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Four decades into his career as arguably the most successful producer in Hollywood history, Jerry Bruckheimer says he can see a time when Hollywood will have to cede its dominance to China.
“Of course,” he said, when asked if there would come a point when Hollywood would no longer dominate the global film business. “China’s building — what? — 10, 12 theaters a week. So, I mean, it’s going to be enormous in China. Russia, too — they’re expanding. China has how many billions of people? And the way they, the government, is structured, they want to keep their people in the villages that they’re in because they can’t all migrate to the big cities. The big cities are overcrowded. So by building these complexes of theaters, they’re entertaining their masses.”
The shift from the domestic to the international business, which now provides more than 70 percent of many studio films’ revenue, is something “you certainly have to think about,” he said. “You’d be a fool not to. And you have to think about what will play in China and Russia and some of the big markets.”
Bruckheimer, who is currently in postproduction on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, to be released in summer 2017, was speaking Oct. 27 at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and TV, where he took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series, moderated by THR’s Stephen Galloway.
He said it was unclear whether a sixth Pirates installment would follow. “We’ll see how this one does,” he observed, recalling that top Disney executives initially had doubts about Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. When the studio saw early footage, “It [was], ‘Oh my God, this is not [right]’ — he had gold teeth in — and, ‘That’s not what we had imagined.’ They really were upset by the performance.” Bruckheimer added that Depp himself had been reluctant to play the role. “I flew to France and spent about a five-hour lunch, and I don’t know how many bottles of wine with Johnny, and at the end of it, he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”
The producer added that he is still developing a Top Gun sequel. “We’re actively developing a screenplay with Tom [Cruise],” he said (Justin Marks, who wrote Disney’s upcoming The Jungle Book, recently worked on the project, which Bruckheimer previously said would center on drone warfare). “We’ve been doing it for 30 years, so I’m not getting my hopes up,” he added.
He also recalled one of his longest creative partnerships, with Top Gun director Tony Scott, with whom he collaborated on Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop II, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and Deja Vu. Scott killed himself in 2012.
Bruckheimer said he was with Scott the day before he died. “He seemed OK. He seemed fine, you know, and I get a call Sunday night that he passed away,” he noted. “It was a real shock. …Tony’s very gregarious. He’d come up and hug you and kiss you and, you know, and [his brother Ridley’s] a professor. He’s stand-back, he’s very dignified. They’re both easy to work with. They’re both really, really smart. You know what I find is, when you’re really talented, you accept, you listen to other people. It’s the ones who aren’t talented who kind of shield everything in tight because they’re afraid to be found out.”
A full transcript of the conversation follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: Welcome. Hello.
JERRY BRUCKHEIMER: Hello. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
GALLOWAY: So it’s 1970, or ’71 —
BRUCKHEIMER: — somewhere in there —
GALLOWAY: — you’re working for one of the top advertising agencies in New York.
GALLOWAY: You’re earning what’s an unbelievable salary for that era, $100,000 a year. And you give it all up to come to L.A.
BRUCKHEIMER: You have dreams, right? We’re all sitting out there with dreams of what we want to do. I had a dream to be in the film business; and, you know, advertising, doing 30 and 60-second commercials, gave me a great education about film and communicating to people on how to sell a product. But I wanted to tell stories and stories that were longer than 60 seconds. And this was the dream and this is why I came out here. I came out here for a lot less money, very little, barely enough to live on. Like $10,000 a year, which is not terrible, but [it was] OK in those days. But again, you’ve got to follow what you believe in. And bet on yourself. And that’s what I did.
GALLOWAY: Where did that dream start?
BRUCKHEIMER: I guess it started in a movie theater when I was very young. You know, I sat back and was watching that big screen and wondering who were those people behind the screen who makes these things? ‘Cause I had no idea. I knew I couldn’t be an actor. That was something that I wasn’t good at. So I found something that I was really good at doing. Which was putting things together and making it all work.
GALLOWAY: Do you remember the first movie that had an impact on you?
BRUCKHEIMER: Oh, I don’t know. I think Lawrence of Arabia. I mean, I was older when I saw that. But still I think there were so many movies that I loved growing up. You know, Mister Roberts, The Great Escape. You know, I’m a big fan of David Lean, but again, he was later. In my process of getting to Hollywood.
GALLOWAY: Your parents came here from Germany.
GALLOWAY: How did that influence you?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think, you know, they didn’t have an education beyond high school, so the thing that they wanted their son to do was have an education. So from the time I could remember, three or four years old, it was: I was going to college no matter what. They were saving from that point on to send me to college. I wasn’t a great student, so it was a struggle to get there, but I did get there.
GALLOWAY: Well, you went to one of the great party schools of America.
BRUCKHEIMER: That’s the only one that would accept me. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: Was that a good experience?
BRUCKHEIMER: eah, it was a great experience. I mean, college is the best days of your life. You know, I hate to say that ’cause you’re so young and you got plenty ahead of you. But it college is just wonderful. You know, you certainly have some responsibility. You’ve got to show up for class and you have to make your grades, but it’s a great time and I hope you enjoy those days, ’cause they’re the best.
GALLOWAY: I was surprised to discover you were a psychology major.
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. But I think that was something that interests me, because it’s about people. And we communicate with people. You have to know how to communicate with people. It’s so important. That’s the biggest failing for filmmakers — they really don’t know how to communicate their ideas. So I thought psychology would be something [where] I could learn something about myself and about other people.
GALLOWAY: Did you?
BRUCKHEIMER: I certainly did.
GALLOWAY: What did you learn?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’m here, right? I think it’s one of those things where you categorize certain behaviors and I could see that in people. And use it to my advantage.
GALLOWAY: How did you then get your first job? Because it’s quite a leap to go from there to, first, Detroit and then New York for an ad agency. I know you were very into photography.
GALLOWAY: Did that help?
BRUCKHEIMER: It certainly did, because I understood the camera. And I learned a lot about that growing up in high school and took a lot of photographs, won a lot of awards for my photographs. But once I got out of college, I really, you know, a psychology degree doesn’t get you very far. And but I started in the mailroom for an advertising agency in Detroit, where I lived at home with my folks. And worked in the mailroom for about, I guess it was about six or eight months, and then got promoted into the television department, which was my ideal place to land.
GALLOWAY: Oh that’s interesting. So you started with television and then came back to it so much later?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. It was for commercials.
GALLOWAY: Do you watch television much today?
BRUCKHEIMER: I have a lot of shows that I watch. Most of them are mine. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: I think all of them are yours!
BRUCKHEIMER: So I’m pretty busy watching just our own stuff and reading our own things.
GALLOWAY: What do you watch that’s not work related?
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, I like a lot of things that are on HBO. I watch some other series. I kind of try to look at everything. I try to see what other people are doing.
GALLOWAY: Is television a good business today?
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s a great business. Any time you can create something that gets to a large audience is fantastic. And television still gets you to a huge audience.
GALLOWAY: And what about film?
BRUCKHEIMER: Film is much different, because with film you have more time. Television’s very fast. We go out with our ideas in maybe August and try to sell them to the various networks. By October or September you know what they want to buy, what scripts that you’ve sold. By January you’re shooting a pilot, if you’re lucky. And by the following May you know if you’re on the air. And then after May, October tells you if you have a hit or not. If you come on in the fall. So it’s — movies take forever to get made. I mean, Beverly Hills Cop took eight years to get made. It takes a long time.
GALLOWAY: Why did it take so long?
BRUCKHEIMER: Just the ideas, the writers you go through. I mean, Mickey Rourke was the first star of Beverly Hills Cop. Oh yeah. He never did it, unfortunately. And then Sylvester Stallone wanted to do it. And that didn’t work out. And then we landed on Eddie Murphy, which turned out to be fine. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Did that start as a comedy or did it start as…?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was always a dramedy. It was always about this guy who gets dropped into Beverly Hills, who’s from Detroit or Pittsburgh or whatever. I think it was Pittsburgh initially. I changed it to Detroit for obvious reasons. But it was always to be something that had humor and told a cop story at the same time.
GALLOWAY: How was Hollywood different when you arrived here?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’ll tell you, it’s so interesting, because Hollywood was much smaller. Because you just had movies and you had television. And there were only three networks. And you had one independent station. So you didn’t have a lot of places to put your product out there, to put your films out there. Now there are 400 dramas on television. 400. Can you imagine how many people they’re employing? And the studios are still making quite a few movies. So there’s a lot more work here. It’s much harder for us as far as getting the premiere talent because everybody wants them so they have a lot of choices. Especially with actors and great writers and directors. So it gives opportunities to you in this room to get out there and make your mark.
GALLOWAY: What would you say to these students as advice, in terms of how to make their mark?
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, I think you’ve got to be honest with yourself at what you’re good at. That’s the hardest thing to do. A lot of things I’d like to do, but I know I’m not good at. And you when you find something that you really love doing and it gives you a kind of glow, then you know you can make a difference, that’s what you go after. Whether it’s writing, acting, producing, directing, whatever it is, it’s got to be be something that you know your talent is special. And you can make do something that other people can’t do.
GALLOWAY: And what was your talent as a producer? What was the key to that?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think I’m a great organizer. Not that I’m organized, but I’m a great organizer of other people.
GALLOWAY: That’s interesting.
