else that you’re an alcoholic, you can’t hide it. If you hide it, then that’s the easiest path to drinking again so a lot of my alcoholic friends tell stories of their days binge drinking and getting fired from jobs or whatever. So one of my most interesting things that I saw when I was in Billund was all of these people that work at LEGO, some of who are in their fifties and sixties, some of who are in their mid-twenties, they talk about the near bankruptcy like it happened a week ago. They are obsessed with it.

We would ask questions that had nothing to do with the bankruptcy, nothing to do with money, were a million miles away from the topic of bankruptcy. So often, we’d be interviewing a 28 year old designer and she would probably be in junior high school when the near bankruptcy happened, and she was like, “because of the bankruptcy we did this” or “we were thinking about the bankruptcy when we made that decision”. They really train everybody, if you were there or not, that just because we’re number one right now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be number one in 18 months. So keep focused on what makes LEGO special and different and then we’ll survive. That really made an impression on me.

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Had the LEGO House been finished when you were in Billund?

There was repeated moments where I was wondering, should we be here right now? They literally let us walk into the LEGO House, it was a construction site, we had to wear hard hats and everything. We were walking past unfinished elevator shafts.

They didn’t do this on purpose, it was just completely luck, we were there when they finished putting the tree together. When we walked in, the top part of the tree was on the floor, and the were starting to connect to it. While we were there, they just happened to lift it up and put the top of the tree on. They hadn’t even put the coloured roof on yet, we were there when it was just grey gravel. Especially depressing to me was that the gift shop wasn’t open yet, it was just metal poles sticking out of the ground with cables. I will go back there to bring my children, just so they can see the museum.

Did you see some of the classic sets?

Yes and that’s in the episode. We didn’t do this very often, we only did it in the Transformers episode and the LEGO episode, but we filmed the emotionally rewarding but arguably cliché camera going down the stairs into the vault, which I insisted. It was amazing, literally I got goosebumps again and again seeing what they had down there.

We also went to a warehouse, I don’t know how many people go to this or not, but we went to a warehouse that had like the boxes from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, full of the moulds that the LEGO bricks were made in. We saw practice LEGO pieces for new parts that were made, that were the wrong colour, things like that. It was a little more in depth. We had this unbelievable guide who was with us the whole time and he made a bunch of phone calls, got it approved and we got to shoot there. All of it took less than two hours at the most.

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Did you bring any souvenirs back from Billund?

While we there, because the LEGO House wouldn’t be opening for another six months, the LEGO Group made these original LEGO Architecture sets for the merchants that they could sell to make money. So I did something I have never done in my life ever, first of all I bought lots for friends of mine, but I also bought two for myself – one that I built, then the other one to leave in the box, to display in front of the one I built.

None of my toy collection is done for money. I don’t do any of it for financial reasons, and I don’t judge anybody who does it for financial reasons, but it was a big deal for me to buy two. I didn’t buy the second one to sort of hoping that it appreciates in value, it’s on display. Then I got the exclusive Billund Airport Architecture set. Both of those are on display in my home.

Have you done any LEGO building since making the show?

It did not encourage me to go back and rebuild anything, because all of my stuff is still built and standing. But before we went to Billund I was buying between up to two LEGO sets a year. Since I was in Billund, I have bought about five or six sets that I have built. This happens to me with every toy –I’d never bought a He-Man or Barbie doll in my life, now I have He-Man figures and Barbie dolls. But LEGO in particular, it has rejuvenated my love of LEGO in a big way. It’s just so peaceful building LEGO sets. I have a pretty crazy job and there are very few times in my life where I can just zone out and forget about everything – building a 2,000 piece Saturn V model is one of those times.

The LEGO episode – and three more new episodes – of The Toys That Made Us launch will be available on Netflix from Friday, May 25.

Graham

Graham is the Editor of BrickFanatics.com, with plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education. If you would like to get involved with Brick Fanatics, as a builder, writer or photographer – then please contact Graham at graham@brickfanatics.com.

Graham

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