Summer Movie Q&A

Optimus Prime Time

''Transformers'' director Michael Bay opens up about working with Steven Spielberg, the art of the action film, and the possibility of a sequel

BAY (with Optimus Prime) ''I was a non-Transformer fan, but that's good because I think it makes [the film] more accessible for people that are…
BAY (with Optimus Prime) ''I was a non-Transformer fan, but that's good because I think it makes [the film] more accessible for people that are non-Transformer fans''
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Optimus Prime Time

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''I've thought more about robots in a year and a half than probably anybody,'' sighs Michael Bay. Slouched in his chair, a gentle breeze wafting through his surprisingly zen Santa Monica, Calif., office, he's still hung over from the previous evening's mega-premiere of his latest summer-action extravaganza, Transformers — the movie adaptation of the 1980s cartoon TV series and Hasbro toy line about a race of alien machines who bring their war to Earth. (He may be doing more celebrating after seeing the estimated $36.3 million in box-office revenue from the movie's first 36 hours in theatres, including $27.5 million on July 3, its first full day of release, a new record for a Tuesday opening.)

Over the course of the next hour, Bay talked to EW.com about his working relationship with exec producer Steven Spielberg, what helped him get over the notion of directing just ''a toy movie,'' and how he feels about being, you know, Michael Bay.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I have to tell you, as a Transformers fan since childhood, the special effects were pretty darn cool.
MICHAEL BAY: That's what it's all about. I worked a long time on that. It wasn't always easy.

I can see why — the machinery is incredibly intricate. Why did you want to go in that route and not more —
Simple? Like a cartoon? Basically it's the equivalent of, like, the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. It's got to withstand, you know, a 40-foot screen — you just need a lot of detail and a lot of things moving just to keep your eye dazzled by these complex machines. It wasn't always peaches and cream. The robots kind of sucked in the beginning. My whole thing is lighting with [visual] effects. We all know something in our brain is telling us it's not lit right — that's what makes you say it looks like a cartoon. You figure out how it's all going to reflect different pieces of light — different materials reflect differently.

What first hooked you into wanting to direct Transformers?
It was a pitch that Steven [Spielberg] gave me. The story is true: I hung up [after we talked] and went ''I'm not doing that silly movie because it sounds like a toy movie.'' I thought about it. And I said okay, you know, [I'll] just go to Hasbro [for] this thing called Transformer School. I sat in this conference room and we went through the entire lore of Transformers. I like Japanese anime movies — I just think visually they're really cool. There were some images in the room; I kept looking at one and I'm like, you know, if I make it real and edgy, it might be something really interesting. So I was a non-Transformer fan, but that's good because I think it makes it more accessible for people that are non-Transformer fans. I kept having this image of a kid hiding his robots from his parents. To me that's just a great kid fantasy. You have alien robots that are your friends. That's charming to me. [Chuckles]

My understanding is that Spielberg really was the guy that roped you into directing this film. What was the first time that you realized that he was following your career?
When I was 27, I did a whole string of commercials that were pretty famous, the type of commercial where people go to a bar [and say], ''Did you see that commercial?'' That ''Got Milk?'' stuff, a whole string of funny Nike ones, whatever. So I sent this reel [of my work] around Hollywood. I get this call from my agent. ''Steven wants to see you.'' I go, ''Steven who?'' ''Steven Spielberg wants to see you.'' Okay. I drove down to his office. A true story — I said, ''You know, when I was 15, I worked at Lucasfilm and I filed your Raiders of the Lost Ark storyboards. I saw the entire movie [in storyboard form] and I honestly thought it was going to suck.'' [Laughs] And he started laughing. And I said, ''When I went to the Grauman's Chinese [Theater] with my parents and saw it, I went 'Oh my God, I've got to do this.''' [Pause] I don't know, he's always been nice to me.

NEXT PAGE: ''When I am doing action I'm like your worst nightmare basketball coach. I am there with my kneepads on, right next to you.''

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