BRUCKHEIMER: So I always, when I was a kid I started a baseball team. I was a terrible player, but I put together a group of neighborhood kids. I started a hockey team. I put the kids together and got a sponsor. So I can always kind of organize people and get things done. And so then I with my photography I got awards, because I stuck with it and got the pictures out there where they had to get to. And so I think that’s part of what kind of led me into the path that I’ve taken.
GALLOWAY: When you moved out here, you started working with Dick Richards.
GALLOWAY: And started making films. What mistakes did you make, if any?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well every day you make mistakes. And the key to making mistakes is first you have to make them, which means you’re in the game. So don’t be afraid of getting in the game. Even if you don’t know anything about it, ’cause you’re gonna make mistakes. But the other thing is you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And not do them again. And that’s the fun part. Once you make that mistake, you say oh that was really dumb. I can’t do that again. And you constantly do that, you know. You put faith in people sometimes that can’t deliver for you. And those are mistakes and you have to… don’t work with them again. It’s pretty easy.
GALLOWAY: Were there any other mistakes you made?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, you learn. You learn. I became a better storyteller. I became, you know, better at understanding the politics of Hollywood. You know, you learn through the errors that you make.
GALLOWAY: Somebody told me, maybe Michael Bay, that you had a great insight into the politics of Hollywood. And I wonder what he meant by that.
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, I think you when you go into a meeting, you have to understand that they have their own agenda and it’s not necessarily your agenda. [LAUGH] And you have to understand what is their agenda? What do you, what do they want out of that meeting? What is, and I think that’s you’ve got to keep your eyes open to what’s being said in the room. A lot of people are great talkers and they can, they’re great salesmen, but they never listen to what other people are saying. And that’s the biggest failing we all have. We daydream when somebody else is talking. But we want to get our point across so we in there, we go in there and sell, sell, sell our own point. And then we have no idea what really went on in the meeting. We know what we said, but we had no idea what they said.
GALLOWAY: Do you find the studio environment different today than in those days? And the ’70s was the Golden Era of Hollywood.
BRUCKHEIMER: Right. I think the types of pictures we make are much different. The audience of course is much different. You know, we love the big Marvel and Superman and all the great, great comic heroes. So that wasn’t around in the ’70s. Films were more personal, you know, in those days. So much different.
GALLOWAY: You made some terrific pictures in the beginning. It’s interesting, because if you go and look at these films, they’re quite different from the ones you made later.
GALLOWAY: They’re more personal films. Thief, was that Michael Mann’s first picture?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was.
GALLOWAY: American Gigolo with Paul Schrader.
GALLOWAY: Then you did Cat People with him.
GALLOWAY: And then you team with Don Simpson.
GALLOWAY: And became the iconic producers of — what year was it you were with Don?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was, it must have been in the early ’80s, late ’70s, early ’80s.
GALLOWAY: So it’s interesting, because just before we started, I was talking to somebody who was saying, “Oh, Jerry Bruckheimer’s the producer of Pirates of the Caribbean.”
GALLOWAY: He’s that to this generation. I said, “Well to my generation, you were the producer of Top Gun and Flashdance, that changed the look of film and the feel of film. Talk to me about Don Simpson. How you met him and what made that relationship work? You were known as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Not quite sure which one of you was which.
BRUCKHEIMER: I was the inside, he was the outside.
GALLOWAY: And it was a fantastically successful duo.
BRUCKHEIMER: Right, we had a good run.
GALLOWAY: How did you meet and what drew you to him?
BRUCKHEIMER: I met him — he was working at Warner Brothers as a publicist. And his, my ex-wife was working for his best friend in the music department at Warners. And I came out of a movie called The Harder They Come, if you remember that movie. And my wife introduced me to Don. And that’s how we met. And I said I thought this guy was really sharp and smart and funny and really an interesting guy. He had a Hawaiian shirt on and a Panama hat. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: Just like you.
BRUCKHEIMER: Yeah, exactly. So he was somebody that had a great gift for understanding Hollywood and movies and storytelling and he was from Alaska. And he just was had such commercial instincts. You know, he really loved commercial movies. And he really loved the business. And loved making movies and telling stories. He was a great storyteller. I mean, he’d go in a room and mesmerize executives. I’d just sit there and didn’t have to say a word, listen while he did all the talking. And so when we eventually split up, they thought oh my career was over ’cause Don was the real talent.
GALLOWAY: I mean, I have to admit, I fell into that.
GALLOWAY: I remember when he died and writing the obituary and the shock that went through the entire industry. How did you divide up your duties? How did you, what did each one of you bring to that partnership? You shared a desk I think.
BRUCKHEIMER: Yeah, we did.
GALLOWAY: You had identical Ferraris.
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. [LAUGHS] Back in the old days.
GALLOWAY: Times have changed.
