In widescreen, with Technicolor and stereophonic sound, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the finest Hollywood musicals of the 1950’s. As excellent as these films are they can’t begin to compare with the real life musical extravaganzas that make up our own personal lives. Our lives are journeys filled with music. The music flows from radios, cars, family & friend gatherings, offices, schools, stores, movies, airports, bus & train stations and that stereo inside your head. The times of your life, the best, the worse, the marvelous and the mundane, are stories woven into a musical soundtrack, because as the Ritchie Family sang, “Life Is Music”
Life Is Music:
Transformers (More Than Meets the Eye)
by Rix Roundtree-Harrison
Howdy folks! It’s been three months since you’ve heard from me. I’ve been busy, so busy in fact that I could not get a moment to complete and turn in a piece for the EGN (Electrogarden Network). I worked on an exhibit installation and opening, and all the associated events that come with that. I’ve also had to attend tons of meetings and I worked on organizing an annual business convention. All this busyness culminated with the filming of the third film of the Transformers’ movie series, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon.
Yes, the Transformers have been filming in the Nation’s Capital and guess who was on the set? That’s right, you guessed it, me. Several scenes for the upcoming Transformers movie were filmed at the historic DAR Museum. I was on the set to make sure that the filmmakers did not damage any of the Museum’s many priceless and irreplaceable objects.
The Transformers is not the first movie to be filmed at the DAR Museum. The Museum actually has a very long history with Hollywood and Madison Avenue. I think this is because the iconic DAR building looks so much like the White House that it is used as a stand in for the home of the President of the United States in films, television and commercials.
Many movies have been filmed at the DAR Museum such as the first “National Treasure” with Nicholas Cage, Eddie Murphy’s “The Distinguished Gentleman,” and Angelina Jolie’s “Salt.”
Television shows have also been filmed at the DAR Museum, they include “The West Wing” starring Martin Sheen, and “Commander in Chief” starring Geena Davis.
Also, two of the nation’s favorite games shows have also been filmed at the DAR, Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy.
So much filming takes place at the DAR Museum that one becomes jaded by it all. For example, let me tell you the Chris Rock story.
Once upon a time Rix was on his way to the DAR vending machine. I was hungry and channeling actress Sally Kellerman, you know her; she’s the woman who did the voiceovers for the Milky Way candy bar commercials. Do you remember the ones? There was one in which she pined to get to the vending machine, particularly slot A-7 which contained the Milky Way bars. Or the one when she spies the Milky Ways on the store countertop and says to the bars of delectable candy, let’s be coy and pretend we are running into each by accident, and then exclaims, “Pleasure to me you caramel.”
Anyway, I was on my way to A-7, there were two guys in the hallway near the vending machines. I could overhear them talking and the little voice in the back of my mind thought “One of those guys has a voice similar to that of Chris Rock,” and gave it no further thought.
I walk pass the guys, get to the vending machine, get my Milky Way and then, I’m gone. I get back to the office and my phone is ringing. I pick it up and it’s the Museum security. They called to inform me that Chris Rock was angry with me. I’m like, “What? Why would Chris Rock be angry with me, I don’t even know him, I’ve never even met the man.”
Then I’m informed that I walked right pass Mr. Rock on my way to the vending machines (he was at the DAR filming a movie). I was then told that Mr. Rock looked at me with astonishment as I walked right by him and did not even speak.
I told security I did not know that was Chris Rock; to me he and the other guy were just two anonymous people walking through the building. Security explained that they soothed the insulted Mr. Rock’s ruffled feathers when they told him, “Don’t mind Rix, when he is focused on that vending machine he’s on a mission, he sees and hears nothing else.”
There is another (possibly subconscious) reason I didn’t notice Chris Rock. You see, the DAR Museum has a “Leave the stars alone” policy for the staff. This is because the DAR wants the stars, directors, and producers who filmed here to be comfortable. The DAR wants the filmmakers to feel that the DAR Museum will provide an environment where the cast and crew can concentrate and work without being annoyed by star struck fans.
The DAR feels that if the Hollywood folks have a pleasant experience filming here they would come back to film other projects and they would also recommend the DAR Museum to other Hollywood studios looking for DC locations in which to film. And the DAR’s policy has worked, because there is always some filming going on here.
