People call Michael Bay ’86 a lot of things – the Antichrist, a sell-out, even Hitler. In fact, it seems like most of the time when you hear something about Bay, it falls into one of four categories:
- A complaint by critics about the quality of his movies
- Discussion by fans about how his movies are fun to watch
- Acknowledgement by both parties that his movies gross a lot of money
- Use of his name as an adjective to describe a big explosion
This article from GQ entitled “Blow Up: An Oral History of Michael Bay, the Most Explosive Director of All Time” creates a fifth category of its own, featuring quotes from those who have worked with Bay (including chair of the Wesleyan film department, Professor Jeanine Basinger) as they “reveal the secret genius behind a true Hollywood visionary.” The article is fantastic, and really gives you an interesting perspective – or, rather, a number of interesting perspectives – on one of Hollywood’s most controversial directors, and one of Wesleyan’s richest and most well-known alums. Read past the jump for some highlights.
In the most Wesleyan-relevant section of the article, Professor Basinger, Bay’s mother Harriet Bay, and his business partner Brad Fuller ’86 weigh in on his college choice:
After high school, Bay moved across the country for an unlikely destination: Wesleyan University, a tiny liberal-arts school in rural Connecticut known for its antimainstream intellectualism. He did not fit in.
Fuller: I wonder if he’ll admit this: we both did poorly on our SATs.
Harriet Bay: He probably has the lowest SATs of anyone who ever went to Wesleyan. But he’s just not a good test-taker. He graduated magna cum laude.
Bay: Wesleyan was very cliquey. They all wore dark clothing, and they were always uggghhhhh.
Basinger: “All the film majors wore black! They liked death!” He sees them as one giant goth! Wesleyan was not a very big frat school, but Michael belonged to one.
Fuller: We were very outspoken that there’s nothing bad about making commercial films, and we were certainly ostracized by some of our classmates for that. We both loved Risky Business.
Basinger:West Side Story—that film in particular captured his attention.
Bay: I thought, “Musicals? Ugh, what am I doing? I don’t want to take a musical class. Sounds terrible.” I loved it. It was all about form, style, how they use the medium. That’s what I try to do with my action.
Basinger: That class was important to him, because he realized that you’re not bound by reality in film if you don’t want to be. And his work is about color and movement and a kind of abstraction and unreality that is found in musicals.
Bay goes on to reveal the inspiration for his third film Armageddon, which was about a gigantic asteroid about to hit Earth:
Bay: I took a geology course with this tectonic expert at Wesleyan. He said, “Calamities happen; it’s the plumbers who will fix the world.” So Armageddon—that’s what it is, it’s everyday Joes saving the world.
The article goes on to chronicle Bay’s rise to directorial fame/infamy through quotes. What follows are a series of interesting and amusing quotes from Bay and those associated with him.
On working with Bay:
Will Smith (actor, Bad Boys): My first impression of Michael was that he was like…you know how at the go-kart races, there’s always one kid who’s got real wheels on his go-kart and everybody else got the plastic baby wheels? That one kid who always had it elevated? That was Michael. I think he had just done the Meat Loaf video—this guy had a plane crash in a music video. I was like, Damn.
LaBeouf: He’s got to be a motherfucker. Because there’s 90 people marching to the beat of his drum, and there can’t be any indecision. And so it’s a character that Mike puts on; he’s very smart, and you need that guy to make these movies.
White: He is extremely passionate about getting it right and making it cooler. And sometimes—to his own detriment—making it bigger, bigger, bigger!
On explosions (for which Bay is known, for better or for worse) in Pearl Harbor:
Waldman: We must have blown something up every day.
Hodenfield: We blew up hundreds of bombs, multiple ships out in the harbor. I had to shut down two interstates. I was like, Oh, my God—people are gonna think the Japanese are attacking again, ’cause we were gonna blow this place sky high.
On explosions in Transformers:
John Frazier(special-effects supervisor, various Bay films): I went up to Shia one day and I said, “You just made history. You were involved in the biggest explosion for a motion picture with an actor. You were in it. Usually, you have stunt people in there.” Five thousand gallons of gasoline. Probably one hundred sticks of dynamite. You only see that stuff in Michael Bay movies. Nobody else does that stuff.
On explosions in general:
John Turturro(actor, Transformers): He likes blowing things up.
Bay: Some nights I sleep like a baby. Other nights it’s, Oh God, I just came up with a bomb shot.
On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the writer’s strike:
Kurtzman: [Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen] was a very different experience for all of us, because we agreed to do the movie about two weeks before the writer’s strike. So we had those two weeks to outline the story, and then the strike happened and we couldn’t continue.
LaBeouf: Everybody felt like, “Well, if there’s anybody to do this again, it’s the guys who wrote the first one, because the first one’s fantastic.” We were forced on this fucking script because we had a release date.
Orci: I remember there was a huge pressure—and not just from the studios—to make our date, but also from Michael himself.
Bay: It was a very bad way to make a movie. We were stuck in a bad time in Hollywood. And as a director you feel bad because these people are so loyal and they have families. Transformers gives 2,000, maybe 2,500 people jobs.
On fights on set:
LaBeouf: Sometimes to make [a scene] real for me, I need to mindfuck myself. And part of that is having a speaker on set with an iPod plugged in so I can conjure emotions. And some of the songs that I like to play, Mike’s not going to have it.
Bay: So Shia’s gonna do his emotional scene. He gets out of his car and says, “Michael, you’re gonna start with me first.” And I said, “No, we’re gonna start this way. This is a space shuttle! The United States of America! The last one to be launched!”
LaBeouf: So I’m playing my song and he finally says to me, “No, we’re not going to play that song.” And he puts on some orchestral Batman soundtrack shit. Not for me, you know?
Bay: Then he called me a “cocksucker.” But I knew that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. So I didn’t go after him. I just said, “That’s rude. Don’t call me that.”
LaBeouf: It was probably the worst argument I’ve ever had with a co-worker—under a spaceship, screaming at him, “You motherfucker!” All this insanity. Really crazy stuff that I don’t feel comfortable repeating, actually. Really gnarly.
Bay: So I ignored him for three days, and that just drives him nuts. “Mike, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” I’ve had to do a little parenting with Shia, but he’s a great kid.
LaBeouf: And then you pull your pants up and you get back to work.
On Bay’s style:
Ben Affleck(actor, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor): I think Michael is actually an auteur in the true sense of the word. Every movie he makes reflects his personal creative vision. You may like it, you may not—but those movies are him without compromise. There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns.
Roberto Orci (screenwriter, Transformers): We’re aware of how some people think, in terms of film history, he’s the Devil. But it’s amazing to have a movie where you can look at five minutes and go, “That’s a Michael Bay movie.” To have a style that distinct—like it or hate it, it deserves study.
George Lucas(director): Michael’s films are immediately identifiable.
And, finally, what Bay has to say about his own style:
Bay: I don’t change my style for anybody. Pussies do that.
[Tip from Franni Paely ’10]