Posted on Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
In August 2013, I flew to Detroit Michigan to visit the set of Michael Bay‘s Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. You can read about what I learned on the visit here. While on set, we also got a chance to talk to the cast and crew. We’ll be posting those interviews throughout the week. First up is our roundtable interview with director Michael Bay. We were able to grab some time with the director in between shots as the crew reloaded explosives and reconfigured elaborate tentpole action set-ups. He got pulled away a couple times for production, so some of his answers end abruptly. That said, it’s a good interview and a great glimpse inside the mind of one of the biggest working action directors of our time (or should I say of our age?). Read our Michael Bay Transformers 4 interview after the jump.
Question: Is this a slow day for you?
Michael Bay: No, it feels like we’re working 40 a week. The movie’s going great. It’s a very fresh new vibe. I’ll show you a sizzle reel, this thing I do for studios. … I think when you see it, you kind of understand how there’s no more Transformers. Everyone’s like, “What do you mean, ‘No Transformers?’” You know? But I think the writers found a really clever way how to make it start a whole new chapter.
Do you feel reinvigorated on this one?
Bay: Yeah! I’m having a really good time on this.
It feels like it’s a new movie?
Bay: Yeah, it really does. And I really love working with Mark [Wahlberg]; I’m glad we could do this together. I think these two young actors I’ve got are really, really good. Working with Kelsey Grammer.
You should get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the sequel, for 5.
Bay: Yeah, right?
He’s really great at showing up in the fifth part of a franchise.
Bay: During Pain & Gain, they both took me aside and were like, “Hey, so, are we going to be in Transformers?” “Hey, Mike, how about Transformers?” Yeah it was fun.
We’re starting to get hints of what it’s about, we know that the plot is on lockdown, but Lorenzo teased some father-figure elements…
Bay: You’ll get some of the sense of that … but they are not easy movies to do. [laughs] Today’s easier.
It’s not a bad slow day when you’ve got all these explosions going on.
Bay: Yeah, but you know, yesterday was 200 extras, a lot of them don’t speak English. Great extras though. … Sometimes it’s easier for me to operate […] down where the robots are, you know?
What were you getting on the hand-held camera?
Bay: I was shooting robots in the yard. [laughs]
Are you shooting digital or film?
Bay: We’re shooting Red. We mix it, but now what we’re doing is, we’re the first movie to do IMAX 3D, the new digital camera is a million dollars. It’s a crazy, crazy camera.
I wouldn’t want to hold a million dollars…
Bay: No, it’s good.
You were a big film guy though…
Bay: I am. I love film. I’m still shooting on it, but the reality is that the labs are basically all shutting down, and there’s basically one lab. Fujifilm doesn’t exist anymore. Kodak, they’re bankrupt. Know what I’m saying? They’re not maintaining their film cameras now. It’s sadly over.
So since you’re shooting on digital, do you have any kind of animatic that overlaps while you’re looking at the shot?
Bay: Oh, no, you just kind of memorize it or whatever. I don’t actually look at my animatics a lot. They’re very elaborate, but I burn em in, and I bring notes.
What made you want to come back and do another one?
Bay: The real truth? I went to the ride, and I saw a three-hour line. It was around the fuckin’ block. You see all these kids and families, and then I went to the one in Singapore, and I’m like, “Fuck!” To just hand this over to somebody? You know what I’m saying? What I want to do is really set it up and … the bottom line, if someone would take it over, you would get a director who doesn’t do a lot of these movies, you’ll probably get a B star, you know what I’m saying? So, on Pain & Gain, it kinda came together. We started working on a script, and then by bringing Mark on this, that’s what made it fun for me. It’s a better way to set it up. And we redesigned all the robots, everything is new from top to bottom. You come into the franchise, you have to redesign everything. … It’s overwhelming because you have to start in August, designing, all the way to the shoot.
Do you feel like you’re approaching this differently?
Bay: We’re trying to do a lot of different stuff. This is not as different, but there’s a really funny character, this guy who’s fighting in here, he’s called Hound. He drips bullets. He’s literally got every gun known to mankind. He’s grizzled. He’ll fight when you tell him to fight, and he’s fighting down to the very, very, very last round of every gun, all the way down to a little Swiss Army knife [laughs] He’s a really funny character. The robots on this one have more character.
Was that one taken at all from the toys? Because that Hound was a Jeep.
