Transformers 7 Cast on Beast Wars, the 90s Setting, and Tone of the New Movie

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To announce the launch of production and to give a preview of what to expect from the upcoming blockbuster Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, due out in theaters on June 24, 2022, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura and director Steven Caple Jr. held a virtual presentation and panel to unveil the first details about the new movie. While plot details were kept largely under wraps, the duo showed off the new looks for the Transformers that will be appearing in the 1994-set story and introduced the film’s leads, Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback.

During the Paramount Pictures virtual showcase experience, di Bonaventura and Caple Jr. spoke to a group of reporters (moderated by Anthony Breznican) about bringing a new perspective to the franchise with Transformers 7, how the time period will influence the film, the setting for the story, the different factions of Transformers, and balancing the use of practical elements versus digital creations, while Ramos and Fishback talked about the human characters, and their own level of Transformers awareness. Here’s how the conversation went.

Question: Lorenzo, what made Steven Caple Jr. the right director for this film?

LORENZO DI BONAVENTURA: As we looked at what has 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 with these giant robots. You know the action is gonna 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 is somebody who was gonna, first and foremost, look at the characterizations and look at the humor. Additionally, we were hoping to find somebody who grew up with the Transformers and who has that DNA. Fortunately, with Steven, that was the case.

Looking at his films, after meeting with them, 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 we knew exactly where to go, but he knew emotionally where we wanted to go, how much heart to put in it, and how to balance those things. 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. So, we’re really thrilled to have him. It’s brought a new perspective to the franchise, which is also important. We were trying to accomplish a certain change up from the movies we did with Michael [Bay]. We wanna deliver a film that has the scale and spectacle of the Bay films with the heart and humor that we were able to achieve in Bumblebee. That’s what our hope was. We were lucky enough that he wanted to do it and come on this crazy adventure together.

Image via Paramount Pictures

Steven, what does Transformers mean to you?

STEVEN CAPLE JR.: I was a kid when it first came out, so there’s that element. My very first experience with Transformers, I was a child and I was actually using my cousin’s VHS tape, if everybody remembers what those were. After seeing it, I was captivated by the world. I’m a color person, and I was really hyped about the colors. And then, it was about the characters themselves. And so, then I started to work backwards and watch all of the Transformers. By the time I was a teenager, Beast Wars had come out . . . What brought me to the project was the chance to imagine on a different level and to dream. That’s what Transformers means to me. Dealing with robots, dealing with humans, and creating that bond, it’s all about the emotion and where we can take our new characters.

What is Beast Wars?

CAPLE JR.: What’s interesting about Transformers overall is that there are different breeds, different insignias, and different groups, and Beast Wars happens to be one of them. There were these robots whose disguise was animal form, and we have them in our film. In our particular film, they’re these prehistoric animals that travel through time and space, and we find them here on Earth. They have a familiar enemy. Anyone who’s familiar with the actual lore, the Predacons are something new that we’re dropping to the table.

Everybody knows about the Autobots and Decepticons, but what are the separate factions – Maximals, Predacons, and Terrorcons – that you’re including?

DI BONAVENTURA: I wanna start by saying that what we’re trying to do with this movie is to give the audience a lot of new. We had somewhat exhausted, I would say, the battle between Decepticons and Autobots. Certainly, we’d explored it in a lot of different ways. So, our hope was, how do we find a new set of villains and a new set of priorities for the villains? And then, saving the world, of course, is left for the Autobots and, in this case, the Maximals. If you’ve seen and been a fan of the other movies, you’re gonna see villains you’ve ever seen before, you’re gonna see Autobots you’ve never seen before, and you’re gonna see a lot of elements that we’ve never done before. One of the driving decisions that we’re making along the way is, have we done that before?, whether that’s an action scene or whether that’s a character. Fortunately for us, Transformers has a lot of tribes, so there’s a really large base of characters and there’s also a large base of fans that relate to the different tribes. This movie is bringing a lot of those tribes together.

CAPLE JR.: Just to expand the universe, you’ve got the Autobots and you’ve got the Decepticons, but my new flare to this whole thing would probably be the Terrorcons, which are a new threat to this universe and to Optimus Prime. I’ve done a Rocky film, I’ve done Creed 2. Trying to pay homage to everything is something that I’m big on. When the Terrorcons enter the screen and disrupt our movie, you’re gonna feel it.

