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Jerry Bruckheimer Breaks His Silence on Disney's $215 Million 'Lone Ranger' Compromise (Exclusive)

Jerry Bruckheimer
Laurent Koffel/Getty Images
Jerry Bruckheimer, left, and Johnny Depp

The producer tells THR how he slashed a $260 million megabudget to get Disney's green light on the Johnny Depp film, why the negotiations took so long and how he feels about the new release date.

Jerry Bruckheimer says he never had any doubt that The Lone Ranger would get made with star Johnny Depp. But the project proved to be the most difficult negotiation of his career after Disney halted production in August as the budget reportedly spiraled beyond $260 million. Disney CEO Robert Iger set a hard number -- $215 million, according to a knowledgeable source -- and agreed to go forward with Lone Ranger only if the filmmakers hit the target. In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bruckheimer explains how they got there.

THR: How did negotiations get to the point where Disney shut down the movie?

Bruckheimer: We had a script that we kept working on. It was evolving. You start looking at locations, you look at the menu and say: "I like all these desserts. I want 'em all." And you hit a number and they say, "We can't afford that." Then you start cutting it back. Disney wanted to stop the spending unless they felt the budget corresponded to the number that the boss [Iger] wanted. They had set a deadline [Aug. 12] for us to submit a budget, and we didn't hit their number. They said, "Can you hit it?" We didn't have enough time to really vet the budget, and we said we couldn't hit it right away. And they said, "We have to stop the bleeding." We understood what they were doing, but we wanted to keep working.

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THR: Were you shocked that they shut it down?

Bruckheimer: It's always a shock when they actually do it. But I was still very confident that we could get the picture made. It took us about four to six weeks to figure out how to make the movie more economically.

THR: How did you do it?

Bruckheimer: We redid the production plan. We originally laid it out to avoid winter. Every single location we had, there was winter -- 30s at night, 50s during the day, best-case scenario. We were jumping around. California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah. If we had a big crowd scene and then the next day we were shooting just Tonto and the Lone Ranger, we still had the crew "on" because you have them weekly. So we bunched the sequences that were big together, and for the smaller scenes [we] laid off the extras, the effects people, the makeup people. It costs an enormous amount with 150 extras on the set. It's not the extras, it's the people that support the extras. You're still carrying all the wardrobe, makeup and hair people. We bunched together scenes with Tonto and the Lone Ranger, so we had a much smaller crew. We saved about $10 million just by doing that.

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Then we looked for the best break in tax incentives. We found that Louisiana gave us a better tax incentive than New Mexico -- that was another $8 million. We're still shooting in New Mexico, and we might [also] go to Louisiana. We're asking New Mexico to come closer to the Louisiana incentive.

We dropped our California location not because they didn't offer a tax break but because it was another production office that we had to open. Every time you have a new location, you have to use crew time setting it up for you. There are a lot of expenses.

THR: And there were deferments on fees?

Bruckheimer: Disney held back fees, and I put up some of my development money. I've done that before. [Director] Gore [Verbinski] and myself and Johnny and some vendors and creative people agreed to deferments. They will get paid at a certain point that Disney negotiated with them, as I will. It's a "favored nation" deal, so we all get paid at the same point when Disney recoups. That took a month or more. Then [on Oct. 13] we could finally start spending again. Some below-the-line people gave us reductions.

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Disney would have much preferred us cutting stuff out of the script. But the competition is fierce. You can't compete with The Hobbit, you can't compete with Transformers if you do that. The audience will stay home.

THR: Did you have to lose sequences from the script? There was talk that some train sequences were cut back.

Bruckheimer: We cut a sequence involving a coyote attack -- supernatural coyotes -- and a small animated segment. The train [scenes] are intact. We trimmed it a little bit. Gore made some sacrifices creatively, but nothing that would hurt the film. We had to work it out. The studio set a number, and it was always our responsibility to get to the number.

THR: What if the picture still goes over budget?

Bruckheimer: We are all sharing the burden on overages, including Disney.

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THR: Because you missed your original start date, how do you feel about Disney moving the release from December 2012 to May 31, 2013?

It's a better date. Before, we were up against The Hobbit and World War Z. Now we're a week after Fast and Furious and a couple weeks before Superman. The competition is not as bad. There are a lot of movies jammed in at Christmas. In the summer, you have a longer run. You're cut off after the first of the year on a Christmas release.

THR: Was this your most difficult negotiation ever?

Bruckheimer: It's been very hard. It's just the times. It's tough out there. The studios lost a real source of revenue in DVDs. It's much tougher, much harder. The studios are making fewer movies. In the past, there's always been something else [to make up lost revenue] that's jumped in there. There will be something, but it hasn't happened yet.

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But I've had so many movies shut down. The first Pirates was shut down. Pearl Harbor was stopped. So was Armageddon. For me, this is normal. This is: "Get real. Let's get the budget where we can make it." 

THR: How important is this movie to Verbinski?

Bruckheimer: He's certainly motivated to bring the picture in on budget.

THR: Where are you with Pirates 5?

Bruckheimer: We're in the outline phase. We will lay out a story. We have a script, but we decided we could do better.

THR: How are things going with Disney overall?

Bruckheimer: I'm there until 2014 or 2015. I'm happy with them, and I think they're happy with me.

THE CHANGING BUDGET FOR THE LONE RANGER

  • Original: $260 million
  • Revised: $215 million
  • Savings: $45 million