Published on July 7th, 2011 | by Biz Books

The Biz Interview: Ken Bates of Transformers: Dark of the Moon

A native of Southern California, Ken Bates paid his dues as an extra and stunt player before earning a coveted role as protégé to the late Dar Robinson. Hollywood soon came calling, needing his unique talent and specialized equipment designed especially for high falls (ten stories and above). Since making a name for himself as Alan Rickman’s stunt double in “Die Hard”, he has served as the stunt coordinator and frequent second unit director on such films as The Italian Job, Training Day, and Con Air.

Having already teamed up with director Michael Bay on past films like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, The Rock, and Bad Boys, Ken Bates served as the Stunt Coordinator/Second Unit Director/Co-Producer on Transformers: Dark of the Moon and last worked in the same capacity for his friend and director Michael Bay on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

He joined us from Prague to discuss his refined approach to stuntwork with the added challenges of 3D and CGI in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Transformers is a series that uses a lot of visual effects and action sequences. What’s the creative process like for coordinating sequences that involve actors, stunt performers, and combine them with CG footage later on?

The most difficult thing that people don’t realize is that we’re shooting the movie with things that aren’t there, so we’re working with previews, we’re working with ideas and concepts. It’s not like we have solid scripts… Half of what we shoot is not on the page. It gets really complicated, but I mean the biggest challenge is story structure (and) characters… I think what we didn’t deliver in the second one – and what we delivered in the first – is definitely in the third. I think we have a story structure. I think the characters are great. I think Rosie did a fantastic job. I think Shia really stepped up to the plate. I mean we had so much great talent. The story, it just flows better.

It’s easier to build action when you’re building it around your characters and it goes within your characters and your story, but what people don’t understand is there’s a whole blind side to it. There’s the previews that no one sees that we have to shoot. We’re always shooting around things that aren’t there – for instance, we have to make frame size for robots that will be put in later and we have to know where they are, where they’re coming from, where they’re going, and where what moves, and don’t cross these lines and make space. I think it’s much more complicated than shooting a real film. There’s so much CGI. A real film has like one side to it, but when you get into so much action in Transformers, it’s got like 5 layers to it. This is a CG layer, this is the action, this is a CG layer, this is the visual effects layer, this is the 3D layer, and this is the coverage. I mean it’s just so much and we shot so much 3D. I’ve never worked on a film in my life where we shot so much 3D, just about every day… A lot of films are like 15% 3D or 10% IMAX. I mean we shot a lot of 3D and I think the audience is going to love it. I think we really went overboard in delivering a great film.

You’ve worked with Michael Bay for a long time. What is it that makes the two of you a great team?

I think the fact that we can talk to each other very badly on the set and go to dinner at the end of the day, but we don’t hold back. Michael – actually, to his credit – he respects me and I respect him. We have a very unusual relationship, but I don’t think it’s something that somebody else could walk into. We’re pretty close. We’ve spent a lot of time together and work is work and fun is fun… we always joke about it cause we clock in and it’s like kind of hitting the time card and going to work and we fight like hell all day long. It’s not about him and it’s not about him. It’s always about the movie, but we get into it. We fight a lot and the result is fantastic. I think we make great movies together. We always have and Michael will continue to make great movies and I will continue to support him.

What advice would you offer to anyone who’s interested in working in the stunt side of things?

The first thing is to do their homework to know what it’s all about because it’s not just about action. It’s about characters and story. It’s about vision and it’s about comprehension of the director. If you’re missing one of those elements, then you’ve missed the boat. Homework is homework. There’s a lot of stunt people, but there’s a select amount of stunt people who have the imagination to offer something to the director. I would like to think I’m one of those guys… For every picture, there’s a different approach. I think that knowing the style of filmmaking, knowing the style of the director – what he’s done, where he’s been, and what you need to do – it’s all part of it. I mean there’s stunt people that come to work that don’t even read a call sheet and they have no idea what they’re shooting, and they ask people sometimes “Hey, what am I dong? What do you want me to do?”. They don’t really keep the call sheet, they don’t read the scenes, they don’t ask questions, and yet they are very big in participation in the film. Without action, without stunt people, there wouldn’t be big action movies.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is in theatres now.

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