Michael Bay knows you hate him: ‘There’s a lot of poison on the Internet…whatever’

May 22, 2009 | 8:18 p.m.

Michael Bay is a lightning-rod figure in the movie industry, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I went to visit him in Santa Monica at his sleek workshop, where his team is in finish-line mode on "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." I found him to be smart and personable if a bit defensive, which is no surprise considering all the Bay-haters. "There's a lot of poison on the Internet," he told me through a tight smile. He also said he's barely going to be able to finish this new film, which gobbled up a mind-boggling 140 terabytes. This is a longer version of a story that will appear this Sunday on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Calendar section.

Michael Bay in Santa Monica

Michael Bay is lean, walks with purpose and carries his chin and shoulders at an imperious tilt, and on a recent afternoon at his work compound in Santa Monica it was easy to envision him as some proud matador. Perhaps that's fitting — Bay, like those bullfighters in distant Barcelona — thinks of himself as a mayhem artist in the crowd-pleasing business.

Bay is back in the ring on June 24 with his eighth film, " Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which many industry observers expect to surpass the first "Transformers" film, which grossed a staggering $708 million worldwide in 2007. "The pre-tracking is huge," Bay said of surveys of audience interest in the movie that stars Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox and an army of two-story alien robots.

He rolled his eyes, though, contemplating the last-minute labor that needs to be done. "This one," he said, "is barely going to make it to theaters. You have no idea how complicated my life is." The 44-year-old chuckled about his stress level, which fits his industry reputation as a director who thrives on pressure and adrenaline. Bay makes huge movies with high concepts and so many explosions that you expect the filmmaker to reek of cordite when you shake his hand.

His films, such as "The Rock," "Bad Boys" and "Armageddon," may make film critics cringe (Kenneth Turan in The Times called him a "world-class noisemaker" who leaves audiences "feeling pummeled, not exhilarated"), but Hollywood executives view them as spectacles that are big enough to lure consumers away from their home theaters. With this new film, Bay describes the "huge canvas" of its visual effects in terms of computer memory — at Industrial Light & Magic, the San Francisco effects house, the first "Transformers" movie took up an astounding 15 terabytes; the new one required 140 terabytes. "That breaks every record," said Bay, who is far more Barnum than Bergman.

You might expect that his pursuit of massive entertainment would lead to humongous budget overruns, but in fact it's a point of pride for him to wring every bit of bang out of each buck. The lanky, lupine filmmaker came from the world of television commercials (he did work for Budweiser and Nike, but the classic was his Aaron Burr "Got Milk" ad, which you can revisit with video at the bottom of this post) and even after 15 years of making feature films, he still positions himself as a contrarian outsider who is offended by peers who, as a group, he views as too slow, arty, wasteful and indulgent.

"The way I do it, we work hard, we work fast," Bay said. "We shoot 12-hour days. . . . One thing I can't stand about Hollywood is waste. I've gotten to be a very, very efficient shooter. On average, these type of sequels run in the $230-million to $240-million range, and we're shooting this for a flat $200 million. A lot of these directors have second unit the entire time — that's millions of dollars just wasted. We do it all ourselves."

Starscream and Shia LaBeouf

Bay likes to conserve his budget so he can film in exotic places that other directors find too difficult to access and, along with emphasis on pyro work and stunts, gives his productions the vibe of daredevil tourism. On this new film, he "weaseled" his way into the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt ("We were the first movie in 30 years to shoot physically on the pyramids"), where he shot with a 150-member crew for three days and, a few days later, he took his team to the top of the rock-carved architecture of Petra in Jordan, where military helicopters ferried 36 loads of gear to the perilous perch.

The choppers, by the way, were thanks to a Jordanian prince who loved Bay's first robot movie, while in Egypt it was Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, who turned out to be "a big fan of 'Transformers,' " Bay said, sounding surprised himself. (Bay seems to enjoy more support abroad than at home, perhaps because an explosion is easily translated; "Pearl Harbor" and "The Island," for instance, pulled in $251 million and $127 million abroad, respectively, far more than they earned during disappointing releases in the States.)

