10K Club Interview: Meet Jason Middaugh of The Lego Christmas Story House
10K Club Interview: Meet Jason Middaugh of The Lego Christmas Story House
This week's 10K Club member, Jason Middaugh a.k.a. twrt0es, brought the iconic Christmas Story House to life in LEGO bricks through his project The Lego Christmas Story House. For Jason the journey of this project was a family undertaking supported greatly by his wife and daughter and one through which they created many unforgettable memories together, including numerous appearances on news shows!
Help us congratulate Jason on joining the exclusive LEGO Ideas 10K Club and for sharing his story with us!
- Where are you from?
Syracuse, NY (USA).
- How old are you?
42 years old.
- What do you study or do for a living?
I currently work for a major manufacturing company as an Operations Program Manager in replacement parts distribution.
- What hobbies do you have?
I am a fan of music and play in a rock ‘n roll cover band. In the spring and summer, I play baseball in a men’s (senior) baseball league. I have always enjoyed learning about history, so reading non-fiction and traveling whenever possible to historic sites with my family is a passion as well. Of course, I love the bond that I have with my 9-year-old daughter creating with LEGO bricks, so with this project we were able to combine that with our love for movies.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
I don’t know that I can remember a time when I was young that I did not have an interest in LEGO. In the movie “A Christmas Story”, all Ralphie wants for Christmas is a toy BB gun, and I suppose that each year as a child, a different LEGO set would become my proverbial toy BB gun. My story is probably not unlike so many others on LEGO Ideas. As I grew up, my interests were distracted, but when I saw that same excitement in my daughter for LEGO, I was immediately drawn back. This time around, I discovered that I now had the ability to actually create a toy for my own child.
^ Jason and his family display their model at Santa's Workshop amusement park
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
When the Café Corner set came out 10 years ago, my wife purchased it for me. At the time, we did not have any children, and I decided to put it aside for the time being. About 2 years ago, I cracked it open with my daughter, and we put it together. After discovering how rare it was and kicking myself for opening the long-retired set, I realized that it represented a whole new way of how to create with LEGO bricks. It ultimately put me on the road to creating A LEGO Christmas Story House as a modular, playable LEGO Ideas project.
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
I think that the 1x1 headlight (SNOT) piece is a great element because of the possibilities for which it allows. With the open back, hole through the side stud, coupled with an offset, some of the trickiest challenges can be addressed in the most creative ways using that piece.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
Robert Bontenbal (RobenAnne) has basically created a nautical modular LEGO genre with multiple projects reaching the 10K mark (including 3 in this review period alone) and, of course, the Old Fishing Store is already an official LEGO Ideas set. What an amazing, inspirational accomplishment.
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
BrickNerd is a fantastic site, and “A Christmas Story” happens to be one of Tommy’s all-time favorite movies. He even broke with the site’s normal policy to feature our LEGO Ideas project while it was collecting support, which was a great honor. Of course, there would have been no way to build the set without Brinklink, so that is probably the most visited non-official LEGO website for me.
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
“A Christmas Story” is a film that has seemingly defied logic since its release in theatres in 1983, as a movie that is somehow more popular every year. For the past 20 years (since 1997), it has been played for 24 hours straight starting on Christmas Eve, and with more than 50 million viewers annually (just in that 24 hour window), it has become the soundtrack of Christmas for so many. In 2006, the actual house from the movie (located in Cleveland, Ohio [USA]) was purchased by a fan, renovated, and turned into an incredibly popular museum and tourist attraction that is open year-round to pay homage to “A Christmas Story”. The movie has spawned a Broadway musical, a play, novelty leg lamps, countless books, and other memorabilia. 2018 will mark 35 years since its release, and the timing just seems perfect to merge this classic holiday film with the world’s most iconic toy.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
The physical house from the movie is located in Cleveland, Ohio [USA], but most of the interior scenes were actually filmed in a studio in Toronto, Ontario [Canada], which did not have the same floorplan as the Cleveland house. The initial challenge was to understand the studio layout of the interior and to fit it inside the general frame and shape of the actual house while sticking to a 32x32 LEGO baseplate footprint. The stairs were tricky, as they needed the correct rise, and I wanted to include a few steps to lead down to a basement furnace underneath the main stairway, all while maintaining access through a corner door in the kitchen.One of the most memorable scenes from the movie is when Ralphie’s father receives a “major award” from a mail-in contest. He proudly displays his “leg lamp” prize (i.e. a lamp made from a mannequin leg) in middle of the front room window, and I wanted to create a LEGO version that would light up. The goal was to use a light brick and a switch that would not be visible from the outside, while ensuring easy access to the switch (accomplished through the upstairs window) without impacting the layout of the house.
