At the end of last year, Bumblebee emerged as one of the big surprise blockbusters of the year. While Transformers movies of the past didn’t fare all that well when it came to approval from critics, the Travis Knight film upended that trend, and seduced both writers and audiences with an effortless charm, wonderful heart, and excellent characters. It could wind up influencing the entire future of the franchise, and it all started with screenwriter Christina Hodson’s involvement with the establishment of a specialized writers’ room about four years ago.
Paramount and Hasbro made headlines back in the summer of 2015 when they announced that they were putting together a team of filmmakers who would work together to establish a short term and long term future for the Transformers franchise. Spearheaded by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), the room included a number of talented established and up-and-coming talents, including The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman and Black Hawk Down screenwriter Ken Nolan (who went on to eventually write Transformers: The Last Knight). Having recently had her script The Eden Project included on the Black List, Christina Hodson was invited to participate, and in her own words it was a bit of a surprise:
I got the call kind of out of nowhere to join the Transformers writer's room. It was one of the first feature writers’ rooms out there; I know there have been a lot since. And it was really an amazing experience. It was 12 of us in a room for three weeks. The first week was kind of focused on learning about the franchise, and learning about the history of the movies, but also the cartoons, and comics, and the franchise as a whole. And then it was about all of us kind of figuring out what story we would want to tell within that universe.
With Bumblebee hitting the home video market, I recently jumped on the phone with Christina Hodson to talk about her experiences making the blockbuster, and our conversation started at the very beginning with how she got involved with the project. It apparently began with a form of Transformers school where she received a full education on what the robots in disguise are all about, and then things eventually opened up to allow the individuals and writing pairs to start workshopping the stories that they would like to tell within the context of the franchise.
As far as creative environments go, Christina Hodson acknowledged that it was a boon for her process, even though her colleagues were developing potentially very different approaches:
We each kind of narrowed in on our own little corner, our own little story that we wanted to tell. And it was just about supporting each other and workshopping things together. We each had our own thing, but we would take care of each other and help each other.
As for Christina Hodson’s “little story,” she had a base idea of what she wanted to do, but didn’t have the details or the full scope of it all in mind. As it happened, Paramount and Hasbro had been mulling the idea of a Bumblebee spin-off in the months prior to the organization of the Transformers writers’ room, and it was with that part of the brand that Hodson’s pitch wonderfully dovetailed. And given that she was a massive fan of the yellow robot, this was news that basically had her ready to jump up and down. She explained,
I went into that room knowing I wanted to tell 'One girl and one robot.' I had a vague notion of what I wanted to do. I didn't know I was going to be allowed to make that character Bumblebee. I really wanted to, because he's always been my favorite. And when it became clear that I was going to get to be able to play with that character I was over the moon.
Through the work with the other writers, what would be developed as the Bumblebee pitch started to take real form and develop – with it adding details like becoming a period story set in the 1980s. And while it apparently took a minute for the studio and producing partners to figure out exactly what they wanted, and how they wanted to invest their money, Christina Hodson eventually got the call.
When I asked her about what the Transformers writers’ room added to the development of the script, she acknowledged the support and feedback she received from her fellow filmmakers, saying,
It was more about having a sounding board, and having a room of fantastic and excited and passionate minds to kind of get things to sound things out with. I left that room with a pitch that the producers and Paramount and Hasbro and everyone seemed to get excited about. And they called me several months later and said, 'That the one we want to send to script.' So I got to then write the script based off of that. And the first draft of the script is very, very close to the initial pitch.
According to reports, that first draft of the script arrived in late 2016 – though at that time there was thought about the feature being made as a summer 2018 release. Travis Knight came on board in March 2017 to helm Bumblebee as his first live action feature, filming began about four months later, and the rest is history.
By the time it was done with its global theatrical run, the film - starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, Jason Drucker, and John Ortiz – made $465.2 million, and now fans can continue to enjoy it in the comforts of their own home. Not only is Bumblebee available now for digital purchase and download, but 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD copies will be hitting stores this Tuesday, April 2nd. Pick up a copy, give it a watch, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interview with Christina Hodson.