Yesterday, Paramount Pictures set up a virtual event to reveal the seventh Transformers film, titled, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts which got into the production. The event was moderated by Vanity Fair’s Anthony Breznican. And panelists included director Steven Caple Jr., franchise producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, as well as stars of this film, Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, who offered new details.
The new Transformers film will be set in 1994. While its central characters are based in Brooklyn, the feature will move between New York and Machu Pichu.
Q : Obviously, Michael Bay guided this franchise for many years, and you turned to Travis Knight for the Bumblebee standalone film. There’s a new filmmaker signed on for this go-around. Tell us about Steven Caple Jr.
L.B : I think, as we looked at what have been the most successful parts of the franchise, it was delivering heart, humor, and action. It’s that combination. So we were looking for a filmmaker who showed a great deal of ability in communicating emotion, because, in some respects, you have a leg up, you got these giant robots, the action’s going to be pretty cool no matter what you do on a certain level, but how do you get underneath the characters, how do you relate to that? And so what we wanted in a filmmaker was someone who was going to first and foremost look at the characterizations and look at the human. Additionally, we were hoping to find somebody who grew up with the Transformers, who sort of has the DNA, if you would, of somebody who grew up with it, which, fortunately with Steven, that was the case.
After looking at his films, meeting with him and after hearing what he wanted to do, we had a script at the time, but where he wanted to push it was exactly where we were hoping. I wouldn’t say exactly in the sense that he knew exactly where to go, but emotionally, we wanted to go. How much heart can we put in this? How do you balance those things? And it’s been a great experience working with him because he’s lived up to that as we’ve gone through and developed the script further and brought out the characters in a way that you hope as you go along the process. We’re really thrilled to have him and he’s brought a new perspective to the franchise, which is also important as it was with Travis and Bumblebee. We were trying to accomplish a certain change-up from the movies we did with Michael. Now we want to do another change-up and we want to deliver a film that has the scale and spectacular of the Bay films with the heart and humor that we were able to achieve with both Bumblebee, and also Shia has a relationship with Bumblebee in a way. That’s what our hope was. We were lucky enough that he wanted to do it and come on this crazy adventure together.
Q : You just started filming, and I think it’s time for us to pull back the curtain a little on your plans and maybe you can tell us a little about your origin story with Transformers too, but let’s start with the title and the storyline. What can you tell us?
S.C: I’m going to try to tell you as much as I can, not give away too much. But in terms of the origins of Transformers, at least for me, Lorenzo kind of put my age on blast. I was a kid when it first came out, so there’s that element. And so my very first experience living Transformers, I was a child and I was actually using my cousin’s VHS tape. That sounds weird saying it out loud. I mean, it’s prehistoric now, the VHS tape, I don’t know if everybody remembers what those were. And I had to move backwards after seeing it. I was captivated by the world at the time, even the colors, but I’m really a color person. I was really hyped by the colors, I remember that. And then the characters themselves.
So then I started to work backwards and watch all the Transformers, and by the time – I know we’re about to get to the title – but by the time I was a teenager, Beast Wars came out, so I was a part of that gap where I was able to was able to know the Transformers, know G1, know G2 even, but then on top of that, dive into Beast Wars. I remember, that they were trying something funky with the CGI and all that stuff, and we were all like, what is this? It was right on break right into high school. Don’t try to do the math out there, whoever’s in the audience. I know you’re trying to figure out my age. I’m going to still keep that under wraps. Again, you can see the kid in me. That’s what brought me to the project, a chance to imagine, on a different level, and dream. That’s what Transformers really means to me, dealing with robots, dealing with humans. As Lorenzo said, it’s all about the emotion and it’s all about where we can take our new characters.
L.B : So do we want to reveal the title of the movie? Steven?
S.C : Sure. Welcome to Transformers: Rise of the Beast.
Q : For people who are unaware of that history, explain the concept of Beast Wars. We know the Transformers from the previous films that turn into vehicles. But there was this whole other storyline and toy line in the nineties. What is Beast Wars? What would you say to introduce someone to this concept?
