It takes a lot of experience to keep a production like Transformers: Age of Extinction running smoothly; luckily, veteran producer Ian Bryce is more than up to the task. Bryce has been in the Transformers game alongside Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Michael Bay since the original 2007 film, so he was a perfect person to talk to about how the franchise has changed (and how it’s stayed true to its origins) during a visit to the film’s Detroit set.
Bryce talked to our small group of visiting journalists about his excitement for the new film, learning from the previous three movies, the new IMAX 3D cameras, challenges of filming on location, and his favorite action scene so far. He also reflected on his working relationship with Bay. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
Ian Bryce: I’ll tell you what’s great about the new movie is its freshness: the new cast, the new robots, the new vehicles … we’ve got a lot of new things. And the fresh approach certainly in the first act with Mark and Nicola, their relationship, the father-daughter relationship, is really sweet and poignant, and sets up the whole movie in a new and different way. And the look of Texas is completely different. It’s more rural as opposed to urban, which we got such a plethora of in the first three movies, so this is a completely different take on this movie. That’s what I’m really excited about.
We’ve heard a lot of focus on the human relationship in this movie, which you just mentioned, but could you talk about how Wahlberg’s veteran status as an actor has helped them to work together as a unit?
Bryce: Well look, we’ve had the benefit of a lot of great actors in the franchise; this one’s no different. Mark, with his relationship with Michael from Pain & Gain, they’ve got a great relationship, which is what led to Mark coming on to the movie. With Kelsey and Stanley and Sophia, Nicola, and Jack, it’s like a great ensemble cast. Obviously Mark is a very experienced movie star, and everybody’s excited about him being in the film, not just us, but out there in the world and the press. So I think that there’s an expectation with this cast that it’s going to be fun and exciting and good.
What lessons do you feel like you’ve taken away from the first three films that you’re able to apply to this one?
Bryce: Well I think you always have to try to expand the content to make it exciting for the audience and the kids out there with the cars and the robots. You can’t rest on any laurels if they exist, and happily there are some from the franchise, but you have to always expand your own horizon both creatively and technically as well, so we’re always looking for new ways to film things, new equipment, we have new cranes, new camera systems, we’re shooting this movie in IMAX in 3D, so Mike is always pushing the envelope that way to enhance what the story is and what the cast brings to the project, so we’re always pushing in every direction because otherwise, it’s just like another movie, it’s just like one more of the same thing. And we don’t want it to be that way. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing that. We want to push it.
What can you tell us about these new IMAX cameras?
Bryce: Well, we have IMAX 3D cameras. There’s one right here on the Porsche. It’s new technology, they’re getting smaller, they’re getting lighter, the digital imagery is obviously a fabulous quality, as you know. We love that we’re shooting much less film these days, certainly on this franchise. Even though Mike, Amir [Mokri], and I, we’re all film fans, we grew up with that, but as technology is changing, we have to embrace it. The image quality’s fantastic. You can use both, you can co-mingle, which we do. So we shoot in 2D and 3D, we use film and digital, so we use different methods and it all works together. You can convert, obviously, what you don’t shoot in 3D, and those techniques and those quality controls are really, really high now, so there’s no loss or degradation of image quality.
Do the locations on this film bring any special challenges?
Bryce: Yeah the locations on the franchise have always been very challenging, because the scope of the movie is big. So in this area, for example, you’re dealing with a monorail system that runs every seven minutes, we have to have a whole coordination … it’s like a movie within a movie of making sure that they can stop and shut down and wait while we do the take, and we have to make sure we don’t get any debris on the tracks, which is problematic for the train. That’s a whole thing within this particular location. The set, as you can see back here, there was nothing there except a building, so we sort of incorporated the set of Hong Kong into this environment, so you have to deal with not only the train, but all the local buildings, offices, the police. Tomorrow there’s a Tigers game, so you have to coordinate with the Tigers, all that stuff are like major components of this franchise because it’s big stuff.
Would you say that’s your toughest challenge on a production of this scale? Managing locations?
Bryce: No, not really. We have a great, very experienced group of department heads with literally hundreds of years of experience between them. We actually did this little exercise the other day. The top tier of his department heads have like 850 years of experience, so the truth is that once we know what we want to do, the guys go out and they make all the deals and they make the arrangements, and that stuff generally goes, I mean it’s hard and it’s big and there’s a lot of cooperation that we have to bring inside the movie and then from the movie out to the public to make it all happen, but usually we’re able to figure all that stuff out.
How long does a set like this take to create?
Bryce: This was probably 16 weeks from start to finish.
