Michael Bay ’87 gets to dream for a living. At least, that was his explanation for his Friday night ebullience, which inspired him to fly out to Middletown and personally introduce his summer blockbuster “Transformers” to a packed audience of sugar-charged 90s kids and raucously cheering adrenaline junkies. As an explanation for his gift of $320,000 to the Wesleyan film department, one can only point to his staggering financial success.
“I made a lot of money, and it’s time to give something back,” he said, as chair of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger barreled towards him and grabbed him in a bear hug.
Bay answered a host of questions for the sold-out theater, ranging from queries about his heroes to breathless, star-struck compliments. Certain audience members seemed especially interested in his income, which Bay refused to account for in specifics. He did, however, offer a trenchant image.
“If I told you how much I made [off ‘Transformers’], you’d vomit,” he said.
A notable glibness tinged his many responses. When a student asked him his first thought upon graduating from Wesleyan, he answered: “I’m a loser,” explaining that he couldn’t get into film school and couldn’t find a job. When another asked him about what statement he intended to make with “Transformers,” he said: “Statement? Guys, seriously. It’s about giant robots.”
And when an earnest film major wondered about his involvement in the editing process, he at first said that he wasn’t involved, having chosen instead to move to Hawaii and open up a Boogie Board shop, before he answered: “No, no, it took forever.”
A few questions went entirely unanswered; when asked to choose his favorite classical film theorist, Bay scrunched his eyebrows and said: “You mean director? The Coen Brothers, probably. I’m not much of a theory person.”
Certain questions catered to his style. In response to a student who wondered: “Which scene from your movies is the most fucking badass, and why?” he tensed up his shoulders and asked in a gruff voice: “Son, have you ever heard an aircraft fire up at sunset?”
Applause from the audience accompanied most of these answers, charged as they were with the spark that inspires his films. At one point he offered a story from his days on the set of “Bad Boys:” while filming Will Smith on a sweltering Air Force tarmac, he gestured to his pilot’s outfit and exclaimed to his film crew, “He looks like a movie star! Doesn’t he look like a movie star?”
According to Bay, Smith grimaced, pointed at Bay’s own outfit, and said, “Aren’t you embarrassed to be seen in that helmet?”
Gabriel Fries ’09 complimented his energy.
“He’s one of the most entertaining directors to ever come to Wesleyan,” Fries said. “Regardless of the quality of his films, I admire his perseverance.”
According to Basinger, it was only because of Bay that the Film Series could show “Transformers.” IMAX is currently working on a 3D version, and had recently pulled the film out of distribution; when a representative from IMAX told Basinger that the movie was off-limits, she decided to call up the ultimate connection.
“I racked my brain, I racked my brain, and I realized we knew someone who worked on the film,” she said.
As for his work on “Transformers,” Bay cited the advent of CGI as the film’s raison d’etre—and the harbinger of a new era in filmmaking.
“Things are becoming very photo-real,” he said. “Anything is possible. It’s an amazing time.”