"Don got a bum rap from the press," Bay insists. "He loved being the rebel, but deep down he was a teddy bear who liked telling stories. . . . There were times when he might have been drinking or something and I couldn't get the benefit of his knowledge. But he had a great story mind, a knack for playing the audience."
There are references throughout "The Rock" to Bay's favorite filmmakers, who range from Sam Peckinpah to Brentwood neighbor John McTiernan ("Die Hard"). He also swears by the "quirky action" of the Coen brothers.
The film that made the 17-year-old Bay sit up at a Grauman's theater preview and decide on his life's course? No contest: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"I was blown away by that movie," he recalls. "That's where I said, 'Hey, I've got to do this.' "
To those who insist that "The Rock," with its blaring music and backlighted tableaux, is but another variation on Simpson and Bruckheimer's "Flashdance"-"Top Gun" formula, Bay shrugs and says, "Hey, you know what? I really didn't notice that formula. I'm from the same world as Adrian Lyne ["Flashdance"] and Tony Scott ["Top Gun"].
"We all came from commercials, where you have to be very disciplined and tell a story in 30 or 60 seconds. People keep saying, 'Did Don and Jerry force you to get those beautiful sunsets?' I'm like, 'No--I love those shots.' "
Bay says he's his own filmmaker. "I'm making things for my generation. I'm a young action director with a knack for comedy. I've got a style that's pretty kinetic. I try to exploit the medium the way musicals used to exploit the medium . . . to show angles you don't often see."
And unlike those directors who earn their spurs on cliffhanger adventures but can't wait to disavow their stock in trade, Bay has no intention of trying something more serious. At least not now.
"One day I'm going to grow up as a filmmaker and do something as powerful as 'Schindler's List,' " he says. "But right now my strength is in entertaining audiences, in making them escape for two hours."