Because of all the filming that goes on here I view the DAR Museum as Washington DC’s own little Hollywood studio. Hmmm, I like that, I think I’ll steal movie studio MGM’s (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) old slogan and adapt it to the DAR Museum……“DAR Studios: More Stars Than There Are In Heaven.”
But as a staff member it’s sometimes difficult to adhere to the DAR’s “Leave the stars alone” policy. A few months back Pierce Brosnan dropped by the DAR Museum. He was not filming a movie he simply dropped in to shop at the DAR Museum Gift Shop. Many famous people simply drop in the DAR to visit, tour and shop.
When the word got around the building that Mr. Brosnan, former James Bond was in the building, the DAR was abuzz. I (and many others) wanted to run down to the gift shop to get a look at him as he is my second favorite James Bond (Sean Connery is my fave). But I got a grip on myself, remembered the studio…er, I mean, company….policy and followed the rules and stayed away from Mr. Brosnan. But it was tough because I wanted to run down to the gift shop so badly to get a glimpse of James Bond 007.
The DAR has had other notable drop-ins, they include former First Lady Laura Bush’s mother, and the wife of the celebrated British author Dr. Tristram Riley-Smith, who wrote the current hot-selling book, “The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty.”
Another person in the building one day was former Vice President Al Gore, who was hosting an event at the DAR. During the former VP’s speech he announced that he had a special guest that he would be bringing out. The special guest turned out to be none other than former President Bill Clinton.
Speaking of former Presidents, President George W. Bush has also swung by the DAR. He was at the DAR because some group, financial I think, held a televised meeting at the DAR and Mr. Bush came to address this group’s televised meeting.
Oh! I just remembered a story that goes with that. When a president visits a building/organization outside of the White House, prior to the president’s visit the Secret Service has to do a security sweep of that building to make sure it is safe for the president.
Well, when the Secret Service arrived at the DAR to do their sweep for President Bush, I was called upon by the SS to bring them my keys to the Museum’s antique tall case clocks. When I approached the SS with the keys, their granite faces gave me a no-nonsense, hard and serious look. Then one said to me, “So, if we find a gun in the clock case, we know who put it there.”
I don’t know what my face must have looked like, but it obviously displayed the reaction that the SS wanted as they began to laugh, I’m talking knee slapping laughter.
I did not laugh, I could not laugh, as all the blood had drained from my body and I just stood there in a state of petrified shock. As I stood there frozen and silent, the SS men smiled and said to me, “Where’s your sense of humor?”
I though to myself, “That wasn’t funny;” then when I got back up to my office, I thought about what had just transpired and I began to laugh and thought, “Secret Service humor…..cute.”
Okay, let’s get back to movie making. As I mentioned, Angelina Jolie’s “Salt” was filmed at the DAR. The filming lasted for two long weeks, and no, I did not meet Angelina Jolie, and I made no attempts to do so (remember, DAR policy, “leave the stars alone”).
To be honest with you the filming of Salt was an exhaustive, chaotic but interesting experience. The film company practically took over the whole building, inside and out. Inside the building there was filming and lightening equipment everywhere, on every floor. Cables and wires hung from the ceilings, crept down the walls, and crawled across the floors. Cast, crew, extras and caterers were everywhere.
Outside, movie trucks and trailers lined the streets around the building, and more cameras and lighting equipment could be found outside as well. Getting in or out of the building was like maneuvering in a trap laden obstacle course.
Now, keep in mind that while all this filming was going on the Museum was open for business, so the staff had to deal with visitors to the Museum and filming at the same time. After all that I was actually glad when the filming of Salt was completed.
But something funny always happens during the filming of a movie. During the filming of Salt two senior-citizen DAR Museum patrons (who always make generous monetary donations to the Museum) came in for a tour. They came upon a DAR that is usually immaculate stuffed to the gills with film equipment, cables and wiring hanging from ceilings, and walls covered with tarp. These two women did not know what all this equipment was for and nor were they aware that a movie was being filmed there. All they saw was “stuff “strewn everywhere. Then one said to the other, “This place is really falling apart!” The other woman replied, “Yes, it certainly is! We need to donate more money!” I laughed for days.
