Visiting LEGO Masters: Behind the scenes tour with Challenge Master Brent Benedetti [News]

LEGO Masters arrives in the US in less than two weeks, and anticipation for the brick-building reality TV show is reaching a peak in the LEGO fan community. The Brothers Brick was invited to visit the LEGO Masters set when they were filming last month, and we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio.

Our day visiting LEGO Masters started early in the morning. Megan from Brickset and I headed to a non-descript studio located in a light-industrial area near Burbank, CA (apparently next to the building used for the exterior shots for the US television series The Office, we were told). Arriving at the studio by car, we provided our names to the security guard and were allowed onto the lot. The production staff excitedly greeted us and ushered us inside. After passing through a reception area, we stepped onto the massive set.

Passing through a darkened tech area filled with cameras, monitors and other equipment, we walked into the center of the set which was divided into three sections.

The first section featured an enormous floor-to-ceiling screen on the far wall, broadcasting the logo of the show and an image of the LEGO Masters trophy. This section of the set is used as a staging area for contestants and challenges, and was the first room the contestants entered before walking into the main set–hinting at what was to come.

Passing through the central entranceway (and stepping around quite a few cameras), we got our first view of the entire set divided into two additional sections, the Brick Pit and the main competition floor. Gigantic illuminated LEGO 2×4 bricks hung from the ceiling over each workstation and the walls were covered in studs. The far wall featured a glowing LEGO Masters logo affixed to a brilliant white wall constructed with oversized LEGO bricks.

Looking up at the dark ceiling hiding lights and wires, we saw a teleprompter screen used by host Will Arnett (read our interview with Will here), and there was little doubt what was about to happen—we were there on the day they were filming the finale of the show.

Looking around at the central area of the set, we found ourselves in a LEGO paradise, with three walls covered with clear bins and hoppers of every color of LEGO you could imagine, all illuminated by a lit back wall. We learned this is the Brick Pit where the contestants would run to get the bricks they would need to complete the challenges.

We were introduced to Brent Benedetti, supervising producer for the show. Brent and his co-supervising producer, Christian Heaton, have the job that we all would surely love – creating the challenges for the LEGO Masters contestants. He said he was referred to as the Challenge Master.

Brent provided us with a walking interview as he showed off the Brick Pit, an area under a raised walkway we walked through earlier. He eagerly explained the organization of the elements that he created, with the main bulk of brick housed in 30 cabinets of drawers, and each cabinet holding five drawers each. Every drawer contained up to eight different elements.

The more common elements like simple plates and brick were located on the left and got more specialized as you move across the room to the right, going from jumpers to Technic to specialty parts like animals, minifigures and more. Brent mentioned that depending on the challenge, they would swap out specialty parts needed for a particular theme of an episode. One thing we noticed wasn’t in the Brick Pit? Duplo.

Above the cabinets, even more hoppers of colored LEGO bricks were available, though only the lower two rows were considered fair game for the competition. The higher rows were set dressing to make the area look more impressive and because they were high for the contestants to reach. Two circular stands punctuated each side of the room and were filled with basic bricks, serving as focal points and almost seeming like never-ending fountains of LEGO.

Brent explained that at the beginning of the show, each contestant team received a “brick key” guide to the sorting system that was available to reference off-camera that served as a handy guide as to what was in each drawer. He said that the contestants took a few episodes to get acquainted with the system, but then were able to use it fairly naturally as filming progressed.

We asked Brent about his favorite drawer of elements, and he walked directly to the minifigure section, saying it was the most popular part of the Brick Pit with the crew. During breaks in filming, the crew could often be found huddled in this area, building sigfigs of themselves.

Standing in the middle of the Brick Pit, Brent informed us that it housed more than 3.3 million bricks, with some of that amount still being sorted back into the hoppers after previous challenges. (Read our interview with the producers to find out more about the challenges.)

A staircase off to the side of the Brick Pit led to a raised platform used by judges to survey the room during the competition. The staircase was styled to look like stacked LEGO and led to the second floor filled with more hoppers of colorful bricks. According to Brent, the upstairs area was not considered a viable option for the contestant to retrieve bricks and was included to provide a consistent look across the entire area. One other eye-catching area of the Brick Pit was a two-story-tall minifig display case that contained more than 5,000 unique minifigs (again, used for set dressing and not by the contestants).

The height of the upstairs area gave us a great vantage point of the entire set, which was currently set up with six tables–presumably, there were more tables in the room earlier in the season.

Heading into the main competition area, Brent shared with us that all of the building for the LEGO Masters competition happened there in the room. While contestants were free to research ideas, building techniques, or look at concepts from their previous builds while they weren’t on set, they were not allowed to bring anything from home or take anything out of the competition space.

He showed us the large building tables which could change heights, including a center section that could be raised or lowered even more. Each table was on wheels that could lock into place, so the contestants could move their LEGO creations as needed. (I personally thought the raised lighting strips on the floor could quickly derail a moving LEGO build–not to mention any loose parts the wheels ran over–but concluded that would just be additional challenges for the builders to overcome.)

While all building was intended to take place around these tables where the majority of cameras were set up, Brent said they encountered a problem where contestants would get so absorbed in their building that they would stand in the Brick Pit and test and build a few concepts. The crew had to continually canvass the area to usher contestants back to their workstations.

The challenges on the show were created by Brent, Christian and their team in coordination with the judges and producers. (Read our interview with the judges here.) Brent was already an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) prior to working on the show, and that he converted Christian into one during the show’s production run. Brent explained that having AFOLs on the production team helped them know what kinds of LEGO activities were popular at fan conventions and other AFOL gatherings.

He said that activities like blind builds and quick builds were what inspired the show, and the LEGO Masters challenges drew inspiration from those, but taking them to a new extreme level. Brent assured us that by having such deep AFOL experience on the team, there was no problem coming up with enough challenges for the first season–and that they had enough ideas throughout the show’s filming to populate several more seasons with fresh, interesting and exciting challenges.

Speaking of AFOLs, each of the challenges was tested ahead of time by Brent and a few other AFOLs to see how they would work. The testers were given the exact parameters and rules of the challenge as they would be given to the contestants and then sent off under the same time constraint to see what they could do. Based on the testers’ performance and feedback, Brent and Christian learned whether they needed to add more time to a challenge or perhaps reduce the allotted time to make things more interesting–or even provide different instructions to clarify expectations and set up the contestants for success.

We were curious about what happened to the LEGO creations after the contestants had finished and were judged, as we didn’t see much evidence of anything that had been already built. (As we’ve seen in some of the trailers, some of the builds meet a rather violent end by being dropped from the balcony, hit by a baseball bat, or even blown up with explosives!) The creations that didn’t meet a destructive end and weren’t saved for marketing purposes headed to the “Brick Separators.” Brent showed us a tent outside where a team of a dozen people would work 12-hour days, sometimes 5-6 days a week, tearing apart builds, sorting through the brick and then replenishing the Brick Pit.

The tent wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the set, with large LEGO sorting heads used for a quick first pass, then hard manual labor to sort the rest into plastic containers before being run back to the drawers and hoppers on the set. We noticed several dozen pieces scattered throughout the dusty parking lot that had escaped the Brick Separators and silently mourned their loss as they were eventually swept up and tossed out.

Back in the studio, we toured the far end of the competition area opposite of the Brick Pit. From this perspective, we could see the whole building area, the Brick Pit, balcony and the far room with the large screen. We learned that the overhead hanging bricks changed color to match the lighting scheme, currently set to a bright white.

Wrapping up our tour of the set, we ended at the main focal point—an imposing LEGO Masters logo at the front of the main room. Getting a closer look, we could see it was built of actual LEGO elements, It was built by Nathan Sawaya (brick artist and consulting producer on the show) for filming (read our interview with Nathan).

The wall opens outward in two parts like a sliding door, revealing a brick-built logo on a studded wall atop a case displaying the sigfigs of the contestants on the show (contestants are listed here).

As we moved on to other interviews, the feeling of excitement was palpable in the studio. Everyone seemed to enjoy working on the set and were thrilled for the show to start airing in February. From our perspective, LEGO Masters is being built by a team of dedicated professionals who are passionate about LEGO and hoping that the show will be a hit.

After filming, the studio was still for the first time that day. The cameras were lined up and the theatrical lighting was turned off, revealing more of a greyscale hue and the tall ceiling above.

To end the day, Brent shared a secret with us that all the LEGO brick in the room was going to be put in storage where it would stay, hopefully, until there is a season two. He promised if that happens, all 3.3 million LEGO bricks will be back – and more!

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, and check out these other LEGO Masters articles:

Special thanks to Brickset and their news editor MeganL with whom we collaborated with on this series of articles. We were able to bring you more complete and in-depth coverage by sharing our interview time on the LEGO Masters set.