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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Michael Bay interview

Michael Bay directs Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Interview by Michael Bay

MICHAEL Bay talks about some of the challenges of filming blockbuster sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, including working on top of and around Egypt’s Pyramids and pushing the limit in terms of special effects.

He also reveals why he won’t be thinking about the third film for a little while, how a chance encounter with US President Obama led to a name check in the film and why he got grounded for three weeks after making his first movie…

Q. How did you get to film in Egypt?
Michael Bay: Well, Zahi Hawass, who runs the antiquities in Egypt, was a fan of Transformers 1, so thought that it would be particularly nice for tourism. So, he allowed us to do some of the first aerial shots around the pyramids and to shoot there. Petra was the same thing… the king was a fan of Transformers and he helped us immensely shoot on the top of Petra.

Q. Do you have to be able to control a small army?
Michael Bay: Yeah but it’s tough because we actually went from Arizona to San Diego to Egypt over the weekend… we were shooting over the pyramids the next day and then we went to another town in Egypt and then we flew to Jordan to shoot at Petra the day after. So, you have to leapfrog. It’s like a massive movie circus.

Q. Did you have a lot of people looking on extremely concerned when you were shooting at the pyramids?
Michael Bay: No, no, no. We were extremely careful. I personally shot the camera when John Turturro was on the pyramid.

Q. Do you find that the technology gets better with each film?
Michael Bay: We try to push the limits with each film. I think we really pushed the limits from the first film with this one in terms of the advances. People wouldn’t notice but it’s all about lighting, the reflection and complicated algorithms. Like making the pyramid come apart… that was 100,000 rocks individually moved. It took one guy six months of writing code to do that. So, it stretches the limits of [computer] memory for shots like that. We’re also one of the first films to do the IMAX in the full 4k rendered characters. There are three scenes in this movie that are shot in IMAX.

Q. Where do you think cinema is going in terms of effects?
Michael Bay: Well, I don’t ever want to do a movie where you shoot it on a motion capture stage. I just don’t like taking the reality out of it. I like being on the set in real environments. I don’t like shooting on green screen. I think it gives the actors so much more to play with when there’s real stuff happening on the set. I think the thing that’s good about CG for directors is that whatever your mind imagines, you can pretty much do. So, it’s a liberating thing. But I don’t like it when it’s too CG. I like a lot of reality.

Q. How much did you spend on explosions alone and are there any places left on the Earth that you’d still like to blow up?
Michael Bay: [Laughs] What a reputation I have… I think on physical effects, which includes mechanical stuff, it’s maybe $4 or $5 million. But that includes a lot of stuff. I don’t know how we could quantify the explosions. But I do feel bad [about blowing up landmarks]. Zahi Hawass put his arm around me when I introduced him to Shia and he said: “Young boy, don’t hurt my pyramids!” I didn’t actually tell him that the top was going to come off digitally. So, I have a gift for him. I’m going to give him this most amazing, incredible aerial footage of the pyramids. I’m going to build him a nice little tape so that when he sees the movie he won’t hopefully get too upset.

Q. President Obama gets a name check in the film. Why did you decide to root the film in that type of reality and also how late in the day things like that and the Swine flu gag made it into the film?
Michael Bay: We finished the film this past Wednesday [June 10, 2009)… it’s very true. You saw an incomplete version. But the Obama thing? I met him at an airport when he was carrying his bag by himself and we talked about movies and he apparently likes my movies, so I figured: “Let’s just put him in.”

Q. What was the worst moment of the shoot?
Michael Bay: I think it was when the Egyptian government surrounded our trucks with cops. When you deal with Egypt, it’s a very difficult permit process. It took over a year. They say: “Yes, yes, yes, no… maybe, yes come, come…” And so you get there and your trucks are there and they say “no”. And you’re like: “Why?” I personally think they don’t want you to see any poor neighbourhoods at all. That’s what the deal is. I was shooting in the City of the Dead, which is semi-dangerous, but I’d been walking through there and it was beautiful. I felt very safe in Egypt and I wanted to shoot those beautiful parts. But I was denied that.

Q. What toys did you play with growing up?
Michael Bay: I was actually very into train sets and I would create my own little worlds in there and build towns. I filmed my first little Super 8 movie by stealing my mum’s Super 8 camera where I set some fires to some of the models, which actually caught the drapes of my bedroom on fire! The fire department came. I was grounded for three weeks and it was my very first movie [laughs].

Q. Do you have the next Transformers movie in mind and how much further can you take the wow factor?
Michael Bay: You know, since I’ve literally just finished this one I don’t even want to think about it… it makes me nauseous to even think of a third one. It’s too close. I definitely want to do another movie before I come back to this. But if I were to consider something for Transformers 3 it’s got to be not higher… it’s got to be sideways – a different kind of darkness or a different edge to it.

Q. Did you know you’d be shooting a second one after the first one?
Michael Bay: No. I didn’t know if I’d even work again. A lot of studios didn’t have faith in it. A lot actually turned down Transformers. It’s not a good sign when you have a bunch of friends who say to you: “Why the hell are you doing THAT movie!?” It’s kind of what I thought when I took it. But I was able to prove when I did the Scorponok sequence that if you make it very real you can make it something very effective. There was a unique moment when there was a 43-year-old woman at the test screening for the original who raised her hand and said: “I don’t like these type of movies. But I love this one.” She continued: “I’m 43 and there was something about this movie that felt like a brand new superhero movie. I’m tired of the capes and the suits…” That was interesting to hear that because it wasn’t the audience I was making it for.

Read our review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen