Rich Kim has directed a wide range of reality television since 2003, with credits including The Simple Life, The Real World, Project Runaway and MasterChef, but Kim recently earned his first Outstanding Directing for a Reality Program Emmy nomination for Fox’s newest competition series LEGO Masters. Kim spoke to Awards Daily about the joys of working on LEGO Masters, which was an entirely different experience, and how host Will Arnett made the experience more enjoyable that normal.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your first Emmy Award nomination for LEGO Masters! Were you expecting this at all?
Rich Kim: No! Not at all, it was a total and complete surprise. I feel like a lot of times the same shows get nominated, and first season shows don’t necessarily get nominated, so I was surprised and grateful and thankful for this opportunity. It was some much needed good news in this bad news cycle.
AD: I’m a huge LEGO Masters fan and I loved the show. As soon as I heard Fox was coming out with a competition reality show involving LEGO builders, I know I would be instantly hooked – and I was! How exactly did you become involved with the LEGO Masters development at Fox? Were you a big LEGO player as a child or was this a world entirely new to you?
RK: Of course I played with LEGO throughout my childhood, I was obsessed like so many other kids! As I got older, I outgrew them a bit and dabbled in other things like arts, sports and other things. Back then, for me at least, it was considered more of a toy whereas now LEGO are completely different. People have discovered the engineering and arts side of it, but for me when I was younger I felt like I had moved on. However, I’ve always had a place in my heart for LEGO and when social media started happening, I started noticing there were a lot of Instagram accounts that were dedicated to LEGO, so I started following them like crazy, even before LEGO Masters came into existence. I was really interested in this LEGO architecture that was happening, especially the mid-century architecture. I was tracking it out of my own curiosity and interest.
For me, LEGO Masters happened through the production company Endemol Shine North America. For Endemol, I was doing MasterChef and while I was directing MasterChef season 10 one of the executives at Endemol gave me the heads up there was a show coming up. LEGO Masters. The contracts weren’t signed yet and there wasn’t a home for it at the time, but it was close. I was like “that’s the show I want to do!” I kind of got in early with the show, even before it was officially sold, so I pushed my way in and locked up a space. I knew that was the kind of show that was not only in my wheelhouse having doing so much process-styled competition shows like MasterChef, Making It, Project Runaway – shows where people are making things and competing to see who’s the best and being eliminated, those are the kind of shows that I hang my hat on and pretty much built my career around. So, when the show finally got greenlit, I was really praying we’d get a showrunner that I knew or I heard of, and just so happened they hired Anthony Dominici, who was a longtime friend and collaborator of mine. Anthony Dominici was the person who actually got me my first job in reality TV. We were at the American Film Institute together and he was directing reality TV a year after we graduated. He hired me to direct The Real World: Chicago and then America’s Next Top Model. He and I have known each other for years, so it was great to be collaborating with him again on this project.
AD: Take me through a day of directing an episode of LEGO Masters, the techniques you use, and what it was like seeing the builders build these LEGO masterpieces right in front of you.
RK: With unscripted television, it’s very difficult to book talent far in advance. A lot of times, our creative isn’t necessary locked in. We may not have a guest judge, or may have you, so the creative doesn’t get locked in until the last minute. For me, a lot my prep needs to happen in a big picture vision, meaning really intimately knowing all the sets, knowing the intricacies of the cast, the intricacies of the technological aspects of the show. That way, I can know and handle whatever comes my way. I like to have a toolbox of different shots and tricks and create ways to execute things. I can have these things and reach into my toolbox every morning to put together the visual aspects for that specific episode. Some episodes, like the pilot and finale I’ll have weeks of prep, but sometime in the middle of a show, I may only have the morning of, so I always have to be ready.
I was really involved with the design of the set from the very early stages. Essentially we built a four-walled set so I could shoot from any angle and it’ll look like an enclosed room. I also built into all of the walls a pulley system so all the walls can fly up and down, almost like a Broadway musical, so I could sneak cameras in and out from multiple levels – from ground level to the second level, and that gave me the opportunity to find all these different shots that I may not have been able to find otherwise., setting LEGO Masters apart from the traditional reality TV show set.
AD: How was it directing and having so much footage? You had 10 sets of contestants, building for 8, 10 or 12 hours at a time? How did you know what to capture on film?
RK: The show is being edited simultaneously while we’re shooting. I’m not going through and editing the footage, but what I am doing is going through and trying to predict the footage that they’ll need. All that comes from developing a sense of story and predicting when a story will and will not happen. Knowing the cast and characters, knowing what their idiosyncrasies are, studying what their strengths and their weakness are – studying that and having a character study of that before I even start shooting. Then trying to predict where these things are going to happen. It’s absolute chaos in the room – 10 teams competing, everyone’s running around, there are 15 cameras all shooting at once, 250 crew members running around the set, but knowing and seeing that something is about to happen that we can built a story arc through that episode is what we need to know how to cover that and give enough footage where that can be edited.
If you look at the Mega City episode when the tower fell, which was in every single commercial, we knew to track that! We knew exactly how to build that spider web of coverage so we wouldn’t miss anything monumental like that. When the drama happened afterwards with their breakdown, we knew we had to cover that even though they essentially went off stage – that was something we knew had to be incorporated into the episode!
AD: As you’ve mentioned, you’ve directed a wide range of reality shows like America’s Next Top Model, The Real World and MasterChef. What made LEGO Masters stand out from everything else you’ve directed?
RK: The number one thing in my opinion that made LEGO Masters stand out is Will Arnett! He was booked later in the process and since this was his first reality show, I’m not sure if he knew what he was really getting himself into. But he was the best! He’s so funny, so professional and so kind. He’s genuinely a dream to work with! He also knows how to roll with the punches and makes things work! The show really hangs its hat on Will Arnett’s talent. In addition to having voiced the LEGO movies, it was the perfect connection for brand, the fans and the contestants. He was absolutely perfect, and that’s the difference!