Arts & Entertainment

My summer with Shia, Rosie, Tyrese and Michael Bay

Media IndustryMoviesRoad TransportationEntertainmentTravel

What do you do if your assignment is to cover the much-anticipated two-month filming of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” in downtown Chicago – from where and what they filmed to what the cast has to say about filming here -- but access and answers prove difficult to come by?

In my case, I covered filming from a mostly outsider point of view. Well, an outsider who needed to find something to write about, whether he had access or not.

I watched the filming on LaSalle Street from behind a barricade a block away, and I watched them shoot on Michigan Avenue and then Wacker Drive from nearby buildings like many others who worked in the area.

But before I spent entire days trying to get a glimpse of actors Shia LaBeouf and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and wrote about their every move — down to their visit to Epic Burger in the South Loop in late August — I found myself alone with the co-stars in the kitchen of a River North nightclub late one night in mid-July.

The two stars were taking a break from the film’s cast and crew party to have a smoke by the kitchen door. And because filming had just begun, they were likely using the opportunity to get to know each other as well. Me? The one person in the room who had never been on the cover of GQ? I was waiting in the kitchen for one of the club’s employees, who invited me as a guest.

Shia and Rosie didn’t say anything to me and I didn’t say anything to them. I was there as a guest -- not a reporter. It would be the last time I would be in the same room as them, but my “Transformers” experience was just getting started.

July 10: The first day of filming closed down part of LaSalle in the Financial District. Surprisingly, there weren’t many fans on hand when I arrived around 8 a.m. Just a few, as well as some curious tourists. The crowds, and the action, would come later, so my only entertainment for that scorching hot morning was watching annoyed local residents argue with security (according to my scorecard, security won every round of that fight).

My first real glimpse of filming came about an hour or two later when the franchise’s famous cars raced up LaSalle several times. To return to their starting point, the cars circled around the block and in my direction. I pulled out my camera and filmed them as they drove by me.

Because there were a few other people filming, I didn’t bother to tell readers about the footage that I had uploaded to YouTube. And apparently I didn’t need to. Around 13,000 people had discovered my video on their own. More than 100,000 hits later, Paramount Pictures would discover the video as well and have YouTube take it down. I never got an explanation other than the message “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Paramount Pictures Corporation.”

July 16: It is one thing to close down part of LaSalle for filming, it’s another to shut down part of Michigan Avenue. Crowds were kept far from the action while director Michael Bay and Co. turned the photogenic street into a disaster zone (cars on the set were flipped over and uglied up with fake dirt and rubble, including 10 vehicles piled in front of the north side of the bridge). Security would have kept me away from the junkyard-looking set too if it weren’t for the fact that the set was next to my workplace, Tribune Tower.

I took full advantage of my front-row seat and watched filming from various rooms in the building along with other Tribune employees. I even got a brief exclusive from star Josh Duhamel — who was sporting all-black military gear in temperatures in the high 80s — as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans: I asked how he was dealing with the heat, he told me “It was good under the tree” and  … well, that was it.

What? I said it was brief.

July 17: To get the best view of the action, I would enter and exit the Tribune several times throughout the day. Film security must have been asking itself, “How many lunch breaks is this guy going to take?” It paid off when I was stopped on my way back up the Tribune elevators so the movie could film in our lobby. It appeared to be a scene involving Tyrese Gibson’s character and his military unit running into the lobby.

Earlier that day, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley visited the Michigan Avenue set to view the wreckage and meet with Bay. He didn’t get to watch the basejumpers leap off the 92-story Trump Tower onto North Wacker Drive but he did witness a loud, fireball-heavy scene next to the bridge from a nearby curb.

I watched it from a fourth-floor conference room facing Michigan and filmed it with the video feature on my camera. Even though I have the sort of shaky hands that will prevent me from ever winning a game of Jenga, WGN-Ch. 9 has shown parts of my video multiple times. Still, the clip couldn’t have been that good: Paramount never took it down.

July 18: Because the stars’ trailers were in the Tribune parking lot, I would often run back and forth between the conference room facing Michigan and the windows on the East side of Tribune Tower facing the lot. When I wasn’t jogging in flip-flops across the office, I was watching the cast and crew as they waited and waited and waited for the next scene.

The wait was even longer when it would rain. It got so boring, I took a photo of LaBeouf doing pushups alone in the middle of Pioneer Court and tweeted it. I know it sounds like I was some creepy stalker during filming, but the truth is … OK, that’s exactly what I was. But I had to be. There was a high demand for coverage.

(Trying to keep up the supply for the Transformers demand, I wrote an article for RedEye detailing where the cast and crew had been spotted around the city, with most of the focus on Bay and his three-to-four visits to the city’s downtown clubs per week. His club of choice? Cuvee, where he was spotted four times in eight days. Beat that, Patrick Kane.)

After the rain delay, the crew began setting up for what promised to be an impressive stunt. I got my camera ready for something big, and that’s exactly what I got — about an hour later. An explosion went off and cars went spiraling out of control north on Michigan, which appears to be a scene in the movie trailer.

July 19: Filming moved to Wacker next. That meant I didn’t have the luxury of my front-row seat from the Tribune and would now need to get close somehow. So I headed to a Corner Bakery next to where they were filming and set up shop by a window near the bathroom -- after I was done eating my Harvest salad, of course. (The other window spots were taken by people who were purposely eating as slow as humanly possible.)

Once filming began, customers were asked to step away from the windows so as not to appear in the shot. The scene I witnessed featured military men coming out of their hiding spots, including a flipped-over CTA bus, with guns blazing and explosions going off around them. The guns and explosions were so loud Corner Bakery’s windows rattled. Once the 30-second scene was over, customers clapped and cheered, because, well, what else are you supposed to do after something like that?

July 25: Thanks to several emails and some persistence from my editors, we landed an interview with Bay and two producers on the set at Wacker and Wabash. When I caught up with Bay, he was he was eating between takes, his plate sitting on a monitor. Still, he was more than willing to talk. He cracked jokes about the giant piece of foam that had hit him during a scene and given him a neck ache, as well as the women who had been flashing the set from nearby buildings.

Meanwhile, I could see my old pal Shia and co-star Patrick Dempsey on top of what appeared to be building remnants from the corner of my eye waiting for Bay’s signal to continue their scene. Seconds after I turned off my tape recorder, Bay shouted “OK guys! Let’s go!” and the scene with Even Stevens and McDreamy began.

Afterward: Filming ended on a serious note, when an extra on the set, Gabriela Cedillo, 24, was seriously injured during filming in Hammond. But the next significant contact I had with anyone from “Transformers” was when I spoke with Duhamel at a Super Bowl event in February in Dallas. (“We made a lot of noise when we were there,” Duhamel told me. “I was so afraid they were going to throw us out.”).

Would it have been nice to talk to more cast members while they were here? Of course. But I think the Tribune was a solid source for readers even without that sort of access. Apparently, people from the film were keeping up with the local coverage as well. From what I hear, Bay singled out one story in particular, saying something to the effect of, “The cast and crew now think I’m out clubbing just about every night.”

I wonder where they got that idea.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading