Q&A (Part 2): The Bitter Script Reader on “Michael F-Ing Bay: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay’s Films”November 18th, 2014 by Scott
The Bitter Script Reader has hosted a screenwriting blog almost as long as I have, his first post going live on January 1, 2009. Over the years, we’ve crossed virtual paths countless times and I’ve come to know Bitter as one of the good guys in the online screenwriting universe. He even has his own YouTube channel hosted by his alter ego we have come to know and love as The Puppet. So when Bitter announced to the world he had written a book called “Michael F-ing Bay: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay Films,” I knew I had to get to the bottom of this right away.
I sent Bitter some questions. Here is Part 2 of that Q&A:
What’s your favorite Michael Bay directed music video: Soldier of Love by Donny Osmond or I Touch Myself by The Divinyls?
I Touch Myself by a country mile because it foreshadows so much about Bay’s later filmography. I really love the way the true meaning of the song is buried. Until recently, I had no idea it was about self-pleasure! I long assumed “I touch myself” meant that the thought of the lover was a very touching one for the singer, that they were speaking of an emotional pang rather than physical self-abuse.
In my defense, the fact the speaker was a woman threw me, because I was assured by every girl I knew growing up that women didn’t masturbate. But that’s the brilliance of the song, how the true meaning is so deeply hidden in the music. I appreciate that subtlety when contrasted with the raw animal-like sexuality radiated by Donny Osmond.
Another fun fact – this song was released in December 1990, right around the time the first Gulf War was flaring up, soon after the formal reunification of East Germany and West Germany in October. In that sense it’s a political song and a love song about two countries who “don’t want anybody else.” And because they are now one, when they think about the other, they’re actually touching themselves.
Jerry Lewis is maligned in the United States, but beloved in France. Given the ginormous success of Transformer movies in Asia, does that mean Michael Bay is the Jerry Lewis of China?
You know how every year, Tyler Perry makes a movie that opens huge? And then the next Monday, the trades fill up space with the standard article of, “Oh my god! Black people go to the movies too! Studios are now actively going to court this financial goldmine?” Then usually nothing changes. Studio films remain as un-diverse as ever until some six months later when the next Lee Daniels-directed or Oprah-produced film come out and everyone feigns shock over this “undiscovered” audience that no one realized was out there.
The genius of Tyler Perry is that he makes films for an under-served segment of the audience. A great many of these films may be critically dubious, but that doesn’t hurt him because people want to see representations of their experience on-screen. That’s why it confounds me from a business standpoint that we don’t market more to African-Americans and women, two of the most unrepresented demographics in studio filmmaking.
Bay’s a smart guy. He knew that if he set some of his last TRANSFORMERS film in China, it would do huge business there. And it did. So in conclusion, Michael Bay is not the Jerry Lewis of China, he’s the Tyler Perry of China.
Michael Bay does Boyhood. Go!
First order of business – let’s flip the genders. Second order of business, Bay is going probably prefer following the 12 years that lead her into womanhood. This will follow the lead from when she’s 16 to 28, at which point her age ensures she will cease to exist in the Bay canon.
I feel like Bay would be very interested in exploring the physical and sexual maturation of a young woman. You’d have to start at age 16 because starting with a five year-old, you’d never know if she’d grow up to be supermodel-beautiful. She’d be beautiful, of course. Strong. Confidant. Sexy. Owning her body. I imagine the film as a celebration of physical beauty.
And that’s when you realize he’s already started making this movie and is actually almost six years into shooting the film. You would recognize the individual segments as Victoria’s Secret commercials and when it’s all assembled, we’ll see Doutzen Kroes grow up before our very eyes!
Michael Bay = Steven Spielberg minus what and plus what?
In the book, I make comparisons between Bay and Steven Soderbergh, at least in regard to how The Rock is to Bay’s catalog what Ocean’s Eleven is to Soderbergh’s. As well regarded as each of those films is, neither represents the artistic pinnacle for each one. Ocean’s Eleven is Soderbergh bringing his exceptional talents to bear on a simple heist film, while The Rock is Bay brilliantly coloring within the lines on a high concept action film. You won’t find any of the subversive messages or profound meanings that distinguish Armageddon or The Island, for that matter. Those films are basically Bay’s Solaris.
But what he has that Soderbergh struggled with was the ability to take those ideas and smuggle them to a wider audience within the trappings of a crowd-pleaser. True, The Island is his lowest-grossing film, but Armageddon hit the mark. For me, it proves his clear superiority to Soderbergh, demonstrating that a science-fiction film can deal with large matters such as man’s relationship with God and his need to reject religion – without alienating a large audience. If your readers are perplexed by this interpretation of Armageddon, I hope they’ll check out the book, where I break all of this down very carefully. Armageddon is essentially a story about man killing God.