S.C : What’s interesting about Transformers overall is that there’s different breeds of Transformers, if you will, we have different insignia, different groups. Beast Wars happens to be one of them. There were these robots that their disguise was animal form. So we have them here in our film, and again, I’m not going to give away much. Anthony, you can try to pull as much as you want out of me. In our particular film, they’re these prehistoric animals who sort of travel through time and space. And we find them here on Earth. That’s all I’m going to say.
Q : The Bumblebee film was set in the 1980s. What’s the time period for Rise of the Beasts?
L.B : We originally had set it in 1994, and we were thrilled when Steven read the script and said, I love that time period! We were thinking about it less and I think, Steven, it would be great if you talk about the qualities of that time, we were thinking about it as a progression. Bumblebee was in 1987, so how do we move it forward and also not run into the timeline of the Bethos. We picked 94 in part because there’s great music during that time period, so it just felt like that natural extension. And then Steven came aboard.
S.C: Again, as a fan and watching all the Transformers films and then stepping into Bumblebee, I love when it went back into 1987 and it adds again into the nostalgia that people remember and connect to. I was curious, when I met Lorenzo and the team, and I was like, where are we picking this thing up from? He was like, 1994, and I was just like, that’s a great era. It has a lot of texture, it’s rich in texture, it’s also vibrant culturally, and, as he said, it has classic music, and there’s a certain energy to the nineties that I’m looking forward to capturing. We’ve seen it on screen very few times, sometimes a little hokey and we play into it too much. But there is a level of realness that I can bring to it and a level of grit that I naturally default to that we can really make pop, in terms of our world and the Autobots stepping into the nineties, and all the callbacks we can play with in that era and the place that we’re in.
Q : Let’s talk about some of the Beast Wars robot designs. I understand that we have three of those.
S.C: This is our first beast. Airazor. She is amazing. She is originally from the lore, in our film she’s the heart of the Maximals. She’s very nurturing, but don’t test her. Underneath her regal design, there’s still a beast. With that, she’s very rustic in her design, as you can tell. She has this age texture to her, and we’re playing with how long the Maximals have been traveling and how long they’ve been here on Earth. Her design is a bit more fluid and different than the Autobots or any of the robots that we’ve seen where you can see the animal style and design, but underneath it, you’ll see the mechanics if you play close attention to it. This is Airazor, she’s part of the Maximals.
Q : And you have Rhinox.
S.C : Rhinox! Muscle of the group. If you’re familiar with the lore, he was the brains of the Maximals. He has a rustic design too, and playing with this organic and natural material to make them all seem alive. That was a big thing for me, I wanted these animals to feel like they’re breathing. You’ll see a lot of mechanics move, that’s why you can you see the slit, I think it allows us a whole new category to play with when we start to design them and put them into a live-action movie.
L.B : There’s something really fun about him which reminds me of Ironhide from the first movie. He was a character who just wanted to shoot his guns off. This character just wants to ram stuff. He’s going to be always the one who’s like, can I do it now? Can I ram it now? He’s going to be a favorite, especially the kids. They’re going to love the fact that he’s going to want to use that horn.
Q : I can attest to that. My daughter used to build sand castles and then, when she was little, stomp on the sand castle. You can have one more Maximal to show us.
S.C : Drum roll. This is Optimus Primal, the leader of the Maximals. He is not Optimus Prime, Optimus Primal, which makes him a sort of prime. He’s a leader, another one who has this organic and natural look to him. He’s like a beating heart to the Maximals. If you look at Prime and what he is to Autobots, he’s that version for the Maximals except for he’s older by design, but also has this sort of wisdom that goes beyond us. He’s just like this fatherly figure within the group, and he takes care of his own.
Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback joined the Q&A
Q : That’s the first time you’ve seen that right? Maybe we can begin, I know that we can’t go too deeply into the plot, but give us an introduction to who the character is that you’re playing. Who wants to go first?
A.R : Dom first.
D. F: Okay, ladies first. Thank you, Ant, thank you so much. I’m playing Elena, she’s an intelligent Autobot researcher. She works at the museum, and she’s trying to get a leg up in life, but her boss keeps taking credit for the work that she’s done. So she’s kind of looking for a way to step out and be on her own.
Q : Intelligent artifact?
D.F : No, she’s an intelligent person. Researcher of artifacts.
