Michael Bay’s latest feature film, Ambulance, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González is now playing in theaters nationwide. Two weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with one of the film’s producers, Bradley Fischer, to discuss what it was like working with Michael Bay, but also to talk about the state of the industry and what qualities he believes audiences want to see in order to get off their couches and go to the movies. You can my read full Interview with Bradley below:
Scott Menzel: Hi, Brad. Congratulations. I don’t know how critics are going to respond to this movie, because I think it’s something from another time, but I’m not lying to you when I tell you that I had a lot of fricken fun watching this. I had a blast with it and I think audiences will too if they suspend all disbelief.
Bradley Fischer: I’m so happy that you did, yeah. I think there’s a lot about it that is a throwback. I mean, it’s funny, I’ve been asked, why Michael Bay? And there are of course all the obvious reasons, that he’s the master of action and visual spectacle in that genre. He’s done it better than anybody on the planet. But for me, it really was more the films that he made in the ’90s, not to age myself. But I was thinking about Bad Boys as much as Transformers because it really was that sort of swagger, and the relationships, and the fact that the characters are larger than life. Like even The Rock, when you think about The Rock the first image, what’s the first image that comes to mind? I mean, probably, maybe Alcatraz, but also Sean Connery, right?
And the way that he shoots actors, he did it, it’s funny, and it’s a wink and a nod at himself. But when those two cops stop and get out, when he’s going to go to ask the teller out and they’re talking about The Rock in Bad Boys, he’s like, “The Rock, yeah, he’s a wrestler.” And his partner, older partner Mark gives him that look. And then he steps out of the car and he’s like, he goes to that low-angle shot with the sun hitting the lens and bouncing off with that flare. And that’s Bay, it’s just second nature. And yeah, I mean, I love to be able to have that opportunity, to develop this story, this movie, and then be able to get him engaged and do what he did with it. It was really an amazing experience, challenging as always. I mean, producing a Michael Bay movie is not a walk in the park, but I had a good time, and I did have a good time.
Scott Menzel: No, I mean, listen, I’m glad you brought that up. One of my questions to you was what was your favorite Michael Bay movie? Because I’m sure we all have one. But I love also the fact that this movie almost feels like an embodiment of all of his movies from the ’90s and 2000s, I’m talking pre-Transformers days. It literally feels like a little bit of all of them were put in a blender, and he went “here you go.”
Bradley Fischer: Yeah, 100%.
Scott Menzel: So, what is your favorite Michael Bay movie, if you don’t mind me asking?
Bradley Fischer: You know, he’s one of those directors where it’s hard to choose. Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon all have a special place in my heart because they really did redefine the Hollywood blockbuster in that era. I mean that, to me, what Bay was doing with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, was kind of a dream team. They were almost like the Marvel of their day. And they just knew what the audience wanted, and what… And the other thing that I found really, really amazing just watching day shoots was how he does work with the actors, and seeing him… Like the scene in the film where Yahya’s character, Will, ends up shooting Zack in the parking, right?
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I remember.
Bradley Fischer: It’s one of those, there are like two impulsive moments that change everything in the story. That’s one of them, and the first one before that one is when he makes the decision to jump in on this with Danny. But the way that scene in the parking garage was scripted, it was just the beach, right? It was a shocking moment, he pulled the trigger because Danny was in trouble and he thought his brother was going to be shot himself. And they take stock of it, and then runoff. And he really turns it into a much more emotional beat, and you know that now, this guy’s life is changed forever, and there’s no going back. And I think that it’s what great directors do.
It’s kind of like finding an emotional level, dramatizing it visually, and creating tension where there was a perfectly effective way to do it. If all you did was execute what was on the page, but because he was able to kind of get into the character’s heads and hearts in a different way, I think that was just an example to me of why Bay is much more than just an action director, and why those films in the ’90s really changed the landscape so dramatically. So, that was why I wanted to go after him, and I’m glad I did because I think he really blew it away.
Scott Menzel: I’ve got to tell you, it’s so refreshing to talk to you because I think you see a lot of stuff that a lot of critics don’t see. I am a critic, and sometimes I’m ashamed to label myself as a critic. Because sometimes I feel like we just have such a disconnect with an audience that we look at a movie like The Power of the Dog, and we say, “Oh my God, it’s a masterpiece” and break down the reasons why it is. But see to struggle to understand why a normal person won’t gravitate towards that movie, and why movies like Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon are so iconic. And to me, audiences like to experience a big-budget spectacle, and that’s what I take away with Ambulance too, is that it’s an edge-of-your-seat movie, it’s intense. You’re like, “Oh my God, where is this going?” You’ve got some cheesy-ass dialogue thrown in, I’m not going to lie about that. Like, there’s some dialogue where I’m like, “Ugh.” Like, “Ugh, really.” But at the same time, what he does best is creates these small groups of characters that you go on a journey with. And literally, you’re feeling the connection and the friendship, and they have disagreements and whatnot. But they play off each other so well. And Jake with Yahya, just the back and forth between because their personalities are very different. But they somehow work really well together.
Bradley Fischer: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. And yeah, their chemistry is really amazing, and I mean Jake is having a great time. I mean, he’s chewing the screen, and it’s like the Denzel role in Training Day in a way. But, the fact that they have this connection I think brings something else to it. And as Machiavellian as he might be, and as manipulative as he might be with Will, you can see that there is a true sincerity and a true love that’s there. And the way they play that I think really makes it work, and I think it’s part of why you care. And I think it’s part of why it’s so shocking also at the end when that gun goes off outside the hospital, and then you cut to who pulled the trigger. And Eiza is just great. In terms of chemistry, I mean, she really delivers. The whole Yahya story is all heart, right?
Scott Menzel: Yeah, absolutely.
Bradley Fischer: And I think you care about him so much, and you care about his journey so much. But I think Eiza is the heart of the movie, Cam was always in my eyes, the real protagonist of the film. The story really unfolds through her eyes as much as Danny’s and Will’s. And just starting off, I mean, you think about her journey, she does the job, she’s pretty compartmentalized, she doesn’t let emotion get into it, she doesn’t want to know what happened to the victims, the patients that she brings into the hospital because it’s like she can’t allow herself to be that vulnerable and still be able to do the job. And that moment… And by the way, and this is something that I have to hand to Bay because it was his idea, it was not in the script. That last moment where he said, “We need one more scene in the hospital, and I want to see Cam go back and check on that little girl, Lindsay. That was all Michael Bay, okay? And that’s an emotional button on the movie, and when she walks out I showed my wife the film at Bay’s house. She is not an action movie fan at all, she was in tears at the end. And so, anyway, look, I think it was perfect and is the perfect Michael Bay movie. And I think people are going to really be moved by it, at least, I hope so.
Scott Menzel: Well, I mean listen, this can’t be right can it. The budget on this movie was only 40 million?
Bradley Fischer: You know, they never like us to talk about the numbers, but…
Scott Menzel: I know.
Bradley Fischer: I will tell you that it’s in that zone. I mean, he was in downtown LA. And I mean, you can kind of do the math. I mean, it was 38 main unit days. And he shoots as you would expect, there are eight cameras going at the same time. He’s operating one, you’ve got drones flying through. It’s a ballet of cinematic chaos that he ends up kind of corralling in editorial, and he gives it a rhythm. But we kept a very small footprint, right? I did one other film after this one during the pandemic. The film industry was considered an essential business, so while we were in lockdown in LA at that time we had an amazing group of epidemiologists, and health and safety officers, and we were very rigorous about the testing regimen, and the protocols. And we didn’t have to shut down once throughout that time, which I really just also credit to how disciplined Bay was about making sure that the only people that were there were the ones that had to be there. The only equipment that was there was what he absolutely needed. There were no trailers, everybody was self-drive including the stars, and I think that’s why it cost less than what you would expect and looks like it cost a multiple of that.
Scott Menzel: Oh yeah, no, I really thought it was a hundred-million-dollar movie, no lie. Crazy.
Bradley Fischer: Yeah, it’s really great. And I think people will definitely get their money’s worth.
Scott Menzel: I wanted to ask you a question in terms of being a producer in this industry, I know you’ve been doing this for about 20 years now. But since it has changed so much, is there a certain thing that you look for in a project nowadays?
Bradley Fischer: Well, look, I think one thing that has changed, but it’s always been changing in the same direction is that there seems to be a smaller target for what is a theatrical movie. The great news is with the rise of the streamers if you can call it that, that there are more opportunities to make great content, it’s not just six studios. And I mean, some people might say a movie is a movie, and where it’s exhibited it sort of doesn’t matter. But of course, it does matter, and I think… Look, I think that the pandemic sort of made the industry, in my opinion, over-correct in its bet that theatrical was going to not disappear because I don’t think anybody who really works in the business ever thought that theatrical was going to go away.
However, I do think many people in the business overestimated how much people will want to just watch entertainment at home. I think that the challenge that’s always been there, and that will remain a challenge is, that there are so many different forms of entertainment, and there are so many other options that people have that are more local. So, it does require an event to get people out of the house and go to the theater. But I think an event can mean a lot of different things, I don’t think an event necessarily has to mean that it’s something that costs $150 million-plus. I think an event is a great story that really moves people, that everyone is talking about, and that is experienced in the theater in a very different way than anywhere else. And that includes horror films, it includes comedies, it includes Marvel movies. So yeah, I mean look, it’s cyclical, right Technology has always driven the kinds of stories that feel like they’re in favor because it lends themselves to a certain kind of spectacle. But eventually, I believe it just comes back to great storytelling. No matter how many things you blow up, at the end of the day if you don’t care about the characters it’s going to get old fast.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I mean, I just kind of think back throughout the history of film since I’ve been around. I turned 40 this year, and I grew up watching a lot of movies. And I’m always the person who kind of in reviews goes, “This feels like this is a movie that doesn’t get made anymore.” I actually said that in my Sonic 2 review this week, I wrote one and I was like, “This feels like something in the ’90s. How come we don’t get more movies like this?” And I’ve kind of come to a realization that movies nowadays have more challenges to overcome because of the amount of content that is out there. Because there are a lot of films nowadays. For example, one of the movies that you worked on that I actually am a fan of, but I remember it being a huge bomb even back in the day, was License to Wed.
