Tai Freligh interviews director Chris McKay…The LEGO Batman Movie Producer Dan Lin and Director Chris McKay (courtesy Tai Freligh)
Chris McKay has an extensive background in television work, including editing, directing, producing, animation and visual effects. He is best known for his editing work early on for Robot Chicken and Moral Orel before later adding directing to his resume. He was animation co-director on The LEGO Movie with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller before making his feature film directorial debut with The LEGO Batman Movie.
The news came out in late February that McKay would direct a live-action Nightwing movie, the first of its kind for the character who has had a long history in comic books and animated television shows. While McKay couldn’t talk about Nightwing just yet, he did say that he might have some news soon, so stay tuned to Flickering Myth as we get closer to San Diego Comic-Con International. In the meantime he was happy to talk about the success of The LEGO Batman Movie and what else is in store for the ever expanding LEGO Universe.
The LEGO Batman Movie feels like a loving roast of all things Batman. Was that your intention and does the overwhelmingly positive reception to the movie make you feel like it was the right way to do this movie?
The original intention was to ask the question: Can Batman be happy? I thought the most fun way to do that was to make a movie about the entire history of Batman. The seriousness of a lot of Batman films and graphic novels seemed like the kind of attitude people would enjoy watching deflated a little bit and by suggesting that our Batman was ALL Batmen, the origin story repetition of those films and graphic novels would look like Batman made a lot of the same moves as a character over and over again. Like looking at someone’s dating history and seeing a pattern of behavior show up again and again.
I love everything about Batman. The gadgets, the cave, the costumes, the operatic, mythological themes and ideas. The epic scope of the storytelling. I love the comics. The graphic novels. The animated series. And the films…all the films. Even the Schumacher stuff for being so weird. The ice puns, etc. And of course the Batman ’66/Adam West version. The campiness. The deadpan self-seriousness. Adam West’s breathy line readings. I also happen to love Airplane, Blazing Saddles, and Naked Gun. And romantic comedies like Jerry Maguire and About a Boy. So I mixed all of those things in a blender.
Is that the “right way” to do this? It’s the right way for me to do it. As a filmmaker, there is no right way. It’s just my way. What I was really happy about re the audience reaction is that we made a movie that some little kid could go see with their older brothers and sisters or their parents and both older and younger groups could get something out of it. Some kids can’t see Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad but want to experience a big adult action movie. Ours is just kid-friendly, with a lot of jokes. Some people are also tired of self-serious super-hero movies and they can see our movie as an antidote to that. Personally, I LOVE the Nolan movies. It’s the most complete movie trilogy to me. For me the darker the better. But that doesn’t mean one way is right and another is wrong I just think we should have more options when we go to the movies.
Can we expect a The LEGO Batman Movie 2? If so, do you have any teases about what that might tackle story-wise?
We are still talking about it. Lots of ideas. A Justice League/Superfriends movie. A Rogue’s Gallery Movie.
One of the things that I’ve not talked about in the making of The LEGO Batman Movie is our plans for the Justice League scene. Two things were cut from it that I wished we could have done. The first was a scene where Batman, who was pissed off that his “friends” didn’t invite him to the party, destroyed all of their “rides” so at the end of the movie when Batman has changed and needed people, it made sense that he couldn’t call them. He poured sugar in the gas tank of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, he used the crystal from Superman II to take away Superman’s powers, and he overfed Aquaman’s seahorse.
The second is a little sadder. In the original conception of the scene, Batman shows up and discovers his friends have thrown a party and didn’t invite him. To make it worse, playing at the party is…Prince and his band. Prince would have been the one to say the line “Check your spam folder” when the others insisted that it was an oversight not to invite Batman. Unfortunately we all know what happened and it was one of the saddest days of my life. I’m a huge Prince fan and had just seen him do a solo concert in Sydney weeks before his death which was an incredible reminder of just how out of this world talented he was.
Is your approach to directing going to change with a live-action movie versus an animated one?
I would hope so. Every director should approach each movie as something new. There shouldn’t be a cookie cutter approach to making movies. I think sometimes that’s the problem when people don’t make an attempt to disabuse themselves of their preconceived notions and don’t work to really listen to the material and keep everything fresh on the set, in the edit suite. As filmmaker you should be constantly interrogating the movie in front of you.
Can you tell us what is coming for the world of LEGO movies and what your involvement on everything is going to be?
Next is The LEGO Ninjago Movie directed by Charlie Bean. And after that is The LEGO Movie Sequel directed by Mike Mitchell. Both very exciting films. I’m involved as a producer and as the only filmmaker on the ground who has finished two LEGO movies. After that there are a lot of great ideas and one coming up that I think they are going to announce soon that will be very, very cool.
You included Robin in The LEGO Batman Movie and now you’re doing a Nightwing movie. What is it about Batman’s “sidekicks” that interests you so much?
Mentors and Mentees, Teachers and Students, Parents and Children are a very relatable source of drama and one that again and again I find myself returning to because of the emotionally rich and sometimes satisfying feelings that result from that kind of conflict. The families that you make in the world can be just as complicated as your biological families. What do we learn from the people that “raise” us, the environment around us that we find ourselves in, and how does that influence who we become?
You’re Batman for a day. What do you do?
I’d give Alfred a day off. He doesn’t get to have any fun.
How do you survive the zombie apocalypse?
I guess there’s two schools of thought. One is go it alone and rely only on yourself. The other is build a community and work together. I’m a work together kind of guy.
You have Superman ink. Where does he fit into your Batman dominated world?
I love Superman. I love what he represents. The best of us. I love his hope and optimism for a better future as much as I love Batman’s dirty realism. They are both sides of me.
Do you think the fight scenes in Batman v Superman were realistic in a sense of this is how you think Batman might fight Superman?
Since they seem inspired by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns graphic novels (which had a massive impact on me as a kid) I was super psyched to see them. The scene I liked the most in BvS however was Batman rescuing Martha. That was tight. Every beat of that worked.
Who is your animation inspiration?
It was not so much a who as a series of whats. I was first inspired by the animation I saw as a kid: Scooby Doo, Battle of the Planets, Speed Racer, Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Terry Gilliam stuff on Monty Python and the Disney/Pixar movies like Bambi, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Snow White and especially Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, Monsters Inc and The Incredibles. I also loved the old Fleischer Superman cartoons. Later in life it was the films of Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. I must also tell you that Mr. Bill on Saturday Night Live, while not strictly animation, was a big influence on the attitude I take with animation. The more you can make it feel like the filmmakers are irresponsibly getting away with something that isn’t exactly good taste, the better. That’s the sort of fun, punk rock aesthetic that I wish more animated films embraced.
We thank Chris McKay for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us and look forward to hearing more about the Nightwing movie when he’s able to talk about it!
The LEGO Batman Movie is set for release in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on June 19th.
Tai Freligh is a Los Angeles-based writer and can be found on Twitter.