‘The Last Knight’ Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura Reveals How a ‘Transformers’ Movie Is Made

Earlier this year, I was standing on the set of Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight outside of Detroit, Michigan. In between getting to see Bay work up close for the first time and watching tons of explosions and gunfire, I was able to participate in a group interview with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

During an extended conversation with one of the few people that’s been involved in all the Transformers movies besides Michael Bay, he revealed how The Last Knight came together, how the film explores the Transformers mythology, what’s different about this sequel, how they determine which characters to include, if they listen to the fans when making the films, future sequels, the status of the Bumblebee spinoff, if people need to have seen the first four installments to understand The Last Knight, how Grimlock plays a larger role, their relationship with Hasbro, and so much more. If you’re a fan of Transformers, I promise you’ll love this interview because it’s loaded with info. Check out what he had to say below.

Question: What is the basic thing going on here? We saw in the last movie Optimus flies away.

Image via Paramount

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I’m not going to give too much away. It’s going to go back into the deep mythology of the Transformers. On Earth, our guys are going to find a whole other level of mythology that’s happening on Earth that really–you know, we did this writer’s table a long time ago, and I think one of the great things that came out of it, was–one was sort of refreshing ourselves in the depth of the Transformers mythology, which is actually quite impressive, and two was building it out, and taking some things–sort of the way the movie ended, you’re going, all right, it’s headed in that direction.

There’s a lot of the mythology that was sort of that way too, where we were sitting around going, all right, where is the logical place for this to head? So I think–I know–you’re going to get two pieces of the mythology that converge at the end. So that’s sort of the driving part of it, of the movie, I would say.

Well, one of the things that we all know that you had the writer table and you developed spin-offs and future sequels. So how much is it now that you guys are thinking this is the first of many future movies, and laying those Easter eggs? Do you know what I mean?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah. You’ve got to be careful with that stuff, because then you start thinking about the other movies and not about the one you’re making. There’s definitely, I would say, we definitely spent some time going “How does this link up and where are these other things going to go?” So I think in their initial construction in the writer’s room, and the initial sort of thinking, we spent a lot of time on that, thinking about the interrelationship. Now, when we’re making the movie, we don’t think a lot about it, it’s just what is in the script is in the script.

Are there direct connections, though, that you would see to the Bumblebee spin-off of things in this movie? Does this set things up?

Di Bonaventura: Sometimes is the answer. It’s not always, because I think then it feels like you’re really trying to widget it all together, and it becomes a little too neat. But I think–I don’t think, I know–some of the things will have a very direct relationship. You’ll see some things in here that are laying a pipe. You won’t necessarily know that it’s laying a pipe for another movie, but it’s there.

So there’s probably, in a really meaningful way, two or three things in this movie that really have a meaningful aspect in terms of it, and then there’s a bunch of little things. But we’re not making this movie to set up the other movies. That’s what I’m trying to say. If you get too carried away with that, you stop thinking about this movie.

And this movie, the two lines of mythology in a sense give you freedom to go a lot of different places later on that may or may not directly relate to another movie, but it’s opening up the universe in a way that  I think, in that way it’s probably the most provocative, in terms of the movie. It’s opening a really large universe of what Transformers is, and where they’ve come from, and how we relate to them, and how they relate to themselves.

With that mythology you’re talking about, doing the deep dive, is that primarily from the cartoon, or did that include the comic adaptations?

Di Bonaventura: It’s both, and I think it’s also–Hasbro put together sort of a bible, if you would, of all the mythologies that have been put forward, and they put it into one thing, and some of the comic book doesn’t fit exactly with the TV show and the movie. So you had to sort of–there was a few rough edges we had to round off, but you know, now with a fifth movie coming, there’s a lot of mythology that we’ve established as well. So what we did was really built all three of the things into one very large document–very large world.

Does Hasbro ever say they want certain characters? Like, “Why haven’t you guys done Hot Rod yet, we’d like to see him?”

Di Bonaventura: They definitely have their favorites, like any fan, I think they have their favorites. Sometimes we’re able to include them, and sometimes not. The story, to a certain extent, will demand that, you know. I think we’re always looking to create a few new ones, too, so that the fans have something that is brand new, as well. So that it doesn’t just feel derivative of what they’ve seen or done before, so we’re trying to keep a kind of balance in that respect. Keep the loved ones, add a few new ones–add a few ones from the mythology.

There are other sort of film franchises that are sort of paying attention to fan chatter sometimes during production. Is there a temptation to do that?

Di Bonaventura: Did you read that article about that? Who was it that wrote that–Joss Whedon? Did you read that article?

Not yet.

Di Bonaventura: It’s kind of an interesting article. I think the New York Times did it. It’s a really tricky thing, because on the one hand, the fans are what made us successful, and on the other hand, if you are not listening to yourself, then you’re kind of making a hodge-podge of a movie.