Now back to the Transformers’ film shoot. For me personally I cannot say it was any more interesting than the Salt shoot, I think they were about the same. Moviemaking is a tedious process as there is a lot of standing around and waiting while the set is “set-up.”
As we waited I observed how the cast interacted with each other. Let me tell you, there wasn’t much interaction. Actor and heartthrob Shia LaBeouf, who plays the male lead character Sam Witwicky, didn’t really talk or speak to anyone.
Mr. LaBeouf was literally walking pass folks on the set (we are talking within a few inches of one another), but he did not say “good morning,” “hello,” or even nod a greeting. Some folks on the set were not pleased with this, they felt that he should have at least spoken a greeting (or acknowledged with a gesture) to those on the set. Some called him an “ass,” others called him “stuck-up.”
Me personally, I don’t agree with that. I studied Mr. LaBeouf’s face and to me he seemed contemplative, and it seemed that he was seriously concentrating. I deduced that he wasn’t stuck up or an ass. I think that he was focused on his work and concentrating on turning in an excellent performance. Also, when I saw him pull out a pack of cigarettes and begin to smoke, I thought that he might also be a tad nervous. I didn’t find it at all offensive that he did not speak, but I’m in a minority on that one, as many don’t agree with me.
Now, Kevin Dunn, the actor who plays Shia LaBeouf’s father in the Transformer films talked up a storm to me, the DAR Museum security, my niece and nephew Victoria and Timothy and their fathers (my brothers-in-law).
My niece, nephew and brothers-in-law were standing off to the side on the set. I had given them strict instructions to not bother any of the stars and only speak when spoken to (the DAR policy, “leave the stars alone”). My family dutifully followed my instructions, but their minds were blown when Mr. Dunn walked over to them and initiated conversation.
Kevin Dunn held a lengthy conversation with them and didn’t stop until it was time for him to go film his next scene. He talked about nothing in particular, just general junk. He talked a little about movie making, then he became engaged in conversation with my brothers-in-law and they were off to the side talking to each other (I don’t know what they were talking about).
Mr. Dunn then asked DAR Museum security guard general questions about Washington DC, and then he asked me questions about the DAR Museum. My brothers-in-law said Mr. Dunn was a really cool down to earth guy, I agree.
I mentioned my niece and nephew, they are BIG Transformers fans. As it so happened the Transformers filming was taking place over a holiday weekend, thus schools were closed. So I told my sisters about the Transformers filming and suggested that they send the kids to DC as I could get them on the set. I told them that this was the opportunity of a lifetime and it may not happen again.
You see, the only reason I was in this position was because the Museum staff member who normally works with movie crews could not work the Transformers shoot because she had to attend a wedding. Then, no one else would volunteer because no one wanted to give up their long holiday weekend to work on a film.
Now I love superhero films, I’ve seen all the Transformers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-men, Hulk films. So this was my chance to be up close and on the set of a superhero film set. So when I heard that no one could be found to work the Transformers’ shoot, I jumped at it and said “I’ll do it.”
My niece and nephew were disappointed that Mr. LaBeouf, did not speak to them, but they were thrilled that “Sam’s father” (Mr. Dunn) talked with them. So although they did not get to talk to Shia LaBeouf they were still fortunate little kids. They got the opportunity to be on a movie set, talk with a star they were familiar with (Mr. Dunn), see Shia LaBeouf in person, and now have a special memory that will stay with them forever (plus, a crew member came by and gave them Transformers 3 movie patches).
I mentioned that the Transformers cast did not really interact that much with one another. This made the atmosphere on the set rather subdued as everyone sort of minded their own business.
But there was this one actor on the set who was playing a Secret Service agent. This guy was walking around the set with a strange look on his face. As he was about to walk pass me I made eye contact with him and nodded a greeting. He stopped, nodded a greeting in return, smiled and then started talking to me, and boy did he talk.
This guy wanted to talk and I had presented this guy with an opportunity to do so. He wanted someone to talk to because he was so excited. I discovered that this was his first film, and he was about to burst at the seams he was so excited. He told me that he got the job in the classic Hollywood way, someone originally hired to play the Secret Service agent, had to bail out of the film at the last minute. He received a call the night before, and was told, not asked, to be at a particular place at a particular time. He arrived and was told to try on a suit which he fit perfectly, and was then told he had the job.