BRUCKHEIMER: What we did is he was so good at pitching ideas and working with writers. He was the president of Paramount and he developed about 120 screenplays every year with various writers, ’cause they had to make 20, 25 movies. So, you know, he was the one who really knew every writer, knew every director. Really had the understanding of how you develop material. I was actually making movies. So I was on the floor making these films with Dick Richards. And, so I understood the production part of it. I understood how you make a movie. He couldn’t make a movie if his life depended on it. But he relied on me to get the movies made. But he could tell the story. So I learned an enormous amount from him about how you tell stories. And he learned how to make movies from me. So that’s how the partnership…
GALLOWAY: Well what did you learn in terms of storytelling?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, you know, the three acts, all the things you learn from Joseph Campbell, one of the things that he loved to read and talk about.
GALLOWAY: So, it was with him that you made the film that really put both of you on the map.
GALLOWAY: And we’re going to take a look at this scene that is really iconic and almost representative of a whole decade. Let’s take a look at the most famous scene in Flashdance.
BRUCKHEIMER: No. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: So how did this come about? How did you find the script?
BRUCKHEIMER: The script was something that Don was developing at Paramount. And he left being head of Production. And [Paramount’s then-movie chief] Jeff Katzenberg called me up and said, “We have to get this movie made. We have no movie for April.” I guess the following year. “And we have to slot something in there. We’ve been developing the script. I’d like to pair up you and Don Simpson together.” Meanwhile, Don and I had talked about coming together and working on a movie together. And we brought in Joe Eszterhas who was the famous screenwriter and still working. And Joe kind of cracked the code of the script. But I think he had to move on to something else and we didn’t quite have it right. So we brought in this young lady named Katherine Reback who actually wrote a lot of the great dialogue for the movie. And she always had writer’s block. So Don would almost lock her in her office and wouldn’t let her come out until she put pages under the door. [LAUGHS] You know, to so he could continue on the process. And I’d seen a movie that Adrian Lyne had made. I think it was called Foxes.
BRUCKHEIMER: And I thought he had a great visual style and visual sense. And we brought Adrian in to work on the movie with us.
GALLOWAY: How did you cast the lead part?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well Adrian has a great eye for women. I mean, he loves women and loves working with them and [LAUGHS]. We looked at thousands of girls and went all over the country. Had people come in from everywhere. And our casting director had just worked on a movie and she said there was an extra in that movie that was really interesting. And she was just coming through New York on her way to school. And she was going to Yale. And so she stopped in to see us. She just got off a plane. And she was shabby looking and didn’t look great ’cause she had been flying all day. And Adrian looked at her and said, that’s the girl. And I said, you’re kidding me. And I said, you’re nuts. So he took her and he took a makeup artist. And I still have the Polaroid’s that he took where he made her up and she looked fantastic. And we tested three girls. And Paramount couldn’t, Adrian was in love with her. He wanted her. And the studio couldn’t make a decision. So Michael Eisner at the time was running the studio and he brought all the secretaries into a room and said, pick one of these girls. And they all agreed with Adrian on the star of the movie.
GALLOWAY: The other two, have you ever heard from them since?
BRUCKHEIMER: No. So I guess we made the right choice.
GALLOWAY: Was it a difficult film to make?
BRUCKHEIMER: It wasn’t terrible. It was, you know, it was a very short production period. We didn’t have a lot of shooting days. It was in Pittsburgh. It was cold. It wasn’t great. But it was a lot of fun. It was a good time to make the movie.
GALLOWAY: What did you learn from this? Because in many ways it defines what I associate with the Simpson-Bruckheimer films of that area. It’s very stylish. It’s emotionally engaging. It’s larger than life.
GALLOWAY: Which is true of a lot of your films. And there are a few like Veronica Guerin that are not.
GALLOWAY: Did you already know at this point the films you wanted to make? Or did this shift your thinking?
BRUCKHEIMER: No, I think we make movies we want to see. We love to sit in the audience and watch them. That’s always been my way of making choices. Flashdance was, I called it a musical. Everybody thought I was crazy. But, you know, early on in the process when we just had the screenplay and were just trying to put it together, the head of music publishing said, “Jerry, would you like to have lunch?” And I said, “Sure.” And he said: “I know you’re developing this thing. I know you’re going to need a composer. And who in the world would you like to work with? Just tell me, I’ll introduce you to them.” And I’d just seen Midnight Express. And I said, “That composer. I know he’s written songs and I think he’d be really interesting. Would you introduce me to him?” And that was Giorgio Moroder. Who’s had a resurgence recently. And we just had a great relationship. He wrote this song way before we started filming. And I fell in love with it and I said, “We have a chance to make a huge hit here, ’cause the song is so strong. We just gotta use this song.” And he wrote some other songs for us. And he helped make the success of the picture.
GALLOWAY: The song was a gigantic hit. I thought you’d probably edited with a different song and I’d wondered if there was a temp track.