So my personal feeling is–and everybody has a slightly different barometer, I think–I want to know first for myself what I want, what I would like a movie to be, then I can open myself up to listening. Because otherwise I think you kind of get lost about what you’re trying to do. Because you go “Oh, well, that’s really interesting, and how does that fit together?” And you find yourself–there’s a lot of scripts in Hollywood that I refer to as Frankenstein scripts. They’re a lot of really interesting parts that really don’t fit together very well.

I think if you too early listen to too many people, you get caught in that situation, because there are so many good ideas. You put them all in, and then you’re like, “We’ve got to keep that! That’s a great idea!” And then you’ve got–you don’t have a foundation. So I like to try to find the foundation, and then start to pay attention.

Especially on a production like this, which is so expensive, and also has literally so many chefs in the kitchen.

Di Bonaventura: There’s one big chef–Michael. I think that’s true in any project. If you start listening too much to other people–and put aside established IP–it’s true on a brand new idea. If you start listening to every studio executive that gave you a note, every agent that gave you a note, you’ll lose your way. So, it’s really about trying to find that balance between holding onto what you believe, and being willing to open yourself up to hearing the better idea.

I’m curious where you guys are at on the Bumblebee?

Di Bonaventura: It’s being written.

Can you say who the writers are?

Di Bonaventura: Christina Hodson is the writer.

Is there a plan–I think it has a release date, if I’m not mistaken.

Di Bonaventura: I think the Paramount release said ’18. I think it said 2018. I don’t know if they put an actual date, but I believe they–honestly, that release came out about 4 months ago, and all I’m trying to do is get it ready as soon as I can!

Are you making this movie under the assumption that it’s Michael’s last one, or do you just see what happens when it comes to that?

Di Bonaventura: I’m going to see what happens. We’ve heard it’s his last one for about two or three movies, so, you know, we hope he keeps going. It’s his choice.  These movies are really, really exhausting, big, huge–as you can see, it’s crazy, right?  And you’re seeing a small piece of the pie. We go to England in two weeks–three weeks–two-and-a-half weeks. There’s a whole other movie being shot in England, in a sense.

So I get, from his point of view, how exhausting it is, and how all-consuming it is, and so I get, while he’s in the middle of it, he can’t imagine doing another one. But it seems like, over time, things change along the way. So we’ll see what happens. We certainly have never talked about anybody else directing the next one, I’ll say it that way.

The Transformers movies are known for some of the spectacle–the action scenes. How are you pushing the boundaries in this film compared to the last ones?

Di Bonaventura: Well, I think we’ve managed each film to be bigger, in terms of the spectacle–or different, you know. Partly by going to England, I think it’s going to have a different texture and different look, and a different kind of environment, so it’s going to feel very different. The kind of action we’re going to do there is going to be a little bit different and reflective of the place that we’re in, in a sense.

But, you know, it’s actually funny, last night at dinner, we were like, “OK, we’ve got to come up with ten new gags.” Like, something we’ve never done before, as we prepare for England. So we’re constantly trying to do what haven’t done. It’s not necessarily bigger. Bigger is great, but it’s all pretty damn big. It’s really about being singular.

We heard in England you might have what is called a horse sequence, that’s inspired by Braveheart.

Di Bonaventura: I don’t know about inspired by Braveheart, but we will definitely have some horses, and we will have some really–very different than anything you’ve seen before from us. Very different. So I think, in that way, Michael’s going to execute it great, and it’s going to feel very fresh.

When you say ‘ten new gags,’ are you saying that there are full action sequences that you haven’t planned yet?

Di Bonaventura: We’ve planned them. It’s like what I was talking about before–you sort of plan the foundation of it, and then as you go along, you go “Is that good enough?” So we’re just looking for different ideas to up the ante. We have sequences right now that would be very good. We want them to be great, so our attitude is–the challenge is, frankly, having done so many action sequences, in this franchise, is you can fall into the trap of going “Well, that looked really great–let’s go do that.” That’s what we’re trying to avoid, really hard.

The second film notoriously was a victim of the writer’s strike, and now this, a couple of movies later, you’re coming off having a writer’s room, having this collective mind sort-of hive thing. How has that changed sort of the confidence at all? Has it changed how you guys are feeling about this movie, and the franchise?

Di Bonaventura: Interesting question. I don’t think it’s changed our confidence. I think what it’s changed, as we were talking about the mythology before–I think what it’s changed is the complexity of the mythology. That’s probably it. Michael has spoken out about number two not being his favorite movie, and in that one we got a little trapped, going from idea to idea.

I think having the time to actually look at the mythology and really build it–I think this probably has a little more–not a little more, it has an idea base that is so linked to the mythology that I think it gives it a weight that’s different.

