Justin McAleece hopes his new film “Brick Madness,” which was shot in Fresno, will be picked up by streaming services Netflix or Hulu.
Written by Ben Keller
Local filmmaker Justin McAleece wasn’t jumping on the Lego bandwagon when he dreamed up his new film “Brick Madness” around eight years ago.
Long before 2014’s “The Lego Movie” and its successor “The Lego Batman Movie,” the 38-year-old filmmaker had a different take on the popular toy that explores a stylized version of the builders’ subculture that’s just as heartwarming and humorous as it is eccentric.
In his mockumentary, McAleece follows documentary filmmaker Cedric Donovan (played by Robin Steffen) who begrudgingly takes a job from the fictional Brix Corporation capturing scenes at the national Lego-inspired Bricks competition in Fresno.
Along the way, Donavan interviews many of the contestants, including Brick-building underdog Seth Paxson (Matthew Albrecht), who must defeat the arrogant six-time Brick champion Ricky 6 (Anthony Taylor) in order to reclaim his school outreach charity and clear the name of the former fallen champion turned recluse Max Grand (Alan Agazarian).
Eventually, Donavan loses his distaste for the characters he once sees as kooky and comes to admire their creations on an artistic level.
“At the end of the day it’s a heartwarming, fun, entertaining story about some people you would not think are that,” said McAleece, co-founder of Fresno film production company BLARE Media that produced the movie. “Because it’s a subculture that you would think would be boring and nerdy and it’s not that way at all.”
Besides Lego fans, McAleece said the movie should be appealing to anyone living around Fresno where much of the filming took place.
The Paul Shagoian Concert Hall in Clovis, for instance, provides the backdrop for the competition, although scenes inside the exhibit hall were actually shot at the Bricks by the Bay Lego convention in Santa Clara.
Several Fresno actors are featured as well, as are actual Lego builders who were on hand during the convention.
Some may also recognize child actor Jadon Sand, who voiced a character in “The Lego Movie” and plays Max Grand’s nephew in “Brick Madness.”
McAleece said he isn’t tying any of his ideas to the recent boom in Lego’s popularity. But he isn’t letting loose of its coattails either.
“Lego as a company has had their revenues increase five times since 2009 when we thought of the movie,” McAleece said. “That obviously had nothing to do with us but this is a high point by a huge amount, so that’s been pretty cool.”
However, unlike the Lego movies and a few documentaries made about the toy, McAleece said he didn’t want to appear promotional with his latest project.
For one thing, Brix is a fictional trademark and Lego, while big on conventions, doesn’t sponsor tournaments or competitions. Plus, being shot in mockumentary style means McAleece could use poetic license and satire to present a more comical, fun view of the brick building community.
“It was a lot easier to be able to create our own world in terms of having control over all of those things and being able to come up with a different version of it,” he said. “If we did actual Lego, then we’d have to work around what that world actually is.”
While in talks with a number of distributors, McAleece said he ultimately plans to target streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu to include Brick Madness in their listings.
He added that he would also like to play the film at Lego conventions around the country where it might have a bigger following.
Brick Madness premieres to the public Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tower Theatre in Fresno.
Students 18 and under and subscribers to Community Media Access Collaborative get in for $10.
DVD and Blue Ray copies of the film should be available for purchase at the screening as well.