January 13, 2015

Video: Michael Bay Breaks Down the Hows & the Whys Behind His Action Sequences

Michael Bay: you either love him or hate him -- there is no in-between. Even if the director's work isn't your cup o' tea, there's no denying that the director has taken the action genre up a few notches -- or a quadrillion.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is not really the point of this article (though you're totally free to talk about it in the comments). Instead, let's hear what Bay has to say about his brand of action (also known as "chaos cinema", a term coined by film scholar and filmmaker Matthias Stork), as well as the hows and the whys behind every explosion, car chase, and mechanical, fire-breathing T-Rex.

I'll admit, I'm not a fan of Michael Bay's work for a number of reasons, but I do respect it for what it is: fast, exciting, high-octane fun. First of all, I commend him for the fact that despite the incredible advancements in CGI, he still opts for practical effects and stunts as much as he can. I mean -- suspending a car 10 feet in the air and having a stuntman smack his head against one of the tires is, dare I say, awesome? For filmmakers looking to make action films, that's one important component of selling the illusion: if at all possible, go practical, because real things look more real on-screen.

I also admire that he continues to push himself creatively; that's a lesson we should all learn as filmmakers. For him it's by creating bigger, more elaborate action sequences, for you it might be by creating more complex, multi-dimensional characters.

(I recommend focusing on the latter.)     

Your Comment

20 Comments

A lot of people seem to dislike Michael Bay and his movies (I count myself among that crowd) but I've always found that it is more useful to study what you *don't* like than to study what you do.

When something works, it often feels like magic; when something fails, it is usually strikingly obvious exactly what is wrong with it.

Michael Bay does wild, dynamic, impossible-to-follow high-octane action better than anyone.
Rather than sitting back and bashing him from afar, we should be looking for what doesn't work - like cramming as much drama, action, and movement into every goddam scene whether it is called for or not, and grading to make people look like pumpkins.

His techniques could be used very effectively by a tasteful director who knows when to crank it way back (which is most of the time...).

January 13, 2015 at 8:52PM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer / Scenic
1009

If you think Michael Bay's action sequences have too much action, then you haven't seen an Olivier Megaton movie.

January 14, 2015 at 9:47AM

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Dre Kahmeyer
Director
300

*movement not action

January 14, 2015 at 9:48AM

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Dre Kahmeyer
Director
300

This video is hilarious. I particularly love the overdubbing of 'phantom flex' every time. He doesn't come across very well but hey I couldn't do what he does. No way I could keep hacking the same idea upside down left right and centre. Hats off for that.

January 13, 2015 at 9:25PM

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Robin Schmidt
Director
224

This video is hilarious. I particularly love the overdubbing of 'phantom flex' every time. He doesn't come across very well but hey I couldn't do what he does. No way I could keep hacking the same idea upside down left right and centre. Hats off for that.

January 13, 2015 at 9:25PM, Edited January 13, 9:25PM

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Robin Schmidt
Director
224

I love everything this man does. He's really a genius in my eyes. Number 1 director if you ask me!

January 13, 2015 at 10:37PM

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Ayby17
Student Director/Actor
86

Say what you will about MB but this guy is a legend! Yes you may be fatigued after watching a scene (lol) but when you break it down you realize that he is really excellent at what he does!... He makes me feel like i wanna be blown up! I just have to give credit where it is due and i support Bayism ;-)

January 13, 2015 at 10:52PM, Edited January 13, 10:52PM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2683

That was a very cool behind-the-scenes look. Thanks for posting it! Technically speaking, Michael Bay is incredibly impressive, and I have a lot of respect for his ability to pull off such complex, crazy sequences.

I had a similar thought as Kyle below when I was watching. I can only imagine what kind of incredible films could be made if these techniques were paired with a stronger screenplay.

January 14, 2015 at 2:04AM

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This is what I like about people dealing with film. Not bashing a director for his (maybe weird, over the top) vision. But studying him and see what we can learn from him.

I've usually found his films to be really entertaining (Bad Boys, the Rock) but this last Transformers movie just felt too long and I just stopped caring about the explosions at some point. I hope another director is going to get a chance to do a Transformers movie the way he (or she!) wants to.

January 14, 2015 at 2:29AM, Edited January 14, 2:29AM

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This is something that in the future people will study under the name of "Bayhem"

January 14, 2015 at 8:05AM

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Joel
Freelance. Vidoegrapher
95

Michael Bay is the reason I don't buy half-gallon tubs of ice cream... Because I will eat it all in one sitting and regret eating it later. There is something magnetic about his filmmaking and infuriatingly simplistic as well. But there is no doubt that whatever he creates is usually pretty amazing to watch...and regret watching later.