Is this one of these movies where–will people have to have seen the first four to enjoy this film?

Di Bonaventura: No, no. That’s another conscious thing. The opening of the film will introduce the sort of exploration of the mythology that we’re going to do. Therefore, it’s not necessary to have seen the films before, because it’s going to establish the–let’s call it the mystery of the movie, and the direction the movie is going to go in.

That was a very conscious attempt, because that’s the other thing you forget as a film maker. Not everybody–you kind of fell like everybody’s seen it, so they can come right along for the ride. So the opening sequence, which is probably–I don’t know, it’s been a while since I counted the pages, but I’ll say ten pages, sets the mystery of the movie, of this movie. If you’ve never seen another Transformers movie, you don’t need to.

Do you ever worry about getting too complex? Like the world building could expand to way too far?

Di Bonaventura: Yes, yeah. I think that’s in general–forget this movie for a second, In general, I think sometimes Hollywood tries to be too smart for itself, and gets so convoluted with all of the things. The reason I think I like the mythology in here is that it’s very clear. It’s not “Wait–how does that work?” It’s like, “Oh, I see what it is!” And so you’re exploring something that is, in its fundamental form, very understandable. So I think in that respect, we’re not getting too complex, or too much into a pretzel.

But do you think audiences will just kind of sense that, because of the way it was written, there’s a different feel to it?

Di Bonaventura: No, I don’t think on that level. I think tonally we’re very similar in tone. I think Michael’s action scenes are Michael’s action scenes. Wahlberg is in this one–he was in the one before. I think just as an experience it’s going to feel different. I don’t think it’s going to feel like a different movie.

Not a big break?

Image via Paramount Pictures

Di Bonaventura: I don’t think so. That’s not my gut instinct about it. I think what will locate the audience is the sort of two parallel stories that are leading to the same place, all surrounding one mythology. So I think in that way, we are very grounded. So you know, you have to use your own judgement about how you feel about that. It feels like a Michael Bay Transformers movie to me, which is great. And there’s some additional ideas and things that are able to give us a more fleshed-out world.

You had that writer’s room, and you obviously must have germinated a lot of ideas. How did you decide, or when did you decide, that The Last Knight storyline was going to be this film? Did you come close to picking a different story line for this one?

Di Bonaventura: I would say–you know what? I haven’t thought about that. Let me think about it. It was not immediately obvious that this was going to be the choice. It evolved over time. As it turned out, there was not one idea that won the day for this movie. It ended up being two ideas in particular, so there was a bit of a combination thing that happened over time. I think when the combination thing happened is when we went, “Oh, OK, I see what the movie is.” And that was a fair number of months after the writer’s room.

Were those two different ideas the two different mythologies, or two different ideas entirely?

Di Bonaventura: They’re part of the same mythology, but the fact that these two pieces could interrelate, and have quite a span in time in which we’re trying to draw from–one is, in the Transformer’s mythology, billions of years ago, and one is hundreds of years ago, so in that sense, those two ideas came together. At first, we thought maybe they were two different movies, and then they came together.

Can you talk a little bit about the Autobots that will be featured in this film? Which characters we might see?

Image via Paramount Pictures

Di Bonaventura: Well, you’re going to see your real fan favorites. There are some new ones. Have you guys seen some of the stuff that’s been out online? Well, you’re going to see Grimlock again. So that, to me, is one of the characters in the last movie that didn’t get enough screen time.

Will he speak this time?

Di Bonaventura: He has a personality this time, for sure. A little more personality, that’s for sure.

Was that Grimlock being more in the film–was that a nod to fans that wanted to see more Dinobots, or more action with the Dinobots?

Di Bonaventura: I think everybody wanted to see more Dinobots, including ourselves, you know what I mean? We all were like god, we wish we could have found a way in that story to include them more. So that was one of the hopes/priorities going into this, was to try to find a way to bring them back into the stories?

So is it more than Grimlock, or mostly Grimlock?

Di Bonaventura: There’s a few others, but Grimlock is, to me–I like Grimlock the most, so that’s probably why I talk the most about it, you know? And I just saw a sequence, so that’s probably why it’s on the top of my head. He’s funny. He’s like a naughty dog in this movie. He’s really sheepish when he does something wrong. He’s a great character. He’s really–we’re bringing out a side of him that you’re going to like–you’re going to relate to.

Image via Michael Bay

The ongoing battle in all of these movies is the Autobots versus the Decepticons. What’s different about the conflict in this movie as opposed to the other ones?

Di Bonaventura: I think the–first of all, we will introduce a new villain. A surprise, I think, as you discover who the villain is. So in that respect, that is a very different kind of Decepticon form, if you would. I think that the understanding of the mythology, as you begin to unveil it, you’ll understand just how big the jeopardy that we’re going to face is.

If you’re introducing a new villain, is Galvatron/Megatron still around? Does he play any role in this?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, Megatron for sure is around. I mean, are we talking about some of the ones that are…

Staffer: You can talk about some of the new ones.

Di Bonaventura: So if you go back in the mythology, how Transformers were actually created, where did it start, where did they go from being a sort of a slave-race to a sentient race–we’re delving into that aspect of the mythology, so the characters that are involved in there are Megatron before he’s Megatron, Optimus before he’s Optimus, the Librarian, the Quintessons, there’s a whole group of things that have to do with how, in a sense, the Transformers were birthed, and also with how they were divided. What brought up the division, and what were the jealousies involved.

So I think on that level, you’re going to deal with things that feel from a stakes level higher, because of the importance of the sort of thought, right? There’s still, of course, the threat to the world and that sort of threat we have, but I think that threat is amplified now, because you’re going to feel why certain aspects of our world, why we’ve been fighting in a sense.

We know that Hasbro is building on this huge universe with M.A.S.K., Micronauts, G.I. Joe and ROM. Was there any talk of incorporating Transformers into that?

Di Bonaventura: Not yet. None. No, we’re keeping them separate for the moment. I don’t know if Hasbro, in their secret plans, have that. I don’t know. But no, they’ve never brought it up.

I was just curious if there could be any Easter eggs in this towards G.I. Joe?

Di Bonaventura: You know what, Michael’s not involved with G.I. Joe, so I would doubt there would be any Easter eggs for G.I. Joe in this one. No, this is not–we’re not trying to integrate this into those worlds. We are trying to integrate all those worlds together.

You were talking about stakes. We know that Hot Rod was introduced in this movie, or is going to be introduced. Is there a chance that somewhere down the road that he would take on the matrix of leadership, or that you could see a movie without Optimus being the main leader of the Transformers?

Di Bonaventura: Well, what’s interesting in this movie, one of the interesting things is we question whether he would be the leader. So I think on that level, we’re already taking a step in that direction. I think we all revere–it’s sort of like doing a Batman movie without Batman. I find it hard to see him not being a player in it. Does he have to be the central leader player? No, he doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t have to be, and in this movie, we question it, and he questions it. So I think on that level, you’re going to really enjoy that aspect of it, because he’s got a really–one of the things that I really like about him going to Cybertron is he has to ask himself the question of “Was I responsible for this division? Was it my ego that got in the way? Who is my loyalty to?” I think it’s always great when you have a big hero like that really questioning what they do.

There wasn’t a lot of space for him to go anywhere but somewhere like that.

Image via Paramount

Di Bonaventura: I think that’s true. I think that he needed to delve into his past in a sense, to figure out who his is. I wouldn’t say he’s having an identity crisis. I would say he has to make some really serious choices about what he aligns with.

Where in the film is the karaoke seen of Wahlberg’s character singing “You’ve got the touch”?

Di Bonaventura: [laughter] I’m not the karaoke guy.

You mentioned Bumblebee, but you also have release dates that are tentative for six and seven. Where are those in these stages? Do you have scripts that are finished yet?

Di Bonaventura: No, no. We haven’t even started. Actually, we have outlines, and I think one of the things was we did not want to rush to start those scripts, because we felt like–and it turns out we were right–that this was going to evolve. So we would have had a script that wouldn’t have related to where we’ve evolved to.

So I think that’s probably the next conversation that’s going to come up, is OK, now that we really know where we’re headed and how we’re headed, what is it–what does the tone of it feel like? You discover things along the way. Ideas you had–I find what’s so much fun about making any film is ideas you had that you thought were great don’t turn out so great, and ideas you were like “Eh, it’s pretty good,” turn out really great. You’re like, “How did that happen?”

So I think we have enough now under our belt now to make that judgement. And we also designed the room that we can do standalone movies. So I think that’s always hard, to step away from an established sequence and go, “You know what? We’re just going to do a standalone movie!”‘ So in that sense, we’re still digesting that kind of process. Does Transformers 6 have to relate to the five before it? That’ll be an ongoing debate right through making it, I’m sure.

I’m curious, with the Bumblebee movie, do you envision a lot of other Transformers in that film, or is that going to be Bumblebee on his own mission, with some humans?

Di Bonaventura: I don’t imagine a lot in it. No, no. It’s bumblebee’s story. I don’t think you’ll see a lot more in it. We’ll see as it evolves. In the treatment form? No.

Image via Paramount Pictures

Obviously, they’re going to be making other spin off movies besides Bumblebee.

Di Bonaventura: We hope so.

Could you do different time periods or something?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, you could do that. For sure, you could do that. And we’ve examined–you could easily make an argument that in Roman times, you know, there were–you know what I mean? That seems like a good period.

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