How Michael Bay's Signature Shot Saved Bad Boys From Sony

For a $19 million movie, there was a lot riding on Michael Bay's "Bad Boys."

The action-comedy marked the official return of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the ultimate style-over-substance duo, who, after knocking out era-defining blockbusters in "Flashdance," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Top Gun," flamed out in 1990 when the wildly excessive "Days of Thunder" fell woefully short of box-office expectations. Rather than stake their comeback on one film, Simpson and Bruckheimer managed their risk via three modestly budgeted 1995 releases: "Bad Boys," "Crimson Tide" and "Dangerous Minds." But while they didn't need Bay's film to break the bank, the optics of misfiring on the kind of product that made their Hollywood reputation in the 1980s would definitely stir up the wrong kind of buzz. A hit would be awfully nice.

Though he'd received mostly favorable notices for his turn in Fred Schepisi's "Six Degrees of Separation," Will Smith was still viewed as a lightweight-rapper-turned-sitcom-star. No one doubted his big-screen potential, but they were beginning to doubt his decision making. Martin Lawrence was in good shape if all he wanted to be was a scene-stealer in someone else's comedy, but after the surprise box-office success of his stand-up film "You So Crazy," he saw a Richard Pryor-esque route to stardom.

As for Bay, all he had to do on his feature filmmaking debut was service the four aforementioned egos while proving he was more than just a corporate tool for commercials and music videos. To accomplish this, he had to stretch that budget to make "Bad Boys" look like vintage, high-gloss Simpson-Bruckheimer. He needed to be insanely overconfident and visually inventive.

He needed the shot.

How this s*** got real

You know the shot. It's the low-angle, circular dolly move where Smith and Lawrence rise up into the frame looking both badass and fed-the-f*** up. It's the obligatory scene of the franchise. In an interview with EW, Bay said the shot was a spur-of-the-moment idea intended to bolster the film's international marketing:

"Sony didn't believe in the movie, because two Black actors don't sell overseas. They had no faith in it. I was watching James Cameron's 'True Lies' and I'm like, Oh, my God, this guy has so much money. I have only $9 million. And they shut me down, literally. They shut the power off. That's how rude they were on this movie. Luckily I had 500 days of film set experience doing videos, commercials, working with some of the most famous athletes in the world, and that's where you really truly know how to deal with a*******."

$9 million, $19 million ... who's counting? Anyway, as Bay tells the story, the shot came to him while he was riding in a van during principal photography. He ordered the driver to stop, which freaked out the already cranky line producer, whose job was to keep the tightly budgeted movie on an even tighter schedule. Bay ignored him:

"I'm like, 'This is going to be the trailer shot.' For some reason, I just came up with this shot as we're driving. And I said, 'Where's the circle trolley? Get the circle trolley.' And we made this round move and... it became a very famous shot. People try to imitate it, but it was a seminal moment. 'Bad Boys' literally changed the game on Black actors. It's the first movie that really traveled overseas."

The legacy of the shot

I don't know about "the first" (the worldwide gross of "Beverly Hills Cop II" was split almost 50-50 between domestic and international), but it was certainly unusual for a studio movie headed by two unproven Black stars to earn 53% of its $141 million global take overseas. Bay's commercial instincts paid off for everyone. Simpson-Bruckheimer were not only back, they had the next iteration of Tony Scott in the fold. Smith and Lawrence had audiences in stitches with their hyper-macho banter; by the end of the decade, they'd be two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood.

And Michael Bay? He'd close out the millennium with the action-blockbuster duo of "The Rock" and "Armageddon." Does he get there without "the shot"? It's hard to imagine selling "Bad Boys" without it, and it's impossible to imagine Bay getting hired to direct "The Rock" without the success of "Bad Boys." I wonder what that line producer is up to?