Michael Bay and James Cameron give a 3-D view of the Hollywood alpha male [updated]

May 19, 2011 | 10:20 a.m.
bay cameron Michael Bay and James Cameron give a 3 D view of the Hollywood alpha male [updated]

Michael Bay and James Cameron at the Paramount Theater (Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Michael Bay and James Cameron have a lot in common — they both blow up shiny things with a particular élan, wrangle their massive film crews military-style and earn studios the kind of money that makes a guy walk with a swagger. But, as evidenced by a talk the two action directors gave Wednesday night on the Paramount Pictures studio lot, they’re not entirely on the same page on the subject of 3-D.

Bay screened about 15 minutes of footage from this summer’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” much of which he shot using the Fusion 3D camera system Cameron designed for “Avatar.” In a technical and sometimes contentious conversation about shutter speeds, rigs and lenses that will probably be very informative for the half-dozen people about to direct a $200-million-plus movie in the next year, Bay and Cameron debated the virtues and faults of the format. But for anyone without a blockbuster on their to-do list, the real entertainment was seeing the dynamic between Hollywood’s biggest alpha males.

After Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore introduced the men responsible for the two highest-grossing movies in the studio’s history, “Titanic ” ($600 million domestic box office) and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” ($402 million domestic box office), Bay explained how he and Cameron met, when Bay visited the “Titanic” set in Mexico in the mid-1990s.

“He said, ‘We’re a lot alike,'” Bay recalled. “I said, ‘No, you’re just meaner, Jim.'” More than a decade later, Cameron invited Bay to the “Avatar” set to see his 3-D cameras in action. At the time, Bay was dubious about the format and bewildered by the nitty-gritty of “Avatar’s” visual effects. “Jim says to me, ‘God, Weta [Digital] has some great algorithms. I thought, ‘What the [heck] are we talking about?'”

Jay Fernandez of “The Hollywood Reporter,” which was hosting the event, played a clip of Bay at the movie-industry convention ShoWest in 2009, warning exhibitors that 3-D “might be a gimmick.” Enter action films’ elder statesman, Cameron, persuading Bay to give the nascent technology a shot.

In the final throes of completing his first 3-D film, Bay seemed to be suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, complaining about the difficulty of using 3-D cameras while shooting in the real-world environment of downtown Chicago. “It’s a brand new beast,” he told Cameron. “You were basically on a stage [on ‘Avatar’].”

“You made the decision very close to the start of principal [photography],” Cameron said, defending the format. When Bay raised technical questions that had bedeviled his crew, Cameron nodded. “We can do that now, but literally just now.”

Bay estimated that the format had added $30 million to the cost of his film, to which Cameron countered, “The question is, how much more are you gonna make with a film in 3-D?”

james cameron and sam worthington avatar Michael Bay and James Cameron give a 3 D view of the Hollywood alpha male [updated]

James Cameron and Sam Worthington at work on "Avatar" (Fox)

The “Transformers” scenes Bay showed included the first five minutes of the movie, which melds archival footage of presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon and the Apollo 11 mission with 3-D shots of huge Cybertronian technology on the moon. The footage reveals the plot of “Dark of the Moon” — that the motivation for the space race was, well, more than meets the eye. A montage of action sequences included a scene of men diving out of planes among Chicago skyscrapers with 3-D cameras strapped to their helmets, a sequence Bay said had occurred to him after watching a base-jumping team on “60 Minutes.”

The footage prompted a discussion of where the directors get their ideas for action sequences, one of the rare moments of agreement during the night. Everywhere, was the answer. “When I’m writing an action scene, I crank up the music so loud I can barely think,” Cameron said. Bay confessed ideas often came to him, “while doing crunches.”

— Rebecca Keegan



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7 Responses to Michael Bay and James Cameron give a 3-D view of the Hollywood alpha male [updated]

  1. Arch Oboler says:

    Wait. 3-D ADDED $30 mill to the budget?!? How is this even a cost-economical thing, that this can be tossed of in such a blase fashion?

    It's clear Bay isn't entranced by the Kool-Aid Cameron has been spouting. And it's hysterical that Cameron is on the defensive about "bad 3-D" ruining the industry.

    Enough already. "Thor" was a conversion and added nothing. I'm tired of paying over the odds to wear stupid glasses, to see dimmer pictures, and get NOTHING additional to my viewing experience. 3-D has failed TWICE already. In the 50s, and in the 80s. I was around last time for "Jaws 3-D" (which, surprisingly, had a couple of fun moments.). And you know what? Nothing has changed. NOTHING. Anyone who is telling you anything different is selling you a bill of goods.

    Try telling a story. Everything else ought to be the icing on the cake.

    • Izzyman says:

      Do you really think 30 million added to the budget of a "James Cameron" film is all that much? Avatar was the most expensive movie and Yet most profitable movie made to date.

  2. Harriet Bee says:

    Cameron says: “When I’m writing an action scene, I crank up the music so loud I can barely think." I'm guessing that when Michael Bay is writing an action scene he must crank it up to the point where he can't think at all.

  3. Mark says:

    Bay and Cameron have virtually nothing in common. Cameron takes time to craft his characters and story, then applies cutting-edge filmmaking techniques to service them. I don't think you'd ever see Cameron hiring Kurtzman and Orci to work for him…

  4. Alan Dean Foster says:

    Cinematic 3-D will be a success when it becomes an immersion technology and not a viewing technology. In other words, when a viewer in an audience can turn and see something beside him and behind him as well as in front of him…and without glasses or other technical aids.

    The technology isn't there yet.

  5. Fred says:

    What a bunch of clucking from two people who have yet to tell a truly moving story. All spectacle, no substance.

  6. rakava says:

    3D added $30 million to an already ridiculous budget for the sequel to a movie that made $800 million worldwide. Curiosity about 3D made Avatar a $2 Billion (with a B) world wide? It's a decent bet on an already overextended effects budget. I'd take that bet if I had the technical skills to be able to pull it off. THAT is the question. I know what an algorithm is but I would find it a horribly daunting experience. Jim Cameron is a big old nerd with an overly inflated ego, he lives for this stuff. Michael Bay is a frat boy who knows how to make things go BOOM very well. This is either going to look, really, really cool or suck, really, really bad. Note: I said LOOK not be – which was the case with Avatar. I still don't know what I thought of the movie. I just sat there thinking "that looks soooo cool!" "OMG! That is soooo gorgeous!" Transformers – even in the hands of Chris Nolan could not be as visually stunning as Avatar just because it's based on the real world with real world locations. As someone interested in the visual and technical art of cinema (which is different from the art of cinema), I will go see it, but I don't have high hopes.

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