LEGO Masters has been a hit reality television competition series in the United Kingdom and Australia, and this year the FOX Network successfully launched an American version in the cushy post-The Masked Singer timeslot on Wednesday evenings. The show pits multiple teams of two LEGO builders against each other in a series of escalating challenges, culminating in one duo being crowned LEGO Masters and receiving a $100,000 prize.
With the highly anticipated Star Wars-themed episode of LEGO Masters coming up this week, I reached out to LEGO to see if I could speak to someone involved with the show, and was absolutely thrilled when Amy Corbett– one of the American series’ two Brickmaster judges– agreed to an interview. I chatted over the phone with Amy about her history with the LEGO company, Will Arnett’s dad jokes, what she and fellow judge Jamie Berard look for in the results of each project, and a little taste of what’s to come in the show’s Star Wars extravaganza. Enjoy!
Mike Celestino, Laughing Place: To begin with your personal history, what was your relationship with LEGO growing up?
Amy Corbett: Like most families, we always had a bin of LEGO in the house– a tub that was filled with bricks of different shapes and sizes. My brother and I used to play a lot with it; we would create whole universes. I remember we spread out over the entire living room. We would have very elaborate stories, and we had games that would go on for days. It really was a way that my brother and I played together. It was a toy that was quite universal for us. So [LEGO] has always been in my life.
Since starting at LEGO and working on some of the lines like LEGO Friends, I’ve really wished that they had been around when I was younger. I think I would have played with it even more if there had been sets like that, but it’s always been a part of our household and our life at home.
LP: How did you get started at the company and what was your specific role there prior to joining LEGO Masters?
Corbett: I always was creative when I was growing up, and I always wanted to be a designer. So I studied [for] a Design Engineering degree, where I found a real love of toys and creating really fun and playful experiences. From there I decided, ‘Where better to bring this passion for creating toys than into a career at LEGO?’ That was seven years ago [when] I actually managed to get my dream job working as a toy designer at LEGO.
I started out in the LEGO Friends line making different sets there, doing a lot of building, and seeing how we could expand the line. It had just launched the year that I started, so it was very new. And then I worked on lots of different product lines across the company. We move around a lot, but the main lines I’ve worked on are LEGO Disney, The LEGO Movie 2, LEGO Friends, and most recently LEGO Dots, where I worked together with the design team to create the whole LEGO Dots product experience and launch the product, which was really exciting. And I’m a creative design lead now at LEGO, so I run a team of designers and work together with them to create new toy experiences with the LEGO brick.
LP: Since Laughing Place has Disney focus, are there any specific LEGO Disney sets you worked on that our audience would remember?
Corbett: [My] LEGO Disney [role] was specifically a kid focus, rather than the adult theme with the huge Disney Castle. It’s more like the smaller version Cinderella Castle, Aurora’s Castle, Ariel’s Boat, some of the Tangled sets, and some of the Frozen SKUs as well. My career at LEGO has been very much focused around designing LEGO experiences for kids that are really fun and playful and help to bring out the toy aspects in the builds. And that’s where [fellow LEGO Masters judge] Jamie and I are so different, because his career has so much been [established] around the big adult builds. We’ve got quite a different focus in our day jobs.
LP: Getting into LEGO Masters, can you tell me how your involvement with the show came about? Did you watch any of the other international versions to prepare for your role as judge?
Corbett: Ever since I heard about the first version of LEGO Masters in the UK, it was something I really wanted to be a part of. [It’s] so exciting that we can share the amazing LEGO creations you can make with the world. And when I heard the American one was happening, right away I was like, ‘This is something I want to be a part of.’ When I found out I was going to get to be a judge on the show, then I definitely very closely watched the British and Australian versions for some tips. But I think the judges on those shows, Matthew Ashton and Brickman, make it look so effortless in the judging process that I didn’t realize how difficult it would actually be to be a judge on the show.
LP: Were you involved at all with the casting of the actual contestants on the show, or did you part begin with the recording of the episodes?
Corbett: There [are] lots of behind-the-scenes creatives and LEGO designers that have been a part of this process, so we had a few of the other designers that were key in selecting who was going to be part of the cast and really honing in on their skills, and it was a bit later that I was brought into the process. But there [were] LEGO designers throughout the whole process looking out and discovering the talent of the builders that we would bring into the show.
LP: All of the weekly challenges have been very different in each episode, but in general what are you looking for when you judge the projects?
Corbett: With every challenge, we want to push the builders in a different direction, so there are some specific things that we’re looking for [each week]. But across all of the challenges, we’re really looking for creativity– how their imagination can bring new ideas, we’re looking for storytelling and how they can bring the models to life with minifigures and little stories, and we’re also looking for technical ability– how masterful they are in using the bricks and pushing the system to its limits.
