Behind the Camera: Michael Bay

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It’s a sunny South Florida day, mid-summer. In fact, it’s too sunny, too bright. Michael Bay isn’t ready for the photo shoot. “The shots will be too washed out,” he says. He is used to directing, to always calling the shots. There is little choice but to defer to the master. He obviously has an eye for what makes something pop, something explode on film. So the photo shoot is rescheduled for 4 p.m, two hours later in the afternoon. While the typical Miami rain showers may be a factor at that point, he is not worried, but excited, rather. The rain could enhance the dramatic effect he-I mean we-are going for.

Bay jumps into his black Range Rover, leaving the photography crew at the house while he heads to the gym and to pick something up from the Design District, Miami’s art and designer home wares enclave. “There is nothing here to steal, don’t worry,” he says.

A quick glimpse around the estate and it is apparent that, while Bay may have only recently acquired the home and is still going through the renovation process, that is not true. The walls are laden with spectacular pieces of photographic art, serene scenes that were taken at the sites of some of the most horrific and dramatic places in history, such as a shot of the sun rising over the placid waters of Omaha Beach, where the water ran red on D-Day all those years ago.

But it is apparent the house isn’t quite a home yet. In fact, the second floor is mainly barren, hence Bay’s trip to the Design District. Located on prestigious North Bay Road, Bay’s home has a bit of an infamous history, as it was the site where the Hogan family lived while filming their reality show, Hogan Knows Best. Since ending filming, that family has proven, time and again, that they may not, in fact, know best…about anything. But that is another profile, another day. With the help of Los Angeles-based interior designer, Lynda Murray, Bay has spent the months since acquiring the property wiping away every cheesy indication that the Hogans once thrived in these halls. (The only vestige of the previous owners is a heavy-handed oil painting of a tiger surrounded by jungle fauna that hangs exactly where it was left, three feet above eye level, in the bar.)

The result is a beautiful, clean design. The house winds and extends in all directions, revealing hidden hallways that lead to screening rooms and private nooks. We are given run of the house to explore, to find the ideal location to capture Michael Bay in his native habitat. Because while he may be most comfortable on a movie set, where he directs award-winning, record-breaking blockbusters like Armageddon, Bad Boys, and the live-action Transformers, the Miami Beach home (which is one of many he owns across the country) is where he comes to relax, to take off his director’s hat and be himself…to recharge his creative energies so that when he does head back to filming, he is able to keep up the frantic pace.

When he returns for wardrobe consultations, Bay says he generally “dresses like a director.” He is clad in jeans and a baseball hat, a de facto uniform for him while on sets across the globe. When putting in 18-hour days for weeks-nay, months-at a time, it is important to be comfortable. Today, the hat he has selected to wear has a damaged rim, which he explains is a casualty of an exuberant explosion on set of the Transformers flick. The hat’s emblazoned with the Hasbro logo, the toy company behind the Transformers franchise, which resulted in the spin-off cartoon series, comic books, and then the live-action film. Bay collaborates with them on all of their toys, games, and products that were born from the new generation Transformers.

He is in Miami on a break from shooting the sequel to the extremely successful film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen began shooting just one day after the original won the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie, possibly receiving the accolades because it grossed more than $700 million worldwide, albeit with a $150 million production budget. The budget for the latest film surpasses that, and fan expectations for the film do the same, but Bay isn’t giving away any of the plot secrets quite yet. Audiences can expect Bay, as always, to top the previous incarnation with better special effects, new inventive robots, more exclusive locales, and a cast that will likely propel the movie to surefire fame. Shia LaBeouf is set to reprise his role as Sam Witwicky, but the filming has been rife with inflated controversy, from a bogus anecdote of LaBeouf being caught smoking in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in D.C., to inaccurate and downright spurious accounts of a serious car accident that landed him in the hospital. But Bay’s job is to keep the filming on track, a job at which he obviously excels.

 From Miami, Bay is off to Hasbro in Rhode Island before returning to Philadelphia to continue shooting Revenge of the Fallen.

He is only in Miami for one week, so his dogs-bullmastiffs named for characters in his films-are not with him this trip. The pampered dogs generally travel everywhere with the star director, and even have their own chauffeur to take them from Bay’s Los Angeles home to his office, but given the short duration of this trip, they wait faithfully for him in L.A. But he explains that they generally love his house on shining Miami waterways and do their best to defend it. The dogs (larger than life, just like the action in his films) take full advantage of the secluded backyard, which borders Biscayne Bay. “If someone comes cruising up to the house on their boat or Jet Ski or whatever, they go bounding over to the water, big barks, big commotion!” Bay laughs. It’s a scene straight from a movie. Picture it: Hogan fans, not aware that the fallen family has moved from their infamous Miami Beach home, rent some Jet Skis and try to glide up to catch a glimpse of the spandex-clad Hulkster. Two dogs, weighing in at 150 pounds, emerge from behind the cabana, barking, snarling, effectively scaring the would-be snoopers away with a start.