There may be very little mystery to Bay's movies, but he himself is a figure of fascination in Hollywood…

"We're still not quite sure how he does it when he's directing," says screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, who worked on both "Transformers" films. "People who work closest with him call his method 'Bay-os' because it feels like wartime chaos. There are explosions going off in every direction and half as many cameras flying all over the place, and you stand there thinking none of it's going to make any sense, then you watch the scenes cut together and realize something shocking: He's choreographed a ballet. He knows exactly which pieces he's going to use from each camera and he'd already cut the scene together in his head."

Bay poked fun at his reputation in a recent Verizon commercial; it begins with him watching "Transformers" and marveling at his own work. "Hmm, genius." He then proceeds to profess his love for all things awesome, from his pet cat (a giant tiger) to his awesome barbecue and awesome swimming pool (which he proceeds to blow up with a thumb detonator).

"I don't take myself so seriously," he said in his surprisingly hushed offices. "All these people think I do. Look, a lot of people think it's fun to hate on Michael Bay. There's a lot of poison on the Internet. People always try to knock someone who's had a ton of success in movies. Whatever."

Bay grew up in L.A. and attended Crossroads School in Santa Monica before heading off to Wesleyan University. A formative experience in his youth was a summer job as a filing clerk at Lucasfilm's art department. The job got him into a screening of "Blade Runner" and his memory of it was that people walked out puzzled and with none of the buzzing satisfaction of a "Star Wars" audience.

He was turned down by USC's film school and ended up at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His big break came with "Bad Boys" in 1995, and it still holds a special place in his heart. In "Revenge of the Fallen," Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) has a dorm-room poster showing "Bad Boys" stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.

"Those were two TV actors, and I was a music video and commercial guy," Bay said. "We had $10,000 for a rewrite, and we had to go let the writer go play golf every day, that was part of the deal. No one believed in the script. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were working on 'Crimson Tide,' that was their real movie, we were the tiny movie on the side. . . . The Friday before the shoot began, Don told Jerry, 'We're taking our name off this movie, it's crap.' I thought my career was over."

Bay said he pulled his stars into the trailer on the Miami set to rip out script pages and improvise on entire sequences, an approach he used consistently in his days making commercials. "Looking back, it was fun. We grew up on that one."

The $19-million movie supercharged the careers of Smith and Lawrence and made $142 million. There was a sequel that pulled in $273 million and by then Bay was established as the definition of bankable.

Other directors came into this summer with major career subplots: Could J.J. Abrams win over scowling Trekkers? Would McG resurrect himself with "Terminator Salvation"? Did Gavin Hood really lose control of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"? By comparison, Bay is on cruise control, a man looking for things to polish, not to prove.

"To make a movie like 'Transformers,' " he said, "you have to shut out everything that's out there . . . we work on it every single day for two years."

Michael Bay on the set

Up next for Bay is his first foray into TV producing with the HBO project "Cocaine Cowboys" and, he says, "taking some time off." He said he wants to make a movie with "no visual effects" too, but he's said that before. He sounded skeptical about directing a third "Transformers" and still surprised that he made the first two. Steven Spielberg came to him with the pitch 3 1/2 years ago, but Bay, no fan of superhero cinema, thought a franchise about alien robots sounded like "a very bad idea." He changed his mind when he considered a dark, realistic tone instead of a shiny, cosmic tale.

Bay also knew it would connect with youngsters: "So many aspects of it seemed silly, but there is so much wish fulfillment to it, the idea of having a giant robot hiding out in your backyard." This new film, too, has some more boisterous tiny robots with loopy voices, one delivered by Tom Kenny of "SpongeBob SquarePants" fame.

In recent weeks, Bay has been in a public spat with McG, whose "Terminator Salvation" has giant robots that Bay feels look too much like "Transformers." Bay has had a number of feuds (because, he explained, "I say what I think") but it turns out that sometimes the explosions are fake. With a wink, he admitted that he phoned McG to turn up the volume. "I told him, 'We're like boxers going at it this summer,' " Bay said. "We have to have some fun with it."

— Geoff Boucher

Here's that classic "Got Milk" ad…



Michael Bay talks about Shia LaBeouf's dark moods

"Transformers" screenwriting team is having a summer to remember

"Transformers 2": The mother of all robot-on-robot violence

 D.J. Caruso says Shia LaBeouf is perfect for "Y: The Last Man

CREDITS: Michael Bay portrait at his Santa Monica office by Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times. "Transformers" set photo and film image courtesy of Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures.


38 Responses to Michael Bay knows you hate him: ‘There’s a lot of poison on the Internet…whatever’

  1. dmiami says:

    I don't hate you because you make dumb movies, I hate the dumb people who try to justify your crap. Can you take an extra million and hire a writer to write a story instead of string a bunch of "I think this would look awesome on film shots" together. OH wait, I do hate you, you've never made a good movie, you haven't even made a watchable movie. All you had to do was take the transformers, build some robots that you can ascertain from one another and blow stuff up. Robots, that I would figure weigh tons, tip-toeing around a house and not being heard. Why, stuff like that is so infantile. Don't worry though, "one trick Abbrams" will join you with his obligatory lens flares and loophole stories. Within 10 minutes, I should never ask myself why a main character is doing something so patently dumb, that it ruins the rest of the movie. "I'm back in time, but instead of warn my people of an impending supernova, I want to kill the one person who tried to help. Take your millions, maybe they'll buy you some respect. And for god's sake, hire someone to write a memorable score. Star Wars wouldn't be half the movie it was without that music, infact the music may be more important, because while one may forget certain scenes, the human mind is utterly capable of recording every note in a piece of music.

    • russell says:

      Dmiami has no grasp of Bay Films to be criticizing the amazing efforts of the score composers for each of his films. Rabin's effort for Armageddon was outstanding, the Island music is used for more trailers than you can shake a stick at, and I have beat my CD player up with Zimmer's the Rock, Jablonsky's Transformers… Apparently, Dmiami thinks Zimmer and acolytes can not write a memorable score. Who then would he hire? While Bay's movies are not absent of absurdity, they are all 'action comedies,' with a touch of suspense, and meant to be approached as such.

  2. Theresa says:

    Don't love robots? I bet your girlfriend does :-) Check out the shirt I designed in their honor on zazzle:
    On sale this memorial day weekend, in honor of the Transformers release!

  3. Sir Anonymous says:

    Wow 15 terabytes and 140 terabytes of memory huh? You really should really understand these terms before you decide to use them. Memory refers to RAM whereas Storage refers to The amount of space something takes up on a storage mediun. You clearly meant to use the latter.

  4. Erik says:

    There's no great historical tome "heroes of project management." Nobody but his bosses care that he can deliver a movie on time and under budget. Moviegoers care if a movie is entertaining or not, and anybody who has an appreciation for more than glitzy spectacle is not impressed with Mr. Bay or his movies. Likewise, I don't think anybody who is criticizing his movies cares that he doesn't care what they think, though constantly commenting on it suggests otherwise. Getting it pointed out that your movie stinks is par for the course. If you make shiny, substance-free movies, those are your lumps. Some filmmakers would rather take their lumps on a spectacular failure that was an attempt to advance the artform, and the fact that Bay can't see the value in that betrays his status as a classless dunce.

  5. Guido says:

    People don't hate you because your successful (that's your ego talking to you). They hate you because your movies suck. There is no substance within any of them. People who have worked with you and or around you hate you because…welll…. You are a dick. It's really that simple.

  6. Joe Black says:

    "Poison… thy name is hubris."

  7. steve says:

    When I see the name "Michael Bay" on a movie I avoid it like the plague. The master of loud mindless schlock.

  8. Thomas Gerhardt says:

    Michal Bay is a genius, actually. And no, I am not being secretly ironic. He has an amazing visual mind that shows in all of his movies, he finds little side jokes for most of his larger-than-life paper-thin characters that carry his movies from one big boom to the next, but man, could somebody please, please, PRETTY please give the man a script that isn't completely retarded?
    I want to see a Michael Bay film, just once, that comes with a fully fleshed out script and a proper story. I want to see *his* Blade Runner or *his* Aliens. I want to see him push the envelope, and not just visually, for Michael? I'm sorry, I think you can do better, much better.
    I think the reason the intertubes hate you is that most people want to see something better from you. Something with a unique vision, and not something based on a toy line. Seeing all that potential wasted on something nobody will remember ten years down the line. At least that is what disappoints me about your movies.

  9. Blondie says:

    You have it all wrong,we don't hate you.It's your movies we hate!There's not alot of story plot in your movies,actors who can't act,need more music scoring in your films.

  10. Maury says:

    This should read as follows as opposed to how it reads in the article:
    "We're still not quite sure how he does it when he's directing," says screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, who worked on both "Transformers" films. "People who work closest with him call his method 'Bay-os' because it feels like wartime chaos. There are explosions going off in every direction and half as many cameras flying all over the place, and you stand there thinking none of it's going to make any sense, then you watch the scenes cut together and realize something shocking: It still doesn't make any sense! The movie is just as much of a mess as the filming process seemed to be, the camera cuts from shot to shot so quickly that you can't get any sort of grip on what's going on, the plot is tenuous at best, the characters are cardboard cutouts of people! It's like staring into a strobe light while being pounded on the head with a hammer! But I'll cradle his balls because it's made me enough money to buy beach houses on every coast!"

  11. James says:

    I certainly am not going to defend Mr Bay's movies. The majority of them are simply mindless exercises, pretty though. His talent is knowing how to make a movie look real good. With something like Transformers that is exactly what you want. I look forward to his sequel more than anything else that is "big" this summer.

  12. Sheryl says:

    Michael Bay DOES do the great explosions.
    I'm just not interested in WATCHING explosions, so in general I'm not interested in HIS movies–or McG's movies, or in general anything Jerry Bruckheimer gets near.
    The only one of of Bay's movies I've seen was Pearl Harbor, because I as I foolishly said to a Bay-Hater friend I talked into going with me, "How hard can it be to make a decent movie about Pearl Harbor? There's at least 10,000 true and interesting stories to tell about what happened that day–if he just picks 3 or 4 threads, fictionalizes them and follows them, it should be pretty good. Give the guy a chance. Pearl Harbor should be unscrewupable."
    Unfortunately, my Bay Hater friend was right, and Michael Bay can't cope with story in any way, shape, or form. Not even TRUE stories that should be slam dunks.
    I'm not a Bay Hater–but I'll certainly never go go another one of his movies.

  13. John says:

    All the people here who criticize Bay seem to share one common trait, arrogance. One poster using the moniker "Sir Anonymous" writes, referencing a term Bay used in the article:
    "Wow 15 terabytes and 140 terabytes of memory huh? You really should really understand these terms before you decide to use them. Memory refers to RAM whereas Storage refers to The amount of space…You clearly meant to use the latter."
    What is the proper term for beknighted men like you Sir Anonymous? maybe nitpicker? or petty? petulant? or…
    Another poster writes: "Robots, that I would figure weigh tons, tip-toeing around a house and not being heard. Why, stuff like that is so infantile." I wonder what this prude DOESN'T find "infantile".
    And another poster actually writes to us from the 16th century:
    "Poison… thy name is hubris." This one is attributed to Joe Black, at least he doesn't prefix his name with a "Sir"
    No wonder these types can't enjoy a Michael Bay movie. A Bay movie is all about sitting back, and relaxing and eating some pop corn and enjoying some of the best mindless spectacle the Hollywood machine can produce. In other words its just fun, nothing more.

  14. cw says:

    I was a "Bay-hater" until I saw Transformers. Quite simply, the film was just crazy good fun – I just didn't care about the silly bits at all. Hmmm, I might even revisit some other Bay movies….

  15. PRaz says:

    His movies rock! Michael Bay, you kick ass.

  16. Blue247 says:

    Wow such hate. And here I though movies were just for entertainment, not transcendental experiences.

  17. jbelkin says:

    People dislike Michael Bay for the fact he's a capable of pushing a story forward but either is not smart enough to want to make any of his movies at a higher caliber or decides to dumb everything down.
    Michael Bay is not going to get respect for the high tech equivalent of throwing a cat across the screen – it's visually eye catching but beyond that – not much. So, yes, it's great he can direct a film like a war set piece but it's not film-making as much as film-production in the literal sense of the word. Again, that's fine and I'm presuming he's making plenty of money and that's all fine but if he wants respect, he's going to have to be a little smarter and tell smarter stories.
    Though he seems way smarter than a director who can't even spell his own last name (McQ) so at least Michael Bay has that going for him.

  18. Floyd says:

    I don't get the hate on Bay. He makes movies for his audience. Some of his films I like others I didn't. Bad Boys was awesome. Bad Boys II was ok but the semi truck, boat, car chase highway scene was top notch. As a TF Fan the first Transformers was a good movie with a lot of replay value. However if you know the history of TF and went into the movie you would have been disappointed. As I was. Not enough focus on the robots. The original storyline about TF's searching for energy would have fit the current times. Sam is not a strong character. He stumbles a long in every scene. I agree with an earlier post. The robots are hard to distinguish. ROTF looks like a rehash of the first which is a shame. TF doesnt have to be a funny romantic comedy to be succesful. There are lot good characters and story plots in its history. If Starcream doesnt tell Megatron "he is the leader of the decepticons" ROTF will be a waste. With all that said I must give it up to Bay about the look of the film. He uses a lot of CGI during daylight unlike most film who hide FX in night time scenes.

  19. dav says:

    The problem is he's still making commercials. I guess it works great for the teens and younger kids.

  20. mitchum says:


  21. Liz Peel says:

    Jealousy is an ugly thing. Ignore it.

  22. Davos Melakendria says:

    "No wonder these types can't enjoy a Michael Bay movie. A Bay movie is all about sitting back, and relaxing and eating some pop corn and enjoying some of the best mindless spectacle the Hollywood machine can produce. In other words its just fun, nothing more."
    Yeah, it's called actually having a functioning brain that operates on levels that require stimuli more complex than simply activating the reptilian complex with LOUD NOISES!!!! BOOBS!! SPACE ROCKS!! GIANT FIGHTBOTS!!! FAT GUY ATE ALL DA DONUTS!!! to keep from being BORED out of our NON-TINY SKULLS you easily amused, pablum swilling chucklehead.

  23. addyction says:

    Megan Fox, Who does not know anything about her? Megan Denise Fox, a famous, young, talented American model and an actress.
    The Superficial – Megan Fox does South Korea
    Here's Megan Fox promoting the Transformers sequel in South Korea yesterday. If Dreamworks really wanted to score a publicity goldmine, they should've sent her into North Korea. Tell me Megan Fox couldn't have easily disarmed Kim Jong …
    The video from the scene:http://malecafe.net/video/index.php?q=megan fox thumbs-video-online

  24. JRM says:

    I don't hate Michael Bay — I just hate most of the movies he makes, especially Revenge of the Fallen, which was one of the worst cinematic experiences I've ever had.
    I really liked the first Transformers, though.

  25. Jeff says:

    Bay is a no-talent AS.SCLOWN! I HATE HIM, I HATE HIM, I HATE HIM!!!!!!! SO MUCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! IT HURTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. markpiet says:

    I like Bay's work. I watch a lot of movies and films (they are different). I like what Roger Ebert's like. But I don't hate Michael Bay. I like his work The Island and the Transformers' movies. But that one movie with US president riding a fighter jet. That's so eewww… US president doesn't have balls like that.

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  28. […] Michael Bay: “There’s a lot of poison on a Internet . . . whatever” […]

  29. F Friend says:

    I love Transformers Cartoons or Movies Since because Cartoons is an Art same as Movies even acting is an art. i have no reason to Hate Mr. Bay because transformer movies is like bringing the Past of Kid's and young Adult's favorite Animation but now it's High Tech and realistic more Exciting to watch. Yesterday I thought only Kid's like it Now even grown ups appreciate that, those individuals that understands Computer animation, Sci Fi Action Adventure.

  30. F Friend says:

    Besides my hobby in Electronics somehow related to Robotics how? the inside Mechanism, either mechanical ,electrical.computerized Electronics has a role.

  31. Julius says:

    All the hate started when Transformers 1 came out. Transformers was so cherished by many mostly young males in the 80's that purism of the cartoon was poisoned by Bay. I just wish he can focus more on plot/character devlopment not on how much freakin memory bytes he needs to make one. It's a shame really, visually he is right up there with James Cameron. That's how describe Bay, all show and no boat.

  32. anonymous says:

    **FOR ME** Bay's work falls into the vein that a good bottle of whiskey or some fine cannabis does… when i feel like numbing my brain and being entertained by simplistic means, nothing quite hits the spot like good explosion-gasm filled "Bay-os" that I personally have only witnessed coming close to being out-done by a small number of directors. Small intermittent doses is the key here. Any larger and/or more frequently and one runs the risk of permanent drain bamage… bam drainage… ah, i remember – dam brainage

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