His career took flight under the wing of Jerry Bruckheimer and soared to new heights with Steven Spielberg, and now Michael Bay has a thing or two to teach to fledgling helmers. With his production company Platinum Dunes, the big-budget helmer has helped commercial and musicvideo directors make the often-difficult transition into the film world.
Andrew Douglas, director of the 2005 remake of “The Amityville Horror,” recalls his shift from three-day commercial shoots to the lengthy production periods of “Amityville.” “You think you know what a studio movie is going in, but you really don’t,” Douglas confesses. “I really had no idea how grueling it was going to be.”
But he soon was put through “Michael Bay bootcamp” to prep him for what lay ahead. “He makes you work hard to get the gig in the first place,” says Douglas. He notes pre-production as the most useful time with Bay, as they tinkered with the visual concepts and script.
Once production is under way, directors still have a direct line to Bay and his experience, and they speak with him several times a week. “If I was struggling with a scene, he would jump on the phone and talk me through it,” Douglas says.
Jonathan Liebesman, who helmed the Bay-produced “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” would call Bay the night before a big shoot. “His advice would always inform my decisions and create a better film,” Liebesman says.
Bay’s advice often comes with a dose of pragmatism, as was evident during a debate with Douglas over a particular shot in “Amityville.”
Says Douglas, “There was a scene outside … I designed a tracking shot, and it’s fancy, because here I am — doing drama, finally! I get on the phone with Michael and describe it and he says, ‘Andrew, here’s the thing … if you want to editorally trim that one later on, you can’t.'” Douglas felt “so naive.” He was thankful for Bay’s advice, noting that, “It was so much better for us to slug it out than for me to be mortified in editing six weeks later.”
Bay also provided guidance when Douglas initially shied away from a stunt involving thesp Chloe Moretz running across a rooftop.
“I was terrified. I hadn’t done a lot of stunts in my commercial work and my first instinct was to green screen.” However, Bay considers too much CGI to be “cheating the audience,” and Douglas had a change of heart. “Michael was really committed to creating the reality of the scene, not just for the film but for Chloe herself — it was an industry lesson for me.”
Marcus Nispel recalls bouncing around casting ideas for the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboot, and how he wanted to find the “next Sissy Spacek” for the female lead. Instead, he laughs, “We ended up working with Jessica Biel.
“Bay has a good understanding of what an audience is looking for in a movie.”
Bay’s mentoring style often means tough love, akin to a stern parent’s tutelage: “He’s like the kind that prepares you for the world, but doesn’t protect you from it.” And though at times working with Bay “you really have to fight for your own vision,” Douglas says, “it strengthens you for the studios, where you have to fight for everybody, everything.”
“The lessons Michael taught me are so much more clear now.” Douglas says. “I wish I could do it again, because we certainly wouldn’t have so many arguments!” Yet, the arguments were a part of the Bay experience: “He’s like a coach in some athletics movie.” When it comes to mentoring, “Bay is like, ‘You can hate me, but this is what you need to know.'”