Despite Lego’s footprint in TV series and video games, the toymaker wasn’t intending to extend its brand to feature films at first. Hindsight being 20/20, Lego’s vice president of global licensing and entertainment, Jill Wilfert, is glad the company did, particularly with the $468 million global box office success of Warner Bros.’ The Lego Movie which has spawned a feature franchise, with an upcoming sequel and a Ninjago feature based on their ninja toy line.
During a Mipcom conservation keynote, Wilfert said, “We weren’t looking to get into the movie business, we’re a conservative Danish company. We felt it was too risky and would add a layer of volatility.” Soon after the success of Hasbro’s Transformers, the toymaker began receiving phone calls from Hollywood. “Warner Bros. first approached us and we had a longstanding relationship with them with our consumer products and video games. We told them to come back with an idea. They were able to convince us,” said Wilfert. Some of Lego’s initial hesitation to jump into the film business stemmed from the company’s involvement in theme parks, which put a dent in its balance sheets. However, incoming chief executive Joergen Vig Knudstorp saw that it was more profitable to license the Lego brand, so they spun off and merged the theme parks with British attractions company Merlin Entertainments.
“The goal of the film was to engage families in a creative experience; for them to come to the film, feel the creativity of the brand, even if we didn’t sell one more Lego box,” added the VP.
Wilfert detailed that Lego’s foray into the creative visual content space was more of a response, than grand design.
“People were demanding it,” said Wilfert, “and actually doing it themselves.” The executive specifically referred to a homemade viral animated Lego short set to comedian Eddie Izzard’s adult stand-up bit on the Star Wars cantina. Lego first began making short films, which eventually led to TV series. Wilfert gave a shoutout to Cartoon Network as being one of the first partners to be passionate about the brand.
In regards to the entertainment franchises which Lego hooks up with in regards to toys and visual media, Wilfert, said, “As a private company, we pick and choose who we work with. We can be a fussy company, but that’s about protecting our brand. We determine who is a best fit for our company and look for properties that are global in nature.”
With the company completely embracing the movie business now, Wilfert hinted about the company’s future in the visual arena, mentioning more projects in the interactive space, as well as appealing to an older demo.
“There’s a temptation to be more edgy, and go for (projects) that have more of a teenage appeal. But it’s about managing to find the right balance,” said Wilfert.