Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s conference coverage.
After he dropped out of last Saturday’s Produced By conference due to a late conflict, Tom Cruise – ever punctual and intensely focused, as is his reputation – kept his appointment for a rescheduled session this morning for a production-specific discussion that steered clear of any talk about what he’s up to now. (Hard at work on pre-production as star and producer for Mission: Impossible 5.) Onstage with Academy president Hawk Koch as moderator, Cruise looked sharp and relaxed in navy pullover sweater, open-collar shirt, black slacks and black leather shoes. Speaking in the Zanuck Theater on the Fox lot (roughly 80% full) before an audience of producers and would-be producers, Cruise came across as the class act he is purported to be, speaking with passion about the need to practice “basic decency” and “respect every member of the crew” on the set. He returned repeatedly to the experience of his first significant film – 1981’s Taps – as being key to satisfying his incessant curiosity and his driving need to soak up every aspect of making a film. It ultimately led to his first hands-on producing work on the first Mission: Impossible film in 1996.
Cruise also earnestly spoke about how seriously he takes his leadership role on every film. “I love acting first and foremost, and I don’t have to be the one calling the shots,” he insisted. “I don’t direct myself when I’m acting. I am the actor… But I make sure to get the crews together and make sure they know that we’re a team, and that I want everyone to come in with their A game.” He stressed that he takes pains to make sure no one on the crew is afraid to approach him or speak his mind on the set. “I tell them right at the beginning, ‘Please, ask the questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. Don’t anyone be embarrassed. We are a team… I also feel it’s important to recognize the people who are doing the work and acknowledge them for that.’ Cruise also shared anecdotes about working with legends like Paul Newman (“He never pulled a practical joke on me,” he said) and talked about the game-changing experience for him of doing Top Gun in 1986. One of the conditions for his agreeing to star in it, he recalled, was being able to actually fly in the F-14 airplane for “at least three flights.” He also insisted on script consultation and to be in every meeting with producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, as well as marketing consultation. “It wasn’t about me being the star telling them what to do,” Cruise said. “I was just kind of interested in it all.”
It was also just after Top Gun that Cruise’s global wanderlust inspired him to help change the film industry’s approach to promoting big studio releases internationally. He told the story of coming up with the idea of doing Hollywood-style premieres in every city overseas. “I said let’s do it so I can go to that city, have a premiere there, do the red carpet and press line, then go to the next city and do it again,” Cruise said. Basically, he said, they humored him for a couple of years while explaining all of the reasons it wouldn’t work and would prove a waste of time and money. “In the meantime, I did all of the math,” he said, “and after 4 or 5 years of this, I finally told them, “OK, here’s the deal. I’m not going to promote your movie unless you do this. I just won’t.’ So they finally said, ‘Oh God, he’s being a jerk, I guess we’d better do it.’ I assured them that if it failed, I’d own it, it would be on me. So we started doing it, and we saw it was successful – that if you promote it right and bring it to the people, it works.” Moderator Koch then jumped in: “So now you’re taking credit for the fact that 65% to 70% of the (movie) money comes from international?” Cruise hemmed and hawed a bit before smiling and replying, “Yes, I am taking credit for it. And that’s not a joke.” But he was laughing when he said it.