Event: Transformers The Last Knight Super Fan Day Report Part 1
Paramount Pictures "Transformers The Last Knight" Super Fan Day (2017): Part One
Promotional events for movies have been a part of the fabric of Hollywood for as long as I can remember. Such events have traditionally been reserved for the likes of company employees, investors and print media. However we live in a very different world than the Golden Age of Hollywood, and with it has come new expressions of media ranging from web sites to social media. Recognition of such media led to several Transformers web sites being invited to the set of the upcoming film "Transformers: The Last Knight" (you can read my report on that visit here). As a follow up to that visit, several non-traditional media outlets from around the world were invited to a "Super Fan Day" event hosted by Paramount Pictures in March of 2017.
The Warm Up
Three years ago Universal Studios and Paramount worked together on creating "Transformers: The Ride", a 3D experience that represented a significant leap forward for Transformers as a brand (you can read my coverage of the opening of the Florida ride here). This ride takes you through an adventure set in an alternative version of the live action movie universe where you accompany an Autobot named EVAC in saving a piece of the Allspark. The ride is kinetic, fun and filled with stunning visuals. This is not just a visual experience, mind you. As you ride in EVAC you get a bit of water sprayed on you at a key moment, at another section you feel a blast of heat when a missile is launched at you! The idea was to put you into the middle of a battle and make you feel it and it does the job very well. This made it the perfect way to warm us up for the fan experience. We were on a tight schedule, so we were very quickly ushered into the park and to the ride. We arrived just in time to see Bumblebee (an actor in a very impressive costume) come out and take photos with visitors. It is a fun experience and I highly recommend it to any visitors.
I had my eye on another prize: the "Transformers Supply Vault" (aka the gift store). The store features several exclusive products ranging from clothing to bags to toys. Among the figures are several re-releases of existing figures from past movie lines in packaging exclusive to this store. There is also a Universal Studios exclusive character: EVAC himself! When the ride first opened, there were two incarnations of EVAC, a Deluxe Class and a Legion Class. Based on this visit, the Deluxe EVAC has now been repackaged with backing card artwork that is more reflective of the current Transformers packaging complete with brighter colors. While the Legion Class figure is no longer available, you can get a KREON of the character in a set that also includes Optimus Prime and other characters. For you high rollers out there, EVAC is also available in statue form.
Most notable is the availability of several "Cyber Battalion" figures at the store! Previously these were exclusive to a few countries outside of the United States, but Universal Studios decided to release three of them as "Universal Studios Exclusives". The three they carry are Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Starscream. Prices are not what you will see at mass retail. The Deluxe EVAC for instance is about $29.95 so make sure you save up before you visit!
Before long we were whisked away back to our bus (through a "Restricted N.E.S.T. exit" no less!) and we were off to our next destination: Paramount Studios.
Growing up in the 80's and 90's, Paramount Pictures was responsible for some of my favorite entertainment throughout the years. Star Trek, Cheers, Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones all come to mind as I think back to an era where it felt like most of my entertainment was largely produced by this company. For me, pulling up the gates of Paramount was a visceral experience that made the inner child inside and the nerdy adult I am now both light up with enthusiasm.
Our group was ushered into a dining hall for lunch. Under beautiful lighting and surrounded by plants, it was a lovely dining experience. However the big surprise was a visit from Sqweeks himself! Or rather, this was a stand-in for the little Autobot. Built by the marketing department, a remote controlled Sqweeks rolled around and talked in the dining area as we ate. I was told that this was a kit that the marketing department was sent and assembled, intended for use at promotional events such as this. It is actually slightly smaller than the prop used in the film, but it looks so much like him it would be hard to tell at first glance. The detailing on Sqweeks was amazing. We were not allowed to take photos, so I spent a lot of time staring at details ranging from an axe on one wheel to springs hanging off of him like mechanical hair.
Once lunch ended, we were led to another part of the park. It was time for our Paramount Tour! Now, several Botcons ago I did a mini-version of this tour that lasted roughly twenty minutes. This time however we were being given the full treatment which would last well over an hour! At first we were given our badges which already had our names printed on them! Much to my delight, we were allowed to keep them. We were then brought to a waiting room where we watched a promotional video that went through 100 years of Paramount Pictures history. In the same room were props from movies such as Star Trek (2009) and Interstellar. There were also Oscars on display including the one for Forrest Gump. You really got a sense of cinema history in the room and it was a great warm up for the tour.
Soon we were broken up into groups of six for the tours, but not before we were shown a giant section of the Allspark itself hanging on the wall! This prop was the same one used in the first movie and it turns out the entire thing is made of Styrofoam carved up and painted. We were actually allowed to touch it and it did indeed have the spongy feel of Styrofoam but you would never know from just looking at it.
I won't go into granular detail about the tour. I will say that we had a super friendly and knowledgeable guide. I also appreciated him having a tablet on hand to show us photos relevant to the sections of the studio we were in. During the tour we passed many sound stages, workshops and historical buildings. Among the more notable areas we saw or visited were:
- The sound stage where the original Star Trek series was filmed.
- The row of sound stages where every Star Trek series from "The Next Generation" to "Enterprise" was filmed.
- The sound stage where the original Mission Impossible series was filmed.
- The sound stage where Alfred Hitchcock had an entire simulation of a city built for "Rear Window".
- The offices once used by Lucille Ball (now being used by Allspark Pictures!).
- The buildings that originally made up Desilu Studios.
- The sound stage where both Cheers and Frasier were filmed.
- The lawn area used to represent the exterior of the university in Community.
- The "New York City" back lot which has been used for many movies and TV shows over the years including Glee, Captain America and most recently the trailer for "The Last Knight"
When the tour ended, we were led into the Technicolor building which was a gorgeous office space. Very modern, colorful and inviting. Inside we were brought into two different sound studios where engineers were hard at work mixing sound for scenes in the movie. We got to see two very brief scenes (no spoilers here) but one was shown to us with all sounds intact. The other was shown with no dialogue, but only sound effects such as footsteps and explosions. It was a fascinating look into the process of film making.
Earlier we had been told by our tour guide not to look into Stage 17 as we passed it. Near the end of our time at Paramount, we were near Stage 17 when we saw part of the reason why! As we approached the Studio, we saw the shiny, red and blue Western Star that represents Optimus Prime himself in "The Last Knight"! Paramount had set up a professional photo shoot and each of us were given the chance to take photos with the truck.
After that we entered Stage 17 itself to find another treat: five vehicles from "The Last Knight" all set up for us to photograph! The five vehicles were: Crosshairs, Bumblebee, "Mohawk", Drift and Barricade. The professional photographer was also on hand to take photos of us with the cars. While we were all in "professional" mode to a large degree, snapping photos, taking videos, there was a palpable energy in the room borne of excitement seeing the "living" incarnations of the Transformers in front of us.
Another treat was getting to see Randy Peters again. Randy is the stunt driver responsible for much of the Optimus Prime vehicle stunts in the live action movies. We met during my set visit last year. Since he manages the vehicles he and his crew were there to move the vehicles around and shine them up as necessary. If you need a reminder of Randy's skills, check out the video from last year's set visit below:
Seeing these vehicles was a really nice way to end our visit to Paramount Studios, but our itinerary was only half over at this point and there was more excitement to come!