by Nelson Lauren
Intro note: As of May, 2012, this interview remains in some far off time for me. When this site first started, I interviewed Michael. This interview almost didn’t happen due to the fact that I didn’t believe when they called back to arrange the interview and I then lost the Bay Films phone number. What I do remember is that the questions asked in this interview were submitted to by the site’s earliest visitors. Among them were Steve @Berg.org, Ed Otten, Chris Folkens, Andrew J. Mitchell, and Nate Ziarek. Some where in my closet is a tape of this conversation. By the way, “Shoot for the Edit” was this site’s first URL.
I can say one thing. Michael Bay told me to say it: “…You can say you spoke to Michael Bay.”
Well, don’t ask me how I managed to get this interview with the director of “BadBoys,” “The Rock” and the biggest movie of 1998: “Armageddon” (my lips are sealed with eternal secrecy,and I’m grateful to a lot of people especially Kristen and Carolyn…you know who you are).
It was done on March 16, 1999 at 5:10pm (EST). He called me at home. This guy is so cool and down to earth, you’d be amazed how awesome and humorous Michael can be. From what I grasped in this interview, he seems to be the guy whom you can sit down and have a couple drinks with. He was the first one to do the talking. And he started out asking questions about the Unofficial Michael Bay Site itself! He started out asking questions!!! I wasn’t prepared for this, so I was shitting my pants! I was saying a lot of “uhms” and “aaahs…” i told him before the actual interview that I didn’t want to do a “Linda Tripp” on him (I didn’t want to record the interview without him not knowing). He laughed! He then proceeded to ask me the motives behind my web site. He seemed pleased. He was also very patient in answering the numerous amount of questions. To this day, I think this is the longest interview he has ever done.
I’ve edited this interview. Mostly I took out a lot of the “uhms and ahhs.” And some stuff that didn’t pertain to the interview itself. I told him that these were some of the questions that fans wanted to know about him. He also asked me if I get any hits on the site itself. I told him the ironical story about my site’s counter having visitor # 2001 the day Stanley Kubrick died. “That’s weird” he said. So, on with the interview that lasted about 50 minutes.(Please do not reproduce this interview in any way or form. Do not post it anywhere else without expressed permission of Michael Bay, Bay Films, and michaelbay.com.
Shoot-for-the-edit: Do you do a lot of the camera work or do you give instructions to a camera man?
Michael Bay: Uhm…well, I studied photography when I was young and I wanted to be a camera man for a long time. Then when I was in film school, I decided that I kinda moved over from being a camera man to wanting to direct. I shoot with a bunch of director of photography (DPs). I came with Jonathan Schwartzman through music videos, commercials. If you notice, all my stuff that I shoot with different DPs, it all kind of looks…it’s got my look to it, my stamp. ‘Cause I’m very into the lighting…I stay on the set most of the day. I really instruct them how I want it lit and what I’m looking for. I basically set up every shot.
SFTE: The meteor shot in which a couple of meteors fly through a corridor of buildings in NYC, did you shoot that in a tripod?
MB: It was on a tripod. I actually operated that shot. You know, I was trying to figure out how fast we would want it to go through. ‘Cause if you go too fast, the buildings would just kinda strobe. Yeah, we did it on a tripod, and then from that shot, we then added in the explosions and the digital meteors. We built miniatures of those buildings to help blow the top and blow the sides so that we can track it with the shot we shot of NYC.
SFTED: Where the shots of the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) actual shots?
MB: That was an actual shot and then we digitally took of part of the World Trade Center and put a hole through it.
SFTE: How much freedom do the studios give you? What are some things you REALLY wanted to do but the studio didn’t let you?
MB: Well, Armageddon was an idea that writer Jonathan Hensleigh had. He pitched it to me — a little bit of it — he didn’t have much of an idea, but he had the core of the idea. Then we sat together for about 3 weeks. Worked out the idea together, and we came up with he full story. We worked with NASA right away,and then pitched it to the head of Disney. Literally, they gave us the greenlight in the room without a script. Armageddon was pretty much a dream. I said “This is a very expensive movie, and this is a huge movie. If you want us to do the movie,this is how much it’s going to cost.”