It’s too bad the dogs aren’t here today. A small bridge stretches from Bay Road to one of the many man-made islands that house some of the city’s most prestigious addresses, giving those so inclined to stop and take a gander a pretty decent view of Bay’s backyard and pool. Bay is out of his “director gear,” looking dapper and in charge in a two-piece black suit while leaning up against an ancient Balinese door that he has erected at the end of the pool. The door goes nowhere, merely a decoration, an added detail that helps raise the allure of the property. Our photographer is in the water snapping away alongside his assistant, who has her arms stretched above her head to keep the cords out of the water. Bay seems almost as comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it. Another assistant stands nearby with the power plug in hand; God forbid the power source goes plunging into the pool. Even for this cover photo shoot of Bay, there is an aura of danger.

Suddenly, a voice cuts through the air. “Hey, that’s not the Hulk!” No shit. Where are the mastiffs when you need them? Because while Bay’s face might not be quite as recognizable as one that is decorated with the yellow handlebar mustache, the movies he is responsible for are some of the most recognizable in recent history and are filled with exclusive views of some of the most recognizable locations and stars in the world. Bay is one of the top five directors working today, if not of all time. He is definitely one of the highest grossing. With seven-going on eight-major blockbuster titles under his belt (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, The Island, Transformers), Bay has grossed more than $2.6 billion worldwide, a number that will increase exponentially with the coming release of Revenge of the Fallen.

His affinity for the city of Miami was born during the filming of Bad Boys in 1994. (And, he jokes that all of his time filming in the city and working with local law enforcement has gotten him out of a number of tickets, a luxury that isn’t afforded to stars in the star-laden Los Angeles.) Not only did the film let Bay cut his teeth on big blockbuster films, it also showed him the potential of what he could become. Just as it was Bay’s first feature film, it was a breakout movie role for Will Smith, who up until that time was best known as a comedic sitcom actor on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Bay explains that after shooting one scene where Smith was running (of course in the film, Smith is running in Bay’s signature super slow motion-style) while cars were exploding behind him, his shirt open and flapping in the wind, Bay knew he was onto something good. “I said, ‘Will, come look at this! This is what a movie star looks like!'” Apparently, that is what a star director looks like as well.

He broke into the film industry by working on music videos after getting his degree from Wesleyan University, and subsequently worked on the music videos of some of the top artists of the time. Bay found his stride behind the camera and it showed. He was working on commercials, photo shoots, anything that he could in order to further his knowledge of the industry, winning awards in the advertising industry and making quite the untarnished name for himself along the way.

He began his notable partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer on the original Bad Boys, which Bruckheimer produced along with the late Don Simpson. The partnership continued through The Rock and Armageddon; Bay and Bruckheimer produced Pearl Harbor together. All three films were incredibly successful. The first film he attempted without Bruckheimer, The Island, which stars Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor, was the first box-office bomb, earning a mere $36 million Stateside. Bay blames it on bad marketing, citing poor domestic marketing tactics. His theory does hold water: the film grossed $163 million worldwide, and his following film-Transformers-made history.

And now Bay is working on cementing his place in history as well. The next project for Platinum Dunes, his smaller production company that is an offshoot of Bay Films, will be a remake of Friday the 13th, which he calls a “reconception of the original,” while a remake of Nightmare on Elm Street is in the pre-production stages. Each one is an iconic title, but with Bay’s intense filming style and love for the dramatic flair and effect, audiences are eagerly awaiting the arrival of each of these films. The company’s first film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), was produced for $9 million and garnered grosses upwards of $107 million, followed by the remake of Amityville Horror (2005), which made $108 million.

While he recently acquired a sizable stake in special effects company Digital Domain, it is not the only company he uses to aid with his projects. “My films would lose their integrity,” he says. “You have to spread your work out.”

From Miami, Bay is off to Hasbro in Rhode Island before returning to Philadelphia to continue shooting Revenge of the Fallen. He might be making a stop at Wal-Mart headquarters along the way, seeing as the company is one of the top sellers of both the DVDs and the toys associated with the Transformers franchise. In 2007, overall worldwide sales of Transformers toys, games and licensed merchandise soared to approximately $480 million. Projections for potential toys based on the upcoming film are even greater.

He’ll make the trip in his personal Gulfstream III, which he refers to as a business investment. With a busy schedule that has Bay hitting up some of the most obscure spots on the planet to scope sites for his coming films, it is nice to know that when he wants to head to one of his many homes that span the country, he is able to do so on his schedule, at his time. He gets to call the shots, which is just the way he likes it.

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