Michael Bay is obviously stalling. Hunched over an editing console at Bay Films in Santa Monica, he professes to want to show his new $150 million megamovie, Transformers, but he can’t quite push play.
“You reach a point where you’re sick of the movie, you can’t see it anymore,” he says.
Finally he settles on a sequence: grimy soldiers with too-perfect white teeth; luminous, godlike aerial shots. Suddenly shit is blowing up with epic blasts, loud enough to rattle the pens by the monitor. No, no, no. “You’re gonna think it’s all about the violence,” Bay says as he hits pause. “Lemme find something else.” Good luck. Transformers is another schlockbuster-in-waiting, so laden with effects that some scenes required 38 hours of technical tinkering per frame. “It’s a bitch working with robots,” the 42-year-old director says of his movie’s stars. “Ten thousand moving parts and you have to make them fucking emote.”
What’s strange is that after decades of directing music videos and commercials and selling $1.9 billion worth of movie tickets to The Rock, Bad Boys (I and II), Pearl Harbor, and the rest, Bay, who is six foot two with a great chin and the perfect feathering of California hair, is still racked with insecurity.
“We had a test screening in Arizona,” he says, “and I’m thinking, ‘Nobody’s reacting. This movie fucking sucks. It’s stupid.’ But then we get our highest numbers ever. Most movies get a 65. Armageddon got a 92. This motherfucker got a 94. I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ, will I ever understand this business?’”
You most likely already have strong opinions about Bay, and not the good kind. People who care about culture and quality brand Bay and his oeuvre as shamefully, offensively hollow. It doesn’t matter that he owns a private jet, that he dates Playboy Playmates, that he lives bigger and badder than you ever willhe is Carrot Top with a megaphone.
Or worse. It doesn’t help that Bay has done things like park his $200,000 Ferrari (one of two) in a handicapped spot in the presence of a journalist. Or that he’s a screamer. Bay screams at actors, he screams at equipment, he screams at his Wednesday-night softball team. One blogger who claims to have worked on The Island, Bay’s only real flop, described his typical reaction on set thus: “NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! Take that fucking light out of the set! WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME? I TOLD YOU MOTHERFUCKERS ‘NO’ THREE TIMES!!!!”
His actors tell similar stories. Steve Buscemi, who’s been in two Bay films, says, “With Michael, you just let him blow up and then you get back to work.” Adds Josh Duhamel, who plays a Special Ops captain in Transformers, “He gets heated up and then it passes. He’s definitely not a prick all the time.”
No, he’s not. As Bay chatters away about face armor and robotic lips, it starts to make sense. He’s no idiot. The guy went to Wesleyan; he’s reading the new George Tenet book; he speaks knowingly about Helmut Newton. It’s just that his intellect tells him to send Bruce Willis to an asteroid with big drills and a nuke. As Bay himself puts it, “These are just fucking movies. They’re supposed to be fun.”