Roberto Orci Interview – TRANSFORMERS

     June 17, 2007

I’ll admit that out of all the people we were scheduled to interview at the “Transformers” press day yesterday, Roberto Orci was at the top of my list. The reason? Since I’d already interviewed Shia Labeouf a few times over the past few months and I knew he wouldn’t give up any Indy 4 details, the other big project is “Star Trek 11” and I had hoped to get some info from one of the screenwriters.

For pretty much my whole life I’ve been a “Star Trek” fan. Not dress up in the costume and go to conventions type fan, but I’ve watched all the shows and know all the characters.

I’m also a huge J.J. Abrams fan and while some think he’s not the one who should be getting the keys to the “Star Trek” kingdom, I’m optimistic that he’ll reboot the franchise in a good way and hopefully get a new Trek show on TV.

Anyway, enough of my opinions.

At yesterdays press junket Roberto Orci, co-writer of both the “Transformers” movie and “Star Trek 11,” talked about both projects and he did give an update on Trek.

Here is the important Trek news:

Question: So let me ask you, you guys are involved with Trek? How have you been researching that? How has that been coming and I know you’re probably not going to be able to give us obviously story points but…

Roberto Orci: Luckily we’ve been researching that all our lives. We’ve read the novels; we just had it down cold. So when it came up again we were covered. We have a green light draft. We finished it at Christmas. It’s going. It shoots in November. We’re in the middle of casting right now.

When do you think we’re actually going to hear casting stuff? Are you going to Comic-Con? Is J.J. planning a big thing?

We might announce some stuff at Comic-Con. We should have significant casting by then.

So I’d heard we would be getting Trek stuff at Comic-Con and this just confirms it. Yet another reason to be excited for Paramounts presentation down in San Diego.

There is a lot more to the interview so I suggest either reading it below or clicking here to download the audio. It’s an MP3 and easily placed on an iPod or a portable player.

Tons more interviews are going to be posted soon from the “Transformers,” “Hairspray” and “License to Wed” junket. Yeah there was a good reason the site didn’t get updated yesterday…I was interviewing all day. Look for more interviews everyday this week.

Oh yeah, even though I can’t write a full review yet I’ll say that the movie is the real deal – easily the best summer big budget movie I’ve seen and one that has the best action set pieces and effects. The movie is going to make so much money Paramount won’t know what to do with it.

“Transformers” opens July 3rd.

Very Slight SPOILERS below.

I have to ask you, you’ve been approached to do a lot of action/adventure fanboy stuff, how early on do you guys start looking at the mythos of Transformers and how much of that did really play on final decision making of how the script came out?

I guess we were fans of the cartoons as kids. The minute we decided we were going to take this gig we got everything that’s ever been done by Hasbro. They sent us everything. All the comics, all the cartoons, we went over it all. Learned it and then put it away. The 2nd part, how much did it influence? Every reiteration has kind of a basic back-story and so it influences. It’s part of the movie. It’s a distillation and it’s definitely a summary in a way—the first movie. But you can’t forget that stuff. It’s definitely in our sub-conscious.

How long ago did you guys start writing this script and how many drafts did it take to get to the screenplay?

2 years ago we started, it’s so hard to count drafts, it was green lit on the 2nd draft and then from there we kept improving it and improving it all the way through shooting it up until 4 weeks ago. We were literally still writing robot dialogue 3 weeks ago.

Obviously Michael had a lot of say to what the story is but Steven Spielberg’s office is supposedly very involved….

It’s not that obvious actually. We kind of had the template of the movie before Michael even read it.

So how involved was Mr. Spielberg in the process?

He gave us the kernel of boy in his car when we first sat down to…he asked us to do the movie and we were prepared to say no because we were very worried about it. It was going to be a giant toy commercial and everyone’s going to cynically approach this movie they’re going to say it’s a giant toy commercial etc etc. We were like what is it? Close Encounters we brought up to him and we were like Close Encounters is great it’s this great big alien movie but it’s really about a family falling apart. It’s about a guy obsession and it destroys his family. So we were prepared to say we can’t do it unless we really see it. He said here’s a human element, it’s a boy and his car and that’s all he had to say and that was enough for us to realize we couldn’t say no and so from that we extrapolated with the basic template of the paradigm and the structure of the movie is. And he gave notes on every draft obviously. He was a truly involved producer.

How did you go from a boy and his car to that incredible story?

A part is also obviously there’s a rich history of the Transformers. A fact that there’s this war that they have on their planet and all those characters are very much part of the things we know already so we didn’t have to invent too much of that but the boy and his car allows you to focus in on a point of view that allows you to discover the Transformers through the pace of the movie. A lot like Close Encounters in a way. You’re slowly finding out there’s this phenomenon going on. So starting from a boy and his car and allows us to realize what the pace and the structure of the movie was going to be and how the aliens were going to come into the movie and into the perception of the humans.

How did you decide on the tone of the movie?

That was the hardest part. Trial and error. We knew it had to be infinitely more realistic than the cartoon yet not lose its sense of fun and those 2 things are actually at opposition. So it was absolutely a tight rope walk. That’s the whole ball game right there is the tone.

