Quint watches more stuff blow up on the set of TRANSFORMERS!!!
Published at: Sept. 1, 2006, 12:29 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. A lot has happened since my first visit to the TRANSFORMERS set back in May. They were in their first couple weeks of photography, out in the White Sand dunes of Alamogordo and I was about to take off for 2 months of relaxation and fun in the wintery Southern Hemisphere. I had been back home a whole month, after a 2 month trip and the hellish weekend that was Comic-Con, and they were still shooting this movie.
I was frankly quite surprised when Paramount invited me back for another exclusive, non-junket visit. I had broken the image of Optimus Prime in vehicle form and started a flame war. The fans were questioning the design and I know the filmmakers weren't happy that the image was out there, especially since it was riling up the fan base so much. When the invite came through for a late in the shoot visit to the downtown LA location, I was sure it was all a trick. I would fly all the way out there and be led into a blank room where it was just Michael Bay holding a print out of the Prime flame truck in one hand and the leashes restraining his hungry monster dogs in the other.
I accepted the invitation, though, and spent last Sunday on the streets of Downtown LA, once again watching shit blow up.
The location was Broadway where they had whole blocks to shoot. Primarily, they used Broadway between 8th and 9th St. As I was going to the location, I walked past a security guard who didn't seem to care one way or another who walked in (I actually later saw an obviously homeless man, with a broken shoe on one foot and a TRANSFORMERS call sheet sticking out of the front pocket of his ratty shirt, walk back and forth past this oblivious security guard). The very first thing I noticed was a stack of boxes with Hasbro printed on the sides.
I got all excited, thinking I might be able to uses my sticky-fingers to lift some brand new Transformers toys. When I got up to the boxes my smile was not rewarded and my sticky-fingers were put back to sleep. They were Furbie boxes. Lots and lots and lots of Furbie boxes. Whatever the hell they were doing on base camp, near catering, I did not know, but I unraveled this mystery before I left.
When I got to the street they were setting up for, I believe, the first shot of the day. It was around 8am when I arrived on the set, so if it was not the first shot of the day, it was one of the first.
Broadway was all sorts of fucked up. There were at least 20 automobiles of all shapes and sizes in various forms of destruction. Some just looked abandoned, some were crushed in, some were laying on top of others, some were on fire, some were reduced to nothing but an axle, some crushed steel and tires. Rubble was strewn all over the street and sidewalks.
But the most interesting bit of destruction were the giant piles in the street itself. It was pretty obvious to me when I first saw them that they were Transformer footsteps. The asphalt was crumpled upwards in giant, jumbled slabs, crumbling at the middle. These piles were 16-20 feet away from each other, with maybe 3 or 4 going down the length of the block.
I found out that one of the demolished automobiles, a big, flatnosed truck with a blown open rig behind it, is not just any truck. No, it's not an Autobot or Decepticon. It's a Hasbro truck. Click went the pieces in my mind. Apparently, this truck carrying a payload of Furbies, gets hit and explodes, sending thousands of flaming little Mogwai ripoffs flying through the air. That actually strikes me as pretty funny.
Along with the regular autos on the street were 2 or 3 small government vehicles, apparently belonging to a government faction called Sector 7. These automobiles are kind of like a cross between a dunebuggy and the Batmobile from BATMAN BEGINS. They are small with seating for 2 in the front and standing gunner position in the back, with a mounted chaingun on the back. Of the three, two of these vehicles were smashed, one tilting on the roof of a parked car and one flipped upside down at the intersection of Broadway and 8th. This is where they were going to film.
I went down to the intersection and stood out of the way as best I could. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese were across the street, getting last touches before the shot went up. They were both in camo, Tyrese wearing red beret. There were also another dozen men, half in camo and half in this sleek, black SWAT looking get-up. I was later told that these guys are Sector 7 soldiers.
There were 2 cameras on cranes, one on 8th, facing towards the Broadway intersection, the other past 8th on Broadway, looking down the street. There were also 2 cameras on dollies on the sidewalk and one small shoulder camera.
I heard the traditional "Welcome to Michael Bay's set" greeting as the shot began: "Rolling! Fire in the hole!"
The sequence's focus is the flipped over government Buggy. There are now two actors hanging out of the windows, injured. Duhamel, Tyrese and the team run to the buggy, firing up into the air behind them, down Broadway. A lot of extras are running around, freaking out at the destruction and the giant invisible robot that'll be added in post production. Duhamel spends some time making sure the civilians are safe (directly in front of one of the dolly cameras) and rejoins the group, who are gathered around the Buggy.
