Interview – Michael Bay, ‘Ambulance’ director

Exploding into cinemas in true ‘Bay-hem’ style on April 7, Ambulance is the latest film from iconic action-director, Michael Bay, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Two brothers must survive a gruelling police chase after a bank robbery goes wrong. However, they’re only escape is in an ambulance with an EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) and a dying police officer.

Leading up to Ambulance’s release, Universal Pictures let me live out a dream I’ve had for years, and that’s to chat with the film’s director, Michael Bay. We spoke about how I grew up watching all his films, how the action film has evolved since the 90s and how Michael pulled off some incredible drone shots throughout the movie.

Nick: Good morning, Mr. Bay. How are you today?

Michael Bay (MB): No! You gotta call me ‘Bay’ or ‘Michael’! (laughs) No ‘mister’!

Nick: I can call you Michael! I feel very privileged to talk to you today. Before I get into Ambulance I just wanted to say – my brother and I grew up, as teenagers, watching your movies, specifically Bad Boys, and we’re big fans of your work. So, I’m very excited to be here with you today.

MB: That’s awesome! I mean, I was a punk kid with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, right here in Miami. The studio had no faith in the movie because a movie with two black leads didn’t translate around the world. But I knew there was something special about those guys and my youthful energy, and we made something and it changed the game. It’s the first movie with two black stars that worked overseas! Being a kid, with your crew, the studio just tells you it’s not going to work (laughs).

Nick: Well, my brother and I loved it! Now, your visual kinetic style in that movie and Ambulance, has always felt like a character within the movies. And Ambulance features these incredible drone shots that weave in and out of the action. What was it that excited you about featuring these shots in the film?

MB: I always try and do something new. I felt drone technology kind of all looked the same, but I found these two 19-year-old kids and I got tough on them! “I want you to fly this drone under that jumping car!” “Do we get to practice?” “No! You don’t get to practice, you gotta get this in one shot!” But, these kids were awesome. That technology will be copied a lot, it’s pretty cool!

Nick: It’s very cool – and it really adds to the adrenaline that courses throughout the film.

MB: Right! It adds energy and immediacy.

Nick: Absolutely! Ambulance has its foot to the floor with that energy for the whole movie. What was the key for you to keep that adrenaline coursing through the movie?

MB: First of all, it’s about the emotion that’s going on with the characters. That’s the focus. It’s a movie about tension. You might be a bit young to remember, but there is a movie called Das Boot about a submarine – it’s very claustrophobic. But, that’s what makes the intensity and the cinematic experience. People are saying that you have to see this movie in the cinema, that it’s a really immersive movie.

Nick: Oh, I absolutely agree –

MB: You know what – I think you can probably quote my movies better than I can (laughs).

Nick: (laughs) I could probably bust out a couple of scenes from Bad Boys 2!

MB: That’s funny, that’s great! The younger generation know Bad Boys better than me!

Nick: You were talking about how important emotion is in the story, and Ambulance feature are very human narrative, especially with Will’s character. How important is it to balance the drama and create an explosive blockbuster?

MB: Well, it’s now fondly known as ‘Bay-hem’! I didn’t create that name, okay! But, action is just action if you’re not into the emotion of the characters. I always try and put my characters at the centre of the action, and I try and put the audience in the centre of the action. That’s how I wanted to add my spin to the genre.

Nick: I understand, and I think it’s very much a part of your signature style. It’s definitely part of the reason I enjoy your films.

MB: Remember, a lot of critics hated it [Bad Boys] when it came out, but if you look at action films nowadays, there all like that. I’m okay to take the shit for it, alright! (laughs)

Nick: I have to ask about Yahya’s [Abdul-Mateen II] interview where he mentioned Jake [Gyllenhaal] had the camera and shot some scenes. I saw articles throwing around the term ‘co-director’ – what happened in that scenario?

MB: No, no! You’re hearing a story where a writer is just playing ‘telephone’. Basically, I gave the camera to Jake twice because we were in the small ambulance, and I had to get a shot of Yahya. He wasn’t ‘directing’ scenes.

Nick: In talking about this though, do you feel a sense of gratitude, or a feeling that you’ve created something special because action has been influenced by your frantic style of filmmaking?

MB: I was inspired by Lucas and Spielberg, and then I got put in to the Summer release spot, my release date was always July 4th! As one of the Paramount heads described it: “You [Bay] helped changed the game on the popcorn summer movies!” I was given a hard time when Bad Boys came out, but I knew the younger generation processes the action faster. That Paramount head told me: “Critics hate change”, but we knew we were helping change the action genre.

Nick: Look, Michael, that’s my time. It’s been an absolute privilege to talk to you. Congratulations on the movie, I’m going to see it again, with my brother this time!

MB: Really! But wait, are you calling me from your bedroom? What is that?

Nick: I’m actually in a hotel room right now!

MB: I hope you made your bed before calling me! (laughs)

Nick: I cleaned the whole room up just for you, Michael! (laughs)

Thank you again to Universal Pictures for allowing me to chat with the iconic director, it was a dream come true for this movie fan! Ambulance opens in Australian theatres April 7.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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