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Exclusive: Don Murphy talks 'Transformers'

By Laura Ellison     July 03, 2007

Although his film production company is named "Angry Films", producer Don Murphy is far from angry about his latest movie, "Transformers". In fact, I would say the man is down right ecstatic about this film, which opened in limited release Monday night, July 2nd, and then nationwide on July 3rd. In the past, Murphy has produced dark, angst ridden films such as "Natural Born Killers", "Bully", "From Hell", and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". But with "Transformers", Murphy has produced what looks to be a fun, action-packed blast of a summer popcorn movie. Comics2Film recently spoke to Murphy about what made him want to do a Transformers movie, and what audiences and fans can expect when this hotly anticipated movie finally opens.

Laura Ellison for Comics2Film (C2F): So tell me about the journey of Transformers from cartoon to script to screen - how many years have you been involved in the project? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Don Murphy (DM): I've been going to ComicCon ever since there was a ComicCon - since about 1988. So what happened was, at the 2002 ComicCon, I was walking around, just enjoying myself, and I walked into a big hall and it was all about Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and all this stuff... But when all these things were out, I was at Georgetown University - this just wasn't my stuff. So I couldn't figure out why all these 80's cartoon shows and all these 80's properties were back in a big way. So I thought about it for a while, and then it hit me - Duh, all those kids from the 80's have grown up, and this is their nostalgia. This is what they grew up on, and this is what they want to show their kids - "Hey, daddy likes He-Man". So I thought that this could be something fun to try to do as a feature if one of these actually had a good mythology. My first inclination was to go after G.I. Joe; but in the process of trying to get the rights from Hasbro, we invaded Iraq. So, it didn't seem likely that we were going to make a movie called G.I. Joe while we were invading countries. So then we started taking a closer look at Transformers, but the problem with that was, even at that time - 2002, 2003 when myself and Tom DeSanto were doing the deal - it was impossible to be sure that the technology was there. Have you seen the film yet?

C2F: I wish!

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

Well, when you see the film, whether you like it or hate it, you'll be blown away by the CGI. And ILM has only been capable of doing stuff like that for the last 2 years. So that's really how the whole thing started - Tom and I optioned the rights from Hasbro, and went around and pitched it to all the studios.

C2F: And then of course it got picked up.

Murphy: Actually, every single studio passed.

C2F: Really?!

Murphy: Yeah, they all said No. And we were thinking to ourselves, "What are doing wrong here? This is a built in property - what's wrong with us?" And then it became clear that what we had done was pitch to the head of every studio, and they're all my age - they didn't know what this was, they didn't know that this had such a big fan base built in. So about a week after the studios passed, they all started coming back to us and saying, "Hey, we want a piece of this, and is it still available?" And we were like, "Yeah, sure - but why did you change your mind?" And what had happened was that they had gone to meetings where the younger executives had all said, "You passed on what?!"

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

C2F: That's awesome! So, speaking of the CGI in the film, I have to say, from the trailers that I've seen the visual effects for this movie really do look fantastic.

Murphy: Yeah, it's a really fun, enjoyable film, and everybody seems to really like it. And certainly, a lot of that had to do with making a car that turns into a robot.

C2F: So, were the effects mostly computer generated, or did you mix in live action as much as possible?

Murphy: It is mostly computer generated, but in order for something like this to work, you need to be able to shoot realistic practical effects and combine them with the CG. So, for example, when Barricade skates through a moving bus, we actually did blow up the bus. But then, of course, the robot is all CG.

C2F: Nice. Yeah, I think that's really the way to go, because with the latest "Star Wars" films, for instance, it was all CG and it just looked fake to me.

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

Murphy: Exactly. You have to have live action effects mixed in there, otherwise it just looks like a cartoon.

C2F: So did the actors ever have anything on set to act against, like models? Or was it all just a tennis ball?

Murphy: They usually had a big stick to look up at. In some shots with Bumblebee, like when he's being captured in the LA River and there's a big overhead shot, and also when he's being tied to a tow truck, we actually built a life size model of Bumblebee. But in most cases, it was all just the stick.

C2F: Speaking of Bumblebee, he's gotten an update from what he used to be. Next to Optimus Prime, he's one of the most beloved Transformers characters. Did you think about how fans would react to any updates, or did you just try and go for what was best for the story?

Murphy: Well, from the very beginning I had a message board on my website, and the design was to interact with the fans because I absolutely cared what they thought. At the end of the day, though, that didn't mean that it was a democracy. And for a lot of cases, like Peter Cullen, the fans had an enormous amount of influence. In other cases, the deal was made early on with one car company, General Motors, and also I think the director was right in making Bumblebee a different type of car, because right on the heels of "Herbie: Fully Loaded" we would have had too many similarities with the Bug. Some fans very early on were like, "Why is Bumblebee not a bug?", but I don't think it bothers anyone now.