BRUCKHEIMER: No, the temp track was actually a man singing it, the song. So it was much different. It was interesting when the movie came out, it was very successful for its day. And kids would line up in Westwood and when they came out of the theater, they’d go in the record store and buy the song. It’s much different today. We have everything in iTunes and Pandora and Spotify. So we don’t have to do that. But they went out and bought it right away. They were sold out within two hours of the movie came when it came out. Because Polygram, who released it, had no faith in it. And didn’t stock the stores hardly at all. So it became a phenomenon.
GALLOWAY: Did Paramount have faith in the film?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was a programmer. It was their their April release. If they’d had faith in the film, it would have come out in summer or Christmas. So it was something that they had to fill a slot with. You know, I think everybody was kind of shocked when it took off the way it did.
GALLOWAY: That was also time when maybe the most famous executive regime in the past few decades in Hollywood history was running Paramount. Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg — Barry Diller was there when you were there?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes, he was there.
GALLOWAY: What did they bring to the table?
BRUCKHEIMER: They were just smart. They were all really smart executives. Smart at marketing and advertising and distribution. And you just knew that they could handle any problem that came their way. They were just so, so gifted.
GALLOWAY: What makes a great executive?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to look at it from every angle. You’ve got to understand how to deal with creative talent. You know, how to get the best out of them. And, you know, how to work with them. It’s hard, because, you know, we’re demanding sometimes and you have to learn how to say no in a nice way. [LAUGHS] So it’s a difficult thing to do.
GALLOWAY: What makes a great producer?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think somebody who listens, you know. Somebody who listens to other people and can communicate his ideas and is not, you know, rigid or as demanding as some people become. And try to, we have to work with a lot of people. We have to kind of separate the writer from the director sometimes when they disagree and try to solve problems. We have to understand what a director or writer needs. Like certain directors I work with have phenomenal visual styles. I don’t have to worry about any cinematography they pick. I know it’s going to look good. Other directors don’t care about the camera. They’re great storytellers. They worry about character and performance. So I’ve got to go out and find somebody that can deliver a very elegant looking picture. I always believe that it’s not radio, it’s film. You want it to look beautiful. You want it to look special and different. So when you watch a commercial or you watch something, it jumps out at you. It makes you, your eye says something’s different about this. And hopefully the story’s compelling and the actors are compelling. So that all works together — and CSI when it came on television really changed television, ’cause the look of that show. It was a director named Danny Cannon who’d done a picture in London and was just kicking around and CBS wouldn’t hire him because he’d never done television, he’d just done one failed feature, which was a very good feature, The Americans, I think it was called. And, you know, we convinced them to give me a shot and let me try him. He just, he’s exploded on television.
GALLOWAY: But you also brought the film crews to television.
GALLOWAY: And they were very separated at that point. I mean, when CSI debuted there was no television that looked like that at all.
GALLOWAY: You didn’t think it was possible in the timeframe. Did you, were you aware of changing the look of television?
BRUCKHEIMER: No. You just do what you know. You know, and that’s how we knew how to put together films was by hiring really talented people. It didn’t matter if they were in television or movies. It’s a nice break for them to work on a pilot for eight, 10 days or 12 days, whatever it takes to make one.
GALLOWAY: Before you went into television, you went from Flashdance, you did the Beverly Hills Cop series.
GALLOWAY: Which we briefly spoke about. And then you made this other film that launched Tom Cruise’s career. He’d done Risky Business, but no one thought of him as a sort of action star until Top Gun, which we’ll take a look at now.
GALLOWAY: When did you first meet Tom Cruise?
BRUCKHEIMER: Oh gosh, met him maybe six or eight months before we made the movie. It’s, you know, it was interesting trying to get him to make the movie. He’d just finished a picture for Ridley Scott called Legend, I think. And it wasn’t a big success. And, you know, he had a ponytail in the movie and we kept chasing him for this picture. We thought he was the perfect guy to play Maverick. And he just wasn’t engaging. So I called the Navy, ’cause they were anxious to get the movie made. They felt it was good for their recruiting. Some of them did. Others didn’t. We had some admirals who said, “No, we don’t want to touch Hollywood.” So I got a hold of the Blue Angels who do all their stunts and flying stuff. And I said, “Would you mind taking this actor up in the air and just give him flight? He’s never been in a jet before, you know, a supersonic jet.” They said, “Sure.” So we called Tom’s agent, we sent Tom down to El Centro and he shows up there and he rides his motorcycle and takes his helmet off. He’s got this ponytail and you got these straitlaced Navy pilots, you know, stare at him, say, “This hippie, we’re gonna give him the ride of his life.” [LAUGHTER] So they threw him up there and they gave him all kinds of G’s and Tom was throwing up and just had the worst time. And he gets on the ground and he runs to a pay phone, because there were no cell phones. He said, “I’m doing the movie!” [LAUGHTER] “I’m doing the movie. I love this.” He loved it. He’s a pilot now. He flies jets. I mean, that introduced him to flying. He just had the best time. But that’s what convinced him to do the movie.
