“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is scheduled for release later this month — and a Penn alumnus will be high in the credit reel. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with producer and Wharton MBA recipient Lorenzo di Bonaventura about his Hollywood career and industry advice.
Daily Pennsylvanian : What are you most excited about for the new Transformers movie?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura : When you work with Michael Bay, he always wants to top himself, so the movie as a whole is very exciting. But I think the really big news is how much difference casting Mark Wahlberg has made to the movie. Shia was great and he was a young guy, but you can only employ him in a certain way. Now you have Mark Wahlberg who can pick up a gun and shoot at the bad guy and you feel like you’ve entered, in a way, another genre of a movie.
DP : Can you describe your role as producer of the Transformers movies?
LDB : I think a lot of producers do different things and each movie demands something different of the producer, which is what I like about it. My job does not have sameness; it doesn’t have monotony. What I do as a producer is find ideas. I come up with my own ideas, I find books, I find graphic novels, remakes of movies, existing scripts ... and begin that process: develop them into a movie, sell it to a studio, try to attach a director or a movie star and then once you actually are lucky enough to get a green light, manage financially how the movie performs and oversee and be part of the creative team as it evolves ... Some producers don’t do all of those things; they specialize in one area or another. I tend to do the whole process.
DP : How does what you learned at Penn help you in your career as a producer?
LDB: Earlier in my career when I was studio executive and I was overseeing the Warner Brothers’ movie slate and marketing, there was a lot of direct application to what I had learned in business school. But I think where business school helps you as a producer is, first of all, it teaches you about risk assessment ... I know the popular view of Hollywood is a bunch of flaky people running around enjoying the highlife not working really hard. The reality is, we’re very akin to investment bankers ... You get inspired creatively but from a business point of view you have to evaluate different kinds of risk, and if you do that well you’ll get a lot of movies made.
DP : When did you first decide that you wanted to pursue a career in film?
LDB : I was actually at Wharton, and I was having a life crisis about what I was going to do. And while I was at Wharton I began to experiment in a lot of different directions, and I kept asking myself the question: what could keep me excited everyday to go to work? I’d worked on Wall Street before, I’d worked a bit in sports programming and those things didn’t get me excited. They’re exciting arenas, but they weren’t for me. So, I really sat down and really analyzed what was ... I came down to frankly between two businesses, one was the restaurant business and one was the movie business. I chose the movie business and came out to Hollywood.
DP : Part of the second Transformers film was filmed at Penn. Were you involved in that decision?
LDB : It was really fun actually ... I of course voted for Penn because I knew the look would be right and I had some loyalty to it. But the look of the university had to serve the movie; you can’t let your personal choices affect how you make a movie because that’s the way to make a mistake. But in reading the script, it was the same kind of idealized university that I think Penn is, that kind of feeling of freshman year going to college. It has that great feel to it, tradition bound and all of the things you are hoping to communicate.
DP: What advice would you give to students who don’t know what they want to do after college?
LDB : Don’t be afraid to experiment. The pressure is on you to find your direction, and I didn’t find my direction until I was probably 33. Because it’s scary, and it’s slightly destabilizing not to know, particularly if you get into your later 20’s and early 30’s. But the truth is everybody’s going to find their direction at a different time. If you’re going to really enjoy what you do and trust that you’re going to figure it out, it may require some experimentation. But dive headlong in. Don’t sit on the sideline, thinking.
DP : What advice would you give to students who want to pursue film?
LDB: Here’s the truth, it’s a difficult business. [But] It’s actually a much easier business to break into than people think it is. But, you have to commit to something with no sense of certainty. So, my advice if you want to be in film: move to Los Angeles. Whether you have a job or not, move to Los Angeles because it is definitely a business of networking where you meet somebody, you hear about a job, you pick up a little bit of experience. And gradually you form a personality in the business, you find what you like, you find what you’re good at. The business is used to having young people come in with enthusiasm, so it’s actually a very welcoming business on that level.