Typically, when Michael Bay steps behind the camera, you have some expectation for what that film is going to contain -- incredible amounts of action, massive explosions, gunfire, and car chases. However, “Pain & Gain” is a departure from the giant blockbusters that have been near synonymous with Bay’s name over the years.
Made for the lowest budget -- $26 million -- since his debut feature “Bad Boys” back in 1995, Bay has to rely on strong character work and sharp dialogue rather than visual effects to bring the real-life tale of a Miami crime spree committed by a gang of bodybuilders to the big screen. It’s a different side of Michael Bay than we’ve become accustomed to, and perhaps one we may wind up seeing more of, depending on how the film performs at the box office. The door is now open for the director famous for the spectacles of “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” and three “Transformers” movies (a fourth is on the way next year) to do much smaller, more personal projects in the future.
Here, Bay expands upon such desires as well as what initially drew him to this story. He also discusses the different approaches needed for a film like “Pain & Gain” as opposed to “Pearl Harbor,” and explains his creative process for taking on well-established and beloved properties like the Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Moviefone: So your career has been full of big budget, blockbuster films, but you started out with “Bad Boys,” which was, at least monetarily, very small. Are you more comfortable doing films like this? Oh yeah. I would like to do more of these. This was always a cool script sitting on my shelf, and I knew it would be a fun movie to do. I knew it would be easy and just actors acting, so it was really refreshing. I tried to inject some style into it -- I didn’t want it to take itself too seriously, on the shooting style. But it’s also tough, because you’re stuck in a box, you know?
As opposed to having a bigger budget... Well, there were times that the studio tried to shut me down. “Why do you need those two days?” “Because it’s called a f*cking ending. We need the f*cking ending. We either shoot it now or shoot it later, alright? Go ahead! Shut me down! Come on down to Florida!” And of course they never show up. Just to make them happy, we took out a scene, just to save on schedule. But I knew I was going to shoot it when I got back home.
So when you’re doing something this small, does it give you a little bit more room to experiment or go outside your comfort level? Yeah. I used weird shots. Like, there’s rain dropping on the lens...and I just like the screwed up look to it? That’s what I mean: don’t take it so seriously. Is there a comfort? I mean it’s a comfort to know that I’ve already made the studio so much money that I’m going to go out and if I fail miserably, no harm no foul. We spent 26 million bucks on it, and it seems like people are really liking the movie, so we’ll see.
The other thing that is interesting to me is that the characters preach so much on the American dream, and yet they’re somewhat hypocritical in their actions because they’re then proceeding with the anti-American dream. Were you trying to make a social commentary on this entitlement society that we have now? Yeah. The thing that I latched onto when I read the real case and the detailed article was people being misguided in American dreams. I mean, these guys? They had jobs. They were working. It was interesting how it was in that bodybuilding culture where they’re just never happy. They’re working out so hard. They want to be bigger, better, slicker, smoother. So that’s a thing that I always liked about the story. That made it comical to me. We’re not making fun of the crime, but these guys were such boneheads and oddly brilliant and delusional. There’s a weird mixture.
There is a very strange balance that you have to strike. It’s comical without being funny because it’s so dark. Yeah, it’s not a comedy. It’s like watching a train wreck. It starts out as fun and games and then it gets very serious. But the train wreck just becomes a bigger train wreck. I just like the pace and the energy at the end of the movie. You can’t make light of the victims. The thing is, this doesn’t really explore the victims. It’s almost a side subject. It’s exploring the criminal’s delusional mind. Like I said, have you ever met a criminal who thinks they did something wrong? They’re all in prison saying, “I didn’t do it.” It’s just a weird delusion. It was an interesting character study, I think. So reel it in? I don’t know. It’s a pretty out there movie.
You have “Transformers 4” coming up along with the new “Ninja Turtles” movie. What is your approach to taking on established properties? Is it seeing the fandom and trying to work from that? Or do you build it from scratch? There was that quote saying that we’re making [the Ninja Turtles as] aliens. We’re not.
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