Transforming the summer blockbuster
It makes perfect sense that the most important workspace in Michael Bay’s production house is called the war room. For ordinary meetings, the director of the Transformers films, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor has an airy conference suite at his Santa Monica headquarters. But for the stuff that really counts, there’s a windowless chamber at the building’s core, where big ideas – typically involving big explosions – can be thrashed out in Strangelovean seclusion.
“Essentially, it’s where you go to get stuff done,” says Matt Holloway, a screenwriter who spent up to ten hours at a time in there with his colleagues Art Marcum and Ken Nolan, during the four months it took to piece together the script for Transformers: The Last Knight. Bay would sometimes swing by with ideas of his own, tapping them out on his laptop at the same table, while listening on his headphones to Hans Zimmer’s score for Man of Steel, the recent Superman film, to get in the appropriate mood.
Sustenance, meanwhile, came in the form of a bottomless supply of coffee from a local artisanal micro-roastery: the film was basically built on kettledrums and caffeine. For anyone familiar with the Transformers franchise – blockbusters celebrated mostly for their cocktail of carnage, speed and supermodels – the fact they are made like this will come as no surprise.
But, in fact, The Last Knight, the fifth in the franchise, which was released this week, was the product of a creative process normally employed on novelistic, awardwinning TV series like Mad Men, House of Cards and Breaking Bad. More than a year before Nolan, Marcum and Holloway entered Michael Bay’s war room, they’d all been part of a team of a dozen highly-acclaimed screenwriters assembled by Paramount Pictures to brainstorm ideas until a rough storyline and key scenes emerged – a concept known in the industry as a writers’ room.
In the current Golden Age of
For his latest film, Michael Bay blew $2.4 m on a brainainstorming session. Was it worth it, asks Robbie Collinn The writers were reportedly paid $200,000 each for two weeks’ work