Are there two men who fanboys envy more than Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman? Not only is this prolific writing duo behind the latest installments of the “Zorro” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises, but now they are knee-deep in reinventing “Star Trek” and everyone’s favorite robots in disguise, the Transformers.
The duo took a break from their pre-production work on “Star Trek” and last-minute tweaking of “Transformers” dialogue (the movie marks their second collaboration with director Michael Bay) to dish with MTV News those projects and more.
MTV: Transformers fans have been all over you from almost the moment you signed on to write. Are you still feeling the heat?
Roberto Orci: When some of the early designs were leaked, some of the die-hard fans felt the integrity of the Transformers had been betrayed. Then when they saw some of the footage, they started to say, “I understand now. They’re doing the movie version. It totally retains the integrity of what we love, but it’s a whole other level.”
Alex Kurtzman: We gave [the designs] a lot of thought. It was really a team effort to figure out how to keep it real but also to take Transformers to a new level.
MTV: Does any of the criticism bother you?
Orci: A lot of the die-hard fans say, “Why does it have to have humans at all?” You can’t be a robot in disguise if there’s nobody to hide from! A human’s point of view is implicit in the way they are sold.
MTV: How did you sell Michael Bay on your concept?
Kurtzman: When we sat down with Michael, he said, “Why should I do this movie?” Then we showed him some animatics of Transformers transforming, and his eyes lit up like a 12-year-old. Suddenly, he was imagining a 95-mile-an-hour car chase while the cars were actually transforming. That sense of fun and wonder was an important part of our script development. At every turn, Michael was a great compass for us. He was very much our partner. He’s really always wanted to do a kids movie and had never found the vehicle. This was clearly the one.
Orci: We pitched him a boy and his car. “E.T.” with action.
MTV: How did your first draft of the script differ from the final product?
Orci: Our first draft centered almost exclusively on the kids. That draft represented the emotional heart of the movie. Much of its structure stayed, but when it came time to do the second draft, we realized we needed to bolster it with the disaster-movie paradigm, following a couple other stories and showing that the Transformers arriving is a global phenomenon. The second draft was much more about the action.
MTV: Considering the large canon of Transformers material out there, was this an especially daunting script to approach?
Kurtzman: Part of what made it a daunting task was that there weren’t really any human characters that made a mark [in the cartoon]. We ended up going back to the comic books for initial inspiration for that.
Orci: The basic paradigm is the same. Good Autobots, bad Decepticons, the planet got screwed up. They’ve been fighting forever. They’re looking for energy and they come here. Then it’s about “What are the details from the canon that serve that story the best?”
MTV: Speaking of a screwed-up planet, will we see Cybertron in the film?
MTV: How much?
Orci: We’re pushing for as much as possible.
MTV: Do you worry about the robots feeling lifeless on the screen?
Orci: They talk, so they do become characters in their own right. They’re not just dinosaurs fighting, with humans in the background watching. They’re interacting with the humans and become partners with the humans.
MTV: There’s been a lot of talk about Bumblebee in the film. Will Bumblebee only communicate through songs played on his radio?
Orci: [They pause.] The editing room will decide.
MTV: The scene we’ve seen shows just that: Bumblebee only communicating through songs.
Kurtzman: The inspiration for that was the first time Elliott and E.T. have a conversation. E.T. doesn’t say a word, and the scene is so emotional. The communication between them is so crystal clear. We felt that in order to really feel the wonder of the experience Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is going through, we wanted to find a way for them to communicate that wasn’t direct.
MTV: Was there a character that was most fun for you to write?
Orci: Prime. I love Prime. For me, it’s all about Optimus Prime. As a kid, you wanted Prime’s attention or you wanted to be him. He was the star of the Autobots.
MTV: Did you lobby for voice actor Peter Cullen to do the voice in the film?
Orci: We definitely lobbied for Peter, and we got him. So we hope it works. [He laughs.]
MTV: How much sleep do you lose thinking about making a film that serves die-hard fans and non-fans alike?
Orci: We definitely worry about it. The last thing we want to do is to be accused of raping anyone’s childhood.
MTV: Michael Bay told us that the movie is huge when it comes to action, particularly in the third act.
Orci: So much of the movie is like a war movie. It’s like “Saving Private Ryan” with Transformers. Some of it is very intense. And the third act is mind-blowing.
Kurtzman: It’s just sick, man. It’s just unbelievable. [He laughs.] When we took this job, the first question people would always ask is, “Is this a cartoon?” It was because nobody could even picture it. If we were able to pull it off it would be something that no one had ever seen before.
MTV: Can you put the third act in some perspective for us?
Kurtzman: It’s three times bigger than the third act of “King Kong.”
MTV: Were there any Transformers you couldn’t fit into the story?
Kurtzman: Soundwave was a tough one. And Ravage was in an early draft.
Orci: We knew the Autobots and Decepticons had to serve the story. We’re not going to have a tape deck because we have to have a tape deck. Let’s have a Decepticon that turns into something that serves the story.
Kurtzman: As fans, we read that [first draft] and said, “This isn’t the best use of Soundwave, so let’s save him for when we can actually do Soundwave right.”
MTV: It sounds like you’re already thinking about a sequel.
Orci: We have ideas, but we’re trying to be diligent about not thinking ahead. We have a few notions.
MTV: Would any of the later incarnations of Transformers from “Armada” or “Beast Wars” be involved in future stories?
Kurtzman: Sure. Everything is up for grabs. But you have to be careful to not mix too many of the iterations. We couldn’t crossbreed too much.
MTV: What’s the one moment you’re dying for an audience to see in this flick?
Orci: When Sam meets the Autobots. It all builds to that moment. If you buy that moment, you buy the movie.
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