This young man was modest, he laughed and went on to say that the only reason he got the job was because “I fit the suit,” and because he bore a striking resemblance to Hollywood heartthrob Matthew McConaughey (which he did), and he ends up in a big budget Hollywood film (his first), he was so thrilled.
I congratulated him and said that I hope that this would lead him to more film roles. He shook my hand and thanked me for the sentiment. He was beside himself with happiness and was thrilled that he got to tell someone his story.
For me that young man was the best part of the whole Transformers filming experience. But I’m such an idiot, I didn’t ask this young actor his name and I should have. But when Transformers: The Dark of the Moon hits movie screens in July 2011, look for him in a White House scene. There will be two dark suited Secret Service men, one has dark black hair and the other SS agent has lighter hair and he resembles Matthew McConaughey (that’s will be the guy I spoke with).
I met and talked with lots of crew members, assistants to the director and the producer and discovered that these are some really nice folks. I found it interesting and funny that when people asked me where was Megan Fox (the actrees who played LaBeouf’s girlfriend in the first two Transformers movies) and I would say “she quit Transformers.”
The crew would instantly correct me and (loudly) say, “No she did not quit, she was fired!”
Then I was greeted by the young lady who was hired to replace Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Prior to meeting Ms. Huntington-Whiteley several of the crew had told me that she was tall, blonde, leggy and beautiful. After meeting Ms. Huntington-Whiteley I saw that this was an accurate description of her, and all on the set continually described her in this manner.
I said to a crew member, “No matter whom I ask about Ms. Huntington-Whiteley the answer is always the same, “tall, blonde, leggy and beautiful,” what about her acting chops, can she act?”
It was then that I was told, “Rix, this is a film based on a toy, does she need to?” So I shut up.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley did unknowingly endear herself to me. When she arrived on the set she had on her feet a pair of shoes with heels so high, they could cause nose bleed. They weren’t shoes; they were more like mini step stools on her feet. But girlfriend got on the set and got comfy, she kicked off those shoes (like she was at home), and without embarrassment she walked around the set in (big & ugly) fuzzy slippers, and I thought, “Okay, I like this girl.”
One of the things that fascinated me about the Transformers filming was the actors that played military personnel; they looked so real and believable. It was not just simply a matter of sticking an actor in a military uniform, it was something more. These guys with their stoic looks and rigid manner seemed like the real things.
In particular there were these two actors playing Marine Corp guards in the White House. The movie crew had asked me to rearrange a cabinet that contains vases as light was reflecting in the cabinet doors. I told the crew I had to go up to my office and get the key to that cabinet.
As I was leaving the set to run upstairs I encountered the two stoic and silent “marines” posted at the door at the back of the set. I actually stopped and was about to ask them if I could enter, then I remembered who they were and told myself, “Rix, you silly fool, these guys are not marines, they are actors, get your butt upstairs and get that key.”
I wordlessly walked pass them. But after I walked pass, I caught myself looking back to see if they were going to yell “Halt! You are not authorized to enter this area,” and come after me to apprehend me….it was so surreal.
I saw a group of men huddled around a large movie camera and I asked one of the crew “Which one is the director Michael Bay?”
“The tall skinny one…..like you,” he responded. When director Michael Bay was pointed out to me, though I never spoke to him I liked him instantly. Mr. Bay was indeed tall and skinny just like me, and he wore red sneakers, just like me (I wore red Converse, he wore another brand).
Like I said Mr. Bay was skinny like me. Well, during these busy three months that led up to the Transformers shoot I ate, boy did I eat, all these functions (conventions, meetings, exhibit openings, receptions, and Transformers movie filming all had one thing in common, they all came with catered food, lots of catered food (that I didn’t have to pay for). I ate steaks, brats, chicken, burgers, turkey, chops, cheesy pasta dishes, potatoes (fried, baked, boiled, and mashed), ice cream, pie, cake, rich chocolaty desserts and these things called “mushroom vol-au-vent.” Maaaaan, those mushroom things were deeee-licious, and that’s saying a lot because I hate mushrooms. But those things were so good they’d make you smack your momma.