Bradley Fischer: Oh yeah, wow.
Scott Menzel: I loved License to Wed.
Bradley Fischer: I don’t get that one very often, but yes, I remember it well.
Scott Menzel: Oh, yea. I love Mandy, and of course, Robin plus John Krasinski. I was a big fan of that movie, but I remember being like kind of alone, and nobody really talking about it. And now, you’ve kind of seen those types of movies disappear entirely. Even something like that J-Lo Marry Me movie doesn’t do the numbers that it was used to do. But I think it ties very much into your point of, people always have this narrow view that launches stupid conversations like, “All people want is Marvel movies.” It’s not, because it’s Marvel but it’s because you need to give people a reason to go to a movie, to create a kind of a spectacle, but a spectacle that actually has a story and a reason to care, too.
Bradley Fischer: Yeah, 100%. I mean look, the Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum movie. There’s no IP, but do you know what’s interesting? I think that’s nostalgia, and that’s the same thing that fuels IP. Everyone talks about IP, IP, IP, IP. Well I mean, the thing that makes IP valuable, if it is valuable IP, is nostalgia. It’s an affinity, it’s being able to think back. When you go watch Star Wars, and that music hits. As soon as that note just sends shockwaves through the theater, you’re right back there, and you want to share that experience with your kids. I think there’s plenty of room to find originality that can also be filled with nostalgia. Of course, if you have something that’s a beloved world or character, or a franchise, I mean, as soon as you hear the music from Beverley Hills Cop you’re like, “Yeah.” or the song from Top Gun, all of it. Anyway, in my opinion, that’s the kind of IP that’s valuable. But that’s an experience, and that’s something that isn’t confined to something that just you make a carbon copy of, and just put it back out, and it’s a familiar title and that’s all you need. I just don’t think that’s a correct assessment.
Scott Menzel: I agree. I know you have to run, but I’m going to ask you one last question and then let you go. You spoke a little bit at the top of this about Michael Bay, and kind of having to kind of bring him in a little bit, and it’s not an easy task. But you’ve worked with so many other iconic filmmakers, Scorsese, Fincher, and Aronofsky. So, I’m so curious, what’s the difference between working with Bay in comparison to those other filmmakers?
Bradley Fischer: There are too many differences between all of them to innumerate.
Scott Menzel: Is there a standout?
Bradley Fischer: I will tell you what, among the things, because I do think that there are things that are common among them. And I think one thing that comes to mind immediately that is common to those filmmakers, and I think to just great filmmakers and great storytellers generally, regardless of even if it’s the discipline of directing, or the discipline of acting, or writing or anything else, is a refusal to compromise, and holding… They all hold themselves to a standard that is extremely high. I mean, you can talk about perfectionism and this and that, and they’re all sort of known for certain things. I mean, I remember on Shutter Island, Scorsese had talked to me a lot about how working with the actors and editing were sort of two of the things that he held really close. That was a primary focus for him. But I mean, directors, the directing discipline is so unique because there are filmmakers that come from, as you know, from the stage, and there’s some that come from more of a technical kind of background. And there’s a Director of Photography, there’s a production designer, there’s an art director, but there is no Director of Actors. So, I think that the other thing that I think is key to that process, is that relationship in crafting that performance. But yeah, I think that’s what I would say, is all those people that you mentioned, at least in my experience, they all hold themselves to an incredibly high standard, and refuse to compromise really until they were torn away. Until the sun went down, and the DP tapped them on the shoulder and said, “There’s nothing left.” That’s when they would finally say, “Okay, let’s go home.”
Scott Menzel: Yeah, that’s amazing and such a great takeaway that you get to have after working with so many iconic filmmakers over the years.
Bradley Fischer: Yeah, I really consider myself incredibly lucky to have had those experiences, and been able to work with those filmmakers. But look, it’s great script. I mean, the writers of all of those movies, that’s what they were drawn to, was what was on the page. So, it’s a team sport.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I could probably talk to you for another hour, but I know you’ve got other things to do. But, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today, and best of luck with the film.
Bradley Fischer: Thank you so much, I’m so glad you liked it. And, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you.