Bay: Yeah, we just … he’s kinda fat, he’s a fat guy but he’s like a ballerina with guns, you know what I’m saying? [laughs] He’s just funny. He chomps on a bullet. That’s actually how he kills one of the guys. He’s lying down and he has nowhere to go, but he’s got this bullet in his mouth. He spits it up, puts it back in his mouth, and shoots the shell right into the guy’s face. He bites it and it blows up the head.
For stuff like that, do you feel pressure to always have to outdo yourself?
Bay: Yeah, in action you want to do new stuff, try new elements.
[Bay got pulled away to direct, coming back later for more]
Bay: Some stuff that’s really geared for 3D. Some great flying stuff in Hong Kong.
This one also seems more grounded.
Bay: Right. I wanted to go back to more down-home. They wanted me not to go to Texas, and I said, “Fuck it. I’m going to Texas.” There’s a shot of Texas because there’s no more down-home place, you know what I’m saying? I wanted this really simple life … the idea was to start with an innocent, simple life and they’re just going on a ride that takes them to such a different world. My thing was, you can’t just … we couldn’t go around just replacing the kids, you know what I’m saying? So my idea was to backdoor it, kind of like have the father who’s a thinker, you know, Mark, and then we’ll introduce the kids that way. No matter who you brought in, they’re just going to compare him to Shia [LaBeouf], and Shia was just like lightning in a bottle, because he’s just that … back then, he was just that funny … he was the only kid who could do stuff like that.
Was it during Pain & Gain that you got the idea to use Mark?
Bay: We didn’t know exactly. We were toying around with different story ideas. But I knew that I wanted to go with the father-daughter thing. So I knew that, but Mark was the one who brought it up.
Do you feel like the humor’s more understated this time around?
Bay: Yeah, yeah. It’s still fun, but it’s more serious, and we’re playing it like people are going to die.
In what way did you want to evolve the robots or make them different?
Bay: I wanted to give them stronger characters. I wanted to focus on just the few robots and give them much more character.
In your experience working on the films from Transformers to Transformers 4, did you want to make a more focused, realistic, grittier movie?
Bay: Yeah, movie franchises have to grow up a little bit. You start off kind of like fun, trying to figure out what it was, you know what I’m saying? That kind of setup. But I like it a little bit more grounded. Still fun, but grounded.
So Shia’s not in this, other previous cast isn’t in this, but are we going to learn where they are in this world? Or is that completely off?
Bay: That’s a really good question, too. We learn from the robots what’s going on, and we set you up in the movie with what’s gone on the past four years. This literally takes … however long ago the Chicago battle happened, that’s when this movie starts. I think we’re saying it’s actually been three years. We might reference the Sam character in some tiny way, but right now he’s not in the script.
Speaking of the robots, we got a chance to check out the cars – which are beautiful, by the way – so what was the process of looking for the characters of the bots that you wanted to focus on, and matching them up with cars as different as the Oshkosh vs the Bugatti?
Bay: Well, honestly, it has just been the weirdest experience, because the car companies all heard we were doing it. Literally, I’m not kidding you, Swiss Auto Show, Frankfurt, my office. Swear to God, they would fly these cars to my office. It was just crazy. We’ve got this Bugatti in there, and this truck, and everyone’s like, “What is this?” [laughs] And then we get the Pagani [Huayra] which is like $1.7 million. And I’m like, “Well, you can’t be in any other movies. If you to be a part of this, you can’t be in any other movies.”
I saw one of the clapboards. The robots themselves seem more streamlined. Is that a byproduct of just a few years passing and the technology’s improved?
Bay: What do you mean “streamlined”?
I don’t know, sort of rounder.
Bay: Eh, he might just be heavyset. [laughs] But, no, they’ve done a lot of detail. There’s a lot of detail.
Do you feel like the designs of these are markedly different from before?
Bay: Yeah, even Optimus feels different. Bumblebee feels different.
What prompted that decision?
Bay: It’s almost like, I kept saying, “Batman needs a new suit.” It’s time to kinda change it up. We learn a lot more about the Transformer world in this one.
With the 3D IMAX camera, is there anything fun or exciting about it that you’ve discovered?
Bay: First of all, it’s really good 3D. Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t care what you say, but just doing it on the cheap and converting it is never as good. Most of these movies that were shot in 3D in the summer, most of them converted.
What makes the IMAX camera better?
Bay: Just the technology. The contrast of it is really rich. It’s also the resolution, it’s so beyond anything else.