EXCLUSIVE: Tonight, the 27th American Cinematheque Award honors Hollywood’s longest-running and most commercially successful producer in Jerry Bruckheimer. Over the past 40 years, Bruckheimer has been the most consistent generator of films that filled theaters, moved popcorn and displayed more onscreen explosions than anyone else. First with late partner Don Simpson and then as a solo act, Bruckheimer’s films have earned estimated worldwide revenues of $16 billion in ticket sales, video and recording revenues, and he once had 10 TV series on networks in a single season, a record that still stands. Bruckheimer has something to prove as he moves from Disney to Paramount in the wake of the disappointing returns on The Lone Ranger. Bruckheimer doesn’t relish looking back as he starts a new chapter in a storied career that will include more installments of franchises Pirates Of The Caribbean, National Treasure, Bad Boys, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun. But he invited Deadline to his spacious Santa Monica headquarters recently to spend an afternoon reflecting on how far the son of a Detroit suit salesman has come.
DEADLINE: Your long run as Disney’s signature event film producer ends with your return to Paramount, a place where you and late former partner Don Simpson made some of the seminal hits of the 1980s. Disney moved toward a branded supplier program built around Marvel, Star Wars, DreamWorks, Pixar and away from proven producers. That is emblematic of the business now as studio producer deals fall by the wayside. You raised $20 million a couple years ago through Barclays Bank for development, and had a line on over $300 million, positioning you to be in step with hybrid producer/financiers with co-fi coin. Why did you instead opt for a throwback first-look Paramount deal?
BRUCKHEIMER: I like the camaraderie and collaboration of developing at a studio. Brad Grey I’ve worked with in the past and enjoy. I developed Top Gun 2 with Tony Scott, Paramount executives and David Ellison, and had a good experience with them. They are aggressive about material, and how they market, advertise and distribute their films.
DEADLINE: Most producers who can are raising their own money, as studios make fewer films and downgrade traditional first-look producing deals. You had the money in place and no producer has your long track record of hits if you wanted to raise more. Why didn’t you go that route?
BRUCKHEIMER: Because you spend your time finding millions, setting up time-consuming meetings with bankers, accountants and lawyers. It sucks the energy out of you and you are not spending your time making movies. For me, it was like trying on a suit and not liking the fit. I’d rather spend my time sitting in a room with a writer or a director, working out the beats of a story, or sitting with a designer to figure out how to make this set as cool as possible. A lot of people are good at running around raising money, and I’m not saying it’s something that isn’t in my future if I have to do it. I’d just much rather work at the creative end of the business.
DEADLINE: In your first stop at Paramount, you made films like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, and you are drafting new versions of each almost 30 years later. Studios all over are rebooting and sequelizing old stuff. Why is it so hard to create new franchises today?
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s always been hard to launch a franchise. You have to hit the mother lode on the first one, then figure out how to create longevity for each of the main characters. That’s not easy. We got very fortunate with Beverly Hills Cop because Eddie was just the greatest new comic that I’d seen. He’d made only a few movies previously and I could see he had the ability to capture the imagination of the audience. 48 Hours and Trading Places made that clear. But they thought we were nuts to have him carry a lead in a movie.
BRUCKHEIMER: Because in both pictures he was a co-star.
DEADLINE: Didn’t Paramount prefer Sylvester Stallone for the Axel Foley role anyway?
BRUCKHEIMER: Originally. Here’s what happened. We went to Paramount and said, we want Eddie for this. They had the script, they loved it, they wanted to make the movie. They also had a pay or play commitment with Stallone, and they didn’t just want to pay him. So they wanted him for this movie. We said, we love Sly, but we created this script for Eddie. Even though Eddie didn’t know that we’d developed it for him. But we said, fine, you sign the checks, we’ll do what you want. We met with Sly and he said, I write my own stuff. We said OK, go ahead with your own thing. And when the project came in it had gotten way too expensive. He had written in car chases and everything. Barry Diller said, wait a minute, we’re not spending that kind of money on this movie. So he turned to us and asked who we would put in this movie if Sly couldn’t do it? We said, Eddie Murphy, but we didn’t say we’d originally given it to the studio for Eddie. Barry said, great, go make the movie! And he gave Sly his script back with all the things he wrote and Sly went off and used that to make Cobra, which was the direction he had taken Beverly Hills Cop. We went off and made it with Eddie. They still thought we were crazy because this was the first time an African-American had carried a studio movie. I think, ever. We were told we were nuts to spend that kind of money on Eddie, alone.