I’m always curious, with the explosions being done practically, what is it like having to think about that ahead of time? If, say, that bus is going to get blown up, you never know if you’re going to need another one for a reshoot. How much work goes into making sure you have the shot the first time?
Bryce: Well, most of what we do is a one-take deal. Yesterday, we did some things were two cars crashed into the set, we flipped three cars, we blew one of the train cars – which was ours, being towed by one of theirs – so it exploded, and so that coordination effort takes weeks to plan, longer, and then on the day we know that we’ve got that element, this element, the car element, stunt people running around, so much of it is laid out in concept early. We have pre-visualization that the department heads will work from and will work with Michael. Then, on the actual day, Mike sets the cameras where he wants them. A lot of it all comes together in the last 15 minutes.
How many cameras are running during these kinds of things?
Bryce: It depends. Always four, sometimes if you’re doing big gags like someone’s jumping out of a building into boxes or whatever, you’ll have a camera that’s specifically set for that. So we’ll have nine or ten cameras sometimes. In here, there will always be four running.
How much of this structure is pre-existing and how much did you build?
Bryce: We built the pagoda, quite a bit out to the side, the noodle shop, all those structures we added.
What would you say is different about this movie that sets it apart from the previous three? Do you feel like this is the start of a new franchise?
Bryce: I do. I think this, hopefully, would be the first in a new trilogy. Hopefully the way you do that is by injecting the freshness of a new cast, the new cars, the new robots, the new ideas, and you just start taking that in a new direction, which is what we’ve tried to do.
What would you say is different about working with Michael Bay versus any other director?
Bryce: Well Mike, I love Mike. We’re like an old married couple by this point. We’ve been together almost 10 years. We have a shorthand, we understand each other. I respect him, he respects me, so we do our jobs together. I help him try to pull the elements together on the set. I find that Mike is a master of shooting stuff that is partially there and partially not there. Yesterday we were shooting this big gag, and he keeps the cameras running and pulls the Porsche into the set where all the mayhem was just happening and just keeps shooting, shooting more plates, and I know he’s shooting a plate for one of the robots in there, but he just figures that out on the spot. In terms of improvisation in this kind of a world, he’s peerless.
Lorenzo was talking earlier about the relatively short schedule for shooting and post-production. How much of that is pre-planned and how much, as you just mentioned, is done on the fly?
Bryce: We set a schedule and a budget and all the locations, that’s all fairly in cement. We know how many days we’re going to have and where they’re going to be, and how many days by sequence, so once he’s inside the set, he improvises, but when we give him seven days for this location, he knows he’s got seven days and he figures out how to fit his shots into that. That’s all part of our preliminary planning. I’ll go to him and say we’re going to have this many days and this is what the movie’s going to cost, and he goes, “Yeah, okay, I’ll make that work.” So luckily we have that shorthand now. We don’t have to go through every single piece of information in detail.
How much involvement do you have in the shaping of the story?
Bryce: Look, I’m involved in all of that. Mike relies on Lorenzo and I and Ehren [Kruger] to help do that, but mostly that’s Mike and Ehren, and frankly a little bit more Lorenzo than me, honestly. The way that Lorenzo and my relationship is, we split things, right? There’s so much energy that I have to put into this organization and the running of the film, and he has his own company, so he spends a little time on the script and the casting and everything, and I take a little of the other stuff and run the operation and the logistics.
Bryce: We go to Chicago for five weeks, and then we’re in Washington state for a couple of days, and then we go to Hong Kong, and then we’ll end up in China for a couple of days. So, it’s an odyssey.
Do you have a particular set that’s your favorite so far?
Bryce: Well, I like this one, but last week’s is probably my favorite. We had a big ferry, we had a boat sequence at night with helicopters and stunt guys and cars and vehicles and a lot of heavy artillery action. I think that’s been my favorite visually. It was stunningly beautiful and had some heavy action.
For more on Transformers: Age of Extinction, here’s our coverage from our set visit:
- 65 Things to Know About Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION From Our Set Visit
- Michael Bay Talks TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Working with Mark Wahlberg, Robot Redesigns, the New IMAX Camera, and More
- Mark Wahlberg Talks TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Drawing on His Experience as a Father, Big Action Movies & Possibly Singing the Title Track
- Jack Reynor and Nicola Peltz Talk TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Action Scenes, Character Traits, Working with Mark Wahlberg and Michael Bay & More
- Stanley Tucci and Sophia Myles Talk TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Filming Action Scenes, Working with Michael Bay, and Their Favorite Bay Movies
- Lorenzo di Bonaventura Talks TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Working with Michael Bay, Casting Mark Wahlberg, and Threats from Robots and Humans Alike