Image via MGM and Warner Bros.

What are the Predacons?

CAPLE JR.: The Predacons, in our film, are more reptilian in nature. We’ve seen a few in the other Transformers films. They’ve been here and there, but we’ve never gotten a chance to really focus in on their insignia or their tribe, if you will, so we’re really hitting that more. We get to see another side to them. It’s about building a backstory to these characters more than, “Hey, let’s take over the world.” It’s more about, what is their personal agenda? What are the feelings behind it? We’ll get to see that, both on the Predacons and Terrorcons sides. You can’t make a movie about beasts and not have the classic enemy.

DI BONAVENTURA: The Predacons are the natural enemy of the Maximals. In a sense, you have the natural enemies of the Predacons and the Beasts, and then you have the Terrorcons and the Autobots in opposition to one another. We get to pair everybody up against each other, so it becomes a grand finale and epic Transformers experience. In the past, we’ve focused on the Decepticons. There are Decepticons in this movie, but it’s really the Terrorcons that are the leading villains.

The Bumblebee film was set in the 1980s. What’s the time period for Rise of the Beasts?

DI BONAVENTURA: 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 as a progression. Bumblebee was in 1987, so then how do we move it forward and also not run into the timeline of the Bay films? We had picked ‘94, in part because there was great music during that time period, so it felt like that natural extension. And then, Steven came aboard.

CAPLE JR.: As a fan of watching all of the Transformers films, and then stepping into Bumblebee, I love that they went back to ‘87. It’s adds nostalgia and something that people remember and connect to. So, I was curious where we’d be picking this thing up from and Lorenzo said 1994. It’s a great era. It’s rich in texture and it’s also vibrant, culturally. It has classic music. There’s a certain energy to the 90s that I’m looking forward to capturing. We’ve seen it on screen very few times. Sometimes it’s a little hokey, if you play into it too much. There’s 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 90s with all of the callbacks that are fun to play with in that era.

Are you drawing from any of the great ‘90s action films?

CAPLE JR.: Yeah, definitely, and drama and character films too. You’ll feel the sense of a journey and expedition on this film, this go-around, that connects all of that and plays into it. Looking at our film and where we’re taking it, I wanna bring that classic expedition and journey through New York and where we go from there . . . New York City and the people have the energy I wanted to capture, and there’s a level of grit to it. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the Autobots roam through New York. I’m just excited to bring Prime and these other characters and drive them through the city. It’s your classic adventure film, just set here.

You have another big location in this film. Where is that?

CAPLE JR.: We wanted to find somewhere new to go, and for us, that was Peru. Lorenzo mentioned it, and it was such a great idea. When I went there to location scout, it was just amazing. We met with the people to get the vibe and feel the energy. Very few films have been shot, not only in Peru, but also Machu Picchu, and they opened the doors for us. I’m grateful to collaborate with Peru and highlight Peru’s culture and the ancient civilization. They have beautiful landscapes and sites, but most importantly, beautiful people, and I’m excited about that.

Image via Paramount Pictures

DI BONAVENTURA: As part of the Transformers franchise now, the audience wants us to go on an adventure, and it really is a majestic place. It has a lot of color and texture. We also have a tradition of linking ourselves to the past, and we do that here with the Incan traditions.

Who’s the robot lead of Rise of the Beasts?

CAPLE JR.: The main hero is Optimus Prime, who we all know and love. We’re bringing Prime back and paying direct homage to the G1 robot for. . . I care so much about this character. Bumblebee had his own movie, but I wanted to discover more about Optimus Prime, dig underneath the surface, get underneath the metal, and explore who he is and his experience here on Earth. He’s our main robot. I made him flexible because I know he was a bit boxy. I’ve definitely taken care to make sure he can move and fight and do all of the cool stuff we need him to do.

DI BONAVENTURA: The animated series and the Bay films treat Prime the same, in the sense of who he is as a leader and what his drive is. What we’ve done is we’re bringing it back to where you see how he becomes what you’re familiar with. Whether you’re a Transformers fan or not, you’ll see a leader become the leader that we know now . . . [In this film,] he’s new to earth. He doesn’t have a connection to earth the way he does when we met him in the Bay films and in the animation series, where he’s already a protector of earth. In this film, it’s forming why he has a link to humanity and why he has a link to earth, and that’s emotional. It’s not home yet to him. He’s like an ex-pat here. He’s landed, he’s an alien, and he’s never been here before. That allows us to get underneath the stoicism of what we’ve traditionally presented in Prime. That’s gonna make the viewer relate to the character more.

