Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, the producer of the Transformers movies, has admitted that he doesn't like to think too far into the future for the sci-fi action series as “planning ahead is just too hard”.
Talking to Yahoo ahead of the home release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, he says he doesn't understand the long-term franchise roadmaps that are rampant in Hollywood, saying he prefers to let the audience dictate what does and doesn't work.
Di Bonaventura, 66, has been one of Hollywood’s most successful producers for some time working with filmmakers such as John Singleton, Kenneth Branagh, Matthew Vaughn and Steven Soderbergh. His biggest hit making machine is the long running Transformers film series, based on the Hasbro toy line.
Read more: The story of Transformers so far
What sets the Transformers franchise apart from other major franchises it’s how relatively few films there have been since the series began. In the sixteen years since the film series began, there has only been six movies.
Given that the Marvel Cinematic Universe began only a year later and so far has racked up a staggering thirty-two films — and many more in development — Di Bonaventura’s methods of franchise building seem at odds with the long term plans of Marvel and DC
It’s clear that his method has worked. Listening to audience reactions to Transformers: The Last Knight led to 2018's more stripped down and nimble Bumblebee which garnered much more positive reviews and audience reaction.
“What was so successful [...] was the humanity of it, the audience really responded to that.” It’s clear then that his next venture Transformers: Rise of the Beasts was always going to be about melding what worked so well in Bumblebee and what audiences did enjoy about the previous Transformers films.
Here's what Lorenzo Di Bonaventura had to say about Transformers: Rise of the Beasts which is available to rent or buy on digital now.
What is it about Transformers that people are so drawn to that they keep coming back?
You know, I think it comes down to what the original creator [Takara Tomy designer Shōji Kawamori] figure out. There’s this wild idea that a car, or inanimate object, can suddenly become this talking, actual physical being.
That’s the part that gets us all. I think in a way, there’s a wish fulfilment in it, but there’s something inherently strong about the idea. I wish I could say we had something to do with that but frankly no we took his invention.
How does it feel to have a new Transformers film out, doing well at the box office, being well received? Was there a concern that following COVID that people weren’t going to come back to the cinemas? Was it a risk?
For sure and we’re not through that risk. If you look at the business overall there’s definitely people not going to the theatres at all still. But there’s definitely that fear, I think it was even stronger in a way. Was the movie business over?
With streamers going through the roof and all the things that occurred. But when you go back to the theatre and when you see it on a big screen period, it’s a different level of experience. And for the moment the traditional studios are making much better movies than as the streamers so we’re doing okay.
With the ending of Rise of the Beasts without going into spoilers, it sets up quite an exciting future for the franchise joining forces with G.I. Joe. How far ahead have you planned and will there be updates soon?
Well, hopefully there won’t be updates so we can keep it a surprise for audiences. The truth of the matter is it’s so hard to make one movie well that trying to think ahead is just too hard.
I hear all these things where people have all these plans and I don’t understand that — number one — and I think you’re not taking advantage of something that’s helped us have longevity, which is you get to watch the movie with the audience.
Read more: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts ending sets up a major franchise crossover (Entertainment Weekly, 3 min read)
You get to see what elements are driving them at this moment, like when we made the first movie, because the audience changes, not completely, but a little bit. So, we go, we make the movie, we have some ideas of where we might go but we’re waiting fundamentally in a way to experience it.
A good example is in this movie. Mirage — the character on the page — you wouldn’t have imagined he would have been a stand out character. You thought “oh it’s going to be a good character” but it’s amazing how well that character turned out. In part because Pete [Davidson, who voices him] did such a great job, but the DNA of it was right.
If you were planning something you wouldn’t have planned Mirage. So, to me, I never really thought it was a great idea because sometimes you think this character is going to be great and it’s terrible or that joke's going to work, all that stuff gets to be put into it.
For instance, not to spoil it, but had that had happened [the G.I. Joe crossover moment] and it got no reaction, you probably wouldn’t go in that direction or you’d downplay that direction.
Instead it’s had a phenomenal reaction, of course that gives you confidence to go there.
How hands on are you as a producer? Are you very involved and invested or do stand back and see what happens at the end?
I’m very invested and very involved and I find it funny when I work with young filmmakers and they’re like “you’re so established and so successful, why do you spend so much time here”?
I love it! I’m out here because I love the thing, and I want to be a part of it. I’m probably a bit of a control freak too. More than anything I like that the evolution of the process is what is most surprising about it. Like when you’re writing a script, will it attract people, then does it work, then you edit it and change, then you get the audience and you change.
So I find that’s fun, it’s daunting at times, but it’s a fun way to keep your brain going.
How do you pick which director is going to take on the film — Michael Bay did five, Travis Knight had a background in animation, now Steven Caple Jr — what is the decision for director and project?
It’s interesting, in the case of all three, the first film we did, we developed with the director. So we kind of know where we think it should be going. Then you meet with a director, you hear what they have to say. If they say something that surprises you in a good way, or you feel like they’re completely off the mark, then it’s a quick decision.
Then you get in deeper, you say “well what would you do if you were going to change it”, you start to have that conversation so you get the other person’s thinking and their reaction, and hopefully it’s additive. If it’s additive you’re interested, and if it’s not additive you kind of say “I don’t know”.
In Steven’s case, what we were trying to do was put what was so successful in Bumblebee which was the humanity of it. The audience really responded to that, and in a way it reminded us of the first movie, what Travis did. We had lost a little of that so let’s put a little of that into this movie and the other thing we tried very hard to do was “how do we get past the human characters?”
The human characters have always been the problems because they’re thirty five foot tall robots, how much help can the humans be? So we spent a lot of time trying to get the humans to hold key pieces of the puzzle so at the end of the movie they really have a purpose.
Those were our goals, the other feedback we got from Bumblebee was “we wanted more action” so we gave more action as well. So, it’s kind of an answer to your earlier question about how you plan ahead.
If we planned ahead we wouldn’t know that those were the ingredients that we should pursue.
It’s probably the best way to do it — to listen to the audience...
We all saw it as an advantage, something that people don’t seem to understand they go “oh it’s a toy movie” and well, yeah, but also there’s a ton of cartoons, there’s a ton of comic books, there’s characters, there’s ideas, there’s timelines, there’s all this stuff.
Read more: ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ Director Steven Caple Jr. Talks That Ending, Hailee Steinfeld and Test Screening Changes (The Hollywood Reporter, 20 min read)
So it’s each time what we do is we do a deep dive back into the mythology to sort of go what have we not explored, what do we have an opportunity to explore?
Just finally, do you have a favourite transformer?
I would have said Bumblebee before this movie, but now it’s neck-and-neck between Bumblebee and Mirage. But one of the funny stories that happened to me, we killed Ironhide in the first movie.
It was my son’s favourite character, so I’ve been haunted that he felt so betrayed that we killed Ironhide. He was like “I can’t believe it dad, that’s my favourite character!” So I try to listen to the fans and my son at the same time about what they really want from these characters.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is available to rent or buy on digital now. Watch a trailer below.