'Bumblebee' Producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura On How The New Film Honors Generation 1 Transformers [Interview]

Since leaving Warner Brothers as President of Worldwide Production, producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventure has launched several franchises. The longest running has been the Transformers movies, but he's also been responsible for G.I. Joe, Red and the upcoming Die Hard prequel, McClane.

Bumblebee is the sixth film in the Transformers series, but it's the first not directed by Michael Bay and it's a spinoff that takes place in 1987. When Bumblebee first comes to Earth after the Cybertron wars, he meets 18-year-old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and becomes her first car. Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight is behind the camera this time..

Di Bonaventura spoke with /Film about Bumblebee, the state of the Transformers franchise, and his upcoming projects. Bumblebee is in theaters this Friday.

I, like a lot of fans, loved Bumblebee fighting Nazis in World War II. Do we have to ignore that if he only arrived on Earth in 1987?

Well, listen, there's a couple things in that question. One if the fans really were asking us to do things differently. Part of the reason of going back in time was we wanted to try to delink, if you would, what we'd done before. World War II was the one thing we couldn't figure out. It doesn't mean he couldn't have been here.

Were you able to find a box of Mr. T cereal or did your production designer have to make it?

[Laughs] I don't know the answer to that actually but I thought it was really funny.

I'm sure I ate that.

I have no doubt. We all did.

So why was 1987 the year you decided on?

Well, it was in part because 1986 in a way is a start, if you would, of the movies. In a sense we wanted to do two things. One was honor the beginning and also honor the G1. It was something we've been trying to figure out how to do for a long time. By going back, you could essentially redesign the robots. It's such a rich time period from the point of view of you're not stuck in storytelling with cell phones and all those sort of things which really do create problems. We didn't start by saying, "Let's go to 1987" but as we began to examine the choices we had in front of us, it just seemed like a really great time period to put this into.

I think people will want to see more of Bumblebee and Charlie, so is there room between 1987 and 2007 to revisit them?

20 years, man. Absolutely. I hope so. As you know, the success of the film dictates whether you get to another film. There's plenty to do with the two of them. One of the things I'm really proud of in this movie, one of the hardest things about doing any Transformer movie is you're dealing with these huge beings. What the hell does a human have to do? In this case, because Charlie is so important to Bee's development if you would, she really had a role and then you really accepted the fact of who she was as a character that she could actually try to help at the end.

On the first movie, Spielberg's big note was that it was about a boy and his car. Was there more material to mine for a girl and her car 10 years later?

Yeah, it's a different dynamic to some degree. I would say less about necessarily more or less to mine and more that we wanted to tell an emotional story. That was one of the few things we really said this movie has to do this. We had also done a boy and his car so it was like all right, what about a girl and her car? Why not? It probably helped to have a girl in the sense of the emotional content of it. As we know, they're smarter than us about emotion. I think there's more room. Especially now, Bee had refound himself. I'd be curious to see how they grow up together now.

Were any of the CGI assets from the previous movies viable for this one?

No. Maybe some of the skeletons were but the truth was we were dealing with a different set of scales. There are so many fewer parts to each, on purpose. We wanted to do something where you could really see each part move. Bay's things were great, it was incredible, but we felt like we've all done that, we've seen that and it's great. Now here's the other opportunity to slow it down and see the pieces. So I don't think we used anything from the previous movies.

Was this the first time you'd redesigned in the six films?

No, we kept making Bumblebee slightly different in the films, especially what he looked like as a car. We'd add a detail here and there. He kept evolving but this is the biggest difference. We kept adding new characters so you kept having to do their thing, and Bay is the kind of guy who's not going to rest on his laurels so he's asking them to do more than they ever did in each movie.

Was it any more economical to do a movie with three robots than the ones with dozens and major cities getting destroyed?

Yes, a lot. Listen, I think doing a spinoff or a prequel, or probably both, it meant we were going to have less money. Actually, in some ways that really was a relief because it's a lot of pressure when you're spending big. This is still a very expensive movie so I don't want to make it sound like...

Oh, I'm not saying it looks cheap. It looks as big as the other ones.

I'm glad to hear that. I'm delighted to hear that because we weren't sure. We were trying to do the same scale, if you would, for less money. So it's nice to hear that we accomplished that. It was super fun to look at an action scene with three robots or two. It just was a different context, something we hadn't really done. For those of us who had worked on the previous ones, it was like oh boy, a whole new language. A whole new action language that we could go after. And yet, there were certain things that I think Bay had set the bar pretty high that we had to try to reach to.

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There were moments in the midst of other action scenes where Prime and Megatron would face off. You're saying it was different conceiving a whole scene that was just Bumblebee vs. one other Decepticon?

Yeah, yeah, there are some advantages to having 45 robots in an action sequence. You're going all over the place. It was fun to do it completely different in a way. At the same time, obviously Michael set a great standard so we had to live up to it.

The movies took a while to show Cybertron. Is technology finally to a point where you can have whole scenes on Cybertron?

For sure. The answer is yes. I don't know if it's entirely about the technology. We could have done it in other ways before. It certainly has improved but also I think tonally, because we wanted to go back to Generation 1, it made more sense to go to Cybertron. In the past, we were conscious that that's way out there. We're trying to keep the audience right here which is why we spent the bulk of Cybertron in the very beginning of the film because we don't want you to go, "Wait, where is this movie taking place?"

There were reports the Transformers series would be rebooted. Would you really leave fans hanging on Unicron?

Okay, I'm going to be controversial. I'm not a fan of Unicron. It's too big. It's so big it's beyond any sort of relatable thing I think, for me personally. That doesn't mean it's not going to be in the series someday. Reboot, I always hate that word because for one, I'm not sure I really understand what it means, but we are going to do another big Transformers movie. It is going to be different than the ones that we've done before. It's not like we look at the elements of what we did before and go, "Well, let's not do this" or "Let's not do that." It's more about how do you evolve the experience for the fans. Let the fan have a new experience. When we did the first movie, at first there was a lot of pushback that we weren't doing it the way it was done before. My feeling was always that if we'd done it, you would've gone, "Well, I've already seen it." So how do you evolve things forward is I think the hardest thing because you've got to retain why people love it, but at the same time if you give them the same experience, they're going to be bored with it.

That doesn't mean you ignore what you set up at the end of The Last Knight.

I don't know that I've thought much about it honestly because we've been focused on this movie. I think we've learned something in this movie about tone that I would think the next big Transformers movie, it's not like we're going to copy it but we've learned something. There's more freedom than I think we originally thought in terms of what we can do.

Len Wiseman told me Holly is in McClane. Have you had conversations with Bonnie Bedelia yet?

I'm surprised Len has given that out. I would rather not [talk about Holly]. Maybe this is a way to answer it without answering that specifically. Part of what McClane is is to get to know the mythology before the movies started. So that's where we're going to meet characters that we may know from before.

Do you expect McClane will be R-rated?

I hope so. Look, I'm not in charge of that. Would I prefer it? Absolutely.

The one that was PG-13 was very controversial to fans, even though it's my favorite since the first one.

I'm right with you. I like 2 too.

I can tell you as a Die Hard fan, what I want most for the movies is for John and Holly to work things out.

In the present day? It's not there right now but it is absolutely hinted that that's a possibility.

Is Ray Park your Snake Eyes in the spinoff?

Probably not because we are going to the origin story where as you know in the comic book, you saw his face. And it is, I'll say, the formation of a hero. So you've got to see somebody and it can't be Ray's age unfortunately.