Peter Cullen brought this character to life with his amazing voice. Is he returning?

DI BONAVENTURA: Absolutely. There was no discussion without him, unless he didn’t want to. Prime is near and dear to him. So, yeah, he’s on board.

What’s the idea behind the design for Bumblebee in this film?

CAPLE JR.: He’s a classic Camaro. We’re tackling that middle era and we’re traveling to new terrain, so there are some added pieces to him. What’s cool about this film is that we’ll see pieces of their vehicles more, in robot form.

DI BONAVENTURA: At the very end of Bumblebee, we saw him transform from his VW But to his Camaro. One of the things we’re so excited with here is that we’ve never done an off-road version of a Transformer vehicle, so it’s new territory.

What can you say about other characters?

CAPLE JR.: Mirage is a Porsche 911 and is slightly different from the original, but he still has that speed, he’s fast, and he’s flashy. He still holds up to the name Mirage. In our particular case, as a character, he’s the rebel in the group. He’s more of an outlaw and he’s gonna be causing a little bit trouble with Optimus Prime and the rest of the squad. He’s one of my favorite characters and I’m excited to bring him to the big screen.

DI BONAVENTURA: He’s anti-authority. One of the things about Mirage that’s cool is that he’s always been able to transform into different kinds of vehicles. Unlike the others, he’s not bound to his own shape, though we love this shape and form. There’s a lot of flexibility in that character. One of the things that Steven has poured into the script is that this is the vehicle and the robot that relates to our lead human characters and takes a prominence that is really significant to the movie.

What can you say about your female Transformer, Arcee?

CAPLE JR.: I saw her a glimpse of her in Bumblebee and I just wanted to bring her back and give her more. I wanted to give her a voice. I wanted to give her a fight. She’s super tough and fierce. She’s very much a loyal soldier to Prime and the voice of reason at times. She’s a motorcycle that can do really cool things, and I’m really excited to showcase her. She’s one of my favorite characters as well. It pays homage to the G1 feel, in terms of the design and tech.

DI BONAVENTURA: I think one of the great misnomers in the action adventure genre is the idea that women have not been a significant part of our audience. They always have been, it’s just that finally people are acknowledging it.

Image via HBO

And you have a female villain, Nightbird.

CAPLE JR.: Nightbird wasn’t in vehicle form before, but now we’ve made her into vehicle form. She’s basically our main villain’s right hand. She still has the ninja traits from the cartoon. I kept that alive with her.

DI BONAVENTURA: What I find very interesting is that she switched sides and now she’s a Terrorcon who has joined that side of it. Her history is one that has had flexible alliances, which is fun.

What can you say about your new villain, Scourge?

CAPLE JR.: Megatron is one that we’re all familiar with and that I personally love, but we wanted to go somewhere new, and it felt like Scourge was someone that was untapped. That not only allowed me freedom, but it also created this super ruthless and scary character. I wanna dabble more in horror in this one and make people jump out of their seats. Scourge is the leader of the Terrorcons. He’s a prideful dude. He loves to collect Autobots and Maximals and use him as his trophies. That’s how ruthless he is.

DI BONAVENTURA: One of the cool features that Steven came up with is that Scourge basically takes the insignias off of the robots that he’s killed and fuses them onto him, so he’s like a living memorial to the havoc he’s created.

What can you say about the Maximals?

CAPLE JR.: Airazor is amazing. In our film, she’s basically the heart of the Maximals. She’s very nurturing, but don’t test her. Underneath her regal design, she’s still a beast. She’s very rustic in design and she has this aged texture to her. We’re basically playing with how long the Maximals have been traveling and how long they’ve been here on earth. Her design is a little bit more fluid and different than the Autobots or any other robot that you’ve seen. You can see the animal style and design, but underneath it, you’ll see the mechanics.

Rhinox is the muscle of the group and the brains of the Maximals. He has a rustic design too. We’re playing with this organic and natural material to make them all feel alive. That was a big thing for me. I wanted these animals to feel like they’re breathing. It allowed us a whole new category and area to play with, when we started to really design them and put them into a live-action movie.