GALLOWAY: How did you get the Navy to sign on to this?
BRUCKHEIMER: We had an adviser who said, “Look, I’m going to introduce you to the Secretary of the Navy,” who was a man named John Lehman at the time. And John, we told him the story, Don pitched the story, Don’s a great storyteller, so he told the story. And John said, “I think this’ll be good for us.” And we kept getting blocked by this Admiral down in Miramar. He just didn’t want to touch us. And also there was an Admiral here in Hollywood who approves all the movies that the Navy will get involved in, and he turned us down. And so John said, “Here’s my personal number. This movie’s gotta get made. You call me if you have any problems getting anything done.” And that’s the sign-off we needed and that’s how we got the cooperation on the movie.
GALLOWAY: When you made this, I think the dialogue was created after you’d shot and edited the scene. Is that right?
BRUCKHEIMER: No. The movie was split into four sections. We did the ground story, which was written. [A writer]] did a fantastic rewrite on a Cash and Epps script. And then we shot part of the air story, which is what you just saw. A lot of the jets. We had the jets in Miramar and were filming them in the desert. And then we did a carrier story, which is where they’re on the carrier. So we went out, we all landed on carriers and did all the stuff on a carrier. And then we shut down again and did the cockpit story, which was done on a stage. So everything was and that part was made up because we cut some of the sequences, the aerial sequences and realized some dialogue had just needed to make the audience understand it.
GALLOWAY: This was one of I think six films you made with Tony Scott.
GALLOWAY: Tell us about him.
BRUCKHEIMER: Oh he’s a great, great man. Unfortunately he’s not with us. But he was such an adventurer. I took a raft trip down the Colorado River and the river was the highest it had ever been. So the rapids were really enormous and there was about 10 or 12 of us. And Tony was one. I didn’t really know Tony at the time. He was one of them. And then we’re sitting at a campfire and it’s about, you know, just sun’s going down and then you look up and there’s this sheer wall. And there’s Tony climbing the wall with his hands and his bare feet just climbing up the wall. I said, this man’s insane. And, you know, we looked at the movie he’d done with Catherine Deneuve and he just had a…
GALLOWAY: The Hunger?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yeah, The Hunger. Just a beautiful visual style. And he got really excited about making the movie. And he found this book, there’s a photographer named Bruce Webber who’s a great photographer. He did all the Abercrombie ads. And he did this book on young men. And he said, this is what these guys are gonna look like. And they had these white T-shirts and they were all like beach kids. And they all had blond hair and great looking and that’s how it all started.
GALLOWAY: Were you shocked when he died?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. I’d been with him the day before.
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
BRUCKHEIMER: We were talking about doing another Top Gun. We were down in Nevada, in Fallon, Nevada meeting with the Top Gun pilots. And it was a real shock.
GALLOWAY: And that day was he OK or…?
BRUCKHEIMER: He seemed OK. You know, he was, he seemed fine, you know. And I get a call Sunday night that he passed away.
GALLOWAY: Do you have a favorite film of the films you made with him?
BRUCKHEIMER: No, I think they’re all part of you.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGH] They’re all great.
BRUCKHEIMER: They’re all part of your legacy and they’re all part…
GALLOWAY: So when you work with a director like that who really knows his stuff…
GALLOWAY: We’re going to come to Ridley [Scott] later. And you’re on the set. Do you go to the set every day? And what do you do day to day on a film like that
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, you’re preparing for the next day. You worry about the next day, the next week. Do we have everything we need? Are the scenes good enough? Do we have to do some rewrites? And, you know, you work with Tony and you give him, you say, I like this or I don’t like that. Or you never talk to the actors or while he’s filming, you don’t get in front of the camera and say, do this and do that. You talk to Tony. So if you feel Tony’s missing something, you talk to him. And he was very collaborative. He always listened. Didn’t always do what you asked him to do. [LAUGHS] But he was collaborative.
GALLOWAY: Do directors ever always do what you want them to do?
BRUCKHEIMER: Never. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Not the good ones.
BRUCKHEIMER: Which is a good thing, by the way. That’s why I have a good career.
GALLOWAY: Have you ever fired a director?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’m trying to think. I don’t think so. There’s some I should have fired but no. [LAUGHter]
GALLOWAY: Yeah. Is there going to be another Top Gun?
BRUCKHEIMER: We hope so. We’re actively developing a screenplay with Tom.
