How’d you first connect with Michael Bay?
I’ve actually been working with Michael for a few years now. He’s an avid small drone pilot and we’ve worked together on different movies. I showed him Solo before we announced the launch, did a flight demo with him, and showed him Smart Shots. I challenged him with a tricky reveal shot, having him fly up and back out of his yard and then panning to reveal Santa Monica. At first he didn’t think he could do it, but I had him set up a Cable cam and he got the sequence in one take. He turned to me and said, “Who’s shot with this so far? I want to use it now.” So he invited us to Malta where he was filming his latest movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
How’d that Malta shoot go down?
Originally we went just to give him his own Solo for some test shots, but he was so blown away by the Smart Shots — the stability and the motion control — that he put us on the actual call sheet each day, and he ended up using Solo as part of the camera package to film all the big explosion scenes.
In fact, the final night we were there, the crew set up a shot just for Solo. Because Solo is so small, it could fly through this extremely narrow corridor, about 80 feet long, with 50 to 60 pyrotechnic explosions going off, 30 extras running around with AKs and over 200 people standing by on set — it was a crazy shot that took more than five hours to set up. By the time it was over, it was 3 am and everyone was exhausted. We had one take, one chance. It was probably the most nerve-wracking shot I’ve ever done — with Michael Bay breathing over my shoulder, shouting, “Oh! Yeah! Oh! Boom! Yeah, yeah!” — but we nailed it. Moments later, when Bay and his key crew gathered to watch the playback, the crowd around them suddenly grew, and they were all cheering.
You know, when you think about a Bay movie, you think about those huge set pieces, the explosions, the special effects — those scenes seem like they must be tightly choreographed, with a lot of forethought and planning.
Make no mistake, Bay’s crew does a great deal of groundwork and preparation, but what is really interesting, is the spontaneity. One night we went out into this field with random columns and structures standing throughout the open space, and Michael asked me, “What interesting flights could you do here?” I pointed out a diagonal route over rooftops and around some of the columns, and I showed him this one tight angle he could fly right through. He said, “Cool,” and I was thinking it’d be an establishing shot, but then five hours later he’d created an epic battle scene, and it was all for the one drone shot we’d thought of off-the-cuff.
How does GoPro stack up for Michael Bay?
It was great. We shot all the Solo stuff on GoPro — 2.7k, 60 medium. It’s funny: The bigger the director you’re working with, the less they care about the camera type. They just want the shot they want. Sometimes you’ll work on movies and shows with less experienced directors, and they’re all about the technology — “Only on Alexa, only on Epic, only Angénieux lenses.” But according to Bay, “I don’t care what we use, as long as we get it right.” For him it’s all about the right framing, the right movement, getting the camera right up there in the perfect position. It’s about capturing the moment, and the technology that filters the moment is secondary. Substance first, then style, right?
Existence then essence. Speaking of, what’d you learn from Bay that you could apply to being a cinema pilot?
I actually learned more about being an effective leader. As director, Michael is like the CEO of a movie. He has his lieutenants, his corporals, people running different departments — they move very quickly and accomplish his requests incredibly quickly. He gives them the info they need and counts on them to do what he’s hired them to do. Sometimes no one knows exactly what’s going to happen. They call it “Bayhem.” They’ve even got t-shirts. Michael is known for high-level concepts — “We’ll set up this shot here, this is basically what I want; now I trust that you guys will nail it.” It’s entertaining to watch, but it is definitely hectic to work for him and if you’re on his crew, you always have to be at the top of your game.
Does he have his Solo now?
I think we left him one… haha. We’re going out to his office to shoot some 3DR stuff with him. So if he doesn’t have one now, he will soon.