A couple of weeks ago, Moviehole was invited – along with a few other select journalists – to spend a couple of hours with ”Transformers : Dark of the Moon” helmer Michael Bay. In addition to getting to chat to the prominent filmmaker, we previewed 20-minutes of footage from the new pic…and dare I say, wow! looks so much better than ”Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen”!
The ”Transformers” films may have their fans, but they also attract widespread criticism. In this part of my very frank chat with filmmaker Michael Bay we talk about his “haters”.
Bay laughs at the suggestion made by some journalists that his fantasy blockbuster is responsible for the world’s problems. “There’s so many things that are wrong with the world… that have nothing to do with Hollywood”, the good-natured filmmaker says. “The problem with a lot of reviewers is that they’re alienating their readers – they’re telling them ‘You’re stupid if you like this movie!’.
“Even those that like the films won’t own up to it because they think someone else might think he or she is stupid. There’s just so much criticism out there that it’s not even focused.”
The main thing critics seem to pick on when it comes to Bay is his editing technique – which is fast. Filmmakers like Tony Scott and Paul Greengrass have since adopted the speedy snip.
In 1995, when Bay first used that style of editing, people welcomed it with open arms.
“Bad Boys was the first time I, or any other Hollywood filmmaker for that matter, used that fast editing style – and I only did that because we didn’t have a lot of money”, explains Bay of the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence hit. “What happened though is that that style became a trend, and all these movies started using it, which is fine but I get blamed for every film that uses fast-editing.
Yes, even the bad ones and even the really, really, really-fastly edited ones.
“Have you noticed that all my movies actually slow down compared to others that use that technique?”, asks Bay, ” You wanna talk about fast-editing, let’s talk about Paul Greengrass (director of the “Bourne” films) – that’s like double-speed! – and yet one of his movies were nominated for an editing Oscar! Weird, right? “
The same critics have also said that say Bay is all ‘style over substance’ but the filmmaker smacks ointment on that hurtful suggestion saying it’s always about the story for him.
“The script comes first”, he says, “We came up with the story we want to tell and then we try and fit the action sequences into those boxes”.
The filmmaker says he’s very happy with the story and style combo he meshed together for ”Transformers : Dark of the Moon”.
“It’s a very different visual style this time; it feels tougher. It’s definitely darker. It’s funny but it’s not as light-hearted as the other ones. It’s just more serious. The audiences that I’ve test screened it to say it’s more emotional.”
Emotional? Nice! But would Bay make an out-and-out drama? Something like “Schindler’s List”? (stop giggling Alicia!)
“Schindler’s List is one of my favourite films”, Bay, citing James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as being the biggest inspirations on him when he was young (though Neil Armstrong was his personal hero at the time because he wanted to be an astronaut), “I’m not saying I’d like to make a movie about the holocaust but I’d like to make films like that – just pure dramas. “
Working on movies like ”Transformers” can actually be a very emotional experience, Bay says.
“Some of the people I’ve met at the medical units, while working on these films… they’re heroes. You’re taken in to meet patients by a nurse who’ll say, for instance, ‘this is Ted. He was blown up in Iraq three-weeks ago. He lost his leg’. It’s very raw.
“I remember one guy I met, he had massive wounds all over and he had died on the table twice – two weeks before. He was a little guy. You really don’t know what to say so you basically just ask, ‘What happened’? and so he starts telling you this very intimate story about what happened. He said he’d lost everybody in his unit, but he lived, and as I said, he died twice on the operating table.
Bay pauses, clearly the meeting made an impact on him..
“Now this guy had a really bad arm – they wanted to amputate it but his wife wouldn’t let them. Anyway, he wants to take a photo with me so I bend down beside the bed and he stops me ‘No sir. I want to stand up’. So the guy gets out of bed and puts his arm around me. Now that’s a hero.”
Like those who occasionally meets in the hospitals, is Bay also constantly dealing with crisis – especially working on such huge movies as ”Transformers”? If even to a much lesser degree?
Platoon staff sergeant Bay says not at all.
“Not really”, he says, “I have a really organized team; I’m surrounded by a lot of pros.
“But yeah, we do have our dumb moments… let me give you an example of a dumb moment. We’ve got this fake office floor, tilted 40 feet, and it’s full of furniture and so on. All of the things in the office, of course, are supposed to fall… tip onto everyone. We knew we were going to do the scene for seven months but for some reason, neglected to make any of the stuff in there ‘soft’ – we had no soft stuff. So I called my brother Kenny and had him round up some soft stuff. It’s a dumb moment because of how much money we’ve just wasted”.
Speaking of big bucks and stunts, will Bay consider taking on another big science-fiction franchise, with tilting office floors and the works, after finishing the ”Transformers” series? Is there anything he’d like to do?
“I dunno”, he says, “When I was a kid I loved Star Wars. That was the thing that made me want to get into movies. But I don’t want to say ‘I want to do Star Wars’.”
Bay’s favourite “Star Wars” character was, no surprise, Han Solo.
“He was cool. He was funny. He was the coolest”.
Much like Han Solo’s portrayer Harrison Ford did over the three “Star Wars” movies, the hero of Bay’s “Transformers” movies has also evolved.
Bay says he’s watched Shia LaBeouf – excuse the pun – transform from a boy into a “young man”.
” He’s gotten grumpier”, he laughs, “I still love him but he gets grumpy. He’s a very serious actor. He’s like my little brother so I’m always saying stuff like, “Ya know what? when you’re older I’m never going to work with you because you’re a grump! You are gonna be worse when you’re older!” But in all seriousness, Shia has really evolved as an actor.”
(Bay says he was a grumpy young man, too. “I’m more relaxed now, because I’ve been through the wars.” And I think he’s telling the truth; the Bay we meet today is a different man from the strained, somnolent looking guy that directed ”Bad Boys II”)
Bay says what helps LaBeouf a lot on these films is being surrounded by good actors like John Turturro and Frances McDormand.
“When he’s got good actors around him, he pushes himself.”
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 OF MY MICHAEL BAY INTERVIEW