Last year’s prequel/sequel to the Transformers franchise came to us by way of the well-reviewed Bumblebee film, directed by Travis Knight. Set in 1987, the film opens up with Bumblebee on the run from the United States army after landing on the planet amidst an army training manoeuvre. Bumblebee escapes the army personnel leaving behind a scarred and bewildered John Cena who is convinced Bumblebee represents a global threat.
Bumblebee takes refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), discovers Bumblebee in the days before her 18th birthday hidden under a tarp away from view in a remote corner of the junkyard. Charlie takes Bumblebee home, revives him, and very quickly learns the car she has brought home is no ordinary yellow Volkswagen beetle.
Jason Drucker plays Charlie’s stepbrother Otis in the film. In advance of the digital release of the movie, Drucker fielded an interview with PureGrainAudio to discuss his experience working on Bumblebee. The Bumblebee blu-ray home release package streets this week. Make sure to grab your copy of what is one of the very best Transformers movies of the bunch and be prepared to be blown away.
Can you talk a little bit about landing your role in Bumblebee? Did you read for it? Did you read alone?
Jason Drucker: Because I live in Florida and the location of this big budget film was in California, I do this called a cell-take; I just set up my camera, and I read my slides with an acting coach as I’m on camera and do it a few times together and then just send it in. Fortunately for me, the first time I sent it in they booked me on the spot. Firstly, that I booked a role in a Transformers movie is just insane. That I booked it on my first audition is crazy. I was already off to a great start on Bumblebee. And I was just ecstatic that I was going to be in a Transformers movie.
Check out the original Bumblebee movie trailer.
So were you a big Transformers fan before you got the role?
Drucker: Yeah, for sure. I mean I didn’t grow up with the cartoons as they aired, but I had a bunch of Optimus Prime cars and other Transformers cars. I even had this big Optimus Prime mask that changes your voice to sound like Optimus Prime’s voice. I loved the toys. I didn’t watch the 21st Century Fox films when I was younger, but I saw some of the cartoons.
Your first few scenes in Bumblebee are family scenes. You’ve got your kung-fu outfit on. Was that an aspect of that character that was fleshed out for you in advance? Or did you just show up and it was like “hey, put this outfit on.”
Drucker: (laughs) It was an aspect of Otis that they already had defined. If I had that much power, I would have made him a baseball player or something. It gave me a chance to learn a bit about the practice which was kind of cool. My brother actually did Taekwondo, and I can remember watching him, but I never got into it myself. Being able to portray somebody who is learning Taekwondo was definitely pretty cool.
Did they provide you with a back-story for Otis at all? Or was that something that was left for you to try and make up yourself?
Drucker: It was mostly stuff I made up myself. When I first read Otis, he sort of came off as a brat. Sort of ungrateful and annoying to his sister. But after I really read the script, I saw that he became more loving towards her as we went further along with the movie. So there wasn’t too much of a backstory, I was merely a Taekwondo kid who didn’t take much of a liking to his older sister.
How surreal was it for you to walk onto a set that was so drenched in 1980’s wood-panel?
Drucker: I was pretty into it. Because it’s an era that I, of course, haven’t lived through. I’ve heard many interesting things about it, so being able to live through it via a movie set was pretty cool. I got to see a lot of big hair and a lot of mullets and some great neon colours. And the old school video games and stuff? It was pretty cool to experience those things.
The cover artwork for the Blu-ray edition of Bumblebee.
Are you actually playing those games? It looked like they had an old Atari 2600 set up in the film. Were you actually interacting with some of that 8-bit technology?
Drucker: Ok, here’s what happened; They had an old reel-to-reel on set. They had an Atari on set. And I was begging them to let me play it. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it wasn’t functioning, but they wouldn’t turn it on. So that scene where I was playing the Atari was just a green screen. So I have yet to experience the old original video games. Which I am DYING to play. I’d love to play some old original Mario games.
I wondered if that was green-screened. It was a cut-away scene, right? So you were holding the joystick from the viewpoint of the television, and then they cut to the television screen over your shoulder? I totally wondered if that was green-screened in.
Jason Drucker: Yeah, sadly.
Are you into any of that retro stuff at all? Old music? Old video games? Retro clothing? Does any of that sort of thing mean anything to you outside of the movie?
Drucker: When it comes to clothing, I’ve got to be honest; I don’t put a lot of thought into it. I grab pants, a shirt, and some shoes, and then I go on with my day. But when it comes to music actually, my dad used to make me listen to all of that old rock. I used to listen to a lot of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. When it comes to music, I definitely like the classics.
Let’s talk a little bit about your scenes in that car chase. Can you describe how that was filmed? It looked like there was an interior camera and an exterior camera, I’m curious if any of it was shot in a car or not. It looks like it might have been on a rig.
Drucker: Well, unfortunately, it was not real. It was the shell of a car, like you said, with backdrops. They had it hooked up to this fancy machine that would shake us around a bunch. They had a big bluescreen behind us also, but it does look real. I’ve looked at it after the fact, and it could pass for a real car chase. But it was just a car frame on a big machine that shook the vehicle up.
