Lorenzo Di Bonaventura & Ian Bryce Interview – TRANSFORMERS

     June 18, 2007

At the “Transformers” press day I was able to participate in a ton of roundtable interviews with most of the cast as well as some of the producers of the movie. Unlike some press days that I’ve attended where the producers show up to talk and no one cares, at the “Transformers” press day everyone in the room listened and had questions for the people who made the film.

Of course it helped that one of the producers was Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

If you don’t know his name you definitely know his work. He’s produced a ton of movies like “The Matrix,” “Harry Potter,” and “Oceans 11,” as well as having “Stardust” and “1408” this summer. And in the far future he’s the one who will be bringing “G.I. Joe” to the big screen.

The other producer who was in the room was Ian Bryce and he’s made a few films you may have heard of… perhaps you know “Spider-Man,” “The Island,” “Almost Famous,” or that small World War 2 movie by Steven Spielberg called “Saving Private Ryan.”

Hopefully you can now understand why I would want to speak with both of these people.

During the interview we covered everything you could possibly want to know about bringing “Transformers” to the big screen. If you’re curious about the decision making process or are just curious as to why Michael Bay is able to make movies that look like they cost twice the price, this interview is for you.

I have a ton more to post from the “Transformers” press day so check back later tonight for another one.

And, as always, you can either read the transcript below or click here to download the MP3 of the interview.

“Transformers” opens on July 3rd.

Did eBay give you guy’s money because they were prominently placed in this film?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Ebay is a partner on the film but they didn’t give us any money I don’t believe.

Ian Bryce: Not against negative costs.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Yeah, not against negative costs. What’s interesting is that’s one of those ones where it’s written in the script that way. It was a story point, it wasn’t a product placement.

Are they promoting on their website?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Yeah they are and they will. It wasn’t intended that way when Bob and Alex wrote it. It was a means to get everybody to have the same information thru eBay. It seemed like the logical thing to do. It’s funny it’s one of those ones where you could easily be accused of a product placement but it was really not that.

Remembering back to Superman in the 70’s the tagline was you can believe a man can fly and in this one you can believe a truck can transform, you know? Or have emotions. Was that something that you guys early on thought you guys were able to put on screen? Robots with emotions?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: It was a key criteria of the design process of the creative process. How do you make 32 foot tall metal men sympathetic and empathetic for your audience? We certainly were attempting to do it that way.

Ian Bryce: I think that the technology exists at this point in time where you believe and you hope that you can create the execution of the movements of the robots and then if you can create that then there’s a way to give them character and some heart with the words in the story.

How many passes did you guys go over with the different ideas for the robots to look as far as toys and things like that conceptions?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Hundreds, thousands. It’s almost impossible to quantify.

Was Hasbro in on that? Did they work on it too?

Ian Bryce: Yeah. We started in June of ’05. We had our first art department set up and we had a team of illustrators—8 or 9 illustrators with their own styles that would bring different elements and Mike would see all that and move it forward and change this and take from here and move over here and create this one and that one. Then Hasbro and we would look at everything and then Hasbro would throw in their thoughts and questions and ideas. It was very collaborative and a long process actually in order to get not only which characters and which looks but then the weapons systems, so it was a very intensive process.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: And we were trying to do something that the TV show didn’t do which was we were actually accurate to the scale. So the mass of the car is almost 100% exactly the mass of the robot whereas on the TV show it’s very different.

Yeah, I noticed that with Jazz because he was a lot smaller and you saw that the cars were always ….

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: That’s right.

I was pleasantly surprised that at one point Megatron does somewhat form a cannon to shoot one of the battle sequences right? Was that something that was finally said ok lets give it to the fans? They’ve always wanted a cannon or a gun, it makes sense in the storyline or…

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: You know what? What’s interesting about this process is because we had I don’t know how many guys from Hasbro—4 or 5 guys have lived with it since the 80’s, early 80’s. They are hard-core fans themselves. We had some non-affiliated fans let’s say and we would constantly cycle through our thought process. How’s this? How’s the fans going to feel about this? We like this, what do you guys think? At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say that we are completely cognizant of wanting the fans to be happy but we didn’t make decisions based on you know if you don’t do that the fan won’t be happy. We felt like we’re going to give them a lot and we had to make our own choices and the action called for that moment.

What about the other extreme of the potential audience which is just people are just going to how does it turn into a space robots? That sounds pretty fucking ridiculous. How did you design the movie to maybe appeal to people who kind of think the concept is goofy?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: The reality is what we tried to create. The sense of if you look at that precision. Ian was so integral in making sure that ILM’s integration into this was not only seamless from the production point of view but their available to execute things. Ian should talk about the aspect of how we worked so hard to have them as real as possible. I think some people are always going to say how ridiculous.