GALLOWAY: With him to star?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. We’ve been doing it for 30 years, so I’m not getting my hopes up.
GALLOWAY: I know. I keep reading about it every now and again.
GALLOWAY: You then created many other films. Crimson Tide, Bad Boys. And then you split with Don in 1995.
GALLOWAY: Why did you split with him?
BRUCKHEIMER: He had a problem. He really did. He was an indulger, unfortunately, in things that, you know, that can drag you down. And I said, “You gotta get your act together.” And it was like, we were really close friends. It was very hard to do. And he had to do it, but unfortunately he didn’t want to. He passed away like four or five months later.
GALLOWAY: How did he react when you said, “I’m splitting up”?
BRUCKHEIMER: He understood it. He was, he got it. He said, no, I understand. I know it’s been hard on you ’cause I was basically running the company. He wasn’t around. So it was difficult.
GALLOWAY: So it’s 1995, you split with Don. Months later, he dies. And everybody is saying, “Jerry Bruckheimer is not going to succeed on his own.”
GALLOWAY: Were you worried?
BRUCKHEIMER: I always believe in myself. You know, you always worry, I’m worrying about the movie I’m working on now. So we’re always worried. But I always believed that I could, I knew how to make movies.
GALLOWAY: But you did say at one point that you were afraid of failure.
BRUCKHEIMER: Right. I still am.
GALLOWAY: What is failure today?
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, a movie that doesn’t work. A movie that doesn’t happen. So you work as hard as you can to make sure it can become a success. They don’t all become successes. Nobody has that. So we all, you know, get our turn in the barrel.
GALLOWAY: Have you been surprised by a film that didn’t do well?
BRUCKHEIMER: I always think that they’re going to fail. [LAUGHS] For whatever reason.
BRUCKHEIMER: I hope for the best but I expect the worst and, you know, and when they become hits, I’m so shocked, you know. I sit there and, oh my God, how’d that happen? I mean, Top Gun. We’d previewed this in Houston. Unfortunately it was right after the shuttle disaster. I’m telling you, nobody laughed. They just didn’t move in the audience and we walked out of there, I said, “Oh my God, this is the end of our careers.” [LAUGHTER] And, you know, it’s still an iconic film today.
GALLOWAY: Why did the audience not respond?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think they were so emotionally torn by what happened. ‘Cause the shuttle, a lot of people were from Houston.
GALLOWAY: You then created your biggest franchise, so let’s take a look at a clip from Pirates of the Caribbean. [
GALLOWAY: Well, this movie began in 1992. A couple of writers pitched it to Disney.
GALLOWAY: Didn’t go anywhere. And then at some point, Dick Cook who was the chairman of the studio, approached you and you weren’t interested. Why not?
BRUCKHEIMER: The script was just basically a by the numbers pirate movie, you know. I didn’t think anybody was interested in seeing that. So we went back to Dick and we talked to these two writers, Elliott and Rossio, and I said, “Read the script, tell us what you’d do with it.” And they said, “Well here’s what we’d do. We’d make the pirates have to return the treasure rather than steal the treasure. We’d make them turn into skeletons in the moonlight.” And I said, “I’d go see that movie.” And that’s how it started. And I went to Dick and Dick wanted a PG movie and I said, “I don’t think the audiences want to see a PG movie of this. It’s by-the-numbers. But I promise it won’t be an R.” And I pitched him the story. And he said, “Go make it.” And I we started working on it and convinced Gore based on an outline, Gore Verbinski to direct it. And then I had some sketches that we’d done, an outline of the story we were going to tell and I flew to France. And spent about a five-hour lunch, I don’t know how many bottles of wine with Johnny [Depp]. [LAUGHTER] And at the end of it, he said, “I’ll do it.” So that’s how it started.
GALLOWAY: How did you persuade him to do it?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think, first of all, he just had a daughter. And I think he wanted to make something for his daughter. Most of his movies, you know, were smaller and R rated. And I also felt he was a perfect actor for it because he gave a signal to the audiences that here’s a guy who does Edward Scissorhands and does all these bizarre movies and yet he’s interested in doing this movie about a theme park ride. ‘Cause you look at it and say, “If Johnny Depp’s in it, maybe I’ll go look at it ’cause he’s an interesting actor. “
GALLOWAY: So let’s walk through the major decisions that you as a producer have to make on something like this. The script comes to you. You worked with many writers on this project. What did each one contribute?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, this was Elliott and Rossio the whole way. The original script was written and we felt it was a good script, but it was not something that we felt would be very successful. We brought Elliott and Rossio in and they wrote three of the movies.
GALLOWAY: I thought other writers had come in and worked on it.
BRUCKHEIMER: No. Not on this one.
GALLOWAY: And what were the toughest challenges in the screenplay once they had that idea?