- How long did it take to complete the model?
The whole model took about 6 months (elapsed time), as it was a just a little side project with my daughter until my wife encouraged me to complete it and get it submitted. In the first couple of weeks of the process, a rough model was created to establish the layout, and it was built with whatever existing pieces that we had. The remaining time was primarily spent waiting for the right pieces to arrive in the mail as I observed my daughter playing with it, making several tweaks for playability and getting it as close to the movie set as possible.
^ A work in progress photo showing how Jason started building his model with the bricks he had before sourcing the correct colours to finalise his model.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes and how long did it take?
Completely surreal. While the project was hovering around 9K, the Associated Press picked up a local story on the project. The prospect of “A Christmas Story” as a LEGO set was then written about in The NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and several others (even in Canada). I then received calls and messages from friends across the country to tell me that they saw me interviewed on TV as NBC National also picked up the story. I never imagined that what started as a fun family project could have generated so much interest and excitement in so many others.
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
The house, minifigures, gifts, etc. represent just under 2000 pieces. I submitted an update with the family car (including the tree tied to the roof and a trunk that opens with a spare tire) and, if it’s included, that would add about another 130 pieces.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
I honestly think that I could write a book about the experience! My first piece of advice is to believe that it IS possible, as I am living proof that literally anyone can do this. I started this project with no personal Facebook page, no Twitter account, no Flickr page, and no other social media experience. I am not an engineer or architect, I am not a photographer, and I have no media or marketing connections. I came to LEGO Ideas with a project that I believed in, and with my family’s effort and public interest in the subject matter, we were able to accomplish what seemed at the outset to be impossible.
Secondly, (and this advice has been given in the past, but I should reiterate it): “know your audience”. Understand that although it is logistically easier to support a project for a person who already has a LEGO Ideas account, that support might be based on an entirely different set of criteria than it is for a supporter that has been recruited. Think about how your project might appeal to those different groups, and stress the characteristics that most appeal to that group when sharing your idea.
Lastly, have realistic expectations and choose your promotion method that best suits you and your project. Before it was officially known as “LEGO Ideas In The Wild”, this was our family’s preferred manner to campaign for our idea (as it is undoubtedly the most fun and rewarding). However, when displaying the model in person, keep in mind that you can only physically talk to so many folks in a day, and they still need to remember to go home and log on to support the project. The most efficient method for obtaining support is definitely through social media, and much of that for our project was realized indirectly through the in-person displays and many news stories about the project.
^ Jason presenting his project and his experience at Brick Fest Live in Philadelphia 2018.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas project (besides your own of course)?
Both my daughter and I really like the Rebuildable Theatre Stage. It is such a fun and playable set, and the builder did a great job on the project!
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
The whole concept of LEGO Ideas is fantastic. Not only is it a platform to hear from fans who propose new ideas, but creators and fans alike become invested in the projects and the process while providing great proofs of concept for LEGO to make informed decisions.
For anyone thinking of uploading an idea, I definitely have some tips based on some fundamental mistakes that I made as well as some things that I did right. I am happy to share.
Firstly, be sure to understand the user experience for supporting your project. The profile picture is the hook that will draw folks to the project, and it will be the picture that is shared every time the link is shared. Be sure that it is the best representation of the project. If I had to do it again, I would have included some minifigures and perhaps some other detail in my project profile photo.
Keep in mind that you cannot change the description and photos once a project is submitted, so be sure that it is exactly how you want it. I realized shortly after submitting, that my project name really should have been “A LEGO Christmas Story House” (instead of “The”) to make it more explicitly obvious in the name that it was the house from the movie. I ultimately needed to submit a project update for that change.
Be descriptive but brief. When I created my project description, added nearly 30 pictures and way too many tags, I never considered that a user supporting on a mobile device would be scrolling through all of that in order to vote. Sometimes less is truly more.Create a communication channel for folks to get in touch with you. This was something that I had inadvertently done when I created the Facebook community page for the project to chronicle the experience. Through that page, I had a Science museum contact me to set up a display, multiple reporters requested interviews, and even TV producers messaged me to ask about the project, in addition to fans who reached out to ask how to help promote the project.
^ Jason presenting his model on one of the TV news stories he participated in. in Cleveland.