EXCL: Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura

There aren’t that many mega-producers in Hollywood, guys who have dozens of big projects on their plate in various stages of development, but one of the few who seems to get stuff done is Lorenzo di Bonaventura (right in photo), who spent nearly 13 years at Warner Bros. as their President of Worldwide Production, involved in the production of nearly 130 films including little movies like The Matrix, Ocean’s Eleven and the early “Harry Potter” movies. After leaving the company, he formed his own production company to produce the movie based on Vertigo Comics’ Constantine, and in recent years, he produced Mark Wahlberg’s Four Brothers and Shooter, both for Paramount.

This summer, he’s keeping busy with two more high profile Paramount projects: Michael Bay’s Transformers, based on the toys and cartoons (in case you didn’t know), and Stardust, directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. (He also produced Dimension Films’ 1408 based on a Stephen King story, which opened this past weekend.)

Superhero Hype! got on the phone with this producer to find out more about these two projects, but you can also read more with him about a possible Transformers sequel and G. I. Joe movie here and the status of Beverly Hills Cop 4 here.

Superhero Hype!: I’m going to put you on the spot because I’ve been told that you were the heart of the “Transformers” movie. Can you talk about how you got involved with it and why it took so long to get a live action movie based on the Transformers going?

Lorenzo di Bonaventura: I think that two things happen that play a part on these very successful adaptations. I was involved in the first “Scooby Doo” and you get nostalgic about it. It’s either something you grew up with or something you remember from earlier in your life. “Transformers” was something that… I was a little older than the group that was most passionate about it, but I was obviously quite aware of it. When I got involved with Hasbro on “G.I. Joe,” I discovered they had “Transformers.” I got into the mythology first, and I was struck by how deep the mythology is and then I was struck by how passionate the fan’s connection was to each of the characters. Any time you find something like that as a producer, you’re crazy not to go after it, so that’s sort of the beginning phase of that, and as time went on, we came to understand just how passionate the fans are in many respects, which is fantastic, because they’ve been a great sounding board for us in many ways. You get involved with Bumblebee, you get involved with Optimus Prime, and you start to adore those characters for the very characteristics the original fanbase did, and it sort of takes over your life that way.

SHH!: It’s pretty amazing how many friends I have who are nuts over Transformers. When you go into a movie like this, you obviously want to take advantage of what Michael Bay can do, you want to put them in the modern day world, but how do you go about doing that but still making it appealing to the fans of all the different versions of the characters?

Di Bonaventura: Well, you know there’s two things that strike me… one is that the rendering of CGI characters costs a phenomenal amount of money, so you must censor yourself about how far you want to go with that. We had a finite ability, if you would, to execute only so much with the Transformers themselves because they are phenomenally expensive as characters. The other thing is that because those characters are so well-founded within the mythology is how do you get a human character to interact and be an important, and I’ll say equal storyline, because as a boy, you want to play with those big toys and you want to shoot things and blow up things and just have a ball with them. As a filmmaker, you want to have a storyline that the audience’s hearts and minds get behind, so if you’re not a Transformer fan and never going to be a Transformer fan, you’re still going to love the movie because there’s heart there, there’s humor there. In Shia’s characters, who’s sort of the focal point of the human story, there’s somebody really to root for, so if you bring all the different parties together, that’s so much fun.

SHH!: I saw a bunch of scenes at ShoWest and at Toy Fair this year, and I agree that the scenes with Shia are as good as the robot ones. One would think one of the reasons it took so long to do this movie was having the technology to create the Transformers, but from what you say, it still takes a long time to render them. I’m surprised that technology hasn’t evolved enough to make that process go faster.

Di Bonaventura: You know, the funny thing about technology is that as soon as you figure it out, you want to push it further. For instance, in this case, I think Michael said–and I may be a little bit off on this–but I think there’s 10,108 parts to Optimus Prime. Well, that technically takes a lot of time to render and the fact that they can all move and interact, it’s a very complicated process and I think ILM did a staggering job on this movie. I think they raised their game, which is hard to say about a place that’s done such spectacular work in the past. I can’t remember the exact number agan, but they told us that each frame was taking X number of hours to render more than any other frame, and I know the results of that is when you sit in the movie theatre. I’ve watched a bunch of times, and each time I notice a new element that just makes my jaw drop.

SHH!: When you’re making a movie like this, you have a timeframe because you already have a date set for its release. Michael Bay must have a lot of big ideas, but then you get into the computer stage, you never know how long it’s going to take, so how does that work out in terms of making sure the movie gets done?

Di Bonaventura: No, you’re exactly right, and that’s the craziness of filmmaking and the magic is that somehow it does get there to the date and somehow, you do manage to come up with a process. I don’t think anybody really sits down initially–maybe there’s a few guys that are that experienced that they can actually figure out how many hours it’s going to take. I think you figure it out and then you adjust, then you realize that to do that, you move certain timeframes forward. It moves as a process, and it is one of those miracles that somehow it does manage to get out on time.

SHH!: Let’s jump over to your other summer movie. How did you get involved with something like “Stardust” which doesn’t have the built-in fanbase as “Transformers”?

Di Bonaventura: I’ve been a Neil [Gaiman] fan forever, and I failed as an executive in getting three different Neil properties to the screen, and I was lucky enough to be included in on “Stardust” that Matthew Vaughn had originated actually, in part because of my relationship with Neil and in part because of my relationship with Paramount. I just think Neil has one of the most spectacular minds and his sense of fancy and fantasy and wonder and awe and wry tongue-in-cheek is just something that I love, so I would get on board anything I can do with Neil.

SHH!: How involved has Neil been on adapting it or checking up on what Matthew’s been doing? I know he helped select a screenwriter.

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, absolutely. One of the great things about having the actual creator on the team is that he’s a producer and he’s been involved in the casting and in every element, as much as he wants and as much time as he can give us. What’s great, and it actually simplifies the process, is you can go “Okay, there’s this character, Neil, and we’re thinking about going to this place with this character. Is that true to your vision?” It’s an unbelievable advantage to have the actual creator understand the medium of film and the difference it represents between a written medium and a movie medium and be there to say, “Oh, come on, you guys, don’t be that chicken. Push it farther!” or “I don’t know if that would actually happen. I’m not so sure about that.” And it’s a fantastic way to quickly test… again, the evolution of a written novel to the screen is always a complicated process.

SHH!: It sounds sort of how Neil is involved with the comics that have spun-off of his creator-owned series “Sandman” and “Books of Magic.” Matthew Vaughn was an interesting choice to direct, since we mostly know him for his British crime films, both his own and those with Guy Ritchie.

Di Bonaventura: Matthew was the one who made the choice. Matthew was the one who first reached out to Neil and said, “This is something that I want to do.” I’m a later-comer to this train and he was the originator or I guess Neil was, but Matthew was the second on board, so Matthew, to speak for him, wanted to do something different and didn’t want to get typecast as the cool gangster flick guy and he has children and he wanted to find something he could present to them that gives them a sense of his love of fantasy and his love of fairy tales and the kinds of things that “Stardust” has inherently in its subject matter, and that’s how we started it.

Transformers opens on Monday, July 2 at 8pm, and Stardust opens on August 10.

Source: Edward Douglas