SFTE: You’ve got the Criterion Special Edition: Director’s Cut coming out soon?
MB: Yeah, it has 5 minutes of additional film, and a behind the scenes.
SFTE: And a gag reel too?
MB: Yes, there’s a little gag reel.
SFTE: Would you do other movies other than action ones?
MB: Oh yeah! I mean…I like all sorts of movies. For some reason I did 3 action movies, and it was a good way to get started in the business. I definitely want to work in more serious movies.
SFTE: The most common question asked on this site: what’s your next project? The “Phone Booth?”
MB: Yeah, well, I just had a long meeting with Will Smith and FOX yesterday.
SFTE: So it’s a greenlight?
MB: Well, we’re just trying to work it out. We’re not taking any money for it. We would get money on the back end and share the profits. It’s just a matter if they can do it in a fair way. Then we’ll do it. It could be “Phone Booth.” There’s a potential that I’m developing this project with Will Smith an Ben Affleck. I was going to do this project called “Africa.” It was about Richard Leaky. He was the guy who invented the “shoot-to-kill” poachers thing. You were able to kill poachers in order to save the elephants. A big epic story. But right now, I think Africa is a little to violent now. So, it’s dangerous to shoot there. We’re worried about safety. It was written by Eric Roth who wrote Forest Gump. So the next one might be “Phone Booth,” and then, I’m not sure what else.
SFTE: Is it more of a sure thing than “Planet of the Apes?”
MB: Well, I would really like to do “Planet of the Apes.” “Planet of the Apes” is way down the road. But “Phone Booth” is something we would like to shoot in June in about 30 days. A quick shoot.
SFTE: In Los Angeles?
MB: It would probably be in LA and New York City. LA doubling for NYC a little bit.
SFTE: Your shooting style seems to come under fire with every project you undertake, do you ever consider taking a more ‘traditional’ approach to your films?
MB: It’s kinda my shooting style that helps make me a little different than the other guy. I feel it’s uhm…They’ve done studies that younger kids are able to pick up information a lot quicker than older people. Just the way kids are so focused on TV and the Internet, etc. Their brains assimilate things quicker on visual forms. There’s times when it’s right for a movie to do a very traditional approach and then there’s time when it’s right to do it untraditional.
SFTE: Your senior film, what was it called?
MB: It’s called “My Brother Benjamin.”
SFTE: In Wesleyan, what was your major?
MB: Well, I did a lot of photography, but I was an English/film major.
SFTE: The you went to Art Center in Pasadena, Ca?
MB: Yeah, I was rejected from USC (University of Southern California). When I was 15, I worked at LucasFilm and then I called George Lucas, and he wrote a letter on my behalf and I got in 6 months later. Then I decided to turn them down. I decided I liked Art Center better.
SFTE: Did you graduate from Art Center?
MB: Yeah, that was like my graduate school. It was really kind of a second undergraduate degree in film.
SFTE: When you begin a scene, how do you play it in your head? Is your vision planned from the beginning or does it come later?
MB: When I work on a script, I start jotting down all my ideas. I get a lot of scrap – magazine pictures – anything to inspire me. I listen to a lot of music. I’ll normally narrow the movie down to 4 or 5 cds. Where I listen to certain music for certain scenes, and I see those scenes in my head. I start playing the movie in my head. The music helps inspires me those scenes. Like on Armageddon, I used the scores of Braveheart, The Last of the Mohicans, Crimson Tide, and The Rock for some of the inspiration, for some of the scenes. I really pre-visualize all the movie in my head. And when I’m on the set, I really like working with the actors in helping it make it better.
￼SFTE: Very different from James Cameron. Very different…
MB: I was about to ask “how does he come about it?
SFTE: On t he particular interview I read, his method of inspiration is very different than your. He writes his ideas and details on the script itself. ‘Till the point – if you were to read it – it would be hard to find the dialogue amid all the scribble and writing.
MB: Yeah, his scripts are extremely conscious. He calls them “scriptments” So he writes down all the detail.
