Capone shares some initial thoughts on his TRANSFORMERS 3 set visit, and having Chicago taken over by alien robots for a summer!
Published at: Aug. 26, 2010, 12:40 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
When I was in San Diego last month for Comic-Con, there was a rare moment (outside of Austin) when most of the Ain't It Cool writers were all in the same place. It was the Con's final day, and Harry looked at me and announced to the table that he couldn't even imagine how awesome it was to be living in Chicago this summer with all of the broad-daylight action scenes being shot on the city streets for TRANSFORMERS 3 (real title still to be decided). Since the July 4 weekend, the city has essentially handed over its streets, bridges, and buildings to director Michael Bay and his hard-working team of actors, stunt people, effects experts, and other production types, who have all done an incredible job making it look very much like Chicago is getting its ass handed to it by alien robots.
And while it's true that every day this summer has seemed like a set visit, I was recently sanctioned to be on a set for the day, and saw some intense shit that went way beyond guys running around with guns (although there was plenty of that). Let's just say that by the end of my 10-hour-plus day, ear plugs were my new best friend, and my clothes were covered in a thin layer of soot and fake debris. I'll have a much longer, proper set-visit piece in a couple weeks, but as the TRANSFORMERS 3 team prepares to exit Chicago (I believe they have another week or two), I thought I'd give you a little taste of what I saw and learned on my visit.
My entire day was spent on a single set that wasn't even a set. It's a location I pass several times in a normal week, because it's just around the corner from where many of the Chicago press screenings happen. So even before I got the invite the evening before, I knew where the crew was setting up, at a small parking lot location near the Wabash and Lake Street intersection. The scene was post-Apocalyptic, with rubble everywhere, cars burned out or flipped over or both, and black ash covering everything (some crew members wore masks). I also noticed that the four-story parking garage at the back of the lot had two extra, partial levels that weren't there a couple days before, and on those levels were the only cars in sight that weren't damaged. Yet. More on that later.
Within a couple hours, all of the people who I would be talking to during the course of the day were introduced to me, including the film's producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura; Ian Bryce, one of the industry's best line producers, whose many accomplishments included facilitating the switch to 3-D; John Frazier, the special effects supervisor; veteran visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar of Industrial Light & Magic; Brian Goldner, the president & CEO of Hasbro (who just happened to be visiting with his daughter the same day); stunt coordinator Kenny Bates; Colin Follenweider, stunt double for Shia LaBeouf, who has been in many civilian-shot set photos, misidentified as Shia; Simone Bargetze, stunt double for Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Manning Tillman, the 3D camera supervisor/operator (who also worked on AVATAR and TRON: LEGACY) on the PACE 3D camera rig; and, of course, executive producer-director Michael Bay. Oh, and there may have been an actor or two floating around with names like Shia, Rosie, Josh, but it was pretty dusty so it was tough to tell.
A few things I can tell you about at this point, while Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley may have low approval numbers from city residents, if you polled the folks on the TRANSFORMERS 3 set, he'd be trending at about 100 percent for kick-ass city mayors they've worked with before. You have to understand that while this isn't the first large-scale film to be shot in Chicago, this is the first to so completely disrupt the city's existence for such a prolonged period. Line producer Bryce explained that even THE DARK KNIGHT (the last film of this magnitude to shoot in Chicago) shot mostly at night or on the weekends, and only truly took over Lower Wacker Drive, whereas TRANSFORMERS 3 caused the complete rerouting of bus routes and traffic patterns for weeks on end. And what was even more encouraging was that the city's residents didn't seem to mind because they were getting a show in return--guys base jumping off tall building and landing on Wacker Drive, explosions, cars flipping end over end, and the occasional movie star run in.
Perhaps the coolest thing I saw all day on set was a fairly lengthy sizzle reel of footage shot in the first three weeks of Chicago. You can say what you want about Bay or the TRANSFORMERS movies (lord knows I have) or any of Bay's other films, but dammit, the man knows how to make explosions and action look about as badass as anyone. And this sizzle reel was unstoppable, even without a single robot to be seen. Chicago hasn't looked this stunning on film, maybe ever. But watching it get totaled was just too wonderful for words. Bay showed me this reel personally and stood right next to me while we watched it. He knew it looked great, and it absolutely did. The footage also revealed a few things about plot and characters that I'm not going to spoil, and Bay was pretty open about story details that probably shouldn't be shared, including showing me the entire anamatic on his iPad for the sequence he was shooting that day. He also showed me some funny videos on his iPhone from a Victoria's Secret commercial he shot in town on his "off" weekend. Another, shorter sizzle reel Bay played for me later on a 3D monitor featured footage shot in 3D from the entirety of the shoot (not just Chicago scenes), and that looked insane. The man took the time and figured out how to use 3D to better this film.
Again, you can say what you want about his movies, but you have never seen anything quite as fast paced and kinetic as a Michael Bay set. Things are always moving, and he manages to keep the energy up at an exhausting pace. He also likes to work on the fly, changing up shots at the last minute because he's evaluated the look of the set and sees an opportunity to get a better scene out of it. And the crew reacts instantaneously, keeping things safe but still feeling a little dangerous. And lest you think Bay might dial back his method or personality just because there was a reporter on set, think again. His well-documented way of peppering his speech with some of the great four-letter words that make life worth living was in full effect on this day. Although, it became clear that getting yelled at by Bay is just part of the day's work; some even consider it an honor. He even yelled at me once, and I had to hold back from smiling when it finally happened. But it's clear, the yelling is not a sign of him being angry. In fact, he was an attentive and gracious host to me, always making sure I was nearby when shooting was going to take place so I could see over his shoulder at the monitors. If I wasn't nearby, he'd have someone find me before rolling.
As I said, a more detailed set report is coming soon, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts on the visit as the TRANSFORMERS 3 team is a short time away from leaving our fair city. I especially want to thank Gabriela from Paramount who arranged the visit and did her best to keep an eye on me so I didn't get crushed by falling vehicles. Although I didn't conduct any formal interviews on set, I did take a lot of notes on the conversations I had, and I think you'll be pleased and surprised by some of Michael Bay's comments, especially concerning the previous TRANSFORMERS film.
Oh, hey, here's something that happened on the set I visited. What you're looking at is the top of a school bus in mid-flip after an explosion propelled it in the air. (Click on it and then click again to make the image enormous.)