Amy Lee / The Detroit News / Photos by Brandy Baker
DETROIT — The hulking mass of the abandoned Michigan Central Station in southwest Detroit will splash across the big screen — again — when robots come to life next summer in the big-budget film “Transformers: The Movie.”
Director Michael Bay and the crew working on the $100 million-plus production of “Transformers” shot scenes with actor Shia LaBeouf inside the decaying station Tuesday. The crew also shot a car chase scene late Tuesday afternoon on Fort Street, and curious Detroiters lined the streets to watch the action. Shooting continues today on Fort Street, but filming in Detroit should wrap up by early evening, said Gabriela Gutentag, publicist for Bay Films.
About 100 Michigan residents, about half from Metro Detroit, will serve as extras on the film, which is slated to open in theaters on July 4, 2007. One of those extras, Todd Walsh, 32, of East Lansing, hung around the corner of Fort and Shelby streets Tuesday afternoon waiting to film his scene.
Walsh was dressed as a road construction worker and wore his own dirty jeans with a wardrobe-issued orange and yellow reflective jacket, brown boots and white hard hat. He is one of eight extras who will scurry when a massive evil Transformer makes its way down a street in the movie.
Extras are paid about $50 a day and get free food for the shoot.
Tuesday’s shooting marks the second time Bay has filmed at the Michigan Central Station, also known as Michigan Central Depot. He also used it briefly in his 2005 film, “The Island.”
“The train depot looks remarkably similar to when we were last here, which is good for us because it’s one of the main reasons we came back,” said producer Ian Bryce, who also has produced “Spider-Man” and “Almost Famous.” Steven Spielberg is the executive producer on “Transformers.”
“(The depot) is a sort of beat up but beautiful structure and such a reminder of bygone days.”
Detroit is reveling in the exposure created when famous directors like Bay choose to shoot in the city, said Al Fields, who works in the mayor’s office and is the spokesman for the Detroit Film Office.
“We’re trying to become a Midwest destination for films,” Fields said. “We try to be as easy to work with as possible for things like closing down streets so we become known as being a great place for films to be made.”
“Transformers: The Movie” is based on the successful comic book, cartoon and Hasbro action figures that were hugely popular in the 1980s. Transformers are robots from the planet Cybertron that can disguise themselves by turning into cars, trucks, planes, construction equipment and even dinosaurs.
The “good” Transformers, the Autobots, will again face the “bad” Transformers, the Decepticons, in the second big-screen movie to grow from the franchise. “Transformers: The Movie” is expected to garner a PG-13 rating.
Tuesday’s shots at the train station featured LaBeouf running into the depot, through its crumbling lobby and up some stairs. That shot, which ends the movie, was captured around 4:15 p.m. at the depot.
“Shia is trying to get to a rooftop that we shot in Los Angeles that had a style of architecture that was beat up, so we needed to establish Shia into a similar type of environment,” Bryce said. In other words, the actor will run into one of Detroit’s landmarks and emerge on a rooftop in Los Angeles when the movie is pieced together.
LaBeouf, clad in a ripped brown sweatshirt with a dirty and blood-spattered neck, immediately posed for photos with brothers Jack and Max Sydorchuk, ages 7 and 11, respectively, after the shoot. Their father, Jeff, snapped a few cell phone photos, and Max said he couldn’t wait to show the picture to his friends at Divine Child Elementary School in Dearborn today.
“That was the coolest thing in the world,” Max said.
Unlike the animated “Transformers” movie that came out in 1987, the new Transformers movie will feature live actors, including LaBeouf, Jon Voight and Bernie Mac, as well as computer-generated robots.
“It’s very family-oriented, with a lot of heart and a lot of humanity and a good deal of action,” Bryce said.