Here’s a throwback to Bumblebee from the first Transformers movie, released in 2007. In it, Bumblebee transforms into a Chevy Camaro.
I don’t really know what flaws to look for in that kind of stuff. It looked pretty seamless to me. Thus it made me question whether you actually did do some real time in a car chase.
Drucker: Well, that would have been fun. But being in the rig was pretty cool too.
How many takes did it require for you to get that scene where you throw up in the back of the car after the chase ends?
Drucker: Only two actually. It was a pretty easy scene to film. For the first try, they gave me oatmeal which is the substance that I “threw up.” I’ve never really been a big fan of oatmeal. So they gave me this cup full of it, and I had to hold it all in my mouth. So I say my line, “that was radical or that was gnarly.” Then they said cut, and I didn’t move a muscle. They poured the oatmeal into my mouth and then when they said “action” again, I would spit it out. But for the first try, the oatmeal was very chunky and thick, so it didn’t look like I threw up that much. For the second try, they put a bunch of water into it to make it look thinner. It was pretty disgusting, but it was definitely worth it because the final product of that scene was so funny. I loved filming that.
Can you talk a little bit about Travis Knight? What he was like? How does he work? What did you learn from him working on the set?
Drucker: Travis is so relaxed on set. He makes it such a fun and comfortable experience. He’s a great movie-maker. As a director, he’s got some great achievements behind him. I think he did great with Bumblebee as well. I love what he’s done with that picture. He’s just so smart. He really knows what to do and when to do it.
There’s some cut footage of you on the Blu-ray that is priceless. That scene where the VW stalls in the intersection and you say happy birthday to Charlie. I laughed out loud at that. I was curious why they took that one out.
Drucker: Yeah. That was probably one of my favourite scenes to film even though it didn’t get into the final cut of the movie. It was just funny. It felt kind of like me, like it was something I would do in real life. Just get up and out of the car, walk away and leave my sister in there. I was really sad when I saw that it didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. That’s why everyone should get the Blu-ray. Then they can see how funny I am.
To get you a little more familiar with Jason, here is a short featurette of him discussing his role in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, interspersed with footage from the film.
There’s also that bit where Charlie comes home with the VW for the first time, and you guys both wash it together. I believe that’s when you sit down in the chair and are playing the Atari talking over your shoulder at her. Also funny. That’s where I saw the Atari the clearest I think.
Drucker: Yeah, exactly. My funniest parts didn’t make the film.
Can you talk a little bit about how you manage your work, home life and education as a young actor?
Drucker: Yeah, it was sixth grade where I enrolled in an online school because that was a time where I was very busy with acting. I’d just gotten Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and after that movie came out, I think five months later I got Bumblebee. So I was already in that online school, fortunately, which made it really flexible for me to keep up with my education and acting. For Bumblebee I wasn’t on set 24/7, so I did have some off-time where I could actually go back home and see my family. But I found it was actually pretty easy to balance my home life with Bumblebee. There was also a set-teacher on the Bumblebee set so she could help me with my homework. So they made it very easy for me to balance my homework and stuff.
Bumblebee’s Blu-ray release contains deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, and several featurettes. Also included is a physical Blu-ray sized glossy cover comic book: “Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome.” A DVD copy of the film and a digital copy code are also included.
Blu-ray Extra Features:
Sector 7 Archive (1080p): Included are two extras. In Agent Burns: Welcome to Sector 7 (0:50), John Cena’s character introduces new recruits to the agency. Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome (9:19) is the motion comic version of the physical comic included with this release.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 19:05 total runtime): Included are Original Opening, Drive to Karate Class, Birthday Present, Car Wash and Beetle Breakdown, Charlie Drops Off Mona and Conan, Decepticons Inspect the Armory, Drive to Cliff, Sector 7, and Appliance War.
Outtakes (1080p, 9:32 total runtime): Included are Burns Meets Bee, War Room, There’s a Door in My Way, Charlie in Trash, and Saved the World.
Bee Vision: The Transformers Robots of Cybertron (1080p, 3:56): The opening Cybertron war scene is paused to reveal which Transformers are participating in the battle.
Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen (1080p): A five-part feature.
– The Story of Bumblebee (3:54): Filmmakers and cast discuss rebooting the franchise by focusing on Bumblebee. They also cover the Bumblebee-Charlie relationship.
– The Stars Align (7:04): Casting Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena and the qualities each brought to their parts.
– Bumblebee Goes Back to G1 (10:02): Modeling the Transformers from the G1 1980s variants while also maintaining some of the design cues from the Michael Bay films.
– Back to the Beetle (6:20): A look at Bumblebee as he appears in his car form in this film. Cast and crew talk up the more welcoming character traits, the character’s history in the comic books and television series, and more.
– California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane (19:57): This piece focuses on the production design that recreates the 1980s setting and aesthetics.