Did you make this movie with the intention of just setting up the next one?

No. Our responsibility in our minds was to set up a good first movie or a good movie period knowing that no story is ever over. You can think it’s over and they’re still going to make a sequel, so we weren’t too worried about what it’s going to be.

The ending just seemed like a natural segue into what happens next. I just didn’t know if that’s what you guys might have had the intention because there’s just so many more characters that you can involve from all the other….

We knew it was being left open but we weren’t like we must target all this and at the end there’s a sequel. That was not our responsibility and we didn’t think of it in those terms.

You guys are writing some big ticket items. Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room Star Trek, you know what I mean. Do you guys read the online stuff? Do you laugh about it? Do you wonder how they get some of their information? Let’s talk about Trek because that’s a big thing for a lot of people.

Alex has a harder time reading stuff on the net because he takes it very personally so I’m the designated new media contact and it’s everything. You run the gamut. You read stuff and you go like oh, my God how did they get that? Or you laugh you cry, everything.

So let me ask you, you guys are involved with Trek? How have you been researching that? How has that been coming and I know you’re probably not going to be able to give us obviously story points but…

Luckily we’ve been researching that all our lives. We’ve read the novels; we just had it down cold. So when it came up again we were covered. We have a green light draft. We finished it at Christmas. It’s going. It shoots in November. We’re in the middle of casting right now.

When do you think we’re actually going to hear casting stuff? Are you going to Comic-Con? Is J.J. planning a big thing?

We might announce some stuff at Comic-Con. We should have significant casting by then.

As a follow up to that, I don’t know how involved you are to answer this but isn’t it hard to get established actors and stars to come in to a franchises where they’re playing iconic characters. They are playing young versions of Kirk and Spock.

You mean to convince the stars or hard just from the creative point of view to want that?

To convince them…or both.

Actually I think it’s a little easier to convince established actors. The problem is you’re not sure you want them. Like Superman, would that have worked with you know…

But wouldn’t that insinuate that if they’re not going for big stars that it’s therefore the same old Star Trek, won’t spend the money, won’t bring in the big names to make it happen?

No, we don’t insinuate that. You mean….

No, I’m insinuating that but the fans might feel that way. The whole idea of the re-launch of it is that bigger, better the Star Trek you’ve always wanted even as a re-boot.

I don’t think so. The star of the movie is Star Trek. I think another way to think of it is we feel confident in what the material is and what the paradigm of the movie is that we’re not trying to shove an Academy Award winner down your throat to sell it, which doesn’t mean we may not end up there but it’s not our first place to go.

Were you going to elaborate on that thing about what big stars might take away from playing these iconic characters?

They become the story instead of the franchise. It becomes a personality issue as opposed to really focusing on the movie. Stars in the right place might help it too. We’re not ruling anything out at this point casting wise.

When you wrote the script, did you guys have a budget in mind or were you just sort of writing it big and hoping that you were going to get the budget?

Writing it big, had a budget in mind, very back of our minds thanks to our TV training oddly enough we’re pretty good at calling exactly what something is going to cost. We told them what Transformers was going to cost before we wrote a word and we were within $3 million.

How much was that?

It was like $147, we said it’s going to be $150, that’s what it’s going to be and that’s pretty much what it was.

Continued on the next page ——->


How much did you guys end up spending in post and what was that process like?

It’s amazing actually in this one because we got the experience that you usually only get in animated movies we think since the robots aren’t animated until the last minute we were able to re-write their dialogue. Normally a writer doesn’t get the luxury of re-writing your stars in editing.

You just drop it in in post.

Yeah. So it was amazing for that reason. We were in the editing room and able to make stuff better and being able to write sequences more specifically.

Where did you guys do most of that?

At Platinum Dunes, the editing room.

I’m sorry for going back to this but your favorite Star Trek show and Alex’s?

I’m actually a Next Generation fan myself and I think he’s more classic.

What’s your feeling and I’m sorry again that that’s a thing for a lot of us that want to know but what’s your feeling about all the fans going on about Kirk and Spock and just everyone not being able to accept that it’s going to be a re-boot and you know is there any frustration on your end?

No. I understand it just like I understand how everyone thinks Transformers is going to be a toy commercial and it’s not until they see it. Know that it’s factored into our thinking that people are afraid of what ever it’s going to be and whatever the criticisms are we’re not confirming or denying anything, we’re aware of them and they’re a part of the fabric of the story is all I can say.

