Transformers: The Premake

A new free-to-watch documentary uncovers the secrets of making the fourth installment in the battling-robots franchise

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Michael Bay's live-action updates (four films and counting) to the Transformers animated series have continually been ranked by critics and viewers, contrary to the franchise's tagline, as less than meets the eye. (You can read our steadily decreasing opinions of the first three movies here, here and here.)

But this doesn't prevent them from making billions of dollars worldwide—the brand sells, regardless of the perceived quality of the product. Ever wonder about the many moving parts that go into the production of one of these F/X-heavy behemoths? Look to Chicago filmmaker Kevin B. Lee, who has just released the provocative"Transformers: The Premake." It's a 25-minute "desktop documentary," so named because it takes place entirely on a computer screen with an unseen protagonist searching the Web for Transformers-related ephemera.

There are studio-sanctioned trailers, behind-the-scenes interviews and even a clip of Bay's infamous meltdown at a Samsung television press conference. The meat of the piece, however, is videos taken by people on the street (some of them studio plants) during principal photography in Chicago, Detroit and China. It's in these juxtapositions that you get a sense of what it means to make a big-budget movie in an increasingly globalized world. (Paramount even joined forces with China to share the movie's costs and ensure access to that restrictive country's large swath of moviegoers.)

Lee's video is both horrifying for the truths it uncovers, but also, at times, strangely hopeful: so many people, so many cameras, so much power to harness—and not always in the service of the Hollywood bottom line.

You can view Lee's video on YouTube or Vimeo. And you can read his own thoughts on the production in a freshly published article at Slate.