Q : Ah, sounded like artificial intelligence.
D.F : She’s a New Yorker like myself. I was super excited about that part.
Q : And Anthony Ramos, tell us about who you’re playing?
A.R : I play Noah. Noah’s from Brooklyn, he lives with his family and his mother and his brother. He’s the father figure to his brother. He’s all about taking care of home and his family and the people that he loves. Noah’s ex-military. He came back home and was trying to find his way when he came back home to live with his mom and his brother. They come from a low income home, so Noah’s always hustling. He’s amazing with electronics. Anything with electronic he can fix, basically, so it’s cool. We see him in his element, we get to see that at a certain point in the film. I’m trying not to give away things right now, but yes, the one thing I love about Noah is his tenacity and his heart and his will to never quit in spite of all the crazy things life is throwing at him. And then it’s amazing to see his journey so on and so forth. Then we venture out into the world when the humans meet Bots, some things start to happen and shit gets real.
Q : Steven was telling us about when he got into the Transformers through the Beast Wars storylines and his VHS. Do either of you have a Transformers origin story?
AR: Beast Wars was my joint. That was the one for me. Primal, Rhinox, and Cheetor. I loved Beast Wars. I think it came on on the weekends, I can’t remember what channel it was. It was either 11 or 13. I was on it every week watching Beast Wars. When I read the scripts, and I saw we were going to have them in the movie, my head almost exploded off of my body. There were two things in the script that really took me out, and I was like, no one’s ever seen a Transformer like this. That was one of them, and there’s another plot point that I can’t talk about. I read the script and almost threw it across the room. Our director Steven got a vision, man, and I’m just so incredibly excited for all the things that he has in store. And me and Dom being from New York –
D.F : Brooklyn, to be exact.
A.R : The story being set in Brooklyn and us being able to speak intellectually about what life was like, especially at that time. Yeah, we were younger, but I think my memory is so vivid about what the trains looked like and what the streets felt like and what the vibrations in Brooklyn felt like and to intertwine these two worlds of Brooklyn and New York with the Transformers, with these characters, now, I think it’s a recipe for some shit.
Q : Dom and Anthony, what do you recall from that process and that chemistry read?
A.R : The chemistry read was awesome with Dom. Number one, we’ve known each other for a few years. We’ve been friends for six years now, or something like that. It’s been a minute. We know each other. The chemistry was there already, so we didn’t really have to find that. That is a blessing already, when you get to have that already with someone. I was like, come on Steven, come on Dom, that’s my girl. One thing I remember about when I met Steven, speaking to him one-on-one, he said to me on Facetime, what are your goals? What do you want to bring to this movie? What do you want out of this? I thought that was such a good question, so direct. I immediately said, I just want to bring heart to this character. I feel like the number one priority for me is, why do we need the humans? Why are they there? Because if not, you can just make a movie about robots. I think that’s the goal, connecting these humans with these robots. This character specifically, Noah, his journey, us being like, we need that guy. There is no movie without the character, right. I think the same goes for Dom’s character. We need Elena. I think that was my answer to Steven, bring in the heart to this film. Doing my best to help with that. On top of the amazing action sequences, and on top of the crazy explosions and all the things we want to see in a Transformers movie. I think we’re on our way to doing that. I’m just grateful to be here and to be a small part of this massive puzzle.
D.F : For me, meeting and talking with Steven about it, I was super excited. I remember being like, what do you want for the female character? I’m very particular about those things. He definitely said he wanted her to have her own life, her own purpose. Movies in general, sometimes, the women are just for the guy and don’t have their own agency. That was really important to me, and that was important to him as well. He said something like, I want notes at two o’clock in the morning, and I was like, you want notes at two o’clock in the morning? I can do that. So just knowing that he was a collaborator like that, and I got home and, since he was very tight-lipped and didn’t tell me a lot of things, I heard through the grapevine that Anthony was in the mix, and I was so hyped. Just excited to work with him, and know that we’re going to be far away from home, but I feel like I’d have a piece of home just because Ant is there. I’m just super excited. Also, I’m supposed to learn how to drive on a Transformers film. I don’t know how to drive, that’s an authentic New Yorker for you. I’m looking forward to it, to all of those things.