Ian Bryce: Every movie is an escape on some level, I think and there are many concepts out there that one could argue that are disconnected from some kind of reality. And that’s all true. Part of the reason that I love to go sit in a dark room and watch a movie is to just go on whatever the journey is and whether its total escapism or reality is just dependant on the project. I think Mike is, with our help, has created a world that is exciting and fun and very visual and is paying it’s respects to this history of the franchise and modernizing it and just making it a lot of fun and giving it a fun ride.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Bob and Alex executed some really interesting human characters I think. One of the struggles in how do you create a human story—5-1/2 foot or 6 foot story that can compete against a 32 foot story is a really interesting challenge and our writers, I think, did a great job of making it heartfelt and funny and you really want to root for those guys and there will be some people who will never accept cars into robots but they’ve got something else to enjoy in the movie.

You guys had each side having 4 main characters. Was there any debate as to which characters were going to be there and also was it done with only having the 4 characters to kind of be emotionally invested in those 4 and if you had too many it would be hard to do characterization?

Ian Bryce: I’ll let you go first on the story side of things and then there’s the unfortunately as with many times there’s the fiscal impact because there’s sometimes you can only afford 2 or 3 characters so we try to get the maximum number we could afford as well. That played into the creative decision making process.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Yeah, it’s one that sort of went hand in hand because the other side is you try to execute too many characters and you tend not to like any of them because you didn’t get to spend enough time so it was an interesting sort of balance between ok, how many characters can we handle? 8 to 10 characters was our sort of thumbnail belief that we can execute them in a way that you’d get at least a taste of the lesser characters in the story and you can really get a full dose of the larger characters of the story.

Can you talk about maybe a character or two that was right on the cusp of making it that we didn’t get?

Ian Bryce: RC is one.

Did he get designed pretty far?

Ian Bryce: Yeah. There were designs on quite a number of robots that eventually didn’t make it into the movie. If you go back to the idea of reaching out to the fan base through the internet which is a powerful resource tool as you know now, there was a sentiment out there about RC that we listened to and the writers listened to so there’s a way in there of understanding what some of the more core elements of the fan base are really interested in and so you try to take some pieces from there in making those choices and RC was one of the characters that got…

Is it safe to say we’re going to see him in the sequel or Soundwave and Hotrod or…

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I’m sure you’re going to see new characters. We haven’t really talked at all about that. What’s great about the mythology of this is so rich, I mean, we sort of I guess Ian and I got to about 20 or 25 characters—probably 20 characters where we were going ok this is sort of the universe that we want to think about so I think we would be doing the fans a disservice and ourselves if we didn’t add new elements to a subsequent story if we’re fortunate enough to get there.

I have to ask…do you have an Easter eggs in the movie or any robots that we maybe not saw in the 1st viewing.

Ian Bryce: When did you see it?

Last night.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: You saw the whole thing.

Ian Bryce: That’s it.

My question is –are there Easter eggs in the movie for fans to look for?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Well, yes and no. I mean, you know Ian was just saying in the other room the VW bug is a tip to the fan for sure. The non-fan wouldn’t have any idea what that is about so in that sense, yes.

Yeah, I have no idea what that’s about.

Ian Bryce: The original bumblebee was a V.W.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: So that’s a tip to the original bumblebee.

I have to ask, were the Camaro people thrilled about this? Do you think their sales will spike or what?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: We keep asking GM to put this car out right away because it looks so cool. I want to buy one. It looks fantastic. When you pull up out of here and it’s sitting there and you’re like yeah.

What was your relationship like with car companies?

Ian Bryce: We met with many of the car companies. Ford, G.M. and Toyota. They were all interested in the project. Michael has a history with General Motors so they were clearly vying heavily to be involved with the film. As it turns out there was a family of vehicles that felt appropriate for the film and GM really wanted to be in the movie so at the end of the day on both a creative and a business level it turned out to be the choice to make.

So along those lines from a marketing point of view it’s not exactly anything new, but how much of marketing affect the creative side of the movie?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: The promotion side… you mean in terms of like partners?

Yeah, that, but more or less the film itself. The look of the movie. When I say the look or the vent of the movie in terms of the family…I guess I’m asking that because for somebody who’s not even familiar with the Transformers other than knowing that it exists, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I wasn’t a fan before but I really enjoyed it. I think it plays for a very broad audience. I’m just wondering I don’t think the cartoon or the original series was even like it. It was geared for kids if I’m not mistaken.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Yeah, let’s see. I would say that marketing did not play a role in any of the decision making in the sense of how to make the movie. Michael is not a guy who’s going to make a commercial to make a commercial. He’s going to make a movie first. There’s a decision that every filmmaker faces early on in the process which is do you want a world that has no logos and no…what I believe is there are reality which is that we go outside and we see Starbucks and you see….and the interactivity between your partners and yourself becomes an important factor if you’ve decided that’s the way you’re going to execute it. GM, going back to that question, is a company that as a company is amazingly good at supporting movies from a production point of view. You couldn’t have done this movie without a car company that did that. Well, you could have but it would have cost I don’t know how many more millions of dollars and frankly we would have had to sacrifice some other creative aspects if we didn’t have their support.

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Lorenzo, I have to ask this. We were talking the Shia and he doesn’t feel that Constantine is going to happen. Is Constantine II going to happen?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I hope so.

Is there any word?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: No.

Lauren Schuler Donner was talking that he really wants it to happen to.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I would say that all the film makers want it to happen.

Is Keanu on board?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: He’s on board absolutely.

How glad are you to have Shia in this movie at this point in history?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: He’s the greatest kid. He’s fantastic. It was fun to work with him in Constantine and it’s been fun to see his evolution as a very young man to a young man you know and he’s a great guy.

Ian Bryce: He’s a very, very versatile actor, too and he’s got great comedic timing and talent so for one so young he’s a pro.

I’d like to know, Michael Bay has a tendency of bringing the most out of his budget. He’ll get $200 million and it looks like $400 million. What is it about him as a film maker that allows for such visuals when a lot of other filmmakers with the same budget doesn’t look the same?

Ian Bryce: Mike is truly talented and gifted in the visual and the production areas. He just knows so much about the process. He knows so much about art and design and exactly what he needs so as a small example if you’re designing a set he’ll say I only need 2 walls of it. That’s all I’m going to shoot, but what I’m going to need instead is this so he’s able to maximize the dollars that you spend. We sit with him and go through the production design and the budgetary areas and he votes on all of that stuff. He votes on all that stuff. He’ll help create the budget and say this is where I spend. I want to do this, this is a big deal. The freeway thing is important to me. I want this and let’s create a big gag here the bus gag as an example, so he’s very knowledgeable and he knows how to spend his money.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: It’s my first movie with Michael and the thing that stuck me is that he understands scale like I don’t know—1 or 2 other directors in my experience that I’ve ever been with. The idea of this against this and what does that mean and how do you execute that visually is something that not many people have that skill and he has it like incredibly so I think it gives a sense of scale that is disproportionately large.

Ian Bryce: In terms of his use of camera, if I can just add onto that, he really has a talent with cameras. He knows how to use multiple cameras, he knows every rig.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: He’s not just throwing a bunch of cameras around hoping that one of them will work.

Ian Bryce: No, he knows how to get the camera right in there and there’s rigs he’s had designed and people build because he came up with an idea and then suddenly it’s being rented by some company out there and he knows how to move the camera in a way that maximizes the shot.

Do you throw a bunch of cameras around and just hope?

Ian Bryce: We typically had…we’d always had….

…are there directors who do that?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Sure. Yeah, there are. We won’t name them but there are.

Ian Bryce: We won’t go there, but we typically would have 2 or 3 cameras a lot of the time depending upon what the action is you might have 2 or 3 extra ones.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: The ability to actually maximize each camera is rare ability. That’s really what it is. It’s not that they don’t anything about where any of the cameras are it’s that if you’re going to use 3 cameras my experience and Ian’s been on the floor more than I have but, my experience is 1 or 2 are very valuable and the 3rd one is sort of a dangling participle, you know? But for Michael the 3rd one is as valuable as the 1st one.

The Island didn’t do very well. Did you guys have any hesitation at all?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: You know what? It’s really hard to hit every ball out of the park. It really is. You look at his track record and you look at his skill. There’s only 3 or 4 guys who’d even think of dealing with this movie to begin with. He’s done it better than anybody I think or there’s probably 1 or 2 other people you could put in that camp and there are a lot of fans of The Island too having been around Michael and having worked on The Island. There’s a lot of people coming up and hey that Island was really under appreciated.

Ian Bryce: Certainly in Korea really loved it.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: They loved it in Korea.

I have to ask, did the work on Transformers, prepare you Lorenzo for the work you’ll be doing on G.I. Joe and when do you think we’re going to see announcements, movements for that movie going in front of camera.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: You know what?

And is Ian involved too?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I wish he was involved, he’s tied up right now, I can’t get him.

Are you doing Prince of Persia?

Ian Bryce: Right now I’m doing Tonight He Comes with Will Smith.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: So, unfortunately he’s unavailable. I would love to work with him again. Each project you learn something and hopefully you’re able to apply it to the next one and G.I. Joe is very different because it’s all human characters, let’s start there, but sure you learn things and you learn things about the audience also about what they like and what they don’t each time out or you’re reminded about the lessons you better not forget.

And when do you think we’ll hear announcements hopefully…

Ian Bryce: C’mon let’s get them all in.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: You’re going to get me in trouble. I’ll say as the producer I would like this movie to start next year.

So announcements at Comic–Con maybe of casting?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I think that’s probably too early. Paramount is the decision maker and they will make a decision sometime in August and September about whether we’re going to go forward right away or whether we’re going to wait a little while.

I’m from the generation of when they were just boy dolls, so I don’t know anything about the cartoon series and I may be missing something here, but they were just military they were just big toy soldiers.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I’m that generation too.

Yes, I know and as you know that generation was also Vietnam and at a certain point a lot of people stopped playing with army stuff. Is that going to impact the fact that we’re in this endless war now? Has that impacted at all any kind of… or am I missing something?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: No, actually what’s interesting is during Vietnam G.I. Joe sold incredibly well. As we had to do with Transformers, we have to do with G.I. Joe. It’s the same thing. If you don’t acknowledge the reality you’re existing in you’re in trouble, so you can’t make a movie that has a military aspect no matter how much or how little and not have some sense of what it’s reflecting on. So, yeah, it will affect it in that way, probably we’ll steer well away from the more controversial aspects of our most current experience.

Do you think G.I. Joe is more real or more Transformers? Are you going to go for more of a ….

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: I like what Michael did on Transformers. I mean between the script and all of us we had so many discussions, Ian and myself and the writers and Michael and the studios about how you make this as real as possible and treat it real and yet you’ve got 32’ tall metal people coming out of cars, you know? So it’s a balance. You’ve got to have it entertaining and there’s a certain other worldliness and that’s the same thing with Joe but that’s why Transformers I think why a lot of people are relating to Transformers is that everybody sort of had that radar of how do you treat this as seriously as possible without being too serious about yourself.

Do you think this movie is going to be a trend now with all these cartoon movies being made? You’ve got this one, you’ve got G.I. Joe, you know you’ve got Thundercats, He Man, Voltron.

Ian Bryce: Those titles are getting pulled into the movie world.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: We’re seeing a lot of that.

Do you think that the success of Transformers will influence the budget and the green light of G.I. Joe?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: Wow. Sure. Yeah. It will.

We’re talking like hand in hand or…?

Ian Bryce: No, it won’t be that but you know if you have a project that has some direct correlation to an 80’s fad right now this is going to have a positive glow on your project if we do well and it’s going to have a negative glow if we don’t do well.

I have to ask something because the budget of Transformers…we’re hearing about $150 which sounds pretty cheap compared to movies like Evan Almighty for God’s sake or Spiderman or Pirates and stuff but yet it looks so much bigger than all these other ones did ILM give you guys a discount (the producers shake their head’s with a No sign) …wow, it looks great.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: It goes back to what Ian was saying about Michael and then Ian should talk about…because this is a question that to maximize the resources at hand you need people who understand the scale and be able to maximize it and Ian should talk to us because Ian is the one who understands it better than all of us on the production.

Ian Bryce: Well, thank you. The scale issue was necessary. The budget was a lot higher than the number you just mentioned early in the project’s development but we made a choice partly because the studio needed the number to be down where you’re talking about and so we designed the movie to fit inside that box. For Michael it was important to be able to stay and to have his crew and have actors not go to Canada and not go to Australia, both places which could have happily of accommodated the movie and it would have been a great movie but on a time table and on a rush we wanted to make the movie in the United States.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: And a certain amount of ego. You should talk about that.

Ian Bryce: Ego in terms of?

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: We wanted to prove we could do it here.

Ian Bryce: That part was true. We were sort of being driven in a different direction and at a certain point we said you know what? Stop. What we’re missing and we knew what the rebates would be in every state in the nation, we said the maximum rebate that you’re going to get is if we go to this place and it’s just not going to work. You’re going to undo the shooting schedule. Undo the post; you’re going to jeopardize the release date. Let’s make a decision right now that we’ll take the money out of the budget that’s equal to the biggest rebate there can be and let’s make the movie in California which would then give Mike the ability to have his people and to have the crew he’s used to who also understand how to give him what he’s after both visually and schedule wise, so we made that choice. Made decisions within the movie to not to this, not do this you know, we shot in warehouses instead of sound stages, we hired people at different salary levels than we might normally have done. So we made all kinds of choices inside the movie to hit the number that you’re talking about and fortunately we were able to do that and Mike is also a self-producer. He understands money.

Lorenzo Di Bonaventura: And we’re fed up with all this production going. Seriously it’s like a point of ego for all of us that we could make a big movie in the United States and in California and do it really well and not sacrifice anything as a result.

Congratulations that was a great movie by the way.

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