LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales: Interview with David Shayne & Ken Cunningham
We here at Friends of the Force are ready for spooky season, and, as Star Wars fans, we are kicking it off by enjoying LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales, out now on Disney+! Along with other fan outlets, we had the opportunity to interview David Shayne and Ken Cunningham, writer and director of LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales.
Below, we share the questions that we asked alongside other fan sites and podcasters. We discussed what it was like to create a spooky Halloween special in the LEGO style, the importance one of new characters Dean, and what David and Ken learned from working on both the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) and this year's Terrifying Tales! No tricks here, just treats!
Interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Friends Of The Force: Star Wars is something that has been around for over 40 years and with that comes its own mythology and sensibilities. How did you go about balancing the trademark zany humor of the LEGO brand, with the spooky elements of Halloween, all within that Star Wars sensibility, both from the writing to the direction and visual style?
David Shayne: That’s a great question, Sarah. The LEGO Star Wars brand has been around, I want to say, off the top of my head around 20 years, so we are standing on the shoulders of giants going all the way back when people introduced the video games and certainly the previous specials, so by this point a lot of that groundwork has been laid out for us which is really fun. I always say that LEGO Star Wars is canon adjacent so we’re trying to honor canon, you know we’re using real characters from canon. We try to respect the timeline and all that and then obviously take it to a silly and fun and fun, whimsical LEGO place. That becomes the leap-off. The interesting thing for us is that with Halloween we got to push that even a little further. I think we got to a little sillier and a little weirder because it’s Halloween and you can do these Simpsons-style Treehouse of Horror stories so those 3 minis stories within the special let us even push a little bit further and go to some bizarre but hopefully funny places! We do all that in the script and then we record it and then we hand it off to Ken!
Ken Cunningham: Yeah I mean I really approach this still like I’m in an actual, I’m shooting a real film in a LEGO world. Like that to me informs a lot of the choices I make. And then, David said on this one, we just at all these horror films and bring all this stuff in and then trying to find the line of how scary you go because obviously our demo is not a typical horror demo. The comedy and the LEGO itself lets us push a little further than you would normally because the humor of LEGO undercuts it. Visually the big one for me is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That film is very theatrical in the way it uses lighting. I then brought that to my art director and was like “Dude, this is what I want to do '' and then that sprangboard us where we use color as a storytelling tool.
FOTF : I want to ask about the character of Dean. What inspired him, because he’s so pivotal to the story and he’s such a fun character. Especially because he has such a close relationship with Poe. What inspired that character and did you also pull from any other mentor/mentee relationships in Star Wars? Especially coming off the Sequel Trilogy where Poe and Leia have that mentorship and he’s passing on that baton to the next generation.
DS: Yeah I think you really got that right. Dean came about in part -- often particularly in LEGO and in Star Wars it’s nice to have a kid’s point of entry so he was a really good character to have and it was fun to let to sort of contrast him with Poe who is all swagger and confidence and watch Poe kind of learn, “Okay, you don’t have to be the coolest guy in the room and being vulnerable is okay” and Dean learning from Poe that even the person you think is always brave and is never scared? They get scared too and that’s okay. I do think that some of that comes from Poe growing as a leader, which was a journey we got to see - as you put it really well - in the Sequel Trilogy. It was really fun and it was fun watching Jake and Rafael actually in part we got to - all these records going over zoom during the pandemic - have them working off each other a little bit and they had insta-chemisty.
KC: Yeah it was great.
DS: It was very sweet, their relationship was really very sweet, it was fun to watch them do that.
FOTF: What was it like to return to the LEGO Star Wars world after having worked on the LEGO Holiday Special last year and did you learn anything in that particular process that allowed you to have an even better process this go-round?
KC: Yeah, David do you want to go because there's like the writing side and then I could speak to the production and the bigger picture COVID production side.
DS: Yeah I mean it was so thrilling to get asked back. The Holiday Special was such a dream project. It was like bringing the band back together. It was the entire same team from Lucasfilm and from LEGO and we knew we were working with Atomic again. I think what’s really nice is a bunch of - Josh Rimes, James Waugh, Leland Chee, and Jason Cosler - I’m going to end up leaving out names so I’ll stop. It's just an enormous amount of fun to get to work with all of them and when you do it again you have a little bit shorthand, a little bit of a creative shorthand, and something that they’d have to explain to me or I’d have to explain my intent and you just start to get it, and you get each other’s rhythms. Frankly, it makes it easier and that ended up being really vital because I was looking back and I literally started pitching this about a week after lockdown had started. So know knowing that we were doing this all from “the comfort of our own homes'' meant that having a shorthand was vital. Time was short, we have a pretty fast production schedule. Ken, I'm curious about the production side.
KC: Again, like you said, getting to be asked back was absolutely so great. I don’t know what I'll do after we don’t have this stuff to work on. In terms of the COVID thing, we were in the middle of the Holiday Special and I think we had just entered layout, which is essentially go from boards to 3d assets and start to put the camera together and block the shots out and stuff. The team, we all got sent home and I essentially started directing [over Zoom] and that brought on a whole bunch of challenges. What was nice about Terrifying Tales was that we kind of had gone though that already and now it’s old hat. We worked through all the problems and communication issues and how to keep a team motivated when they’re by themselves from home and just how to communicate everything that has to get communicated and keep the ball rolling.. By the time we went into Terrifying Tales we had worked all that stuff out and now it’s running really smoothly.
For more sweet treats, including our reaction and review of LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales as well as the entire roundtable interview featuring all of the questions asked, check out our latest podcast episode here! We want to send sincere thanks to Lucasfilm for inviting us to this roundtable. Thankfully, no (Force) ghosts interrupted the internet connection!
Sarah Hass is a co-host on Friends of the Force a co-creator of #RememberingResistance Day. When she's not annoying Brad by keeping him on the Zoom meeting longer than either of them intended, you can find her nonsensical ramblings on her twitter @seh221 and her book-related musings on Instagram at @sarahspuzzledpages.