SFTE: What do you think is your signature shot?
MB: Well, for a time it was the spinning-around-rise-up shot where I used it with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, and then I used it with Nick Cage after the car chase in “The Rock.” We tried it a little bit with Bruce Willis in Armageddon. My signature shot…I don’t know. What would you think?
SFTE: I think that’s it. The closest you came to it in Armageddon was when you spun the camera around Billy Bob Thornton very fast…near the beginning of the movie.
MB: Yeah, you’re right.
SFTE: But it wasn’t a low angle shot, it was a higher one.
MB: Yes, you’re right. It was a higher shot. Very true.
SFTE: Is it true that you hold back the actual “film construction” until the editing process begins?
MB: No, I actually have editors that work along side. They’re taking my film,and I’m giving them storyboards. And then I like too see what they come up with from what I shoot. I shoot a lot of film…I’m a pretty quick shooter. I like to improvise certain things. And then I like to see what the editors come up with. It gives me a whole new fresh look at what we did. And then I tweak it from there. A lot of times I’ll edit the stuff in my head before I shoot so I know what I’m looking for.
SFTE: When a chunk hits the space shuttle’s window while it’s flying between the asteroid’s debris, from that moment on, I counted 13 cuts in less than 2 seconds.
SFTE: Lot of cuts Michael. Do you improvise in the editing room?
Well, you can never get every single shot, ’cause you don’t know what’s gonna make it exciting to he music for instance. But that was a pretty planned out scene. There’s so much crap going on that scene.
SFTE: I had a very ultra-orthodox film studies teacher…
MB: Like how?
SFTE: Well, to begin with, she was very snobbish. And she ragged on how cinematic codes and rules are being broken, and the usual blah-blah-blah given to film students. She also praised “Citizen Kane” day and night and said the usual stuff about it being the greatest movie of all time, etc. And how the movies have lost their true purpose, become too commercial. You know, all the stuff taught to film students here in New England.
MB: What you need to tell her from a very big director is that there are no rules in film. And any film teacher that teaches rules is wrong. “Citizen Kane,” when it came out, it was very mocked film. People did not like it. It was very unrespected. It was thought of at the time as very uncool. But he wasn’t the inventor of all that stuff. All that stuff had been done in other movies. through silent movies, through musicals, yadda-yadda-yadda. But it was the first movie to really put all those things together into a movie. If she would’ve taught Orsen Wells, he would’ve laughed at her.
SFTE: When some of us in film class mentioned that we liked Armageddon, she labeled us an “easily impressed minds.”
MB: What you need to tell her is that Armageddon is the 8th highest grossing movie of all time worldwide.
SFTE: It’s 4th in Japan right?
MB: It’s 3rd I heard. I think its’ “E.T.,” Jurassic Park,” and then Armageddon. Doesn’t she like exciting movies?
SFTE: Nope. She goes on to say that movies should move us too see the depth in humanity and…
MB: Well, she’s wrong. That’s the problem. She’s teaching or she thinks there’s rules in film. You need to tell her that…right from the horse’s mouth.
SFTE: You know Harry Knowles right?
MB: Yep, uh-uhm
SFTE: Well, when your name get’s mentioned in the talk-back section, all hell breaks loose. I think most film student are the ones that despise you the most.
MB: Why? Why is that?
SFTE: From experience in film classes and lectures, they say you’re very unorthodox and that you blatantly break or disrespect cinematic codes and rules…
MB: Oooooh, don’t respect the laws of film. (laughs)
SFTE: It basically goes around your editing style. They seem not to like it. They say that one shot tells the story. More than once have film classes erupted in arguments when the name “Bay” is mentioned.
MB: Well, if you’re not talked about, there’s something to be worried about.
SFTE: As you know, critics and teachers say your films are targeted for a young mindless audience and that the prime reason for the movie is box office sales. One critic even said that it’s frightening to have our young generation growing up on your movies.
MB: You know what? Armageddon, round the world, was the biggest movie in every country, around the world when it came out in 1998. So, it’s insulting when you have older teachers teaching or saying this. There are plenty of old people I spoke to that loved the movie. It’s weird when you’ve got people that are the doom and gloom. You know what I mean? They’re angry about it.