Eating all that food got me so excited, I thought “after three months of continuous heavy eating I know I’ve put on at least five pounds.” After the Transformers filming was completed I jumped on my bathroom scale and eagerly weighed myself. I was astounded when I looked at the scale and discovered that I had not gained five pounds; I hadn’t even gained two, three or four pounds. I had lost one pound….lost a pound! Can you believe that? I lost weight…..all that eating for nothing.
I was so angry and wondered what is wrong with my physiology? I thought about it and wondered how could this be? I concluded that though I ate like a fiend, I had also walked all over the city for work related errands. Wherever I went, I never took an elevator, I always took the stairs, and I was constantly on the move. So with all that activity I was probably burning off calories as fast as I was putting them on. So I guess the day will never come when I don’t have to hear about how skinny I am.
As I watched the tall and thin film director Michael Bay work, I wondered had he been bombarded with as many skinny jokes as I’ve been. Was he ever called “broomstick,” asked “wazzup slim,” or told “you’re bonier that a fish.” Oh woe is me; life for us skinny people is so tough.
But as I watched Mr. Bay at work I also thought that aside from being skinny we are alike in another way, we both tell stories. Mr. Bay tells his story though a camera and I tell mine’s with words.
Like I said, I never said a word to the man, but I liked him. He even throws a tantrum like me. When the AD (Assistant Director) did not have the extras ready and in their places for a scene, like an active volcano, Mr. Bay erupted. But it wasn’t a bad eruption, he yelled (loudly), but he did not call anyone out of their name or use profanity. But the AD took the eruption seriously as the next thing you know here come the extras running, I’m talking haulin’ ass down the street to the set….it was comical to watch.
Me personally, I felt Mr. Bay’s eruption was justified as I couldn’t understand why the AD had the extras stationed a block and a half away from the set, especially since earlier the AD had the extras conveniently parked right next to the set. Why the AD moved the extras is a mystery.
I thought the AD should have been yelled at by the director as he had slowed down production. But as I said, I like the way Michael Bay handled it, he yelled, and he was tough, but from him came no name calling or profanity, which I thought was cool.
One DAR security guard stated that watching movie making was akin to watching paint dry. That’s not too far off, as I must admit there was a lot of redundancy. There is this one scene where two Lincoln Continentals come speeding toward the building’s entrance. The cars come to a screeching halt. From them jump men dressed in military uniforms who run up the flight of stone steps. The director Michael Bay yells, “CUT,” and they do it over again….and again…and again…and again…..about 10 times, and it went on for about an hour.
The crew asked if I were familiar with the Transformers movies. I told them I’d seen both one and two. Then they asked what I thought of the films. I told them that they were great “smash & crash” films (and I love smash and crash), but high art with intricate plots they were not. I thought that the crew might have taken offence at my view. To my surprise the crew agreed with me and added that there is really no plot to these films and one must remember that the films are based on toys, so moviegoers should not expect much plot or depth to begin with.
The DAR Museum space that the Transformer folks used for their White House scenes is called the O’Byrne Gallery. It is a grand, magnificent and beautiful space. My favorite usage for this space was when Mazda, the automobile company, used it for an automobile industry gala they were threw a couple years back.
On the morning of Mazda’s gala, a semi pulling a car-carrying trailer loaded with new Mazda automobiles arrived at the DAR. Awaiting this tractor trailer was a large construction crane.
I ran up to the DAR roof and watched with amazement as the crane lifted the Mazda autos from the ground and into the air high above the whitish-pink blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees. With the National Mall and the Washington Monument in the background, I watched and was thrilled as the crane gingerly placed the new vehicles on to the O’Byrne Gallery’s outside portico, it was so cool.
When the vehicles were all placed, it was an awesome sight. Arranged between all those marble Ionic pillars on the portico, these modern automobiles were like vehicular Gods that were to be worshiped in what seemed like an ancient Greek temple; it was one of the most beautiful things I ever saw, the scene was artistically and visually stunning.
The Mazda folks turned the O’Byrne Gallery into an automobile showcase. It was so spectacular and impressive that I will never forget it.
It was due to this that I too used the Museum’s O’Byrne Gallery for one of my projects. If you have been reading my serial Electrogarden serial The Cars Of Tomorrow (and I hope you have), you will remember that in chapter eight of TCOT a party is taking place. At this party the police arrest one of the characters for murder, this is all taking place in the DAR Museum’s O’Byrne Gallery.
