'Transformers' Director Michael Bay Talks 'Bots and Blockbusters

Kara Warner
Senior Reporter

Last August, on day 43 of shooting on Transformers: Age of Extinction, director Michael Bay was standing on a busy Detroit street that was doubling as downtown Hong Kong. As he watched his 200-person crew prepare the last shot of the day, Bay reflected on how far the production had come: “You should have been with us two days ago,” the 49-year-old director said. “We did thirty-second shots with bombs, with actors, one single shot; we did, like, four of them — really complex. They take hours to set up, and you don’t want to screw them up.”

Today, though, Bay could relax — but just for a few minutes. Taking a moment away from the pyrotechnics to chat, he opened up about how he the latest installment of the monumentally successful series —which stars Mark Wahlberg as a dad trying to protect his daughter — takes the robot-fighting franchise to new heights.

You say this movie is more grounded in reality.

Right.  The idea was to start with an innocent, simple life, and [the characters are] just going on a ride that takes them to such a different world. We couldn’t go around just replacing the [stars from the previous films]. So my idea was to backdoor it, kind of like have the father who’s a thinker — Mark’s character — and then we’ll introduce the kids that way. No matter who you brought in, they’re just going to compare him to Shia [LaBeouf], and Shia was just like lightning in a bottle, because back then, he was the only kid who could do stuff like that.

In what way did you evolve the robots or make them different?

I wanted to give them stronger characters. I wanted to focus on just the few robots and give them much more character.

Did you want to make a more realistic, grittier movie?

Yeah, movie franchises have to grow up a little bit. You start off kind of like fun, trying to figure out what it is. But I like it a little bit more grounded. Still fun, but grounded.

Can you talk about the new bots you’re bringing in?

They’re different, they’re fun. Some are crotchety; they hate being the underdog all the f—-ing time. You know what I’m saying? “F—- this s—-, you know?” [Laughs] They’re tired!

Mark talked about his contributions to the story and to the script. How much guidance do give your actors? Do you prefer to find the right people and let them loose?

I just think, “You’re a father who’s struggling and trying to protect his daughter,” and there’s a lot of obvious stuff there. We just talk about it as we’re writing it, we talk about it, tweak things. We wrote the idea down, and then once we knew who was in it, we kind of tailored it.

What do you like about working with Mark?

He’s a great guy. He’s so prepared. He’s so easy-going. He just gets my vibe. He’s so open to direction with zero attitude. He knows his script so well, he knows where he is, his character. He reads the script cover to cover, that’s part of his process, which I find fascinating. He knows everyone’s lines, and he knows exactly where he is, I never have to explain where he is as a character. He’s a very prepared guy.

Are you going to do another small movie after this?

Maybe. I had a fun time doing [last year’s Pain & Gain].

Any idea of what you might want to do?

I don’t know. There’s an African elephant thing that keeps [coming up]. I always wanted to do one of those stories.