One of the large men in camo, a man named Tiny who I saw on the New Mexico set, a real life Navy SEAL, grabs one of the injured men and carries him on his back. A civilian in a tie is called over by one of the Army guys to help with other man. He runs over, checks the man and calls out that he's dead and runs off. More firing, then a cut. No explosions, just lots of gunfire.
I'm told that I have an interview with Shia LaBeouf and that he's ready to talk to me, but before I can make my way back to base camp, they run another take. Same thing, but this time with explosions. Hooray! I counted at least 2 on that take and then I got my first look at Bay. He yelled cut through a bullhorn, then walked in and gave the Army group shit. They had kept retreating while Duhamel was still checking on the injured men and Bay didn't like that. "C'mon, guys! This is your commander! You don't leave him behind. C'mon, guys!!"
They had to re-rig the explosives, so it was a good chance to make my way toward base camp and do my interview with Shia.
This interview was great. Easily 40-45 minutes and on the street, so we were constantly interrupted by the sounds of explosions and gunfire. Shia was very laid back, open, honest and enthusiastic. So much so, his enthusiasm couldn't help but spread to me. The interview was so good I'm going to post it as its own story. Keep an eye out for that within the week.
While I was talking with Shia Bay got the shot he wanted, so they were setting up another shot when I was walking back down the street. Bay was standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by crew. Bay noticed me and nodded an acknowledgment. I nodded back, then he broke away and walked up to me. Here it comes, I thought, and braced for the verbal or physical assault. However, he was all smiles and handshakes. He asked what I had seen so far. I told him I spoke with Shia and that I thought it was a great chat.
He seemed to really like Shia, praising his work in the film. He said that after Shia got cast Bay got a call from Steven Spielberg, saying how much he likes Shia, too, calling him a Young Tom Hanks. Bay said Shia has this kind of everyman feeling to him. He's not a geeky wimp, but he's not a jock either. He mentioned a scene involving some school bullies and how Shia's character uses his humor to confuse the jocks, who might or might not understand that this little guy is making fun of them.
The next bit they were setting up included a crane mounted on top of a futuristic looking car that I was told was some kind of Porsche, but the rig was Russian and apparently was not only mounted on the roof, but the interior of the automobile was decked out with monitors and controls. So, you have one guy driving and a team running the camera/crane as they move along. Pretty cool. You can see it a little in that footage that hit recently, along with a few glimpses of the Sector 7 buggies.
The scene was the same, but with different cameras, including this car/crane amalgam. There was also a guy running up and down the sidewalk with a shoulder-mounted 35mm film camera. It was during this set-up that I actually heard the civilian in the tie yell to the army guy that the man laying on the ground was dead.
The first take goes well, with tons of gunfire. I forgot to mention earlier, but along with the regular army issue machine guns there were bigger guns sprinkled within the special forces, most notably with Duhamel and Tyrese. These guys were big... You ever see the movie DOGS OF WAR with Christopher Walken? These guns were like Walken's huge-ass gun in that movie. I would guess it's a grenade launcher, with a giant rotating cylinder in the middle. Upon further research, I'd say it looks like the M-32 Grenade Launcher, but quite a bit smaller.
I must say it was pretty cool seeing a real street in chaos, filled with rubble, people running in terror and army guys firing loud, loud guns up at what will be an evil giant robot. The geek in me couldn't help but enjoy the scenario.
The second take went and this time Bay threw in a surprise. At least for me. I felt the heat before I saw or heard the explosion 20 feet to my right. I was standing away from the sidewalk so I'd be out of the way of the cameraman with the shoulder-mounted cam. I don't know if there was a malfunction for the first take or not, but clearly this fireball was meant to go up in this scene and I was totally unprepared for it. I didn't get hurt or anything, but it's a little disconcerting to be watching some army men firing blanks at a giant invisible robot and then feel a gust of wind on my face that reminded me of opening up my oven when it's been cooking all day, followed by an amazingly loud pop and a flash of light.
I asked if we knew which Decepticon was causing this mayhem and my Paramount friends, Karl and Mickey (who, incidentally, I got to see put on his Ari Gold face whenever his assistant was around), weren't sure. The only name I heard brought up was Starscream, but that wasn't 100%. If true, then I can at least say I've felt the heat of Starscream's laser blast, which is some kind of geek merit badge, I think. Or maybe Bay was trying to kill me... which is a different badge. I need 'em both, so whichever is cool.
I was pulled into a quick interview with Josh Duhamel around this time. I had about 5 minutes to chat before he was called back to work in front of the camera. It wasn't long to talk, not like the massive amount of time I had with Shia, but Duhamel proved to be an easy guy to converse with. Very laid back, very natural. Here's the chat:
QUINT: Can you tell the readers a little something about your character? You're obviously an army man...
JOSH DUHAMEL: Well, I guess the backstory is that he's a Special Ops guy, the captain of a Special Ops team over in Iraq. His main purpose for getting through this whole thing is because he just wants to get home. His wife just had a baby that he hasn't seen yet. He's like, 3 months old. Basically, that's as far as we and then Boom! That's when they come. So, you know... It's hard to talk character because it's one of those movies that's more about what's happening right now. Does he have enough character to get through this?
QUINT: So, we'll discover your character through your actions as the story goes...
JOSH DUHAMEL: Right, right. How he reacts and how he's able to lead his men. He loves his guys. This is basically his family when he's not home, so it's all about making sure that they get back and just figure out a way to beat these things.
QUINT: You were born in the '70s, right?
JOSH DUHAMEL: '72.
QUINT: So, you were a kid when TRANSFORMERS hit.
JOSH DUHAMEL: Oh yeah.
QUINT: Did you follow it at all or were a little too old by the time the Transformers came around?
JOSH DUHAMEL: What was the actual year it came out? Do you know?
QUINT: I think it was like '84.
JOSH DUHAMEL: Yeah, so this was right when I was... Yeah, I played with these quite a bit. I mean, I was... 12 years old then, but I still remember watching 'em on TV, you know? And I had them and everything. It's definitely something I grew up with.
When I first heard they were going to be doing a movie, I didn't know what to expect. I remembered the cartoons and playing with the toys and then I knew that Michael Bay was doing it and Spielberg was doing it, so I knew it was gonna be well thought out beforehand. And they were going to get the scope and there was going to be a huge evolution from what we knew of the Transformers before and what they conceived afterwards. They just made them a lot more modern.
The art is what blows me away the most on this. I've seen pictures of all of them, I've seen some CGI of what they're going to do. It's just so insane.
QUINT: I sat down with Bay before they started filming and he showed me some animatics... I like how everything I saw had a relation to the world we live in...
JOSH DUHAMEL: Well, that's exactly why it works, I think. It's not in some other world, it's not in the future. It's right now. It deals with current things. We're over in Iraq when these things first hit, which I think people watching will... You know, it will ground it, it'll make it feel real. It's going to feel real, like this is really happening.
The technology that they're using... they're using the most advanced CGI that they have now, so it's going to look insane, these cars and whatnot turning into these things will look like the real deal. Not only that, but I think that the fact that they wrote it with a lot of humor, too, so it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not always impending doom and it's not way over the top. There are moments when it's very serious, but there's also moments where it's light and funny. It has some levity to it.
But what you said with the animatics and sitting down with him before, I got to do that, too. That's what I mean by what, to me, makes Bay so incredible at what he does. The amount of organization, the amount of prep that goes into this stuff. And coordination beforehand. It shows up on the screen because there's so much detail that's been thought out before we even get here. It's amazing. To me, probably more than most because I've never been on a set like this. I've never seen anything at this scale.
Usually behind the camera on the day he totally gets it. A lot of that is because he preps so well and works so hard before we even start shooting.
QUINT: Which Transformer is your personal favorite?
JOSH DUHAMEL: Good question. You know what? I gotta say... I haven't seen any of the Decepticons really. I've seen Devastator, the tank... and I guess I've seen the helicopters and stuff, but I haven't seen what they look like (as robots). As far as the Autobots, I gotta go with Ironhide, the truck. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because I own a black truck. But I was thinking... If I was a kid, if I was 10 years old, and I wanted one of these to play with the first one I'd get is probably Ironhide.
I also like Bumblbee just because he's a cool Camaro. Plus, I drive the old Camaro on LAS VEGAS, so I have a real affinity for that, too.
He had to be pulled away, back to the shot.
They moved the cameras again, this time Bay's video village was set up right next to me. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura catches sight of me and gives me a warm greeting. I spent some time with Lorenzo during pre-production of STARDUST in London. He sat me down and showed me tons of art and walked me through the Pinewood sets then (read about that visit here!!!). We got along pretty well.
He was again all smiles, but had to go entertain the International press that showed up around noon. I saw him occasionally for the rest of my time on set leading around around a group of Asian reporters. When he left me standing at the canvas chairs, I noticed I was alone at the video village... Well, not totally alone. I looked over and Michael Bay was sitting there, turned in his chair, looking at me. There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment. He looked like he was struggling with something.
"Listen, I want to say something," he said.
"Okay..." said I.
He said that he knew there were a lot of people bitching and whining and bitching and bitching (his words) since the Optimus Prime vehicle pic hit the net. "The reason I went with the flames was to be able to define Prime's mid-section when he's a robot." Apparently, the flames are set sort of like ribs on the robot Prime, giving his mid-section more than just a monotone look. He also assured me that Prime was definitely red and blue, that the paint job from that angle made the blue look black. He also said that the only reason he picked a long-nose truck instead of a flat-nose truck was purely for the additional mass.
I told him that I believed that every single person being vocally negative about the film wants this film to be great. They might not trust him or what he's doing, but nobody is out there hoping Bay messes this movie up. They want to see a badass live action TRANSFORMERS flick. I said if he could nail the robots, then the majority of the people will forgive whatever changes they don't like.
He smiled and was really giddy about what they've done so far. He said they've fully rendered the Skorpinok sequence I've described in animatic form and said it was badass. Bay also said he counted 11 different set pieces in the film, saying that the film just moves like a shot and he can't wait for people to see it.
Bay also talked about Peter Cullen, saying that he was happy that Cullen was voicing Prime again. After Cullen does his voice work, Bay wants an actor to come in and make a video reference of the delivery for each of the lines, to give the animators something to work with. He said Cullen's voice was note-perfect, but he wanted a screen-actor to actually act out the lines so the animators could look at it. Apparently they have a program where they can put in an actor's face and watch a rough Optimus act, conforming slightly the characteristics of the face. Bay talked about playing around with footage of both Robert De Niro and Hugo Weaving with this program and seeing the De Niro and Weaving versions of Optimus Prime. He stressed it wasn't motion capture.
He couldn't have been happier with ILM's work so far. Can't wait to get a glimpse of that stuff.
Bay was pulled away and I sat down, catching up on my notes. Tyrese was sitting behind me, in the shade of an awning. He thanked me for the mention in the last piece and, with a laugh, promised my $1,000 check for mentioning his production company (HQ Entertainment at www.hqent.net) was on its way. Sweet, here comes my second imaginary payday! Woo-hoo!
They had a shot ready with Megan Fox, the first time I've seen her do any work in all my visits. She is adorable in person. I can understand why she has a following. I never spoke with her, as it seemed she only had one shot the first half of the day.
She was in a light pink sweater and covered in dirt, smudges all over her clothes and face. Her hair was tied back into a pony tail. She was amongst the destruction on Broadway, looking down the street, and was supposed to be reacting to a series of explosions. Bay called her over to show her some footage they had shot already leading up to this moment. I wasn't within view of the monitor, but I could hear Shia yelling.
Some time had passed since the last set up, so Bay stood up and lit a fire under the crew's asses. "C'mon guys! We're losing our energy!" Then he's hit with a thick cloud of smoke from a smoldering, crushed in delivery van. "Too much smoke," he yelled. "Oh, God! That's some stinky shit!" They get the cameras ready and one of the set decorators wants to take a moment to put something that'll make steam come out of the van before they roll. Bay: "Fuck the steam! Let's move!" And so they moved.
Megan went back to her general starting point area and Bay called for the cameras to roll immediately. Megan looked panicked and called out something like, "What am I supposed to do?" Bay didn't hear her. Megan looked to the AD and mouthed, "I don't know what to do." The AD started to say something when Bay called "Action!" and called out the 3 explosions. "BOOM!" He waited while Fox just stood there. "BOOM!" Again, she didn't move. Bay said, "React!" She called back, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do!" Bay called, "Cut!" and walked over to her. She repeated that she wasn't told what to do. Bay pointed at the AD and said, "This is your fault," and told her again where the cameras were and how she was supposed to react.
The next take Bay yells "Boom! Boom! Boom!" with about 3 seconds pause between each. Megan's reaction was a kind of lame shoulder jump, like she was giving an exaggerated shrug. Her breath is heavy... with worry, I'd guess, but her face didn't really show much from the distance I was watching from, about 20 feet away. She then runs across the street to a tow truck with "Mike's Towing" stenciled on. She flips open a panel on the truck like she's going to grab for something and they yelled cut.
Bay didn't like the reaction she gave, so he asked "Can we get some explosions?" Of course they'd have to rig these up and that'd take time, but then one crew member joked about just shooting a gun. Bay, dead serious, agreed. "Why don't we get some gunfire? Let's get some gunfire!" Next take, sure enough one of those DOGS OF WAR guns were pulled out and instead of Bay yelling "Boom!" three times, they had 3 loud blasts from the gun. She jumped each time a little better, but to my untrained eye she still just looked like she shrugging her shoulders while breathing heavy. When she ran to the tow truck this time it was clear they unleashed twice the amount of extras running down the sidewalk than what was in the previous take. Little Megan Fox got damn near bowled over by the extras running at full speed. It was like watching a linebacker tackling a cheerleader when she got hit, but they never crashed to the ground and she was okay and still ran to the tow truck.
I was having a conversation with Executive Producer Mark Vahradian during the break after they got what they wanted from Megan. He asked about upcoming 2007 movies I was looking forward to. Of course I said SPIDER-MAN 3, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3, 300... Bay walked by us and stopped to listen in to me talking about SPIDER-MAN 3. He just kind of nodded his head and said it was a mistake for them not to have had a presentation at Comic-Con. I assume he saw all the coverage all those movies got out of the Con and how excited people were. They did announce Peter Cullen returning to voice Optimus, which was something, but I told him they really should have run an animatic of Optimus transforming. I've seen some of these things and they are goddamn cool. He just shook his head.
Before I left the set I saw 2 more sequences shot. The first one I'm talking about was actually the last sequence I saw before they broke for lunch. It had Tyrese, Duhamel and their men ducking for cover in the middle of the street, using overturned cars for protection. The shot starts on a soldier on the ground, part of an undercarriage laying over him. It's like he just narrowly avoided getting blown up. Before the shot Bay had the actor push the tire so it was still turning when the shot started. The man gets up, pushes the debris off him, shakes it off and the camera whips up to Tyrese and Duhamel who have a heated conversation. It starts with both calling out to the men, asking if anybody is hurt.
I didn't have headphones, so the only part of the conversation I heard clearly were the bits that were yelled. The gist of the conversation has Duhamel expecting back-up, I think, but Tyrese, radio in hand, tells him that whatever they were expecting to back 'em up was not effective. Duhamel whips his head up to the skies above the street, his eyes widen and yells, "Threat at 12 o'clock! Threat at 12 o'clock!" And then it's a cut.
Bay wanted a pause in there as Duhamel's character stops frantically reloading and looking around for enemies. Whatever Tyrese tells him weighs heavily on his character and Bay wants us to see that. Duhamel took a few more takes to get it right, but he eventually did. I was watching the takes playing on the sound man's little TV. If I have a problem with what I saw Megan Fox doing, then my opinion of Duhamel is completely opposite. I could see the gears turning as he processed what Tyrese was telling him, letting the bad news sink in. This guy has it and if he picks the right projects he's going to be a massive star.
The other scene I saw actually had a couple transformers in it! Pretty good Autobot sequence, actually. They were only in vehicle form, but it was still very cool. This was a long shot of the Army group running down the length of Broadway, for the entire block. Explosions are all around them. At least half a dozen. They're firing up the air again, but this time Ironhide and Ratchet drive, backwards, around the corner in front of the group. They drive backwards down the block, giving cover to retreating men.
You've probably seen Ironhide and Ratchet by now, but if you're not sure which vehicles they are, Ironhide is a big, black pick-up truck and Ratchet is a combo-hummer/ambulance, yellow. On Ironhide's tailgate is an embossed Autobot logo and stuck to the rear of Ratchet is a giant circular sticker that is divided into 4 sections, each depicting a rescue scenario. The slogan on the truck is something like To Rescue and Protect. In the middle of this circular sticker, connecting all 4 images, is the Autobot logo.
They broke for lunch, which was my cue to leave. I waited a minute while the crew cleared out and then approached the two Autobot vehicles. I had to touch one. They were parked one in front of the other, Ironhide's front bumper close to Ratchet's rear bumper. Up close the embossed tail gate was even cooler than far away. If this movie turns out to be complete, unwatchable, unrecognizable crap, I still guarantee there will be a huge influx of Transformers customized cars. Hell, I want an Autobot logo stamped into my piece of crap 95 Ford Escort.
Ironhide is huge. The bottom of the driver's side door was about 4 feet off the ground, with no footstep. Ratchet also looked cool up close and personal. After I had my geek moment of respectful appreciation, I left the set.
Once again, the overall feeling I got from my time on the set is that Bay is going for broke in terms of the scope of the film and the action involved. This will be a huge action spectacular, no doubt. The only real question is really how much Transformers fans will be able to recognize. Bay's making progress into the fan's territory. He's hired Peter Cullen, he obviously reads what you guys say whenever a story is posted. But it's clear he's making his movie. We'll see if he hits that balance of fun movie for the masses and one respectful to the source material. No matter what, he's certainly a fun character to write about and I've had a lot of fun watching him work. I hope I'll have just as much or more fun next summer in the theater. I mean, is it really that hard to mess up a giant fighting robot movie?