Would You Contribute to the Hunt for Robots? Then the “Transformers Are Dangerous” Campaign Needs You (If You Survive the “Bayhem”)

Optimus Prime riding Grimlock in "Transformers: Age of Extinction"

Optimus Prime wielding a sword and riding a fire-breathing Dinobot is the epitome of the last instalment of the Transformers franchise, a film series that is heavily based on excess, sensory saturation and, here and there, a total lack of self-consciousness.

Over the past years I have come to realise that enduring a movie directed by Michael Bay has the same effect on my body as a session at the gym: I feel the tension in my muscles during the screening and my nervous system recalls it the day after. Judging by the way people around me in the cinema were hanging on to their seats during the 164 minutes of Transformers: Age of Extinction, I guess they were feeling the same way. The only difference is that you don’t get better abs when it’s over.

The result is that either you find a way to get through the “Bayhem”, or your body simply rejects it. The latter happened to me years ago while watching Pearl Harbor and I fell asleep after one hour of continuous explosions. Paraphrasing Dr. Strangelove’s title, from then on I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb(ing). Because, more than any other director on this planet, a Michael Bay film is a physical challenge, even more so if it is screened in a theatre like the IMAX, specifically designed to enhance the experience.

Although the last chapter of Transformers seems to reproduce the general principle ruling the previous ones, “the bigger and noisier, the better”, I am not going to address the overall promotional campaign for the film that started more than a year ago. I’ll focus on a more specific part of it here, based on the premise of Transformers 4: the fact that now, four years after the battle of Chicago which takes place in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, all the robots that are hiding are being tracked down.

"Transformers Are Dangerous" viral campaign for "Transformers: Age of Extinction"

Arranged in the form of fake special news reports, several viral videos were released in the last few months. The following is focused on Optimus Prime’s decision to protect the people of Earth despite having being betrayed and hunted by the army.

More videos followed and were later listed on a specific website called Transformers Are Dangerous, created to promote the film through a non-conventional marketing campaign.

There are several entry points to this digital space of the storytelling. The official social media accounts for the film clearly mention the Transformers Are Dangerous website, so the clue is pretty easy to spot. Then, if you log to the main website for the franchise and scroll the Menu in the home page, you can jump to the subordinate platform by simply clicking on the last option of the drop-down list.

Of course the videos themselves make a clear reference to check in to the website, to which you are invited to subscribe in order to receive news and updates on the sightings. Moreover, I saw the film at the BFI Imax in London and right before the screening, among the standard promotional images depicting the characters, the following two specifically designed for the viral campaign were shown:

"Transformers Are Dangerous" viral campaign for "Transformers: Age of Extinction""Transformers Are Dangerous" viral campaign for "Transformers: Age of Extinction"

On the Transformers Are Dangerous website you can browse a map of aftermaths and sightings from Rio De Janeiro to Tokyo. Each city listed features additional content, such as more fake news reports, articles from newspapers and audio files of phone calls from around the world reporting on sightings.

But if you prefer to get engaged through social networks, you can take part in the #FindOptimus initiative by tweeting a photo for the chance to win prizes (see the Transformers Truck UK Tour here). Enjoy the search!


How Many Digital Revolutions? The Hottest Exhibition on Tech and Creativity at Barbican Centre Is the Right Place to Get the Answer

"Pyramidi" project featuring a dedicated song by Will.i.am, on display at Barbican Centre for the "Digital Revolution" exhibition.

Videogames, interactive documentaries, VFX: whether you are a media archaeologist, a nostalgic lover of game consoles from the 1980s, a curious investigator of wearable technologies or a fan of the latest hi-tech blockbuster, there is only one place to be in London this summer: the Barbican Centre, home until 14 September to the Digital Revolution exhibition.

What I find particularly exciting about this moment in the history of technology is the fertile interaction between artists and architects, designers and game developers, and musicians and filmmakers. Truly amazing collaborations born in the name of digital media are taking place and if you want to experience some of the most intriguing projects blending creativity and digital media, then you should definitely visit Digital Revolution.

If you miss the old video games you’ll be able to play Pong, Pac-Man and Space Invaders one more time, or dive into your childhood by once again experiencing Tetris and Super Mario on the Game Boy. If you are more of a film addict eager to know all the secrets behind your favourite big budget movies, you’ll discover how the most complex scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Inception or Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (not to mention the seminal Tron, Star Wars, The Lawnmower Man, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park) were created.

"Gravity"'s special effects explained at Barbican Centre during the "Digital Revolution" exhibition.