As far as the Bay vs. Spielberg, I would say that Bay is Spielberg minus the fidelity to history, and plus maturity. In that, I mean that most of Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing films like ET or Jurassic Park seem to come from a pre-adolescent perspective. There’s a sense of innocence and wonder to them that many people lose in their teenage years. This is Spielberg’s secret, in that he captures those emotions and sells them back to us. When we watch a Spielberg crowd-pleaser, it’s a stimulus for sense memory associated with an earlier, pure-er part of our lives. Some use this criticism as a pejorative, but that is a remarkably difficult skill to master. It might be like trying to describe color when all you can see is black and white.
Bay is Spielberg plus maturity because his characters look at the world with the perspective of teenagers who have entered puberty. Perhaps to put it more crudely, Bay’s teenagers actually have discovered sex. He even shoots his films to reflect that view. There’s a much-maligned sequence in the first Transformers where the camera appears to leer at Megan Fox’s body as she checks under the hood of a car. That is not Michael Bay leering at Megan Fox, that his authorial skill at wedding our point of view to that of Shia LaBeouf’s character. We’re seeing her through his eyes, his sexual perceptions super-charged by hormones. It’s not a literal depiction of what Megan Fox’s character is doing in that scene so much as it is a visualization of how Shia’s character sees her. The pin-up girl appearance is filtered through the teenage perspective. Note how Bay almost instantly subverts the stereotype by revealing Fox’s character is more skilled at auto mechanics than Shia. In fact, nearly every single scene the two characters then becomes about how Fox’s character is the more competent and complex of the two.
So just as Spielberg can press the “innocence” buttons in us all, Bay triggers memories for a later stage of development. This is to his detriment because in reducing his audience to adolescence, they sometimes limit their view to what’s right in front of their face. They’re both master craftsmen of the image – it just works against Bay that he’s (at least in one sense) making movies more mature than some of Spielberg’s.
Finally what advice would you have for aspiring screenwriters whose dream gig would be to work on Transformers 8: Crime Time for Optimus Prime?
First, that’s a great title. If you walk into the room with that title, those kids are going to have to figure out how to land the assignment for Transformers 9 instead. ‘Fess up, you’ve already got a pitch ready, don’t you?
I think Bay will probably have moved on from Transformers by the eighth film. In my book, I make a good case that Pain & Gain marked the moment where Bay sought absolution for any prior cinematic sins, with the fourth Transformers serving as a denouement, or coda. I theorized that whatever he did next would mark a completely new era for him. A couple weeks ago, it was announced he’s in talks to do a film about Benghazi, so I think I’m on the right track here.
But let’s say he’s lured back for TF8, which would be the middle film of the third trilogy. They probably backed the Brinks truck up for this. TF5 would have come out in 2017, probably with Peter Berg at the helm. Berg did that one just so he could make a political drama about suicide bombers. Then came TF6 in 2020, and look, I love the Duplass Brothers but they were just the wrong choice for the gig. Can’t say they didn’t try, though. And then was 2023’s TF7, which was supposed to be a new trilogy and a new start. Problem is they shook up things too much by bringing in Catherine Hardwicke.
So now it’s 2025 and they’re hearing pitches on TF8. Bay wants this to be the Empire Strikes Back of Transformers films. Here’s my advice:
1) come up with eight really good, distinct action pieces and pitch those. Only those. You can figure out the story later.
2) Kill Optimus Prime
3) Resurrect Optimus Prime.
4) Don’t write “the camera spins around him.” Michael F-ing Bay KNOWS the camera will f-ing spin, okay?!
5) If the script is 100 pages long, you’re halfway there!
6) Racial dialects help distinguish the robots from each other.
7) The pitch should feel unbearably long, and if Bay doesn’t come out of it with a lot of questions, you were too straight-forward.
Have your characters use plenty of products. You want Bay to know you speak his language. When you get the gig, don’t try to outsmart him or second-guess his more intellectual themes. You’re there to serve him.
Most of all, tell him you’ve got a leg up on all the other writers he’s meeting with because you read The Bitter Script Reader’s book MICHAEL F-ING BAY, now available for a mere $4.99 on Amazon.
For Part 1 of the Q&A, go here.
If you’re a fan of The Bitter Script Reader, here is a simple, easy and inexpensive way to show your gratitude for his many years of contributions as an online resource for screenwriters.