At Work With Michael Bay

Posted on Apr 1, 2009

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By PETER DEBRUGE

THE MAN

  • No one makes movies on the scale of Michael Bay, though the director remembers a time when the studio wasn’t sure whether he could handle anything larger than a musicvideo.
  • But as Bay saw it, he’d already logged more on-set experience than most feature helmers. “I’ve already directed over 500 days, and I know how to work a crew,” he told Sony before being allowed to make “Bad Boys.” Much of his team was already in place — and still works with him today. Bay occasionally even sacrifices some of his fee to shoot in California with his preferred crew.
  • “Michael, to his credit, is an intensely loyal person,” says producer Ian Bryce, who met the director nearly 30 years earlier, when both were working in lowly Lucasfilm jobs. “Once he finds someone he likes and he trusts, they become part of the team.”

ENTERPRISING PARTNERS

  • Launched Platinum Dunes production shingle with Brad Fuller and Andrew Form in 2001, designed to give first-time helmers a shot by remaking such horror classics as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th.”
  • In 2006, acquired Venice, Calif.-based vfx studio Digital Domain from James Cameron and Stan Winston.
  • Directs commercials via The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, which he opened with Scott Gardenhour, a producer Bay linked up with during his early days at Propaganda Films.

PRODUCTION PROS

  • First caught producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson’s attention by directing the Chicago musicvideo for “Days of Thunder.” Bay went on to make “Bad Boys” and “The Rock” for the duo, followed by another three movies for Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer and Bay currently have “Cocaine Cowboys” in the works for HBO.
  • In his teens, Bay landed a job doing file storage for Steven Spielberg, who later handpicked him to direct “Transformers.”
  • Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner has brought all sorts of goodies to Bay’s doorstep, including “Transformers” franchise and an upcoming adaptation of the Ouija board game.

SHOPS AND WARES

  • Bay relies on Chapman/Leonard for equipment, trusts his digital intermediates to Company 3 and swears by Panavision, Deluxe, Dolby labs and Avid.
  • He always uses ILM for visual effects work, but also sends repeat business to Asylum, KNB Effects and Gentle Giant Studios.

GO-TO CREW

Many collaborators have been with Bay for years:

  • Production designer Nigel Phelps dates back to Bay’s musicvideo days. Since “Bad Boys,” stunt co-ordinator Kenny Bates has found the best drivers.
  • DPs come and go, but key grip Les Tomita has been with Bay since “The Rock.” So has hair and makeup duo Yolanda Toussieng and Ed Henriques, who handled everything from Sean Connery’s coif to Shia LaBeouf’s battle scars.
  • Among Bay’s trusted team of editors, “Tom Muldoon has been with me since my very first musicvideo,” the director says. “He also comes in and works on my movies — every single one.” Other key cutters include Paul Rubell and Glen Scantlebury.

Others have worked their way up through the ranks:

  • Mitchell Amundsen graduated from camera operator to d.p. under Bay’s watch.
  • Bay gave ambitious ex-barista Mark Palansky (who’d bug Bay with questions over the Starbucks counter) a break on “Pearl Harbor.” When the young man tried to ankle his assistant job, Bay said, “I refuse for you to quit. This is the best film school you’re gonna get!” He went on to direct “Penelope.”
  • Since assistant Edward Albolote wants to edit, Bay gave him an apprentice role on “Transformers.”

STRATEGIC COMMAND

  • Matthew Cohan, VP of development for Bay Films, worked his way up from a staff assistant position on “Pearl Harbor.”
  • William Morris agents John Fogelman and Rob Carlson set up Bay’s last three features, while CAA’s David O’Connor reps Platinum Dunes.
  • Bay and attorney Robert Offer (of Sloane, Offer, Weber and Dern) go back as far as nursery school. “I’ve known him longer than his wife,” Bay says of his counsel.