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

C2F: I heard a rumor that a Transformer character that was a tape player had been turned into an iPod for the new movie - can you talk about that?

Murphy: Soundwave was a fan favorite, and he used to be a cassette deck that would eject his cassettes and they would turn into robots too. And we tried to use him in the movie, but we never really got around the fact that it was a tape deck - and most kids today would be like, "What's a cassette?" So he is a character that we all love, though unfortunately we didn't succeed in using him properly. But I wouldn't be surprised if he showed up in the sequel.

C2F: Pre-release buzz for this movie has been fantastic - it even won the MTV Movie Award for "Best Film You Haven't Seen Yet". Is the sequel a given at this point?

Murphy: I never assume that anything is a given, but I think we're all very hopeful.

C2F: Let's talk a little more about the development of the script. How did you decide, for instance, which Autobots and Decepticons to include and which to leave out?

Murphy: I think early on the decisions came from a meeting with Steven Spielberg, where he mentioned the idea of taking a "Magnificent 7" approach to the story, with seven characters on each side. And then the problem with that became that seven was even too unwieldy. So we whittled it down to five and five. Then it became a back and forth between who had to be there - Megatron, Optimus, Bumblebee - and who could be there. And then ultimately it was Michael Bay's choice as to who made it into the film.

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

C2F: So how did Michael Bay come on board the project?

Murphy: Michael was on a very short list of people who would be capable of pulling off a film of this scope. And once we had a third draft of the script, Steven was working with Michael on "The Island", and Steven recruited him.

C2F: Was Steven Spielberg ever interested in doing the film himself?

Murphy: I don't think he was, but he was always interested in being involved from a production stand point.

C2F: So did you ever watch the cartoon when it originally aired?

Murphy: When it was on, no. I've seen it now that it's been out on DVD, but when it was on I was probably trying to get through college. As it became clear, though, that I was going to do the movie, I wanted to know the mythology as well as possible, so I made sure to watch it.

C2F: How did you end up partnering with Tom DeSanto to work on this project?

Murphy: Tom and I had worked together on Bryan Singer's film "Apt Pupil". He probably knew more about Transformers than I ever will. He had talked about doing it for a very long time, so when the opportunity presented itself, I thought we should do it together.

C2F: Are we going to get to see Cybertron in the movie?

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

Murphy: You see shots of it in the opening sequence, yes. Just a few shots, really, but you do see it.

C2F: Great, the fans are going to love that!

Murphy: Oh they do, believe me, it's been playing like gangbusters.

C2F: Awesome. So what is the scene or sequence in the movie that you are the most proud of?

Murphy: My favorite sequence or sequences are the ones where, after establishing that the robots while stationary can transform, you later see them going 90 miles an hour and still transforming without stopping. There's a whole sequence where Starscream is disguised as a jet, and is part of six other jets that are attacking the city - and then, without stopping, Starscream transforms and starts taking out the other jets. It's pretty spectacular.

C2F: You already talked about this a little when you were talking about the fans, but I'm curious: Did you keep up with what they were saying as you were making the film, and did it ever influence you? Or was it a case of once you were filming, it was locked and they just had to be wait and see what you had.

Murphy: Oh no, from the beginning, the whole point of the website was to interact with the fans and get their opinions. If not for the fans, Peter Cullen would never be the voice of Optimus Prime right now. And I'd say there were another half dozen decisions that were actually based on fan consensus. Now, of course, the fans getting a taste of that kind of wished that they could get another dozen changes, but hey, you gotta stop somewhere.

Lots of images in the Transformers Gallery

C2F: You've been involved in the making and development of many comic book movies - what else do you have coming up that you can tell us about? I know you have a movie with Clive Owen coming up soon.

Murphy: I have a movie with Clive Owen coming out in September called "Shoot Em Up", which while not based on a comic is very kind of comic book fun - we're actually going to premiere it down at Comic-Con. And I have a thriller that's really real world, there's nothing comic book about it, called "While She Was Out" which stars Kim Basinger and which we're editing right now. And we're trying to find a director for Grant Morrison's screenplay based on his own comic, "We3". So lot's of good stuff going on.

C2F: Finally, do you think you'll get to take a little break after all the Transformers madness dies down, or is that even possible?

Murphy: Oh, I hope we go right into the sequel, that would be more fun.


'Transformers' opens in theaters everywhere today.

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OswaldoA 3/15/2009 10:11:00 PM

While reading this article I used to recall that General Motor Companies posted losses so heavy for the last quarter that they actually lost more money per minute than the average household income. General Motors is an American institution.  However, the calls for it to simply lapse into bankruptcy and restructure completely have increased as General Motors is seen as a money pit for taxpayer funded bailouts.  The whole thing looks like a company on the brink, desperate for government funding to keep it afloat.  Several divisions of the company have been jettisoned. One last bailout might not be enough to save General Motors .

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