So naturally I was thrilled when Paramount Pictures (the Hollywood studio who produces the Transformers films) used the O’Byrne Gallery for Transformers 3. But I want you EGN readers to do me a favor, if you ever hear someone say that in the movie Transformers 3, the DAR Museum’s O’Byrne Gallery was used for some scenes, make sure you tell them that Rix Roundtree-Harrison used it first in his book The Cars Of Tomorrow.
Okay folks, right here I want to introduce to you my special guest for this month’s piece. I’d like you all to welcome Liz, she is a Michigan reporter (formally of the Ann Arbor News) she’s the Lois Lane of the Great Lakes. Liz is here to tell you about the Transformers’ filming that took place in her town, Motown (that’s Detroit, for those not in the know), prior to coming to DC.
Welcome to the EGN Liz, thank you for coming. So the Transformers came to the Motor City, tell us all about it:
“Hello Rix and EGN readers. Yes, the Transformers movie crew also shot scenes in Detroit, Michigan, around the middle of September, before coming to the nation's capital.
The Decepticons (the bad guys) and Autobots (the good guys) rolled in to Motown to the delight of fans, who were kept at a distance from where the movie was being shot. Filming was done at an abandoned auto factory and abandoned buildings.
Detroiters were amazed at how the crew "transformed" parts of downtown Detroit where several scenes were shot. For instance, a long-vacant, boarded-up, multi-storied building in downtown Detroit was made to look like a vibrant, occupied business. News reports said that State Farm Insurance and Remax Realtor signs were added to the front of the building. And when the crew was done with the project, no one would have known that it was an abandoned building.
Through the magic of the production crew, the buildings came alive, even if only for a few days while filming was taking place.”
Liz, I’ve a question. Here in the District, the city welcomes movie production because when these Hollywood folks come to town, it’s a boon for the hotels, restaurants/caterers and city government (permits, parking, police protection, street closures and associated fees). Have you heard anything from the Detroit Mayor’s Office or City Council regarding the impact of the Transformers filming on the local economy?
“Rix I'm not sure how much money the Transformers filming pumped into the Detroit-area economy. I know for a fact that the filming of the movie in downtown Detroit hit all the major news stations in the city every day the production crew was in town. So, it was a big event in and around the city.”
Liz, I think everyone in America has heard about the difficult economic time Detroit is currently experiencing. If movie making did help the city’s economy, have you heard if Detroit will be open for future Hollywood film projects?
“Not only is Detroit open for movie-making, the entire state of Michigan welcomes it! Michigan has a film incentive program for movie makers and television show producers who meet a certain type of criteria (I don't quite know what that criteria is, though). If they meet the criteria, they can claim a maximum 40-percent tax credit on expenses they incur while filming in Michigan. More specifically, the city of Detroit is open to filming movies and TV shows. Currently, the new ABC series "Detroit 1-8-7" is being shot on location in and around Detroit. It's not unusual now to see cast members in different parts of town, and they're also making themselves right at home. It was recently reported that some cast members went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to root for the Michigan Wolverines Homecoming game against Iowa. Right now, Detroiters, as well as other Michigan residents, are enjoying seeing their home town and favorite eating and vacation spots on the big and small screens!”
Well Liz that is exciting! There you have it folks Transformers info East Coast and Mid-West. Hmmm, after what Liz just told us I think I’ll call Detroit, Hollywood Mid-West and DC, Hollywood East Coast. Liz, I want to thank you, we appreciate your dropping by and sharing your Transformers news with us.
When the Transformers’ shooting at the DAR Museum was wrapped up, I thought about all that I experienced, and then remembered Angelina Jolie’s Salt and concluded that, I love movies, but I don’t like movie making. I’d rather go to the cinema and see the finished film.
But, I love superhero films, so if superhero films like the Avengers, Iron Man 3, Fantastic Four 3, James Bond 007 etc, ever come to DC and the DAR Museum is used for shooting, I’ll be right there on the set.
Okay folks, that it for me; but lets make a date to meet at the local multiplex in July 2011 to catch Transformers: The Dark of the Moon.
© 2010 Rix Roundtree-Harrison