Meet the Man Responsible for Protecting the Lego Brand as It Became a Mega Movie Franchise

How producer Dan Lin convinced Lego to take a risk

The Lego Batman Movie was released this month in China after a February release in the U.S.
Lego

Few brands can make movies that people want to see. Over the past few years, that’s something Lego has been able to accomplish thanks to Dan Lin, CEO of Lin Pictures and producer of the Lego movies. The latest film in the franchise, The Lego Batman Movie, was released in the U.S. in February and in China on March 3. Adweek spoke with Lin to get the scoop on how it all came about and what brand marketers can learn.

Adweek: This is a Hollywood property that’s basically a giant ad for Lego. How did that come about?
Dan Lin: It started out in 2009. I had this idea watching my son playing Lego. He was 5 years old at the time. I had grown up playing with Lego myself and my wife … was encouraging me to make movies that our kids could see. I had just produced Sherlock Holmes and movies that were more in the PG-13 realm. We had started a family and started thinking about how we could make movies that the whole family could see together.

A big thing for us was not wanting to make a hand-tugger movie. We didn’t want our kids to drag us to the theater; we wanted to go together happily as a family. So I watched my son play with Lego, and as he was doing so, he was talking to himself. He was telling a story as he was playing with his Legos, and the story was much bigger in scope and imagination than what was physically in front of him. So then I had this idea that if I could make a movie that captured the imagination of kids when they’re building with Lego that would be something special, something that people hadn’t seen before.

What Lego has is a way to bring out kids’ and, frankly, adult’s imagination, creativity and joy. Those are kind of key values they have, and I thought that if I could make a movie that represents those key values that would be something people would want to see.

Makes sense. How did you convince Lego to do it?
So, then I went to Billund [Denmark], which is where Lego headquarters are, and I talked to their key executives. And we talked about me having the rights to make a movie. At the time, you have to remember, it was 2009, when the economy was down, but Lego was still very successful. Sales growth was 20-25 percent a year in a down economy. What I pitched to them was the idea of a Lego movie, and when I say a Lego movie, I mean using one of their main core brands—not one of their product lines. In the past, they had done other film entertainment based on a specific product line, but we wanted to go with the mothership in the main brand. That was the biggest challenge for me in that to convince them to do it, they’d put a lot at stake because if the movie didn’t work, it would actually damage their brand.

So what did you do to make the risk worth it?
We gave an initial pitch where it was a movie with the first two acts that were animated and the third act was live action, because the whole thing is taking place in a child’s mind. He’s working out his issues with his father, and his father having lost his imagination, being very rigid and a lot like the Will Ferrell character that we ended up with. We kind of pitched them the broad strokes. They signed off on that, but they had a lot of approvals along the way because again this is their brand, their crown jewel.

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