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Bay Directs With Tough Love

Helmer runs his sets like a crusty football coach

Shia LaBeouf says there is one thing he can be sure of going into a Michael Bay shoot: “No naps.” “Michael inflicts the intensity on the actor,” says the star of the Transformers trilogy. “It’s important to be as gung-ho as he is. He infuses an excitement regardless of your personal opinion of the material.” Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer of the Transformers trilogy, echoes that thought, saying, “What I love the most is the sheer adrenaline rush of being on his set, because Michael is so ambitious in what he wants to accomplish, it’s like a narcotic. You get moving. It’s exhausting. You better have your stamina up for him.” That intensity is the hallmark not just of Bay’s movies, but also of his sets. Vets of his shoots return with stories of how he tries to be on the set at all times, eschewing his trailer; how he acts as his own A.D., giving orders personally; how he pushes everyone to their limits — and beyond. “He has his megaphone, he has his Gummi Bears or whatever it is that gives him his blast of energy, and he’s tireless,” says Kate Beckinsale, who starred in “Pearl Harbor.” “His attitude very much is, if he can do it, you can do it.” Bay’s ferocity in pursuit of his vision has been one of his defining characteristics from the beginning. Jerry Bruckheimer spotted his “strong vision and the will to get it on camera” when Bay was still doing commercials and musicvideos; that was part of what convinced Bruckheimer that Bay would succeed in features. The words that swirl around Bay — determination, stamina, adrenaline, intensity — sound like something more akin to team sports than the often tedious atmosphere of a typical movie shoot. In fact, Andrew Douglas, who directed the “Amityville Horror” remake that Bay produced, compares Bay to a coach in a sports movie, the kind who says, “You can hate me but this is what you need to know.” That reflects Bay’s history and personality. He’s says in an article on his website: “I was an athlete when I was young and took sports really seriously. I look at directing as a sporting event. It’s a race, a marathon. It’s great when it clicks — which is why I push my crews so hard so we can excel.” When Variety ran a story earlier this year about short post schedules and the resulting long hours at visual effects studios, Bay dismissed the complaints, saying “This is the big leagues.” He assumes the tough coach role and demands all the members of his team, cast and crew alike, push their limits. By the time production is done many appreciate being forced to raise their games. Unless they end up hating the whole thing. One who didn’t take to Bay’s style was Megan Fox. In a now-notorious print interview, the female lead of the first two Transformers pics called him “a nightmare to work for” and said “on set he’s a tyrant.” She also compared him to Napoleon and Hitler — which got her fired from the franchise. By contrast, LaBeouf says he and Bay have “a brotherly relationship.” “I respect him immensely,” says LaBeouf. “I’m more friendly with Michael than any director I’ve ever known.” Beckinsale, too, says, “I’m very fond of him.” She arrived on the set of “Pearl Harbor,” her first studio picture, with an 11-month-old baby in tow. “I think Michael had a little bit of hard time fathoming what a baby had to do with a set,” she adds with a laugh. He soon had her working out. “He very much wants everybody to be at their peak physical fitness, and I’m thankful to him, because you do need it. He does want you running around and being at your best.” Bay’s approach to moviemaking also builds the intensity of his sets. “Michael Bay comes from a place where he feels he’s cheating an audience if he does a lot of CGI,” says Douglas. “He has a feeling where the effects should be real.” So on a Bay set, no one is surprised to see real helicopters, explosions and space shuttles But it’s not an environment that accommodates the intimate side of an actor’s process. After the initial shock, Beckinsale actually came to enjoy that. “He gets the actors to push the edge of their physicality. And for actors I think there’s something healthy about being taken out of your head.” But LaBeouf admits “When there’s an emotional scene I need time to get there,” says LaBeouf. “And sometimes there’s no time for emotional prep work when you’re blowing up a whole street. “I’m selfish. I’m thinking about my work not the whole movie, where Mike has to think about the whole movie,” says LaBeouf. AJ Marechal and Michelle Weiss contributed to this report.

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