DEADLINE: Take movies like Pacific Rim, World War Z or The Lone Ranger this past summer. Each were franchise plays, but at $200 million or more, the high costs made it like shooting at a narrow moving target and hard to turn profit. The old way was to make films like Beverly Hills Cop for low price and if they build natural momentum, hello sequel.
BRUCKHEIMER: Beverly Hills Cop wasn’t expensive at all. It’s just so hard to make a successful movie to begin with, and to figure out which can be sustained. A lot of movies I’ve done, like The Lone Ranger, could have been franchises. But the audience didn’t brace itself for what might happen next with the characters. That is just how it has always happened. The difference is that now, everything is just a lot more expensive. Back then, Top Gun cost $14 million and Beverly Hills Cop was $8 million.
DEADLINE: Why didn’t The Lone Ranger catch on with audiences?
BRUCKHEIMER: I don’t really know. I can’t definitively tell you why Pirates Of The Caribbean worked so well. Nobody wants to make a picture that doesn’t make its money back, especially us. I loved the movie and enjoyed making it. You make the best movie you can, you put it out and then you find out. They did a good job marketing the movie, so I can’t say anything about that. It’s just one of those films that fell between the cracks. It certainly wasn’t helped by the negative press before the movie even got made. There were a lot of discussions about a lot of things that the audience shouldn’t care about, and maybe that turned them off.
DEADLINE: The average person or a journalist like me might say, $200 million or more is too much to spend on a picture. What doesn’t the lay person understand when they make statements like that?
BRUCKHEIMER: The part that gets me is, the audience only pays between $6 and $10 bucks, and they don’t pay any more when a film costs $200 million. It shouldn’t concern them. All they should care about is, did I love it? Do I want to go see it again? Will I tell my friends to go see it? That’s all that should be important to an audience. The media feeds into the cost of the movie, rather than, is it entertaining? Have the filmmakers used every nickel they spent to best advantage, where I can see it on the screen and it gave me a better experience? That’s what’s important, the moviegoer experience. And it is also important that someone like me looks at movies done by others that are so well done, so exciting, with such big endings that I say, ‘Jeez, how do we compete with that?’ And the way you compete is to be more inventive in finding concepts, actors and directors who’ll give the audience a real thrill ride.
DEADLINE: What’s the answer when a smartass like me asks can’t you make Pirates for $130 million?
BRUCKHEIMER: Disney wouldn’t allow us to make a cut-rate Pirates. They’re not in the bargain basement business and they wouldn’t want us to make that looks like less than what we made in the past. Movie cost is a function of how entertaining the movie is, and how much you have to put on the screen to achieve that. The numbers are daunting; nobody wants to spend that kind of money. But when you order up some extra lights or another camera, it’s a lot more than I used to pay for those things. You are always conscious of wanting to spend less, but it can never be worth taking something away from the audience. So much changed at Disney with the arrival of the Pirates movies. They feed so many things. They’re opening a big Shanghai Disney theme park. There is a big Pirates ride and people will go to see Johnny Depp’s character.
DEADLINE: Still, when the start date of the next Pirates installment was pushed, one of the factors was economics. How much of a priority is it to rein things in?
