‘Transformers: The Movie’ has 965th seeing stars

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler
  • 552nd Air Control Wing
(Editor's Note: For those who have not seen "Transformers: The Movie," several details of the plot are included in the following story.)

How many military personnel get the chance to be in a Hollywood movie? Not many - most movies have actors and actresses portraying military members. 

But what would happen if a creative team wanted real military personnel and aircraft for a movie? 

That was the decision that the creators of "Transformers: The Movie" made when they began developing the film. They contacted military bases across the world to get more than 300 Airmen, as well as numerous kinds of aircraft, to participate. 

"We would never have been able to make this movie without the willingness of the (Defense Department) to embrace this project. We're proud of the fact that almost every military role, including extras, was played by military or [prior] military personnel," said Ian Bryce, the producer of "Transformers." 

One of the units contacted for the needed real-life military footage was the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron. The creators of the "Transformers" movie needed an E-3 Sentry and its crew for scenes where the E-3 coordinates airstrikes to battle the Decepticons in Qatar. 

"We were in a DO (director of operations) meeting, just going over the flying schedules when they told us that there was going to be a TDY to Edwards Air Force Base (Calif.) coming up soon - and that it would be for the new 'Transformers' movie," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Hutchison, a senior surveillance technician in the 965th AACS. "You'd be surprised, but a lot of people at first were like, 'Yeah, whatever, I'm not going!' But as we got closer to the TDY, it turned into 'Has anybody backed out yet?', and they were asking to go." 

For members of the 965th AACS, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that they had to take. 

"It was very cool to be able to be in a Hollywood movie, especially since you're able to see our faces, hear our voices and see us actually doing our jobs," said 1st Lt. Jason White, an air weapons officer in the 965th AACS. "After we first arrived at Edwards, our DO (Lt. Col. Ronald Henry) met with Michael Bay, who was the director. Mr. Bay originally just intended to have a few external shots of the E-3 and no dialogue, but he talked with Col. Henry and asked us to come up with some realistic military lingo." 

After the crews returned and they began filming, the 965th Airmen started working their lines - and the director loved it. 

"Mr. Bay thought it was great! He said that it was better than anything they could have scripted," Lieutenant White said. "Every take was a little different, but there was a phrase we used - 'Killbox One Alpha' - that they really liked. They wanted the focus to be on things that sounded cool." 

Another interesting item, according to Lieutenant White, was the way crews gathered external footage of the E-3: As the E-3 departed Edwards AFB on the way back to Tinker, the film crews requested the aircraft to circle several times as a helicopter took aerial footage from a safe distance. 

Having a scene-side seat also turned into a rare treat for the 965th Airmen. They were able to see how some of the scenes played out - and how long it actually took to get one scene. 

"Before our shoot, we got the opportunity to observe the director and crew filming a different scene - over and over again," said Capt. Michael Adams, an air weapons officer in the 965th AACS. "By the time we were acting, we had sympathy for the process."
In addition, there were many times that the Airmen and actors had to wait for their time to perform. 

"If you have ever watched the special features and the 'making of' choices on most DVDs, you can see that there is a lot of waiting so it could be boring sometimes," Sergeant Hutchison said. "Is some ways it's a little like the military: 'hurry up and wait.' But after we found out what we needed to do and when the film crews needed us, we were able to wander around and watch the filming, as well as be extras in other scenes." 

One of the unique aspects of the movie process for many of the Airmen was the chance to see how film crews shot a scene with a digital addition. 

"We were watching one scene where [Special Forces personnel] were on the cargo jet taking the tail of the scorpion Decepticon back to the states, and it started thrashing around and trying to stab the guys," Sergeant Hutchison said. "Because they had to be careful of safety for the actors, when the tail started moving on the set, it moved a lot slower than it was in the movie, where it whipped around super fast. Being able to see how that scene was shot was great, and when I saw it in the movie it just added something new." 

Even though the 965th Airmen were not able to stay for the entire filming process, it remains a unique experience of their time stationed at Tinker.
"I've gotten a little flak from my friends and family for being a 'big Hollywood star,' but it was really cool being able to do a movie and even see your name in the credits," Lieutenant White said. "Even though it was probably a one-time deal for the rest of my career, it was really fun to do, and I'd do it again if they asked!"