One of my favourite pieces on display is The Johnny Cash Project, the very well known crowd-sourced and still active tribute to the Man in Black conceived by Aaron Koblin and Chris Milk. You can experience and contribute to it online here.

Digital Revolution features a further installation by Milk. The Treachery of Sanctuary is an interactive triptych which, as stated by the director himself on his website, “tells a story of birth, death, and transfiguration that uses projections of the participants’ own bodies to unlock a new artistic language”. More info about the making of this project and its links to the prehistoric paintings on the walls of the caves of Lascaux is available on The Creators Project’s website.

Coding and augmented reality, hybrid technologies and artificial intelligence are all packed under the same roof. Take your time while exploring all the sections of the exhibition: sometimes the environment is overwhelming due to the noise, the crowd and the large amount of sensory stimuli. Your body will feel the need for a few moments of quiet, so listen to it and take a break.

Some personal advice to conclude: read the instructions. They’re there to help us and I saw many visitors misinterpreting how some installations work. I even caught several people trying to listen to what they thought were speakers, which were actually microphones to capture the sound of their own voices. Just saying…

(Photos and video taken by Nicolò Gallio at the Barbican Centre on 13 July; video Welcome to Digital Revolution © Barbican Centre).

“Democracy Ends at the Door of the Set.” A Few Lessons Learned at London Film Academy

Actors Tom Sawyer and Faith Knight on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

Actors Tom Sawyer and Faith Knight on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

The above sentence may sound like a pretentious bellicose statement pronounced by a director on the chaotic and high-tech set of the latest summer blockbuster. Instead it was calmly expressed by writer and director David Pope within the small and intimate walls of the Filmmaking Foundation Course at London Film Academy, where the only rotors you could hear were the ones providing forced ventilation (and not those of a helicopter going to war carrying a Hollywood superstar).

It might sound a little bit over-the-top, but anyone who’s ever walked on a set will confirm that you can’t complete a film without discipline, and you can’t have discipline without someone making decisions and keeping things running smoothly in the schizophrenic mayhem that is the cinema industry.

Writer and director David Pope on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

Writer and director David Pope on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

Pope was among the tutors we met during the two super intense weeks of training required to complete our assignment: in the space of ten days, write, shoot and edit six short films based on a brief. The roles we covered ranged from screenwriting to camera operating, from clapper loading to focus pulling, and from sound mixing to editing. Going through all of them would result in a boring autobiographical account of two amazing weeks spent with one of the most international, passionate and diverse crew I’ve ever worked with. I’ll focus instead on a few ideas delivered by some of our tutors in the form of epigrams.

“If you can visualise it, then you can make it.” said director of photography Jonathan Harvey while going through the impact of camera lens choices. Adding right after: “Lighting is about motivation of the story.” Which means to me: cinematography is at the service of your character’s motivations and needs, but as soon as you have your lighting scheme clear into your mind, the only limit to creativity is dictated by time and money.

DOP Jonathan Harvey on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

DOP Jonathan Harvey on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

During the workshop on Visual Storytelling Pope covered the main areas involved in adapting a story for the screen, from writing to how to cast and work with actors, but I will focus here on how a crew is supposed to get a job done under pressure: “Fast, precise and coordinated like F1 pit crews. This is how the camera team works.” Which reads: if you, as a director, hesitate, you lose money. If you lose money, there is a high chance that you won’t be called on set again. Because cinema is also teamwork based on problem solving: if you manage to win the respect of your crew and find solutions when issues arise, watching a team operating smoothly on set is pure delight.

Post-production is then that defining moment when you finally discover if a small error during the shooting has become a HUGE problem in the editing room. This might for example involve a mistake in the frame, an incorrect camera angle, or something that went wrong with the microphones. The latter case is when a dimension usually invisible becomes concretely evident, because, according to sound recordist Carine Koleilat, “Good sound is when nobody notices it.”

Writer and director David Pope on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

Writer and director David Pope on set at London Film Academy during the Filmmaking Foundation Course.

The thing that you immediately notice is how a film gets bigger and bigger in terms of logistics and people involved, which leads me to the last statement I’d like to report. This is the clearest definition of the importance of quality over the look and feel of creative content, and was delivered by producer Cristopher Granier-Deferre while breaking down a script to define its budget: “If your film’s shit, your credits ain’t gonna make it better.”

(Photos taken by Nicolò Gallio during the London Film Academy’s Filmmaking Foundation Course, 30 June-11 July 2014).