Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Transformers" World Premiere: Press Conference

At a standing room only press conference accompanying the world premiere of "Transformers" in Taormina, Director Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor", "Armageddon", "Bad Boys") talks about Steven Spielberg's crucial role for the movie, admits he did not know "The Strokes" and explains how he gets to wreck so many cars in his movies. Lead actor Shia LaBeouf talks about how he got his first car and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura explains why the movie is premiering outside of the US.

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Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Bay and Shia LaBeouf presenting "Transformers" in Taormina

What was the first thing Spielberg told you after the first screening of the movie?

Michael Bay: When Spielberg saw the scene with the robots around the house he was laughing like a kid – he slapped me on the leg and said “I’ve never seen robots do that”. I was surprised, since my movies are always long in the beginning. – and the early version of this one was hard to watch, since you don’t have the special effects in yet, just crude models. But Spielberg kept giving me high-five during the screening, actually

At what point of the project did you get on board? For instance, who chose the robots?

Michael Bay: I got involved when there was only the very kernel of the idea. Spielberg called me up and told me the rough story about this boy, but there was no script at that time. That’s when I hired this massive team of artists, and got animators. I really started from ground zero.

Has any of you ever played with the original “Transformers” toys?

Lorenzo di Bonaventura: Let’s say that at least, we all struggled to put them back together at least once.
Michael Bay: At Hasbro, I actually went to “transformers school”. There, the head of the company talked to me about transformers, showing off the toys. He had a special guy next to him whose job it was to put the toys back together.

Shia, you came into this world as a young actor – was it difficult to make a character stand out?

Shia LaBeouf: “Transformers” has a huge volume – there are some die-hard fans. For all my friends, this is a big deal. In terms of appeasing the audience: You’re a new character, you don’t want to mess up the franchise, so there’s a lot of pressure.

Michael, you have made many blockbuster movies now. Does it become more difficult to raise the bar each time?

Michael Bay: Regarding budget, at $145 million, we’re at half as much as ”Pirates” and “Spiderman”. So that is an accomplishment. But yes, you do try to raise the bar every time. I really like to make movies that introduce people to a new world.

Do you want to make smaller movies as well?

Michael Bay: Absolutely – there’s a character movie that I want to do, with great dialogue and great characters. I also have a production company that helps small movies with budgets around 8-9 million Dollars.

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Michael Bay receiving a Taormina Arte Award

How do your stories get developed?

Michael Bay: That’s a long answer – I could go on forever. What I do in my movies when I write script I create images that people haven’t seen. For example, in “Pearl Harbor”, it’s the bomb falling down and following it with the camera. I am very attracted to visuals, that’s how I come into my stories. It is weird, about an hour into my movies there is always this a weird visual montage – in “Transformers”, it’s the robots coming down on earth. Sometimes you can just tell a story through images. For me, script-writing is two-ways. I wrote with writers but I write as well on the script. We trade the script back and forth.

Are you using real stories in your movies?

Michael Bay: There are real stories that I always store away in my memory bank. In this film, there’s this scene where soldiers use a cell phone and a credit card to call the Pentagon to get an air strike – that’s based on a true story.

What role does science fiction play for you?

Michael Bay: I have done three science fiction movies now. I guess it’s just the world of the unknown that I like, the fancy element of it. I have always been intrigued with space. I like the otherworldly fantasy element.

Was it ever dangerous for the actors on the set?

Shia LaBeouf: Yes – all the stuff you see on the roof is for real. For me that was pretty wild. The way Michael got us into this was by saying: “They do it on fear factor – so you got to do it, too.”
Michael Bay: Actually, what I said was: You get paid more than the kids on fear factor so you got to go out and do it.
Shia LaBeouf: But we had a great stunt team, so you were not isolated. Bay was there as well when we shot theses scenes. So if something went wrong and you would die, all the others would too. But wee all got scars though, all the cast.

Could you explain the marketing strategy for the film? It’s interesting to have the premiere outside of the United States for a film of this size.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura: We are releasing this film in several countries at the same time, and the timing of Taormina was perfect. This is an event film. We were just in Madrid last night and will be in London tomorrow. The hardest thing about the movie was to keep human spirit a live. The campaign stresses the fact that there is a lot of human emotion, a lot of humor.

I see elements of a lot of other movies in “Transformers”, for example “King Kong”.

Michael Bay: It’s true that there is a reference to “King Kong”, a film that I love very much. When I was scouting in downtown LA I saw the Tower Theater which I always liked and thought we should shoot there. And I tried to emulate a little bit of “King Kong”. But I don’t think there is a lot of things from other movies in “Transformers”, actually.

Shia, was your first car as important to you as to the character you play in the movie?

Shia LaBeouf: Of course, my first car was important to me. Actually I won mine at my Temple’s raffle – it was an ‘83 Volvo. At the same time, I was making some money in a TV show, and I put all that money into the car Stereo that was more expensive than the car itself.

Did you do a lot of market research?

Michael Bay: We don’t do market research. I go with what’s in my gut, what I want to see. The movie could appeal to a lot of different ages. The movie’s idea is to bring out the kid inside of you. I’ve just been to Korea, they loved it, same thing in Australia. In both places, there was multiple times of major applause and laughter during the movie. The same thing in Madrid. And that happened at pretty much the same scenes, which shows the international appeal. When I make a move I make it for the world, not just for America.

How did you develop the character?

Shia LaBeouf: He’s suburban guy that does not have much life experience. He’s very neurotic. And he’s vying for the attention of this female. He’s trying to put on this rebellion mask by wearing this “Strokes” T-shirt that you can buy in a shopping mall – it’s sort of a shopping mall rebellion.
Michael Bay: I actually didn’t know who “The Strokes” were – I asked somebody who said it was a cool band.

How many cars did you break?

Michael Bay: I break a lot of cars in my movies – these are cars that are flood damaged that have to be destroyed - we have a lot of those in the US since Cathrina. So they give them to me and I do it for them. They know that I know how to do this. These scenes were actually shot in Downtown LA, Detroit and we also used Universal Studios.

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