Dan Lin is a Taiwanese-born American film producer who has appeared on Variety’s prestigious ’10 producers to watch’ list. Lin’s produced several huge live-action movies, including Sherlock Holmes (2009), Terminator Salvation (2009), and the forthcoming Stephen King adaptation, It (2017). The LEGO Movie marked Lin’s move into animation - and its massive success has not only led to Lin producing The LEGO Batman Movie (2017), he’s also working on another spin-off - The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) - and The LEGO Movie sequel, which is currently schedule for release in 2019.
There’s really amazing themes in the script, can you talk a bit about the script development process?
Dan Lin: With our LEGO movies, we always have an abundance of themes, and we’re always trying to craft it down to the core theme. For us, we really thought about “What are the things that Batman really struggles with that we’ve never seen before in a movie?” and “How can we deliver those themes in a very LEGO way?” So it’s about how you think Batman has a dream life. He’s a billionaire, he’s fighting crime, he’s got amazing gadgets and amazing vehicles, but he’s still empty inside when he goes home, he doesn’t really have anyone except for Alfred. We decided to explore that, the fact that Batman is this really lonely person, this is the movie where he finds his own form of family. Alfred, his butler. Barbara, his platonic interest, and Robin. What happens when Batman has to adopt a child and grow two hearts over the course of the movie? It was really interesting for us to explore.
You spoke to Christopher Nolan about making this movie, what was that conversation like?
We wanted to honour what he’d done with Batman. We were very differential to him, even on the first LEGO Movie, we showed him that film - and it was the same here. We wanted to honour the tradition of all the previous Batmans. It’s important that any Batman fan who watches it realises we are treating previous iterations of Batman with respect. Batman is the way he is because of all the previous stories that have been told.All sorts of cool villains show up in the third act, one that stood out for me was Voldemort, played by Eddie Izzard. Ralph Fiennes is Alfred in the movie, it was interesting to hear a Voldemort not played by Fiennes, who was so iconic in the role in the live-action films…
It was important for us to do something different. Ralph Fiennes was cast in a similar way to Liam Neeson, who played Good Cop/Bad Cop in the first movie. Ralph Fiennes is perceived to be an important, serious actor - how do we give him a comedic edge? That’s the way we like to play.
Sauron, Gremlins, King Kong and more appear in the Phantom Zone, which is such a genius idea. What was the negotiation process like for those characters? I know a lot of them were Warner Brothers owned, but where they any difficult ones to get?
It was a lot easier on this movie than the first movie, because people didn’t know what to expect. So when we went to rights holders, they didn’t quite know. So in this movie, we had a really great model. It was relatively smooth. Everyone that we asked said yes, with the exception of one, which I can’t mention. For instance, with the Daleks, fitting them into the movie was a very organic process with the rights holders.
There’s that great line involving the Daleks, “Ask your British nerd friends…”
We wanted to make sure the movie didn’t feel too American, we wanted it to be global, so we included pop culture from different countries.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return from The LEGO Movie. What are they like to work with, and what do they bring to the film?
They’re part of the LEGO family by this point. They just bring another level to these characters that surprises you. As soon as you hear Superman speak in this film, he’s just loveable. He’s Batman’s nemesis in this movie, but you have to really like him at the same time. Both of them are really charming. Jonah brings a level of comedy that’s really interesting, because he’s the annoying one, he’s the one that’s ignored as far as the Justice League characters go, but you still like him and want him to be part of the Justice League. They bring a different energy to Will (Arnett) and bring diversity to the cast. Each one of these comedians are top flight comedians, from Will, to Zach (Galifianakis), to Michael Cera, to Jonah, each one has a very distinctive style - that’s really important in terms of guest-appearances in our movie. There’s not a whole lot of time for them to make a splash. So every single line really has to deliver. That’s what those guys do - whenever they come on, they just make the screen pop. I think that’s really interesting.
How does it feel to have created the best Robin in a Batman movie? The character is amazing, Michael Cera does such a great job, his journey is moving and hilarious…
That’s a combination of the writer, Seth Grahame-Smith, that was his original vision for what that character was - inspired by The Book of Mormon - it was Chris McKay and then Michael Cera. When we first formulated this, we asked ourselves “How are we going to show Robin in a completely different light?” Batman is about darkness, he says he always works alone, he’s an orphan, Robin - similar situation, he’s also an orphan, but he’s completely the opposite, he’s cheery, he’s joyous, he sees the glass as half-full, juxtapose those two opposites and Batman will be annoyed by how optimistic Robin is. We had that concept on the page, then Michael Cera took that to another level, you completely fall in love with him in this movie. I think what’s interesting is Michael’s created this character that we haven’t really seen before. Someone who should be sad, and dark and lonely, but instead he just sees the great things. All he wants is a dad, and in this movie he gets two dads - so imagine how excited he is by that.
The ending definitely leaves it open for a sequel, what themes or characters would you like to explore in another film?
We’d like to explore all of them. With The Lego Movie, we had to see how audiences responded. After we made the first movie, people asked if we were going to do a sequel, and I said, “I don’t know, let’s see who people like, let’s see what storyline they want to see more of.” I think it’s the same here. We’ve had a great reaction all around, so we’d like to bring all of these characters back. I think the challenge in a Batman movie is you need a new villain. I love Zach in the movie, but Joker can’t always be the villain. We need to think about whether it’s Joker and someone else, but in a Batman movie you always need a fresh new villain.
Speaking of villains, one of the cool elements of the movie was seeing Billy Dee Williams cameoing as Two-Face. He was Harvey Dent in the Tim Burton movies, but he didn’t get the chance to complete that character’s journey - can you talk a bit about the process of putting him in the film?
That was really Chris McKay’s idea, he’s like you - a real fanboy who saw that Billy didn’t have the chance to do that, and wanted to see what it would be like if he did. We wanted to have Easter eggs for the fanboys, so you have to really know the mythology. Like, when the pilot asks Joker, “Are you for real? Is there really a Condiment King?” You have to know it. You have to Google it, as they say in the movie. Some people may not know, but people who are really steeped in Batman lore will find it really clever. Only a Batman fan would know it, and that’s what we were trying to embrace. When I watched the Adam West TV series as a kid on television, I thought they were playing it straight. But now, as an adult, I realise they were in on the joke. We’re going with that in our movie - we’re not making fun of the Adam West series, we’re embracing it, these guys were having fun! They had a very dry sense of humour when they were making that show, we were trying to acknowledge the tone that was set by the Batman television series.
The Batman ’66 footage and the Jerry Maguire footage got a big reaction in the screening I was in, were you ever tempted to do live-action, because obviously in The LEGO Movie there’s a big live-action element…
We wanted this one to stand on its own. We debated for a long time whether we should have live-action, and ultimately decided we didn’t want it. But it was a big debate. We didn’t want it to feel like it was too formulaic - or every time you had a LEGO movie, everyone would ask “When’s the live-action coming?” So we made it a standalone LEGO Batman movie. There are a few nods to the previous movie, but we wanted it to stand alone. The main question for us is, “How do we tackle each of these genres in LEGO form?” So, we did cult adventure for the first movie, superhero movie for this one, then we’re doing Ninjago, which is our spin on the martial arts movie, and we’re doing The Lego Movie sequel, called LEGO 2. We’re trying to take this art-form, and attack different genres. Some will have live-action and animation, some will just have animation, and we dream that one day there might be a pure live-action LEGO Movie. We want to really open it up and surprise audiences, so they have no idea what to expect when they see a LEGO Movie.
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