In the world of LEGO, everything truly is awesome. Love for the decades-old building blocks has never been bigger, and the company makes sets for dozens of popular movies, which sell like hotcakes year-round. LEGO bricks even got their own big-screen adventure last year with the aptly titled The LEGO Movie. But, like an elusive piece that has gone missing under the couch, no documentary on LEGO had been produced – until now.
Academy Award-winning Colorado filmmaker Daniel Junge (along with co-director Kief Davidson) and frequent master editor Davis Coombe are the team behind A LEGO Brickumentary, which explores the ways that LEGOs connect us all, young and old, through the power of imagination. “What fueled us as filmmakers and drives the film is the continual discovery of how massive the LEGO universe is,” Junge says. “The ways that people are using this so-called toy are mind-boggling.”
In a sweet twist, the Brickumentary also connects with Colorado via local creative hub Milkhaus, which put the final post-polish on the film, and even features an epic song by hometown faves DeVotchKa to run through tiny LEGO man ears and heads. A LEGO Brickumentary opens July 31 at Sie FilmCenter. In advance of the opening, we caught up with master builder/editor Davis Coombe to talk about all of the millions of tiny pieces needed to make an unforgettable film.
Westword: Before the movie was even a glimmer in your eye, how did LEGO first come into your life?
Davis Coombe: It was certainly the first brand of toy that I recall playing with. I was one of those kids, and I couldn’t tell you if I ever actually built the toy that was on the front of the box, but for me all of the blocks just ended up in one big box mixed together and I would sort of build whatever I wanted to — which, as a documentary editor, there’s a parallel there. You just sort of dump everything out on the floor and figure out what you can make out of all the pieces. I loved that freedom, and that there were no rules and you could make whatever you wanted. I do specifically remember the classic LEGO space sets, and as soon as we started making the film, Dan and I knew that we wanted to get those space toys in there. Little boys our age totally remembered that model line of LEGO toys, and that’s really why in the first scene with our narrator, he arrives in that classic spaceship and talks about its various parts. We really had fun with that.
As an editor, when does your job begin on a production, and how does it feel to become another storytelling voice?
It depends on the project, but I’ve worked closely with Dan for a long time on most of his films — but he was showing me rough scenes way before we, or I, started cutting. So I had some input before they brought the film to my office to edit, but most of the time you start editing as you soon as you shoot because it informs what you continue to shoot and the way that you shoot.
As for storytelling, I’m a co-writer on the film with Dan, and it’s funny, but I used to scoff at those credits when there wasn’t a narration in a film. But you know, it’s a nod to someone who is editing people, but making those people say what needs to be said. It’s not like you’re just typing it all up as you go to get the story to appear. Dan and I did end up writing all of this narration for Jason Bateman, but that’s because with this film, it’s an evolution from one idea to the next and how all of these pieces — from the beginning of the film to the end — all of these scenes and topics are all conjoined by the narration and this bizarre character that Bateman plays, who’s actually a little LEGO dude.
Between the origin story of LEGO to its intense success and everything in between, which thread of the story in LEGO were you most excited to pull?
There are so many different interesting worlds and subcultures that we discovered along the way, but learning that this toy is used at MIT to discuss urban planning, for sunlight distribution among high-rises and traffic-flow patterns; that architecture firms use it to build models and practice using prefabrication techniques; and then they use LEGO in a jet-propulsion laboratory to figure out how to fit satellite parts into a small package to send to outer space. Because of how amazing of a system this toy is, there are so many endless amounts of uses for it, and it’s not just for kids; in fact, there are very few kids in this movie. I knew I was going to start working on a film about LEGO, but I didn’t think that there would be so few children involved!
What surprised you the most about being immersed in this LEGO world?
What surprised me was how badly working on this film made me want to get my hands on some LEGOs. Because of it, I introduced my two-year-old to LEGOs way ahead of time. It says on the box “for ages four to seven.” I gave it to him, and you know what? He’s into them!
After so much LEGO, are you still excited by the toy?
Absolutely. I read recently that LEGO is looking to find ways to make the toy out of non-oil-based materials, and that just makes me even more excited and cherish the toy, knowing that after creating such a remarkable system they’re continuing to evolve and find ways to make a positive impact. One interesting statistic: LEGO is the largest tire manufacturer on earth. Now, those tires may be less than an inch tall but they make more tires than Firestone and all of those companies. Putting this documentary together, it was awfully fun to go to work and talk about toys all day!
You can see more of Davis Coombe's work when the Colorado-focused pot journalism doc Rolling Papers opens this fall, and Coombe is currently cutting two new films coming down the pipeline: Hondros, about famed war photographer Chris Hondros, and an untitled new film from Chasing Ice director Jeff Orlowski. Davis and director Daniel Junge will be at select shows this weekend when A LEGO Brickumentary opens Friday, July 31, at Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax. Tickets and showtimes can be found at denverfilm.org.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.