Let me bring up the thing that I’m sure they’re going to hate me constantly bringing up but this was my experience this week. Transformers mean nothing to me. Fantastic Four that’s what I grew up on, ok? What was really interesting to me experiencing this movie was that everything I hated about the silver surfer movie I loved about this one. It seemed to have just the right balance of taking this idea of cars that turn into space robots which I find intrinsically ridiculous but you know it had so much fun with it you know and was almost satirizing the ridiculousness of it and then it got into the really cool looking shit and it was exactly the complaint and everything that I hated about the silver surfer movie and was too light-hearted about it you know and it’s a much worse movie on every level of course. What I’m asking you is you talked about tone a little bit earlier, what about the humor and what about acknowledging within the film that boy this is really ridiculous but we’ve got to acknowledge it but we’ve also got to get past that and you know…

So kind of 2 questions on that from the point of view of Shia’s character and boy and his car. We want to end up taking it more seriously; his reaction and the kid’s are very much like the wonder of like Marty McFly was a great model for us. There was genuine humor in that but he was absolutely genuine in his reactions. The government side was something that could have seen sort of infinitely more self-important and whatever tonally in balance for lack of a better word so that’s where we play in a little bit more in terms of the soldiers take it very seriously but then you take a character like John Tuturo where sort of a riff on the men in black and a riff on the secret government and the one big conceit, the one big buy you get in this is the giant robots and pretty much past that you’re not going to get a whole lot more of a suspension so that’s where we used a little bit of the room to have fun with it and engage in that way. But that was the ballgame and the parents. I love them, they’re great.

What was the inspiration for the parents? Either of yours or Alex’s?

Ron and Judy are my in-laws.

Are they really?

That’s their names, Ron and Judy. We named them after my in-laws.

Were you doing that kind of element also to bring the parents to bring their kids into it and to give them something a little bit? Did you want to kind of provide something for every demographic with this? It seems really raw like you have the really hard-core action and you have the comedy and you have the jokey family stuff—you have all those elements.

Maybe subliminally. I’m sure the studio would want that but if you’re a 17 year old who’s going to go get a car you have parents. It would be an omission not to have them. It wasn’t like we need to have parents.

It was a full chunk of the movie in the house, it was really a part of it.

I think that was also Michael Bay’s favorite part. That’s why he locked in on it. This is going to be my first kid’s movie. This is his kid’s movie.

I’m going back to Trek. As lifelong fans, what was it like to get the keys to the kingdom?

Insane. It’s like getting a Lamborghini. It’s crazy. It was insane. Terrifying but safety in numbers too. We’re doing it with J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof both the creators of Lost. We knew that if the 4 or 5 of us couldn’t do it then that was it.

How involved is Damon in the process?

He was very involved. We read the story with him very early on. He’s a gigantic fan as well. In fact he said that the inspiration for Lost was Trek.

Can I ask you about the tone for Star Trek that you’re creating? Is it more…are you looking to keep it on the same tone as the previous ones or are you looking to take it to the more darker, raw aspect like Batman Begins?

I don’t know about darker but definitely to update the tone.

Going back to Transformers, you said you were quoted somewhere that you’re not writing the sequel; someone else will be doing that. Any reason why you guys chose not to go back to write the 2nd film?

You know as a screen writer, we’re going to be lucky to live through this one. We knew going in that there was going to be like oh, it’s a toy commercial. Oh, the action is all that’s going to sell it, the story’s not part of it, the dialogue is irrelevant, the screen writers are irrelevant and that’s if it’s a good movie. That’s if people like it. Forget about if they hate it, so we were lucky to live through it. We did our duty for God and country. If we really knew what the next one should be that would be a different thing but we don’t want to do it just because we’re like hey we did the 1st one and we should do the 2nd one. If we come up with something great, great but we want to have a reason to do it, not to say it’s a business, a franchise we’re going to go do the 2nd one because that’s what we do and you’re going to get the big money. And Star Trek by the way is taking up all our time.

When you guys came up with using the Secretary of Defense, were you guys thinking of Donald Rumsfeld? Was it like part of the thought?

You can’t escape it.

Nice jab at Bush by the way. Was that in the script?


The Spanish dialogue, I’m assuming you’re the one who put it in because it was hilarious. Was that all you because you’re….

Alex speaks Spanish too. He lived in Mexico City for a year.

Did you guys do much writing once the big action starts in the movie or in a sequence? Did you guys write it out much or just chase down the freeway?

It’s very detailed. I’m sure the script will get out someday. Check it out.

A lot of the moves and a lot of the action were first written in the script?

Yeah, absolutely. Michael takes it to another level but you know you can’t just write a big friggin’ chase here you got to kind of block it out.

Are you guys going to be day to day involved in Trek or are you also working on another project?

We’re working on multiple things but we’re going to be day to day on Trek. We’re also executive producing it.

I have to ask…you mentioned about the script, did the experience of Transformers with early script reviews getting up there, has that effected the way you guys are guarding the Star Trek script?

You bet your ass. Especially because Star Trek is much more dependant on the story being fresh. Transformers we knew that even if it leaked, you were not going to be able to match in Transformers until you saw it, the spectacle does buy us a little bit of leeway in terms of if you know what is going to happen, Trek does not have that give me. Trek’s been around people have seen it so it’s infinitely more important that the story we new when you get to it because it does matter.

So how do you guard it nowadays with the internet and all the leaks?

We have encryption programs. We have a trusted made-man fly it every where. He’s like the mob boss in Casino with the handcuffs.

Is it becoming an issue these days with just the avid technology to give away more of the show. Do you give away parts of the movie out just to satisfy people so they’re not digging and getting things?

No, try not to however the odd experience of having stuff leak on Transformers made us engage the internet fans because we had to and that was a good experience.

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