They made a conscious choice about the opening: “There’s no place for credits upfront, I think the only credit should just be Pearl Harbor”, a choice Disney agreed with.
Bay achieved final cut on the film and was asked at what point did the studio get out of his way and let him make the film: “As soon as they greenlit the movie, they had no clue what I was about to do”. Nevertheless one of Disney’s heads of production, Bruce Hendrix, was also a line producer on the movie. One known change at the studio’s request is mention of the fact the Japanese executed several of the Doolittle raiders they managed to arrest.
There was one particular story about the survivors that inspired him. On a visit to San Diego, he met a group of eight men who told him some “amazingly intimate stories”, including one from a man named Ken Haney on the USS West Virginia who was stationed on the launch boats that transport the sailors to their ships. Seems during the attack he saw men being burned alive by the oil which they couldn’t get around and so ended up actually inhaling the fire. He was told to leave but it was too late and the launch caught on fire and burned (he managed to get onto the remains of one ship) – confusion and horror reigned all around.
When first planned, he had no idea how long the attack sequence would be and he added his own elements to the script such as the scene with the hands of crewmen trapped in the Arizona reaching through the hole as the rescuers hurry to drill through the hull to reach them – an idea conceived after he heard a veteran talking about it. Other scenes like this added to the film include the lipstick, the coke bottle and the pantyhose props in the post-attack hospital scenes.
What didn’t make it into the film that he would’ve liked to have kept? “I think there’s more [Admiral] Kimmel stuff I would’ve talked about how they kept going on alert – it was like the never cry wolf syndrome here, you know takes away the fighting edge. There was great stuff with the Doolittle raid but I mean that’s barely enough time to cover that raid”.
Disney wanted to originally make the film clock in at 2 hours 20 mins which Bay “thinks was in the contract” but after a test screening in Denver with an even longer version of the current cut they weren’t concerned. Bay and the crew nevertheless whittled it down from there to 3 hours 3 mins.
So what was up with the way Affleck and Hartnett were brothers in the original concepts? Well seems it was just an initial concept of an executive. Writer Randall Wallace made them flyers and they really wanted to incorporate the real life story of the two pilots who got up in their jets and attacked the Japanese during the bombing – so they did.
What about the problems of historical accuracy? “We had to do this in a very dignified way…the concerns are, you know, yeah you’re going to get hit on for historical accuracy but I’m just trying to make the essence right you know. That’s what this movie is about, its more about the people and who this generation was, and what this attack could’ve felt like on that morning”.
Expecting any backlash from Japanese audiences over their portrayal in the movie? “I think we treat the Japanese as very dignified, I think they pull off a brilliant raid – that’s why I love that bit of the Japanese pilot shooing them [American kids] off and in Japan they had recently seen the movie and had loved that. It is a little rough when you see the Japanese, which happened, when they strafed the guys in the water…that’s just a fact of war. Talking to some fighter pilots on our side…one of our advisors for Ben & Josh’s characters said he did the same thing to a Japanese boat that he sunk”.
“I fear we may have awakened a sleeping giant” was actually a real quote from Admiral Yamamoto, whilst Bay mentions that at the time of the attack he heard that the American military hadn’t quite got it together with old ships and such making up the majority in service. It was only after the event it began to turn into the big juggernaut it would become. The Japanese zero planes were faster but had less armour than their US counterparts.
Bay didn’t watch a lot of movies to prepare, rather just looked at combat footage, aerial footage and history channel documentaries. He saw “Saving Private Ryan” a few times as well.
Bay also talked about his other projects and claims to have gotten a “bum wrap” for the “Phone Booth” project he was tied to: “I was going to do the movie with Will Smith and we said to the studio we need to rewrite this…its like every actor liked the idea but the words, when you’ve got an actor just carrying the movie in that booth and we wanted to spend more money on the words – they didn’t want to, so we just kinda bailed out. Larry [Cohen, the writer] saying ‘oh your going to take him out of the phone and make a whole different movie, that’s not the case at all. We wanted to build the story a little bit more, have a guy watching the guy, you know'”.
Finally, what about the Hannibal Lecter prequel, will he direct? “People say I’m doing Red Dragon but I’m not”.