Director of ‘Transformers’ Goes on Offensive to Promote It - From The New York Times, Wednesday June 22, 2011
By BROOKS BARNES
LOS ANGELES — Michael Bay, the king of the summer movie spectacle, is not afraid of getting in the audience’s face. But on the eve of the release of his “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” he is on a charm offensive with reporters, bloggers and even theater owners.
Specifically, Mr. Bay, the director, and Paramount Pictures, which will release “Dark of the Moon” on June 29, are racing to convince moviegoers that the robot film is really, truly, honestly worth the extra $3 to $5 per ticket to see it in 3-D.
This is unfamiliar territory for Mr. Bay, who usually has to defend the narrative arc of his films, not the visuals. But there has been a wave of disappointing revenue for 3-D films as audiences in North America have been souring on the format. As a result, companies with huge investments in the technology are scrambling to reverse the downward trend. Consumer rebellion over the ticket price premium is one reason recent films like “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” have struggled in 3-D. While 85 percent of the domestic box office total for “Avatar” came from 3-D in 2009, the format delivered only about 47 percent of revenue for “On Stranger Tides.”
The industry is counting on “Dark of the Moon” to turn around perceptions of 3-D — even on Wall Street. Shares for DreamWorks Animation, one of Hollywood’s most vocal proponents of 3-D, have fallen almost 18 percent over the last month. Stock in Regal Entertainment, the nation’s largest theater chain, has dropped 11 percent, which analysts link to 3-D. RealD, a leading 3-D technology company, is down 24 percent.
So Mr. Bay has been chatting up reporters and bloggers about how he pushed the technology, including strapping a camera to the helmet of a skydiver. At a May 18 industry event, Paramount put him on stage with James Cameron, who directed “Avatar,” to extol the virtues of the medium, and fanned video of the chat across the Web. Television advertisements practically order consumers to don funny glasses and contain taglines like “3-D has been transformed.”
Last week, Mr. Bay even called the chief executives of major theater chains to implore them to show “Dark of the Moon” in a way that burns out projector bulbs more quickly but makes 3-D look brighter and sharper.
“We’re putting all of our resources into this,” said Brad Grey, Paramount’s chairman. “It’s the most spectacular visual experience I have ever seen.”
Filming “Dark of the Moon” cost Paramount an extra $30 million, bringing the total budget to $195 million. Robots hurtle straight at viewers, and wing-suited men soar around Chicago office buildings. Flying robots tangle with military helicopters; a skyscraper is ripped in half by a crazed mechanical threesome. The story centers on Autobots and Decepticons clashing over a hidden spacecraft.
“If this was having my name on it, I was determined to make it technically perfect,” Mr. Bay said by telephone. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time making sure the eye is transitioned from shot to shot.”
Using Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar” crew, Mr. Bay notably filmed in 3-D on outdoor sets; until now the technology has mostly been confined to soundstages because of its bulk. Mr. Bay, known for the fast pace of his imagery, also had to slow down a bit, using longer shots and more wide shots to maximize the effect. “If you pan too quickly it will give viewers a jittery feeling,” he said.
Industry analysts say studios themselves have sent the 3-D market reeling by releasing a stream of subpar movies in the format. Many movies billed as 3-D extravaganzas recently have not been filmed using 3-D cameras but have instead been hastily converted into three dimensions during postproduction work.
“The consumer has had a reaction to bad 3-D and subtle 3-D,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman. “They’re tired of sitting in a theater thinking, ‘Wait, is this movie in 3-D or not?’ Well, with ‘Transformers’ people are going to leave saying, ‘You absolutely must see this in 3-D.’ ”
Mr. Bay is not the only big-time director having to proselytize. Next month, Steven Spielberg is expected to trek to Comic-Con International, the San Diego convention for fans of comic books and related entertainment, to promote his coming 3-D film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” Martin Scorsese has a period 3-D mystery, “Hugo Cabret,” due in November; Mr. Cameron is working on two “Avatar” sequels and a 3-D version of “Titanic.”
“Transformers” is one of Hollywood’s most valuable franchises. The first film took in about $710 million in 2007. Two years later “Revenge of the Fallen” had global sales of more than $836 million despite abysmal reviews. (Mr. Bay has since said that even he winces when he looks back on its shoddy narrative.)
If many moviegoers opt to see “Dark of the Moon” in 3-D, it could soar past $1 billion. Mr. Cameron predicts consumers will respond favorably.
“When they see something that blows their minds, that’s the most exciting part,” he said at the May 18 event, which featured about 15 minutes of “Dark of the Moon” film. “Like what we’ve just experienced here.”
I wonder how many orphaned 3D TV's this will generate.