Michael Bay’s Explosive Best Friend 0
Special effects veteran John Frazier has been blowing things up for Michael Bay for 17 years. He has some stories to tell...
John Frazier is Michael Bay’s explosive best friend. The special effects veteran has made a career out of smashing stuff, flipping stuff, and making stuff explode, and he’s worked with Bay on all his films since Pearl Harbor. In his own words, he explains what it’s like making things blow up for the bombastic director.
“Each Michael Bay movie isn’t just 10 times bigger than the last one; it’s 100 times bigger. And we only get one shot to get things right. Getting up in the morning and wondering, ‘Do I really want to do this today?’ That’s the biggest challenge I face every day!
“I’ve been a special effects guy for 50 years, but it was never my dream. My dream was pretty girls and surfing; there were no bombs in my life. It was just by accident that I fell into explosions. When I signed up at the studio, as a teenager, they simply said, ‘Go work with those guys over there – the ones making bombs.’ I hadn’t even heard of special effects; when I was a teenager, there was no behind-the-scenes.
“Michael and I go back to Pearl Harbor, when we built a ship the size of the USS Oklahoma, and then we turned it over. That’s what’s great about working with him, because he gives you those kinds of projects to do. Nobody else does what he does and he knows I need that in the movies I work on.
“We deal with a lot of dynamite. We use it on set all the time. Michael likes those explosions with dust spirals coming out, and the only way you can get those is with dynamite. Setting it up is the dangerous part and you have to be prepared for static electricity all the time. A little zap like you get from you carpet at home will set that stuff off and trust me: you really don’t want it going off prematurely.
“I’d say we’d probably flip 50 or 60 cars in Transformers: Age of Extinction. In my 17 years with Michael we’ve flipped maybe 500. We developed these car flippers on Armageddon, while we were shooting in Downtown LA, and they became the industry standard. They’re Michael’s favourite toys.
“We really have to do our homework to make sure it’s safe, and I have to do the math. You don’t want to say ‘educated guess’, but it really is. Every shot is different, and nothing ever happens the same way twice. There’s a lot to think about because it’s hard to know where the car’s going to stop. We’re talking 6 or 7Gs when these cars flip, and that could really hurt.
“People are surprised by how much is real in the Transformers movies. An all-CG movie is a cartoon: it’s not real. You need those live elements to take the edge off. CG is supposed to enhance what we do, not the other way around. That’s why you get directors like Michael Bay, who’s a genius at doing this stuff and he does a lot of our job for us. When we have these first meetings, he’ll tell you, ‘This is the physical, figure it out; this is the CG, don’t worry about that.’
“With Michael, these movies are not rocket science, and they shouldn’t be. Michael doesn’t overcomplicate it because if it gets too complicated, it’s not going to work. We try to appease him as much as we can. Michael will say, ‘I want to drop the train car tomorrow,’ and you’ve got to rig it in the middle of the night so he can see it hanging there the next morning. Most movies, you’d come back a week later. Not this guy.
“I’m usually the guy who has to break the bad news to Michael that we can’t do something. People will come to me and go, ‘John, tell him we can’t do it. I’m not going in the lion’s den.’ The thing about Michael: what frustrates him is he knows what he wants. There’s no guessing. So when you challenge him on that, you’re going to lose. I may win the odd battle, but he’s always going to win the war.
“But I love that guy.”