Few figures are as polarizing to movie fans as Michael Bay. He’s been knocked for his supposed style-over-substance approach to filmmaking even as his movies have nearly all achieved blockbuster status. From “Bad Boys” to “Armageddon,” Bay knows big-time summer entertainment. And this summer, he’s back with his most anticipated flick yet — the feature-film version of “Transformers.” Do we really need to tell you what it’s about? Cool cars turn into giant robots. Got it?
Bay recently spoke exclusively to MTV News about his upcoming film, slated for release this July 4. (To watch the director talk truck-smashing stunts and sequels, click here.)
MTV: So you have Steven Spielberg producing a Michael Bay film, a July 4 release — it seems like all the planets are aligned for “Transformers” to be huge. What can we expect from this film?
Michael Bay: It’s a magical movie in a lot of ways. There’s some awesome action in it. I’ve done action my whole life. I don’t get excited about action anymore, but I’m excited about this. When robots transform at 85 miles an hour, you can do a lot with that. There are some mind-blowing visual effects and we’re not even going to show them in the commercials. Normally when they advertise movies they show everything. Steven and I are just going to show a few pieces.
MTV: It’s that old Spielberg axiom of never revealing too much.
Bay: Yeah. You’ve got to leave a lot hidden. We’ll never show transformations. You’ll never really get a good look at the robots until the release.
MTV: You’ve directed action of a pretty high caliber before. Can you compare the kind of action we’ll see in “Transformers” to what you’ve done before?
Bay: You can do a lot with 30-foot and 40-foot robots. It’s just very unique action. It’s just mind-blowing. [Effects studio Industrial Light & Magic] does so many movies and I’ve never seen a crew so excited. A lot of them were “Tranformers” geeks and were totally in love with these effects. Ironhide’s gun has 10,000 parts. It’s because of the über-geeks at ILM who put so much craft into everything.
MTV: Is there one set piece you’re itching for an audience to see?
Bay: There are 14 set pieces, actually. I counted. We got a lot of bang for our buck on this. It cost $150 million whereas the “Pirates” movies cost over $200 million.
MTV: What can we expect in the last reel of the film? You’ve hinted that it’s pretty big stuff.
Bay: It happens in a city and it happens with a lot of robots fighting. The kids are at the center of it. You’re going to have to go see it.
MTV: Cars turning into alien robots is about as far-fetched a concept as it gets. So how do you make it feel real to an audience?
Bay: It starts with the digital models and how you make these things emote. It’s all about how they’re made so they fit in the real world. I’m very adamant when we do computer graphics that it looks dead real. It seems like a dying art, but I’m one of the few directors that actually shoots a lot in camera. A lot will do these stunts in CG world whereas I will do it mostly real and add elements. There was one extremely dangerous stunt where we had to take a bus, jackknife it and split it with a guy driving and then we add the robot coming through. A lot of people would just make a CG bus and crash it [but] the audience can tell what’s fake.
MTV: There was that famous tagline for “Superman”: “You’ll believe a man can fly.” Do you think this summer we will believe that cars can turn into robots?
Bay: I’ve shown kids some of the movie and they’ve said to their dads, “Where did Michael Bay get those robots, dad?! Where’d he get them?!”
MTV: “Transformers” fans can be pretty fervent, and they were picking you apart from the get-go. Did you pay attention to what they were saying?
Bay: Absolutely. They all think I wasn’t listening, but I was.
MTV: So what can the über-fan …
Bay: Are you an über-fan?
MTV: I am.
Bay: I could see it. I could see it in your eyes!
MTV: So why should the über-fans be confident that Michael Bay has led us down the right path here?
Bay: Listen, I just didn’t want to make the boxy characters. It’s boring and it would look fake. By adding more doo-dads and stuff on the robots, more car parts, you can just make it more real. I was listening to the fans and I know they hated the Optimus paint job with the stripes. Why did I do it? Because I liked the ribs. That caused a lot of grief. [He laughs.]
MTV: Tell me about the voices we’ll hear in the film.
Bay: The only one we have done is Peter Cullen for Optimus.
MTV: Are you casting name actors?
Bay: No, not name actors.
MTV: Will any other voices come from the old cartoon?
Bay: I can’t really say yet. It’s still an ongoing process. The voices are the next thing we’re going to be doing.
MTV: Do you view this as an ongoing franchise? Is there an arc for future “Transformers” movies?
Bay: [He takes a long pause.]
MTV: I see a smile.
Bay: Yeah, of course you want to create a franchise. If you do “Transformers 2,” we definitely have to go bigger.
MTV: Are there certain Transformers you’d like to get into a sequel?
Bay: Absolutely. Yeah. I can’t tell you yet because the script’s not written, but the writers, after they saw the movie were like, ’I don’t know what we’re going to write now.’ It’s like, what else do we do? We’ll figure it out.
MTV: Do you feel like you made this giant film your own? Does it still feel personal to you?
Bay: Oh, come on. It’s not personal. This is popcorn.
MTV: But there’s that Michael Bay stamp …
Bay: There’s totally my stamp all over the place because I basically write all my own action. I do that to keep myself from getting bored from the stuff I’ve already done.
MTV: I can watch a couple of frames from your films and know it’s a Michael Bay film. Is that something you take pride in? You obviously have detractors.
Bay: Oh yeah, there are tons of people that hate me and hate my movies. But hey, my movies have made a lot of money, two-something billion dollars. That’s a lot of tickets. They said that I wrecked cinema. They said that I cut too fast and now you see it in movies everywhere. It’s easy to bash a movie but until they know hard it is to actually make one … Do I take pride in people knowing my style? I think it’s nice people know a director has a style. And you can reinvent yourself too.
MTV: Will we see that with you?
Bay: Absolutely. I’ve got some smaller little movies, quirky movies, I want to do.
MTV: How about another “Bad Boys” installment?
Bay: I don’t know. Will Smith’s people called. They’re fun to work with, those guys.
MTV: Was that a recent call?
Bay: I actually heard it through [Jerry] Bruckheimer.
MTV: And you’d be open to it?
Bay: Yeah, they’re great fun.
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