Steven Caple Jr. went from directing student films on a shoestring budget to the multi-million dollar Transformers: Rise of the Beasts in just 10 years. After making his feature debut with the 2016 indie drama, The Land, the director was swept up into the world of tentpole franchises — he also helmed 2018's Creed II — but he says that he's never felt constrained by the studio demands that often come with directing a blockbuster.
"I didn't have to lock myself into what Travis [Knight] or Michael [Bay] did. The studio was open to me doing my own thing," Caple Jr. says. "I was able to bring a bit of grit to parts of Rise of the Beasts, and I got to play around with the tone and color and style." The director even found a way to put his own stamp on the use of CGI and visual effects.
"Every person uses those tools differently," he explains. "Michael Bay, for instance, has years of experience and he's really all about the adrenaline high. He keeps things going and, in that way, his energy is different than mine. I like to slow things down, and really try to figure out how to make a close-up of a robot look good. You have to find what's important to you within the big CGI-scope of the movie."
As daunting as the scope and scale of a production like Transformers may seem, Caple Jr. is also quick to note that there are certain things about filmmaking that never change, no matter what size movie you're making. "Whether you're making a small independent film or a blockbuster, it's really the same process when it comes to dealing with actors and trying to find relatable themes in the story," he says. "Everything ultimately has to line up with who you are as a creative person."
Below, Caple Jr. shares with A.frame the five films that made him want to be a filmmaker.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock | Written by: John Michael Hayes
The film that always stays on this list is Rear Window. I saw it for the first time in an Alfred Hitchcock class in college. I ended up watching every single one of Hitchcock's movies for that class, and it was amazing. I was really blown away by his inventiveness and his use of the camera. He was making genre films, but they really felt like arthouse films. When I saw Rear Window, I remember noticing, 'This is a one-location movie that uses only windows and character POV to tell its story.' It really changed my perspective on filmmaking at a young age, and Hitchcock is still one of my favorite directors.
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund | Written by: Bráulio Mantovani
I love City of God. I'm always referencing it and the filmmaking throughout it. The character work is just beautiful, and the child actors in it are amazing. The acting throughout is superb. Everything the filmmakers do in it really made an impact on me. The story is definitely a cautionary tale, but I love the film a lot and I reference it all the time.
Directed by: Michael Bay | Written by: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland and Doug Richardson
Bad Boys is one of my favorite films — and not necessarily because of its artistic integrity. That film meant a lot to me. It truly inspired me and motivated me to pick up a camera when I was younger.
Growing up, every time I saw one of my favorite actors, they were always partnered up with a white lead. It was always Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, or Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, and it always felt like the studios were trying to balance things out, you know? But then I saw Will Smith and Martin Lawrence together, and it really changed everything for me. I used to watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Martin all the time as a child, so watching Bad Boys, I thought, 'Wait, they're getting to be action heroes! They're jumping on top of cars and running in the street!'
Afterward, I was like, 'Mom, give me a camcorder! I've gotta go outside and reenact it with my cousins!' Bad Boys was really the spark of everything for me, so it's always gonna have a place in my heart.
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica | Written by: Oreste Biancoli, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri and Cesare Zavattini
I've got a huge poster of Bicycle Thieves on one of my walls at home. I love the grit of it. I love the slice-of-life feel of it. I remember watching it and being like, 'Oh, this clearly inspired a lot of filmmakers today.' When it comes to intimate stories on-screen, it's a huge one. I love the father-son story in it so much.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
I have a hard time choosing between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, but The Godfather is probably my favorite of the two. Funnily enough, during its 50-year anniversary last year, they showed it at Paramount. And, for my birthday, they planned a screening of it for me. Unfortunately, I was out of town working on their freaking movie at the time! They said to me, 'Whenever you're back, anytime you want, we'll put on The Godfather for you!'
I still haven't cashed that favor in. I've never seen it on a big screen. I've always watched it at home, but I watch it probably twice a year. I can watch it all day long, if I'm honest. The nerve of having the opening sequence be a 30-minute section at one wedding is just brilliant. It's such a great film.