BRUCKHEIMER: The priority is to make a very entertaining movie. Do they want us to make it for less? Absolutely. Will we? Yes. Some of that comes down to finding places to shoot with tax breaks. There are many ways like that to save money, from rebates to asking talent to roll the dice with us and get more on the back end if they cut the front end. A lot of countries will give you a big break and save you 20% to 30%, which is enormous money for movies this size. You have to take advantage of it. We’ve taken the time to get the script right and work a plan to shoot economically. But it can never compromise the look of the picture.
DEADLINE: We talked about Johnny Depp and The Lone Ranger. Why has Pirates shown such staying power?
BRUCKHEIMER: I would say it was the combination of Johnny and our creators, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Gore Verbinski who did the first three or four of them. Johnny’s Jack Sparrow is one of the great characters of all time and it was a much different character in the script. What Johnny did wasn’t on the page — none of it. This all came out of his imagination and Keith Richards and cartoons he was watching with his daughter. He conceptualized that character, had fun with it and young audiences embraced it. We were filming in London and an 8-year-old girl wrote him a letter and said “I want you to come and create a mutiny in my class.” It was 20 minutes away, and he actually showed up, in costume, unannounced. I thought the girl was going to faint. He brought her up to the front of the class afterwards and said, “Look it’s fun to pretend, but listen to your teachers, no mutinies…” It was very funny.
DEADLINE: Your kind of hits, from Top Gun to Pirates and National Treasure are defined by your lead actor choices. How hard was it to convince the studios that Depp or Nicolas Cage could deliver?
BRUCKHEIMER: With Pirates, it was more about selling it to Johnny. I flew to France and I had drawings, outlines, and a story. Luckily he wanted to make something his daughter could watch. I wanted him so badly to send a message to the audience that this is a different type of movie, and not a Disney ride. Johnny made it special. Dick Cook saw that, but some of the executives below him didn’t want to pay Johnny what he was asking. We finally came to a compromise but they really put a lot of pressure on me to get somebody else.
DEADLINE: Was this when they first saw the drunken pirate?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. That kind of scared everybody. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched dailies, but you tape the same things over and over again, and it’s slightly different variations, some broad, some sedate. They looked at the broad stuff and said, oh my god, what are we going to do to stop this? I re-cut the scenes until they could see if was fun, and then it was OK. With Nicolas and National Treasure, we’d done so much together he knew I wasn’t going to embarrass him. Selling him to the studio was hard because some of his movies hadn’t worked and they had no faith he could get the picture open. But I knew. He’s an Academy Award-winning actor, he can make anything work. Through my career, I’ve always worked with executives who are open minded and we can admit to each other when we were wrong. If you’ve got the best argument, you get what you want. There are instances where I asked for certain actors and didn’t get them. Maybe those executives were right and I was wrong.
DEADLINE: What or who was most important in teaching you the ropes as producer?
BRUCKHEIMER: The most important has been making mistakes and learning how to do it better the next time. I’ve learned more through mistakes I’ve made than anything else. I’ve gained experience at the expense of others, too, where I’ve watched other people stumble and said, “Whoa, that’s something I’m not going to try.”
DEADLINE: Name one mistake that became a most valuable lesson…
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s hard to draw on them. I am someone who is always thinking about tomorrow, not yesterday. I’ve always got a next movie to worry about.
DEADLINE: You’ve been on the top so long it’s hard to picture you struggling. But you came here from Detroit, son of a German man who suited up mob types in Detroit…
BRUCKHEIMER: He wasn’t a tailor, he was a salesman, but yes he sold suits to the gangsters.
DEADLINE: What kind of stories did he bring home?
BRUCKHEIMER: Not that many, but I did learn from him that he always had to make room in the breast pocket for their guns. When the tailor made those suits, they had to put in extra room.
DEADLINE: What about that upbringing led you here?
BRUCKHEIMER: Probably it was that I was always interested in movies as a kid. I’d go to Saturday night matinees; my mom would drop me off and I’d watch the movies and I loved it. I still do that and I still love it. I had an uncle who was an amateur photographer and any time he bought a new camera he’d give me the old one. From five years old I always loved taking pictures, and I fell in love with the visual media and have explored it since that age.
DEADLINE: Was there a movie or filmmaker who made you say you had to do this?
BRUCKHEIMER: I was a fan of David Lean, and his big adventures like The Bridge On The River Kwai. Steve McQueen and movies he made like The Great Escape also inspired me. I was older when I saw The Godfather, but I loved that franchise.
DEADLINE: Why did you and Don Simpson gravitate to one another? Back then, you seemed like polar extrovert/introvert opposites.
BRUCKHEIMER: He came from Alaska, from a very strict Baptist family. I came from Detroit and a Jewish upbringing, but we had very similar likes and dislikes. We’d talk about movies and music and what our interests were, and we were always in sync. The connection was not in what we did, but what we liked.
DEADLINE: What did he possess that you didn’t back then?
BRUCKHEIMER: You knew him well. Don was a great salesman, a very verbal guy. Funny, bombastic, just a great character. He was that guy who walked into the room and lit it up.
DEADLINE: How helpful was it to stand behind that guy and not have to be him?
BRUCKHEIMER: I didn’t see it that way. He was entertaining and made people want to be around him. I was the one who had to pick up the pieces, clean up the mess when he walked out of the room. It wasn’t his ideas I had to rein in, it was things he said to people. I’d do a lot of apologizing, a lot of, “He didn’t really mean that.” He made it interesting, let’s put it that way.
DEADLINE: On what movie did you guys look at each other and think, we’re good at this.
BRUCKHEIMER: After Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, more than anything we looked at each other and said, hey, this is fun. Don always loved movies and just like me he’d go to double-, sometimes triple-headers on weekends. Our bond was the love of movies and the excitement of coming in Monday mornings saying “I saw this movie, and we’ve got to work with this director!’ That love of movies bonded us more than anything else.
DEADLINE: You split shortly before he passed away. What part of yourself had to change when you became a solo act? How long before you stopped feeling vulnerable?
BRUCKHEIMER: I didn’t have that great salesman anymore. I didn’t have his verbal acumen, and I had to figure out a way to get it done. I don’t know if I felt vulnerability as much as fright at the beginning. But what I always had was faith in myself. I wouldn’t have moved out here with no money if I hadn’t believed in my ability to create something.
DEADLINE: Your first run at Paramount ended unceremoniously. How much did that rattle your confidence?
BRUCKHEIMER: It might have, had we not found a home right away. Eisner and Katzenberg were really hot on our tail. They really wanted us there at Disney. We took a beating in the press, fueled by Paramount at the time, but that dissipated. You make a couple of good movies and no one mentions that anymore.
DEADLINE: What did you learn from that whole experience?
BRUCKHEIMER: I learned that corporations are corporations and they do what’s best for them. I learned you keep moving forward and stop worrying about the past, other than to learn from it. I learned not to spend much time looking back, at all. Worry about tomorrow.
DEADLINE: Do you get nostalgic when you see your earlier films?
BRUCKHEIMER: I won’t look at them, unless I’m forced to, because I see the things that I could have done better and it just drives me nuts.
DEADLINE: You hang in long enough, and you’re going to lose people. You made many movies with Tony Scott and worked on another Top Gun when he committed suicide…
BRUCKHEIMER: We were pretty close to getting Top Gun 2 done. We were on a scout that weekend when he passed away. We were in Fallon, Nevada meeting with the Top Gun pilots, walking around the facility and looking at the planes and interviewing some guys for story character notes. Tom Cruise was with us and we were all very excited, including Tony. I was shocked Sunday when they called me and he had passed away.
DEADLINE: That is a bitter memory. You still want to make the movie, with another director?
BRUCKHEIMER: I do. Tony gave us a lot of interesting ideas. If it is OK with his brother Ridley, I would still do it.
DEADLINE: What made Tony such a uniquely visual director?
BRUCKHEIMER: God, he was just a lover of life, one of those guys who mountain climbed and was nuts. He’d climb the Dolomites, he was just truly fearless and would take on anything. He rode these high-speed motorcycles and crashed them all the time. He’d go to the hospital and get back on the bike to go home. He gambled enormously on his own physical abilities and it reflected on his work. He would get up every day at 4 in the morning and go to bed at 1 or 2. He lived on no sleep and he’d do story boards or be on the set at 6, smoking his cigar with his pink shorts, and his pink hat, working. Physically I thought he was indestructible, just a bull. We went on a raft trip; it was Don, myself, Tony, and a whole bunch of other people from Hollywood. We went down the Colorado River and we camped out in this canyon. I look up there’s Tony, 100 feet in the air, free climbing, using just his hands, no ropes, no nothing. And that’s when Don and I looked at each other and said “We gotta work with this guy.” That’s how we got him into Top Gun. I’m telling you, he was just nuts.
DEADLINE: Do you have a bit of that in yourself?
BRUCKHEIMER: Physically, no. I play hockey which I’m crazy at my age to do, but I don’t ride motorcycles or any of that stuff. I play hockey once or twice a week when I’m in town. I try to stay away from the corners so I don’t get hit, but fortunately I’ve got a lot of good players on our team that can take it. The rink is a place where I can’t think about anything else because I’ll get killed. It’s so fast, and the guys are so good, you can’t think about “is that script coming in on time?” “Is Johnny going to read it?” You’ve got to focus. And when you get off the ice you’re so exhausted, you just want to go home and go to bed. It’s just the greatest stress relief ever.
DEADLINE: As someone whose films are meant for mass consumption, you surely noticed when, after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn, the NRA blamed Hollywood and video games. As a guy who regularly blows stuff up and depicts violence, how have recent events impacted what is seen in movies you have your name on?
BRUCKHEIMER: You always have to be conscious of what you’re feeding the public. You try to look at it from a cautious framework, but you know, reality is reality; and sometimes that’s hard to change. I couldn’t make Black Hawk Down any other way, for instance; it was a real event. I couldn’t sugarcoat how the men died. We do try to be respectful of what the public is exposed to but you want to entertain them and they demand big entertainment. So it’s a fine line you’ve got to walk.
DEADLINE: The Disney tenure didn’t end well with The Lone Ranger, but you had a long run as the major hitmaker there. How hard is that parting?
BRUCKHEIMER: I don’t see it as a parting of ways, because we’re still going to be developing and making a lot of movies there. We’re continuing Pirates, we’re going to try to get another National Treasure, and we still have some really good stuff at Disney we’ll keep. It’s just that someone else will cover the overhead. It’ll be liberating for our company because while we loved what we did at Disney, it’s become a narrow target there. A lot of our great successes don’t fit in that bandwidth now. Black Hawk Down didn’t fit it, nor did The Rock or Con Air, and I’m not sure they would have made Armageddon. The stuff we’re really good at doing we couldn’t ask Disney to do. I have a big appetite for all forms of entertainment. You know, we just made Deliver Us From Evil at Screen Gems. It cost $30 million, not $13 million, but we had Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale and Edgar Ramirez. Great cast. We brought it in on budget and had a good time doing it. We want to do all kind of movies.
DEADLINE: You’ve got all those awards for Amazing Race on the shelf above your desk there. It doesn’t sound like you feel the void of not having an Oscar in the center.
BRUCKHEIMER: I’ve seen other filmmakers who’ve made films thinking, this is my Oscar movie. And it never works. I remember Spielberg making that movie with Oprah…
DEADLINE: The Color Purple?
BRUCKHEIMER: The Color Purple. He thought that was his Oscar and it didn’t happen. Then, he gets it for one he didn’t expect. I think you have to keep doing what you do well. Maybe someday you will get lucky and the Academy will feel you deserve it.
DEADLINE: You were one of the first feature producers to branch into TV with Amazing Race and the CSI franchise. Now you’ve got Hostages. Which is bigger, your TV or film operations?
BRUCKHEIMER: They’re both small in personnel, and we create an enormous volume of work in television and features. The Lone Ranger took a lot out of the company because it was big and demanding, but we’re preparing another Pirates and we’re just finishing this movie at Sony, and Jonathan Littman’s got Hostages and Amazing Race, and we’ve got a new TNT reality show called Federal Marshals that will come out at the end of November. I’m still doing CSI, and we have a ton in development for next season. We’ve sold a lot of pilot scripts.
DEADLINE: Pay and basic cable are outshining the networks now. As someone who works mostly on that big network canvas, is there anything that can be done to kind of level the playing field?
BRUCKHEIMER: Not really, especially for the edgy stuff. They aren’t censored like networks. But the networks have loosened up too. I look at these shows and the things that they’re saying and doing and I say wow, how do you get away with that? Some network stuff is pretty risque. We sell to everybody but for us the network is financially a better model. If you hit one, you can go a long time. CSI is in its 14th season and financially, that’s a great model for us. Cable, you’re only making 13 to get out there. It takes a lot longer to make a significant dent financially.
DEADLINE: It’s clear you don’t look back, you look forward. Still, the American Cinemateque Award is for a brilliant career. What comes to mind when I mention the following movies? American Gigolo.
BRUCKHEIMER: I remember how very similar it was to what happened with Beverly Hills Cop. We got John Travolta, the biggest star in the world at the time coming off Saturday Night Fever. His girlfriend died and he dropped out of the movie. We had a weekend to go get another actor. The studio wanted Christopher Reeve because he was Superman and the perfect star. But he didn’t really fit the part. We focused on convincing Richard Gere, but we did not tell Paramount. And so Monday morning we go into the office and said that Reeves had passed on the movie but we got Richard Gere. He’d just come off Looking For Mr. Goodbar, so he was a hot commodity. They said fine, but you have to cut the budget. We did, and got the movie made. Paul Schrader was very helpful in convincing Richard. Paul’s understated but he’s a pretty persuasive advocate.
BRUCKHEIMER: A programmer. They had an April slot and wanted a picture to fill it. They gave us $4 million to make the movie.
DEADLINE: Did you see the hit potential at the time?
BRUCKHEIMER: You never know. It was an interesting idea. What happened was, Adrian Lyne watched like every girl in this country. And this girl walked in with no makeup, she’d just gotten off the plane from Europe and Adrian says, “That’s the girl!” Of course Don and I looked at each other like, what’s Adrian thinking? He’s out of his mind. We said we needed a test before we’d work with her. He did a hair and makeup test, put her on film and we said, “That’s not the same girl. You brought somebody else in.” It’s just amazing what he did with her. So we backed Adrian on Jennifer Beals and then it was a fight with the studio. They had another girl they wanted but we prevailed. Even though we backed Adrian, we were still skeptical.
DEADLINE: When did you know this was more than a programmer?
BRUCKHEIMER: Polygram had the soundtrack. I’d worked with Giorgio Moroder on American Gigolo and he wrote this song “What A Feeling” that I had heard before we made the movie. Don and I said “that’s a smash.” The question was, this is huge, but can this song carry the movie? It didn’t open that big, but the kids watched the movie, came out in Westwood and we watched them walk across the street to the record store and buy the album. The entire country was sold out in two hours. It took them two weeks to restock. No one knew that picture was going to be a huge hit. Girls would see it, come out of the theater and then get back in line and watch it again.
DEADLINE: Top Gun.
BRUCKHEIMER: A combination of good storytelling, Tom Cruise, and a unique setting. It was Tom’s time. He’d done Risky Business and we just caught him right at the perfect moment. He just killed the performance and helped mold that character and mold the screenplay. He was involved in everything on the movie. Tony Scott was being Tony, fearless with planes 10 feet off the ground…just nuts stuff. The excitement of what Tony brings to a movie and what he captures on film meeting Tom, who was just ready.
DEADLINE: Tom was being offered everything after Risky Business. How hard was it to convince him?
BRUCKHEIMER: It wasn’t hard to sell him to the studio, but it was hard to get him to do it. Here’s what I finally did. I had been in contact with the Navy to get permission to use their planes and found out that the Blue Angels were going to be in El Centro. I asked if they could provide us one of their planes and they said sure. Tom had just finished Legend, and still had his ponytail as he rode up on his motorcycle. They put him in a plane and took off. There were no cell phones then, but when he landed, he picked up the phone and told me, “I’m in!” Six months of working on him before I thought of that. He’s a pilot now, flies jets. So it was good.
DEADLINE: Pearl Harbor.
BRUCKHEIMER: It was a pitch by Braveheart writer Randy Wallace, he told us a story that was very emotional about these two brothers — I don’t remember if they’re best friends or brothers — it was just an emotional story. And Michael Bay got excited and convinced Ben Affleck to do it…that was fun. Top Gun was logistically tough, but Pearl Harbor, and getting those planes, and working with the Navy, that was an exercise just figuring out the logistics. I think there were only 10 or 11 of those planes left and we got all of them.
DEADLINE: Remember The Titans.
BRUCKHEIMER: An emotional story about Herman Boone, a great coach who just changed the way people perceived race in Virginia in those days. I get to make certain movies because I think people should remember individuals who made a difference. He was one of them. That’s also why we made Glory Road, Veronica Guerin and especially Black Hawk Down, because those soldiers deserved to be remembered. You often get fooled by previews because sometimes you get that audience and nobody shows up when the movie opens wide. Remember The Titans previewed through the roof and it opened and hung in to become a hit, just because it’s such an emotional, well-told story.
DEADLINE: Crimson Tide, which also starred Denzel Washington.
BRUCKHEIMER: The casting was interesting. We’d talked to Al Pacino and Warren Beatty; both were really interested but each wanted each other’s role so that didn’t work out. And then we went to Denzel and Gene Hackman. It was a good piece of material, which is why you got to get good writers. Quentin Tarantino did a rewrite that just knocked it out of the park.
DEADLINE: Con Air.
BRUCKHEIMER: The first movie I made after Don passed away, so it was all on my shoulders. Getting Nic was a real advantage in getting the movie made. The Rock had come out and he was on his way as an action star.
DEADLINE: Enemy of the State, with Hackman and Will Smith.
BRUCKHEIMER: Aaron Sorkin came in and did a killer rewrite, just a genius job. Jon Voight was a great guy to get, and landing Will was a nice surprise. It comes down to script, and good writers bring it to life. We did a reading on that and Gene had no notes, which was very unusual.
DEADLINE: Days of Thunder.
BRUCKHEIMER: It was simple. Robert Towne came in and created a character Cruise wanted to play.
DEADLINE: There was expectation this was the movie that would grab that humungous auto racing audience, and didn’t. What was the lesson?
BRUCKHEIMER: That when it comes to racing movies, if your character wins, it’s predictable, If he loses, they hate you. Those movies are hard to do. Name one that been a real success, and don’t say Talladega Nights because that was a comedy.
DEADLINE: As the only non-writing movie producer who’s a recognizable public brand, what in your mind does “A Jerry Bruckheimer Production” mean?
BRUCKHEIMER: Hopefully good entertainment that will captivate your imagination, enlighten and sometimes just entertain you. We want to take you away from whatever is bothering you that day and just give you two hours where you can’t think about anything else. If we do our job right, you walk out feeling a little better than when you walked in. And give the studio a return on investment. It’s that simple.
DEADLINE: Here’s what I’ve learned from the interview. If you had to choose between getting a bad review or watching a customer walk up to the box office and ask for their money back, you would take the bad review.
BRUCKHEIMER: You never want people asking for their money back. You can’t control reviewers, or how the public responds. I try not to read the reviews at all. I identify with what Woody Allen said about reviews. “The good ones are never good enough, and the bad ones are devastating, so why bother?”