SFTE: Yeah, like the people that were in the theater when a group of friend and I saw Armageddon. The whole audience cheered and clapped about 5 times during the whole movie. These people were pisses that the audience was having so much fun.
MB: Yeah, people and film teacher have to realize that it is entertainment. We’re doing movies. We’re not solving or curing cancer. We’re not ending world hunger. We’re here to entertain. No matter what type of movie, you’re there to entertain and to make people either laugh, smile, cry, feel, or learn something. But to say that one movie is better than another in terms of entertainment is just wrong. It’s just wrong. It’s a shame that they would teach like that.
SFTE: You recently did some commercial for Nike’s Alpha Project right?
MB: Yeah, but the Alpha Project was something they never really launched. So it really didn’t work. It’s a failed project. Nike has a lot of internal fights. They’re having a lot of problems now. So, these commercials got stuck within their problems.
SFTE: I’ve heard that you like to choose stories about underdogs. What such movies, books or life experiences have inspired you to take this route?
MB: Well, I think this goes back all the way to Greek Mythology, you know? There’s movies throughout history that deal with underdogs. For me. I like the concept of underdogs ’cause it makes things accessible to everybody. I like people that rise above everything and conquer the world.
SFTE: What are some of your favorite movies?
MB: Citizen Kane, Raising Arizona, Fargo. I love Diner. I love Platoon…Dr. Strangelove. I’m giving you some of my odd ones. Not the standard ones today.
SFTE: What are some of your favorite director and what are some of your influences?
MB: I love Steven Spielberg.
SFTE: I read you once said that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was gonna suck?
MB: (laughs) Yeah,I was filing his Raiders of the Lost Ark storyboards, and when I was filing them. I was looking over them, you know, it’s like reading a comic book. So I told my 15-year old friend “This movie is gonna suck.” (Bay chuckles). But I had no idea. Then when I saw it a Grauman’s Chinese theater and I’m like “Oh my God, this is amazing! I gotta do this when I’m older!”
SFTE: There’s so many rumors on how you got you first start in Hollywood. Care to clear that up?
MB: When I was in art center film school, I made a fake Coca-Cola add. It had this huge production value look, and we did it for $5000. We did it in black and white, and we had about 100 extras dressed in period dress, 1945. The U.S. Navy gave me a battleship to shoot on. We recreated this famous photograph by Alfred Eisenstack called the “Sailor-Nurse Kiss” in Times Square. We re-created all about how that kiss came about. We made Coca-Cola commercial about this?
SFTE: Was this sanctioned by Coca-Cola?
MB: No. It’s what you call in film school a “spec” commercial. It was a minute-long commercial. I had a friend who I’s just met at the time from NYU film school, who wanted to be a producer. So he started shopping this things around. He took it to the different music companies, video companies, etc. So, we got our first job with Donny Osmond’s “Sacred Emotion” music video. Literally, the week after it came out,that’s when I was flooded by everyone to sign with them. So, that’s how it all got started.
SFTE: Did you help found Propaganda Films?
MB: I was one of the guys who came very early on. I wasn’t the founding group. But I was in literally a year later. But I’m part owner of Propaganda Films now, and I still associate with them. I still do commercials for them.
SFTE: Like the Nike Alpha-Project ones?
SFTE: Your style in those commercials seem a little Fellini-esque?
MB: Well, you know, my style is whatever I want to make it. You know, the funny thing is, people think I can only do one thing. but through my commercials I’ve done every type of thing out there. One of the ways I made my mark on commercials is a very imitated thing nowadays.
MB: You know the “Got Milk?” campaign that I started. That was a style where you come up with quirky shots with, comedy, etc. i started doing that in commercials years before that. And now, it’s all over the air. You see these quirky comedic, where the camera moves in funny ways. It was something I did with the Bud beer commercials years ago. So that’s how I made my mark on commercials.
SFTE: I’ve read in the Kodak site that you and Jonathan Schwartzman have made about 200 music videos and commercials?
