This time last year, Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf and the rest of the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen cast were zipping around Philadelphia, shooting inside Eastern State Penitentiary, in Fairmount Park, at Drexel and Penn, dressing up City Hall's courtyard to look like a Parisian cafe.
A Parisian cafe that gets blown to bits.
"It was great," says Ian Bryce, the sequel's producer, who's worked with blockbuster maestro Michael Bay on both Transformers. "We were in Philly for two weeks, had wonderful cooperation throughout the city, from the mayor's office, the film commission, and everybody that we dealt with."
By phone from London, where the megahit-to-be had a prerelease premiere this week, Bryce is catching his breath after working on the Autobots vs. Decepticons spectacle for nearly two years. The film, a follow-up to the $708 million-grossing Transformers (that's global box office), opens everywhere Wednesday.
"This one was quite an adventure, because when we started there was no script," Bryce acknowledges. "So, as Mike and the writers were busy writing, we essentially had a seven-page treatment that we knew was going to represent the script - and we had to start preparing the movie physically from that document.
"That included making a blueprint for where we thought we were going to shoot. We started scouting locations before we had a real solid idea of what was going to be in [the movie]. . . . Mike said, 'Look, it feels like we need this . . . kind of location.' He's great about that. He's very pragmatic about making those choices.
"And as you'll see when you watch the film, there were lots of locations, we shot on four continents, and so it was very challenging logistically and operationally."
Indeed, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was filmed in Cairo, in Paris (yes, the real Paris), in Philadelphia, in Princeton, in Hawaii and in other U.S. locales. The Industrial Light & Magic-produced CG effects - with intergalactic robots based on the Hasbro toys morphing into giant metal machines and moving vehicles - are "more complex and sophisticated," says the producer.
Bryce describes the tone of Transformers 2 as "slightly more grown-up." There are scenes in a strip club, and, according to an early review from Variety, a glimpse of actor and Heineken spokesman John Turturro in a G-string. ("Well, there's a moment of that, yeah - a very light moment," Bryce confirms. "If you blink you'll be OK. . . . It gets a good laugh, which is obviously the intention.")
There are no shots of Fox in a G-string, alas. Fox, a virtual unknown, rocketed to stardom thanks to the first Transformers. She's now signed on for the female lead in the comic book adaptation Jonah Hex, is being rumored for a Buffy the Vampire remake, and has the title role in Jennifer's Body, the Diablo Cody horror flick.
"She deserves it - she's got star quality," Bryce says, "as does Shia. They've got great chemistry together, so sometimes a movie will do that. It just propels people into the limelight, and gives them a jump start on their careers."
Bryce, whose credits as a producer include Saving Private Ryan (he nabbed an Oscar nomination for that one) and the first Spider-Man, was circumspect when asked about the next Transformers film. Describing himself as "superstitious," he didn't want to venture thoughts about a second sequel until this one proves itself.
(Like there's a chance it won't: MovieTickets.com reported this week that advance sales for Transformers: ROTF are outpacing sales for the original Transformers by almost 3-to-1 at the same point in the sales cycle - eight days prior to each film's release. And the IMAX ticket sales at MovieTickets.com are, well, huge.)
"I don't like to go there, but the preliminary tracking for the film is quite nice," he concedes.
So, a trilogy?
"I think there's enough material there that you could do any number of movies," he says. "It's sort of like Harry Potter that way. There's just a vast cast of characters. So I think the possibilities might certainly extend beyond three - but that would be foolish to speculate on at this point."
Short subjects. More than 40 years after Yellow Submarine, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney is jumping back into the animated musical realm. The project, High In the Clouds, is based on a children's book McCartney cowrote about a squirrel who journeys to a tropical island where animals can live "without a care in the world." Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, The Secret Garden) is doing the screenplay, and Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little 1 and 2) will direct. Sir Paul will contribute songs and score. . . . There have been writers and directors trying to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars to the screen for decades, and it finally looks like it's happening: Pixar's Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) plans to make his live-action debut (with tons of CG effects, of course), steering X-Men Origins: Wolverine stars Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins through the sci-fi fantasy epic about a Civil War soldier who finds himself on the red planet, embroiled in Martian strife and falling for a Martian princess. Shooting will start early in 2010, looking toward a 2011 opening.