LEGO Masters begins next month in the US, and LEGO fans will notice a few familiar faces judging the reality show. During our visit to the LEGO Masters set, we chatted with Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett about making the leap from LEGO designers to reality TV judges.
In the interview conducted jointly with Megan from Brickset, Jamie and Amy talk about how their pasts helped prepare them to be judges, what considerations were involved in selecting winners, and how they resisted the temptation to build along with the rest of the contestants!
Could you introduce yourself, tell us what your job is at LEGO, and what your role is on LEGO Masters?
Amy: My name is Amy Corbett, and we are judges and experts on the show, so our title for this project is Brick Masters. I’m Brick Master Amy. Back at LEGO headquarters in Denmark, I work as a senior design manager, and I’m a design lead who runs a team of around 10 designers. I work primarily on the girls’ lines, developing new sets and play experiences. In the past I’ve worked on LEGO Friends, LEGO Disney, and LEGO Movie 2.
Jamie: And I’m Jamie Berard, so I’m Brick Master Jamie on this show, which is honestly a little bit of an odd title to get used to but we’re getting there. Back at LEGO – I’ve been there for 14 years now – I’m in charge of the Creator Expert and LEGO Architecture lines. I have a team of 10 designers who make epic models for adults and superfans, and they are some of the most brilliant builders (looking at Amy) – I’m sure yours are too.
Amy: (smiling) Mine are too.
How were you selected to be judges for LEGO Masters?
Amy: The two of us have quite unique backgrounds and differences. I’m really focused on the kids and the play experience. I have a product design background.
Jamie: And I’m a superfan. I’m a lifelong LEGO fan. I make products for adults and the superfans. In that way, we actually balance each other well because we have the kids in focus and also the adults. You have the professionally trained product designer with Amy, and the LEGO superfan with me. It’s actually a pretty nice mix.
Amy: Yes, and our names rhyme! Amy and Jamie.
Are your LEGO colleagues in Denmark jealous that you are judges on the show?
Amy: They’re proud of us. They’re really excited to have the LEGO brand represented on this show, and we’ve come from Denmark to help out. We’re all excited about it.
Are you the only judges or will there be any guest judges?
Jamie: We are the only judges. We do have lots of guests who join on us on the show, but in the end, it is our decision.
Amy: It’s really great that we get to see the journey from the beginning for each of the contestants. We also get help build them up as they’re working on the challenges, but we also had to critique them in the end.
Jamie: It’s good for the contestants because they get to know us and they know what we’re looking for. It gives them some continuity and consistency so they can keep growing week on week.
Your day job involves creating and reviewing LEGO sets and getting them ready for the rigors of production. How is judging a TV reality TV show different from that?
Jamie: It’s not that far off, actually. When we make LEGO products, we have what we call a brief so we always know what we want to accomplish. We know who it’s for, and we know what the experience should be. It’s very similar on the show with the challenges. The challenges also have a set of ambitious guidelines for what we want, then we’re pretty much making sure that the contestants are delivering what we asked them to do.
Amy: I think there’s a lot of similarities. A lot of the builds that are happening in this competition are definitely on a much more epic scale than the products that we’re used to. That’s really exciting to see.
Speaking of the contestants, has there been any disadvantage for those who may not have been part of the AFOL community prior to being on the show?
Amy: I think everyone has come in here with energy, passion and love of the LEGO brick. They have given their all in every challenge. I don’t think there’s been a real advantage or disadvantage from any team.
Jamie: They’re all LEGO fans, whether they describe themselves that way or not. They’re adults that are playing with LEGO. For some of them they are brothers working together, or husband and wife, or friends that have just come together. Then we do have LEGO fans that have built together and gone to events and activities. But in the end, the challenges are different enough that it’s not all about whether you are the best builder every time. We break it down into storytelling, creativity and your technical ability. For example, you can be an amazing builder technically but make very boring models. Or you can be somebody that knows how to polish every story element and really make us smile. You can give us these moments that really bring us into the universe and give us the wow factor. The skills are so different and the challenges are so different that I can genuinely say that people watching the show will be surprised who comes to the top and who goes to the bottom. It is not predetermined by any means that the ones who do well at the beginning are going to make it to the end.
Amy: Something that’s been quite amazing to see as the contest has moved on are the teams building their own community. They’re really supportive of each other. They’re really encouraging, and they really love to tell each other, “Wow, you guys have done an amazing job in this challenge.” They’re learning from each other, and they’re supporting each other which is really nice to see.
Many AFOLs build on their own with relatively few time constraints. How have you seen the teams grow under opposite conditions on the show?
Amy: There’s definitely been some challenges along the way requiring teamwork, with people having different ideas and having to come together with a shared vision. However, they have a short amount of time so the more they can work together and create a shared vision from the beginning, the better their builds are. As the competition has progressed, the teams are definitely more in sync to the point where they’re almost finishing each other’s sentences, finishing each other’s builds, and developing more of a joint style. They build as a team and not just as individuals, and they really come together into one united style.
Jamie: We give feedback along the way. The good teams really listen to that feedback, and then we see week on week how they actually develop and grow. Also, when you’re in a room of such talented people, the contestants can’t help but learn from the people around them. We’ve actually heard people in the competition say, “I’ve seen this other team do something really well, I want to do that too.” Then they start to take the best of each other and improve their own models. They start to discover, “Oh, I’m actually more of a sculptor, I should play that to my advantage,” or “Oh, I actually tell minifigure stories really well.” Instead of going to these spaces where they’re not able to deliver on their best, they start to learn their strengths and know how to play them up for each challenge.
Amy: You definitely see the teams go on quite a journey as the show goes on.
What have you learned from your participation in LEGO Masters?
Amy: Every day we’ve learned things and thought, “Wow, I never thought of building it this way” or we think about how we would have tackled this challenge or how we would do things. Now that you’re asking me, it is hard to think of a single example of a single thing we’ve been learning along the way since there have been so many.
Jamie: I’ve learned how many shades of LEGO fans there are. When we go to fan events, you often see the more dedicated ones that are willing to put the effort into bringing all their stuff halfway across the country and set it up. But you also have a couple who just got married who just think it’s fun to build together. And then you have brothers who hadn’t built since they were kids coming together after a long break. Each has that connection with LEGO and are able to deliver models that you would think you would need to be a superfan to do. It’s amazing how many people who fall below the radar are making mind-blowingly good stuff.
Amy: Maybe for me, it’s less what I am learning and more a reminder of how passionate people can be about LEGO. We’re obviously both very passionate about it, but knowing how many people share that passion, and what you can achieve with it is inspiring. It is exciting to see what can happen if you just put energy and passion into something you don’t think they can actually do. Quite often when the contestants get a challenge they worry, “How are we going to do this!?” and then they wow and surprise us. That love of LEGO and the energy they have are powerful motivators.
Jamie: And I’ve learned that I’m getting spoiled here. People hold my cup and do my hair. When I’m home, I’m going to be useless. (laughs)
Can you see any of these contestants being possible future LEGO set designers?
Jamie: Every time I leave LEGO headquarters in Billund I feel like there’s an opportunity to recruit. I’m always aware and looking for talent. I’m always building a catalog of people that I would love to tap on the shoulder when we’re ready to hire.
Amy: There are certainly some very talented builders out there, and as Jamie said being managers ourselves, we’re always keeping an eye out for anyone who’s got that special something that could fit in Denmark.
What kind of challenges will the contestants face? Have you been tempted to jump in and try any of the challenges yourself?
Amy: We’re always standing on the sidelines thinking, “What would I do for this?” To design a challenge, you always have to think about what you would do in the situation, what the potential pitfalls are, and how you would get around them. I think we’re always excitedly thinking about it during the challenges.
Jamie: We can’t help ourselves! We pull ourselves aside and go, “This would be so fun if they did this or that.” Of course, we can’t say anything in front of the contestants because they have to come up with creative solutions themselves. As the competition goes on and people go home, there are a few empty tables that tempt us to do a little build off to the side. These challenges are not the traditional LEGO challenges you might be familiar with. We’re not just saying, “Build a fire truck,” or “Make a police car.” These challenges are actually very open-ended, which spark new ways of thinking. There’s not really a blueprint for completing each challenge, and it isn’t something you could just go online and figure out.
Amy: We’ve experienced so many surprises during the show, seeing how people approach challenges and then deliver final results. The builds that the contestants come up with are quite often things that we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves, so that’s really inspiring.
Is it difficult being a judge? Are you ready to be reality TV celebrities after judging LEGO Masters?
Jamie: It depends on how they portray us in the editing! (laughs) Who knows, I could be the tough judge or the nice one. During filming, we each give the contestants both positive feedback and how they could improve. But really, if they’re going to go home you have to let them know why if they’re not delivering at a level of other people. I mean, we compliment them, but if they’re going home they need to know why they’re going home.
LEGO Masters airs in the US on Wednesdays after The Masked Singer starting February 5th on FOX. Stay tuned to The Brothers Brick for more interviews from the set, and check out these other LEGO Masters articles:
- Casting LEGO Masters: Reality show announces teams, including some familiar faces
- Hosting LEGO Masters: Interview with actor and entertainer Will Arnett
- Judging LEGO Masters: Interview with LEGO designers Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett
- Making LEGO Masters: Interview with executive producer Anthony Dominici
- Building LEGO Masters: Interview with Brick Artist Nathan Sawaya
- Visiting LEGO Masters: Behind the scenes tour with Challenge Master Brent Benedetti
- Casting LEGO Masters: Reality show announces teams, including some familiar faces
- Hosting LEGO Masters: An interview with actor and entertainer Will Arnett