/Film Interview: ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ Producer Talks Cybertron, Hot Rod, Dinobots, and the Ending
Posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by Germain Lussier
There’s a very short list of Hollywood producers who are names unto themselves. On that list is Lorenzo di Bonaventura, of both the G.I. Joe and Transformers franchises. He’s also the producer of Salt, Red, Side Effects, Jack Ryan, Beverly Hills Cop 4 and more. The guy is a proven hit-maker with a great handle on the pulse of mainstream audiences.
His latest film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is more of the same. Despite being savaged by critics, audiences are once again turning out for the franchise. On the occasion of that release, we had the pleasure of speaking with di Bonaventura about a few things. We talked about producing for Michael Bay, and the choice of using Dinobots not only in the film, but in the marketing as well. I asked about the length of the film, the inevitability of Bay leaving the franchise, and what the ending of this film means for Transformers 5, currently slotted for 2016. Finally, I just had to ask about my favorite Transformer, Hot Rod. Read all his answers below in our full interview with Transformers: Age of Extinction producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
/Film: Congrats on the movie, I’m sure it looks like the finish line is finally here.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: Thank goodness.
Now this is the end, but take me back to the beginning. When you sit down to produce a movie like this, is there any limit to how much you can spend, considering the success of the franchise?
Oh yeah. Yeah. No studio will give you unlimited. There’s no question each one has gotten more expensive. But, you know, both Michael and I are businessmen as well as filmmakers. So we understand the equation. We’re don’t just think “Okay, we get as much money as we can, We could do whatever we want.” You know, we put our own constraints on ourselves in a way.
Where do you say “This is where we don’t wanna skimp and this is where we can skimp?”
Well, I mean, having done a bunch, we know how many shots will accomplish how many visual action sequences. So we say to ourselves, “All right, we’re gonna force ourselves to stay within a certain number of visual effects shots.” And by doing that, you keep yourself in a sense as your own monitor. Cause you then design the scenes so that you’re using the proper amount of shots. And there’s always a little flexibility in that, but, you know, we’ll keep a five percent flexibility or something.
What was the first idea for this fourth movie? Was it something that Ehren Kruger had pitched or was it something Michael or you came up with?
Well, I mean, let’s back up ’cause one of the interesting things is with this we’ve done so many. There are ideas that come up along the way that sometimes just don’t fit the movie and that sort of stick with us. One of the things that stuck with us from the beginning was the Dinobots. And we always heard the fans. The fans wanted to see them. We thought they were cool. But we didn’t wanna just put them into a movie because we could. We wanted to find a really good idea. And we never found a good idea until this one. So the notion of the Age of Extinction that somehow you can track Transformers to this world and connect them to the dinosaurs and then to the present day sense of extinction, that this is our mode of extinction. That is what got us really going. That was sort of I’ll say the one of the primary ideas that got us excited.
And what usually happens in these situations is I don’t know that I can literally say it’s one person’s [idea] or the others. My recollection is that part of it was Ehren, but again, when you’ve talked about [Dinobots] for three, four movies, it’s hard to determine who comes up with what when, you know?
You tease them at the beginning, but they’re sort of a third act reveal. How was the decision made to make them front and center in the marketing even though that is almost a “spoiler?”
Yeah, they’re just too cool not to have used them in the marketing I think. And I think one of the very hard things about making any of these big movies, but Transformers in particular has a big fan base, is everybody’s searching out all the information. So we were able to keep them down for a while but eventually it spilled out and so there was sort of no point in hiding it anymore.
And we really believe, I don’t think we just believe, I think we’re right, and I think any filmmaker will tell you the same, the element of surprise is one of the fundamental elements of entertainment. To say “Oh my God, I didn’t see that coming!” you know? And so we’re constantly trying to keep the ideas of it undercover, because we want audiences to go there for the first time and go “Holy cow.”
And while I did know the Dinobots were there, I didn’t know 95 percent of the plot of the actual movie. So you guys definitely hid stuff well.