DI BONAVENTURA: This character just wants to ram stuff. He wants to ram it all. He’s gonna always be the one who’s like, “Can I do it now? Can I ram them now?” I think he’s gonna be a favorite, especially for kids. I think they’re gonna love the fact that he just wants to use that horn.

CAPLE JR.: We also have Optimus Primal, the leader of the Maximals. He’s another one who has this organic and natural look to him. He’s the beating heart to the Maximals. If you look at what Prime is to the Autobots, he’s that to the Maximals. He’s older by design, but has wisdom that goes beyond us. He takes care of his own.

DI BONAVENTURA: It’s the first time Prime has a character that he can actually have a philosophical conversation with on the same plane. They both have dealt with leadership and with what it’s like to be on earth. There’s a commonality in what they’re dealing with, but there’s a difference in perspective that they share with one another.

Dominique and Anthony, what can you say about the human characters that you play?

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK: I’m playing Elena. She’s an intelligent artifact researcher who works at the museum. 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 looking for a way to step out on her own. She’s a New Yorker, like myself. I’m super excited about that part.

RAMOS: I’m playing Noah. Noah is from Brooklyn and he lives with his family – his mother and his brother. He’s the father figure to his brother. He’s all about taking care of his home, his family, and the people he loves. Noah is ex-military. He came back home, trying to find his way. They come from a lower income home, so Noah is always hustling. He’s amazing with electronics. Anything electronic, he can fix, which is cool. We see him in his element, at a certain point in the film. The one thing I love about Noah is his tenacity and his heart and his will to never quit, even with all of the crazy things that life has thrown at him. It’s amazing to see his journey. We then venture out into the world. When the humans meet bots and things begin to happen, shit gets real.

Dominique Fishback in Judas and the Black Messiah
Image via Warner Bros.

When did you guys become aware of the Transformers?

ANTHONY RAMOS: Beast Wars was my joint. That was the one for me. I loved Beast Wars. I think it came on, on the weekends. I can’t remember what channel it was, but I was on it, every week, watching Beast Wars. So, when I read the script and I saw we were gonna have them in the movie, my head almost exploded all over my body. There were two things in the script that really took me out. That was one of them, and then there was another plot point that I can’t talk about. I read the script and almost threw it across the room. Our director, Steven, has got a vision. I’m so excited for all the things he has in store. And then, me and Dom being from New York, and the story being set in Brooklyn, and us being able to speak intelligently about what life was like at that time, we were younger, but my memory is so vivid when it comes to what the trains looked like, what the streets felt like, and what the vibrations in Brooklyn were. To intertwine these two worlds of Brooklyn and New York with the Transformers and these characters, I think is a recipe for some shit.

FISHBACK: I’m a newbie. I’m from Brooklyn, from East New York, and I watched the Disney Channel all the time saying, “I wanna be an actor. I wanna do that.” I used to watch Shia [LaBeouf] on Even Stevens, so to watch him go from this Disney kid to this movie star and being in the Transformers films, I was like, “Oh, man, I wanna do something like that!” I couldn’t imagine that almost 20 years later, I would be doing it as well. I’m really thankful and super excited to be a part of the franchise.

Will you guys be doing some driving in this?

FISHBACK: I’m supposed to learn how to drive on a Transformers film. I don’t know how to drive. That’s authentic New York for you. I’m looking forward to that.

RAMOS: I literally got my license for this movie!

Lorenzo and Steven, what’s the balance between using practical elements versus digital creations for this?

DI BONAVENTURA: People have a misconception about what we do. They think of it was so much CGI, but the truth is that one of the reasons I think it’s so spectacular is that we do so much practical, and then we compliment it or add to it with the CG. When Steven came aboard, it was the first conversation we had, after the story. He wanted to know how we did it and what the principles were behind it, and for us, the more you create real, the more real the visual effects look. The less you do, the less real they look. There are some movies where it’s so much CG that it just looks fake. The challenge is figuring out how to do it real.

CAPLE JR.: The challenge is going from designing a robot to designing the character to location scouting, and then bringing the robots there. It can be beautiful, but you have to think about whether or not a 30-foot robot can walk there. If you go to a location that’s just plain and doesn’t have anything, then you’re taking yourself out of the movie. So, it’s about utilizing what’s real and then bringing the robots to life in those environments. That’s the cheat code. That’s what makes this franchise special, so that’s how we’re approaching it.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is currently in production and set to be out in theaters on June 24, 2022.

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