MB: Something like that. Not 200 music videos. I’ve worked with Aerosmith, Tina Turner, the Divinyls, and Chicago. I’ve just worked with a lot of groups.
SFTE: Have you read the book “The Gross?”
MB: Yeah, the author is a bitter guy. A lot of people in Hollywood don’t respect the book that much ’cause he wrote it very quickly, and his facts are not straight. He’s the editor of Variety. Let me tell you, the guy is an old guy. I’m an easy guy to hate, because these old guys don’t understand younger guys coming into the business and being so successful as they are.
SFTE: You’re 34 right?
SFTE: How many cameras do you think it’s necessary for an action scene.
MB: You can get away with two. Two or three.
SFTE: What about in those scenes when the meteors hit the taxis in NYC?
MB: I used these tiny, tiny World War II cameras. You put them in steel housing, and they get a lot of the violent shots that are very low to the ground or when things get hit.
SFTE: How did you do that shot behind the Ferrari in the car chase on “The Rock?”
MB: We mounted it on the Ferrari. We had poles that were welded underneath the car. then We suspended the camera above the Ferrari. They’re just special type of car mounts that I like building.
At this point in this interview, I mention to him that www.michaelbay.com is owned by some marketing firm in Kansas. He sounded surprised to learn about the price they’re asking for it. Then I told him that it’s not so bad as compared to monicalewinsky.com, they’re asking $50,000 for it. To which Michael responds “Oh my God!”
MB: So my name brings hate in film students?
SFTE: Yeah , kinda of . One of the biggest myths is that you use a “formula” to make your movies.
MB: There is no formula! You know what? I will give anyone $5 million if they come up with the perfect formula for making movies. There is no way to guarantee the perfect formula. Let’s just say:why did Armageddon hit huge and Godzilla sink? They both apparently had the same “formula.” It all comes down to the characters, and there is something that made Armageddon the 8th highest grossing movie of all time that critics and film teachers just won’t be able to explain. ‘Cause there’s a human element of fear in asteroids and it’s just the emotional core of the movie is why people were driven to the audience of Armageddon. How do you explain Armageddon being the 3rd highest grossing movie in Japan’s history?
SFTE: Uhmmmm…film critics and film teachers sometimes say that the audience doesn’t know any better or that that audiences have become stupid or mindless.
MB: (laughs) Oh, that what it is…you must have some smart teachers eh? Here’s what they need to understand: you can never ever underestimate your audience. And the thing about my films is that I’m always making a movie for the audience. If critics and teachers want to make the “perfect” film, they might get a few people into the movie theater.
SFTE: I read that when you were making Armageddon, Disney was confident it was going to be a hit movie. Unlike Titanic, where Paramount and Fox weren’t even so sure that they were gonna cut even?
MB: Yeah, there were some doubts. There is no director out there that can say this is gonna be a hit. And even Steven Spielberg will tell you that. They don’t know. I even talked to Spileberg before “Saving Private Ryan,” and he didn’t know if the movie was gonna work. He didn’t know if it was going to be a hit or not. And you got a film maker like Spieilberg saying “I don’t know if it’s gonna work out.” There’s no way…if there were a formula for making hit movies, there would be a whole lot of people making hit movies.
SFTE: You have a couple Ferrraris right?
MB: Yeah, a 550 Maranello, and a black 355. And I’ve got a Yukon for my two 200 lbs dogs. If anyone tries to come to my house and steal my Ferraris, I got two 200-pound dogs that will eat there arms off. When these dogs bark and growl, they will make anyone stop on their tracks!
SFTE: You live in Brentwood, Ca? Close to were O.J. Simpson once lived?
MB: (chuckles) Yeah, sort of. But I’m moving.
SFTE: Where to?
MB: I don’t know yet
SFTE: What’s your ethnic background? Your last name “Bay” is of Danish origin.
MB: Really? I didn’t know that. My family is from Canada, and I think they changed their last name.
After this we chatted for a little while more, most were comments about the web site, and questions he had concerning the technical side of it. He does browse the internet, trades stocks through it. It seems he uses a Mac. Michael is truly a cool person.