We try to. I think people think we’re doing it just to be a pain in the ass. But we really have a belief that it’s good to go there and be surprised by certain turns in the plot. And if you know them ahead of time then, you know, the movie’s structurally boring if you know too much.
Age of Extinction is the longest of the franchise running at 165 minutes. Moving forward, is there any way or could you even make a shorter movie or do you sort of now have this built in fan expectation for a two-hour-plus, massive movie?
I think a couple things are at work. One is we have so many ideas it’s hard to [fit them all in]. And the other is, the truth is Michael likes long movies. And if you look at all of his movies, they tend to be long. Not just the Transformers movies, you know. So I think that’s what he likes to do and I think, you know, hoping he stays with the franchise, we’ll probably have another long movie.
Few filmmakers really stay with a franchise this long. Hypothetically, Bay is eventually going to leave at some point. My question is, what happens at that point? Do you think there’s a filmmaker who can step into his shoes?
I wouldn’t wanna be them, but there will be somebody. I think the opportunity’s too great. My suspicion is, without having thought really about it at all, cause I really want Michael to return, I think Michael’s found the right mix for this franchise. So the sense of humor, obviously the scale. The invention that’s going on, all these things he really likes and clearly has found a way to continue to top himself. But, you know, I guess if you had to think about who would be the next one, my guess is it would be somebody who probably was a kid who watched the show as a kid…
Like what they’re doing at Lucasfilm.
…Because then they’ll have a fundamental understanding of the D.N.A. in a way. And are able to bring that thing that you have when you’ve grown up with it. It sinks into you in a different way.
BEGIN SPOILERS FOR TRANSFORMERS 4
Jumping to the end of the movie, while we don’t know if Michael’s coming back, “Transformers on Earth” is his aesthetic. Based on the ending, we could see another world in this next movie, which is a place a filmmaker could potentially build a new aesthetic. Do you think that might be an entry point for a new filmmaker?
I don’t know. But I do know this. Michael and Steven [Spielberg] and myself have all talked about the fact that we wanna try and keep this whole thing Earth-based. So I wouldn’t make any presumption that we’re gonna do some large scale outer space kind of thing.
Is there a chance that we’ll finally get to see Cybertron? Even if not in this next movie, then at some point?
The honest truth is we’ve never looked past the movie we’re working on. Because it’s so hard to make these movies, you know?
And we’re dealing with a lot of ideas. As I said, along the way that there’s ideas. Of course we’ve talked about Cybertron. Of course we’ve talked about different things. But usually what we do is we let the movie go out, we let the audience judge it, we kind of then hear what the audience really responded to or not. We have ideas that we think really appeal to us that we’ve been storing up, if you would. And then we’ll start experimenting. But right now I don’t think any of us have a clue where we’re going. Maybe Ehren does and has kept it to himself. Because he knows none of us wants to talk about it until later.
This movie definitely teases things to come, such as Lockout’s plan and Optimus flying into space, maybe Cybertron. These things were certainly put in there as potential ways to go, right?
We didn’t put it in that for that intention. It’s interesting because when you come up with… we’ll go back to the original question about the Dinobots. We come up with the Dinobots and then you come up with the idea that somebody has predicted their extinction, well then who is that? So it’s sort of a progression that occurs. You know, I think from our point of view, it’s interesting that you would pursue Cybertron. Cause I have to say you’re not wrong. But I don’t assume that where he’s headed is Cybertron. As far as I know from the mythology, I don’t know about the creators living in Cybertron.
END SPOILERS FOR TRANSFORMERS 4
I’m a huge Hot Rod fan. Do you have a chance to bring Hot Rod in at some point?
[Laughs] As you know, we always introduce new characters. The tricky part is if you introduce too many, the narrative starts falling apart. But he’s definitely a character we like too is the answer to that. But until we know the story, it’s hard to say what’ll come in and what won’t.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is now in theaters.