LP: What is your working relationship like with Jamie Berard on the show, and how do you both get along with host Will Arnett? It sure seems like you’re all having a lot of fun.
Corbett: Jamie and I worked in the same office for years and we know each other, but we worked in quite different areas of the company, so we never had really crossed paths that often before. But really luckily for us, we got on amazingly on the show. We love spending time together; he always made me laugh, and I think we were really good at supporting each other and having some very fruitful debates about what decisions to make and come to a conclusion together.
Will just brings an extra layer of fun to the party. The three of us were just laughing and joking all the time while we were waiting for the builders to finish their builds. And Will also brings a lot of fun and cheerleading aspects to the builders, because as judges, sometimes Jamie and I had to be quite critical of the creations that our teams had made. You really need to explain who’s going home and help them to understand how they can lift their builds for the next week, and it was great having Will there who could always be a kind of cheerleader to build the teams back up again and remind them that they were all awesome and blowing our minds every single week.
LP: Were you a fan of The LEGO Movie series and The LEGO Batman Movie coming into this?
Corbett: Yeah! I love The LEGO Movie and [The LEGO] Batman Movie. [I’m] definitely a big fan of both, and I worked a little on The LEGO Movie 2 as well. But yeah, [they’re] really great fun, and it was great to have the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller on the show.
LP: That’s right, and you’ve had some other terrific guest stars pop up. Can you tell me a little bit about Terry Crews?
Corbett: For me, what was really amazing was to hear everyone’s personal LEGO story. All of the celebrities that we had on the show had their own personal link and a special story to share about LEGO and their childhood or now. And Terry Crews is a very big LEGO fan. He actually loves building Star Wars, especially. He loves the huge Star Wars models, and I think he just finds something so therapeutic in following the instructions, switching off from reality for a little while, and the fun he has in the pride of creation. But it was great fun having all of them on the show– they all brought something really different and unique. A lot of laughs, as well.
LP: Since you mentioned Star Wars and I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I have to ask about this week’s upcoming Star Wars-themed episode of LEGO Masters. Can you give a little tease about what viewers can expect when they tune in for that?
Corbett: Obviously I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but we had a lot of fun filming this episode. There [are] some very special guests on the show– a different kind of celebrity. We have R2-D2, BB-8, and C-3PO joining us in the studio. They even help us with a little bit of judging. I think you can expect some very iconic and nostalgic Star Wars moments, but this episode is really about celebrating the Star Wars universe and the LEGO Star Wars universe as well. And you can expect a lot of bad Star Wars jokes from Will. He’s got a lot of good Star Wars dad jokes in there.
LP: I can’t wait! Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about a couple moments on the show when you showed some genuine emotion in having to say goodbye to some of the teams. What kind of bond did you form with the competitors over the course of this season?
Corbett: When we first went into the show, I think Jamie and I were really like, ‘Okay, we’re the judges. We’ve got to be professional and keep a distance,’ and to a certain extent we do. But [these are] long builds they’re doing. We’re spending a lot of time with these teams, coaching them through the ideas, seeing their personalities come out, seeing the passion and love and energy that they put into every single thing they do. You do get to know them pretty well and you really feel the love that they have for LEGO bricks and how much this competition means to them.
It was really hard to say goodbye to the teams. I surprised myself a little bit sometimes with how the emotion took over in the moment. I think if I could have given every single one of the teams a trophy I would, but unfortunately there’s only one winner in this competition. It was really tough. It’s harder to be a judge than you ever imagine sitting on the sofa at home.
LP: Finally, I want to ask you one question about LEGO design. Why is the concept of “story” so important in LEGO models?
Corbett: I think that’s a really interesting question. If I take it from the aspect of my day job, where I’m designing LEGO models for kids, then [there are] these little story triggers that we talk about– these little moments where the minifigures are interacting. Something that brings out the story really helps the kids to spark their imagination on how they would play with the model.
I think the same goes for LEGO Masters with these bigger creations. If you can really focus and bring out the story to be something you can see right away, you can capture the audience’s attention. There’s something very magical in LEGO about how the story actually brings the model to life. It makes it seem real, it brings out our emotions, and it makes us really care about what you’ve created rather than [it] just being a sculpture. And for me that’s really the magic of LEGO.
The final two episodes of this season of LEGO Masters airs over the next two Wednesdays on FOX, and this interview will appear in audio form on this week’s episode of Laughing Place’s “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast.