Is solaris-sized blockbuster director Michael Bay the antichrist? This is sort of the posit brought up by GQ's most recent self-explanatory titled article "Blow Up: The Oral History Of Michael Bay." While whether he is a blight on cinema or not is something the Playlist is going to examine closer to the release of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," there are plenty of high-profile defenders of his style in said GQ piece (not all of it is online, but the new Megan Fox "controversy" naturally has appeared here).
James Cameron says he has studied his films and "reverse engineered" them. Ben Affleck and screenwriter Roberto Orci call Bay an auteur because his visual style is so distinct. Steven Spielberg says "he has the best eye for multiple levels of pure visual adrenaline" and as we all know Christopher Nolan is a fan as well.
As are most oral histories, this one has plenty of insight, anecdotes and "did-you-know?" gems. For instance, Bay went to the liberal arts school Wesleyan University which launched such recent musical freaks as MGMT, Boy Crisis, Amazing Baby and arthouse director-to-be Ray Tintori and is known for its intellectual, anti-commercialism (the hipster community there has been dubbed "the Wesleyan mafia"). He obviously did not fit in, but perhaps the important thing he learned was the power of musicals, their form, style and how they use the medium.
" 'West Side Story' -- that film in particular captured his attention," his Wesleyan film professor Jeanine Basinger told GQ. "That class was important to him because he realized you're not bound by reality if you don't want to be. And his work is about color and movement and a kind of abstraction and unreality found in musicals."
As usual, its a fascinating read so here's 10 things we learned about Michael Bay (or just 10 awesome quotes about the dude).
1. This one pretty much speaks for itself.
"I’m like, a true American.” -- Micheal Bay. Nuff said. Although here's another choice Bay quote: “I don’t change my style for anybody. Pussies do that.” Note, he tried to change his style for "Pearl Harbor" as he wanted the film to be something more classical, but the idea didn't last very long. "The day we started shooting, he wasn't using his fast cuts, low shots -- his bag of tricks," assistant director K.C. Holdenfield said. "And it was like watching an Italian speak without his hands. By lunchtime we're making a Michael Bay movie in the Michael Bay style."
2. He may be dodging his heritage.
"I met him at Hebrew school," Platinum Dunes partner Brad Fuller said. "But I think he denies that."
3. Bay and Martin Lawrence butted heads on the set of "Bad Boys." It might have been a black and white thing and you wouldn't understand.
“By week two Martin [Lawrence] was being a dick to me. He didn’t trust the white man,” Bay said. "Michael has a certain bravado," Lawrence said admitting that most of the attitude problems were his. "One time he said, 'I need your notes on the script' and I looked at him and said, 'I'll get the notes to you when I get to it.' "
Bay then confronted him, taking him aside one day and said, "Dude, what's your deal? I'm busting my ass to make you look good, make you look funny and you just keep belittling me. And then there's the speech, almost like it was ready to come out. He says, 'I'm a black man that made it from nothing!' And I said, 'I'm a white guy who made it from nothing too. I grew up in the fucking Valley!' Instant respect." Now Lawrence says, "We grew to be the coolest."
4. Bad Boys was originally going to star Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey.
"Michael did a test scene with Jon and Dana, but Disney didn't like it," Jerry Bruckheimer said noting that Bay's commercial and video reels stuck out because "it had a wonderful sense of humor and a unique visual style." Arsenio Hall and Laurence Fishburne were also actors touted for the leads. "They weren't going to let that movie die," Platinum Dunes partner Andrew Form said of Bruckheimer and co. "They believed Michael was a rock star." He then handpicked Will Smith himself.
5. Bay wrote a $25,000 check of his own money for a key action scene in "Bad Boys" that Sony wouldn't pay for.
"The scene where Martin Lawrence shoots the guy out of the plane. I said to the line producer, 'This is where the audience claps. This is the end of the movie,' " Bay recalled. The "studio flunky" didn't care and told Bay he couldn't do the shot (the budget of the film was $19 million according to Platinum Dunes' Andrew Form). But in true Michael Bay form, he did it regardless. "I was literally going to punch him out," Bay said. "I didn't get the money back until the movie made $60 million. And I had to beg for it."
6. Some of the "Armageddon" actors had second thoughts once they got there.
“I was sitting at the table read-through with Owen Wilson and Steve Buscemi, and we were all kind of sitting there kind of nervously," Billy Bob Thornton said. "And Steve looks at me and goes, ‘What the fuck are we doing here?’ ” What's even better is that Bay thinks the film is an augur of what's to come in real life. “The real story is, it’s going to happen. Yes, we are going to have an asteroid hit us again, and yes, the earth will die. Absolutely 100 percent positive,” he said.
7. Ben Affleck's Hollywood transformation that led him to his Bennifer days started with "Armageddon."
“Ben Affleck was new on the scene. We put him through the Bruckheimer-Bay machine—like, You’re no longer 'Chasing Amy.' You’re going to have to go to the gym,” former vice president of Bay Films, Jennifer Klein said. “Jerry [Bruckheimer] had a problem with his teeth," Bay said. " ‘He’s got baby teeth. I fixed Cruise’s teeth. We’re going to fix his teeth.’ So Ben got a beautiful set of teeth out of it.”
8. He's not exactly gentle on set.
"He can be merciless at times, yet surprisingly sensitive," said Scarlett Johansson, who worked on "The Island" in 2005. "He's like one of those Chihuahuas that's always barking," Michael Clarke Duncan noted. "You know who he is?" Shia LaBeouf asked. "He's New York. If you can make it on a Bay set, you can make it on any set.
Bay's longtime assistant K.C. Holdenfield says, "We've all tried for years to anticipate what he wants, but after a certain point you get tired of being told you're dumb." Stunt coordinator Kenny Bates notes, "If he doesn't eat, he goes south. If you don't get him a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in him, he has a meltdown around lunch hour." She also adds, "He's just a real pain in the ass. I love him like my brother, but I don't talk to my brother. We can him socially retarded sometimes."
9. Megan Fox wasn't the only one he got in fights with on the set of 'Transformers' films.
Shia LaBeouf notes how he plays music on set to psyche himself up or "mind-fuck myself" as he puts it. "Then he puts on some orchestral soundtrack shit," LaBeouf said. "Not for me." Bay remembers that LaBeouf called him a "cocksucker," but that he knew Shia had broken up with his girlfriend so he didn't go after him. "I just said, 'That's rude. Don't call me that.' " LaBeouf calls its the "worst argument I've ever had with a co-worker." They've kissed and made up since and clearly there's a lot of mutual respect there. "I've had to do some parenting with Shia, but he's a great kid," Bay said.
10. He made a great impression on Steven Spielberg both when he was a teenager and later in life.
“The first thing I ever said to Steven Spielberg was, ‘I really thought 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was going to suck,’ ” Bay said of his teenage ILM days. About 'Transformers' which Spielberg produced and handpicked him as the director: “I thought it was a dumb idea.” Guess he was wrong about that...right?
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" opens on June 29th.