The half-gorilla Hong Kong street shoots remind me of stealing shots in NYC, ducking cops and disgruntled shop owners. I was delightfully surprised to see such a mammoth film as Transformers having to shoot from the hip to get some of its shots.

The "brand new Austrian" robotic arm camera sequence in reminiscent of Alfonso Cuarón's car sequence in Children of Men... As an example of better scripts using these techniques to greater effect.

Exhaustive BTS featurettes like this one are what I like to devour when I'm in need of a little inspiration to get out of my head and into my work, regardless of the overall quality of the finished film. Its just fun to watch people makin' movies because makin' movies is fun! Now... if I could only have just 1% of Michael Bay's budget.... and that robotic arm camera!

January 14, 2015 at 10:29AM

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Anthony Haden Salerno
Writer/Director/Editor
137

Let's not forget where cinema came from (Train Arriving At Station, etc.). Bay is just doing that...x1000000 hehe.
I'm not quite a fan nor an anti-fan, but some of his work (visuals and sound, mainly) is severely entertaining, enough so to be respected in the least.
Point being, for what Bay does...dang, he does well!

January 14, 2015 at 1:30PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1045

Almost every frame of the most recent Transformers could be used as OSX desktop wallpaper, the man can compose a shot!
Yes it was an exhausting, muddled story with cliches and deus ex machina, but at the end of the day the source material at its roots is about transforming cars and planes, to think he's had 4 movies out of the same idea and he continues to visually impress is a credit to the man.
His brazen attitude to film making has always been inspiring to me, even if at times it is a little cringeworthy.

I think everyone on this post has the right idea, learn from his shortcomings and admire his positives.

January 14, 2015 at 4:48PM, Edited January 14, 4:48PM

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Dale Leszczynski
Shooter Editor VFX
210

He's quoted as saying "I make movies for teenage boys; oh dear - what a crime."

January 15, 2015 at 12:28AM

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Thank you MB for the 20% real action, but the remaining 80% of lame CGI is no better than a Looney Tunes cartoon and Wile E. Coyote going "poof" off a cliff fall. The only thing this present CGI is missing is the written POOF in the smoke ring and an audience who cares.

January 15, 2015 at 10:31AM

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Bay is the best at what he does, and he’s made some good popcorn movies. So I don't have a problem with his directing style if it fits the script, and the script is good. And I don't think a "good" action-movie script would suffer at his hands. For example, if you want to make a "legit" movie about giant talking robot toys, he's the guy you call. But it goes both ways- a shitty script is exacerbated by his style because then it's just a frenetic, mindless mess- all style and no substance.

January 15, 2015 at 11:37AM

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Darby Powell
filmmaker
175

Michael Bay's technical abilities and techniques are quite amazing. Its the storytelling that seems to fall short. However, if you want to talk about some more amazing technical stuff I would encourage you all to check out what Brainfarm productions is doing with high speed and aerial shots its quite amazing.

January 15, 2015 at 7:18PM

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jacob
168

He makes the visual equivalent of pop music. Overproduced, catchy, fun and simple enough for everyone to understand. You can hate it for that or you can enjoy it.

Personally I don't see the point in hating it. Not everything can and should be an Oscar contender or deeply intellectual indie film with hidden symbolism everywhere. In fact often those movies, even if I think they're good, I can only watch once or twice because they're a task to get through rather than a pleasure. Especially the daker more depressing stuff. Whereas movies like his I can often watch multiple times because they're fun and straight forward and remind me of why I wanted to make movies as a kid, because you can escape reality and play make-believe army or transformers or whatever.

Plus to be honest, the dude is skilled. I think a lot of people that criticize his work would love to have the skill and resources even if it meant making the same kind of movies given the opportunity.

January 16, 2015 at 4:30AM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
677

You know what, I've never been a massive Bay-basher - I do think that he can't do drama but I'm often impressed at the spectacle that is a Bay action sequence but damn he's got an ego.

'I was like yeah I wanna do this shot and EVERYONE was like "duuuhhh, but how you do the shot Mr Michael?' and I was like "I don't wanna talk about it, it's too technical to explain to you people with your tiny man brains", and then I did it and they were all like "wow Mr Michael, you so smart, thank god you were here because we would have just filmed the grass".

He managed to explain the car shot in about a minute and I understood completely yet he works with some of the most talented and skilled people in the business and they were too dumb to understand what he meant? Really Michael? Really? Come on dude!

January 17, 2015 at 5:04AM, Edited January 17, 5:04AM

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Did Michael Bay just say "Cost effective"?

January 19, 2015 at 12:37AM

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