BRUCKHEIMER: I think it’s balancing the humor with the adventure, the excitement and you still keep the tension without getting too silly. And I think we did a pretty good job. The audience felt we did a good job. They liked it so it’s good.
GALLOWAY: And then how do you come up with Johnny Depp instead of say Will Smith, Nic Cage? What is he the third person you go to for this or…?
BRUCKHEIMER: No, he was the first. We always wanted him.
GALLOWAY: It’s a real leap of imagination to see him as a pirate captain at that point.
BRUCKHEIMER: I think that he’s such a good actor and everything he does is so different. And he loves playing characters. And that’s what he was. And the script wasn’t written for him. It was written for a crusty pirate and had none of the humor in this that Johnny brought to it. I mean, all the stuff, his uniform, his walk, everything that he does he it’s an imitation of Keith Richards that he really does. He was, his daughter was watching Pepe Le Pew on Cartoon Network or something and he said, oh that’s a great character. I can take a little bit of him and Keith Richards was a friend of his. And Keith came over to his house. He said, Johnny, let me try this jacket. He took one of Johnny’s jackets and, you know, just left [LAUGHS] just walked off with it.
BRUCKHEIMER: He says, “I’m gonna copy him.” So, I mean, he created this character. And when Disney saw the dailies, it’s, “Oh my God, this is not” — he had gold teeth in, and, “That’s not what we had imagined.” They really were upset by the performance.
GALLOWAY: Was it Dick or other executives?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was below him, but it eventually filtered up to him.
GALLOWAY: And there was a meeting where they…
GALLOWAY: Did they persuade him to tone the character down?
BRUCKHEIMER: No, not at all. What we did is we took some of the footage and cut it together and when they saw how well he meld with the other characters and how much fun it was the way he played it, they saw it.
GALLOWAY: So you’re going in, you’re going to a meeting with the studio chief.
GALLOWAY: You’ve got a very expensive movie. And this is a gigantic decision, how this guy plays the role. How do you allay their fears? What’s the conversation?
BRUCKHEIMER: The film does it. You know, that’s what, when you get them together and you see the brilliance of this character and what he’s pulling off and you see, I don’t think it was that scene, but we showed them a scene and we laid music in and you just see that this was something special.
GALLOWAY: And were they nervous or did they completely…?
BRUCKHEIMER: They’re always nervous, you know. They’re nervous until it’s in its second weekend.
GALLOWAY: There was an issue of a budget with this film. And at one point I think Disney had said, we’re not going ahead. There’s a $10 million or $15 million difference.
GALLOWAY: What happens then? Do you just say no? Do you, how do you walk a studio through budget issues? Which that’s a familiar problem for any producer on obviously any film.
BRUCKHEIMER: Right. You know what, you’ve just got to be smart about it. You’ve got to look at the bloat. What in the story is not going to be there at the end? Because we make all the movies we make are too long. And we always end up cutting them down. You know, they’re usually three hours and we cut them down to 2:20 or 2:10 or two hours. So you’ve got to look at the script and say, what in the end is not going to make the story? And usually what happens is character development on its own doesn’t end up in the movie. It’s great on HBO and on television ’cause you keep coming back every week. But in movies if you don’t have plot running through your character development, you’re in trouble. So you look at scenes that again don’t propel the story forward and they usually end up on the cutting room floor.
GALLOWAY: What did you eliminate?
BRUCKHEIMER: I can’t remember. But what we did is we looked at some production things. We had built a, we were going to build extra ships. And we figured out how to take one ship and convert it into two or three ships. So that saved quite a bit of money. So we met their number. We got down to it. I mean, we actually made the movie for what we said we would, which is unusual, but we did.
GALLOWAY: You then did 2 and 3 back to back.
GALLOWAY: It was a 280-day shoot or something.
GALLOWAY: But I’m assuming that the deal with Johnny Depp initially was just for one picture. How do you persuade him to come back?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well look it, it was his most successful movie. At least financially.
GALLOWAY: That helps.
BRUCKHEIMER: And he loved the character. His kids loved it. He had a son born by then. And he named the son Jack after the character. So, you know, I think it’s something that he wanted to do and no, he’s such a good guy. Here’s what he does, when we go to a city and we’re making a movie, he carries a trunk with his costume in it and he’ll put the makeup on, put the suit on and go visit children’s hospitals.
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, and he does that wherever we go. We were in Australia, he went there and he did a fantastic thing for this very terminally ill cancer ward in Australia. So that’s the kind of guy he is. He knows people love this character. And he’s very proud that he’s playing the character.
GALLOWAY: So when you’re having a conversation about him coming back, who’s actually doing the deal? Is it you? Is it Disney? His agent’s Tracey Jacobs. Who’s talking to Tracey Jacobs? At what point do you step in? At what point do you say, “I can delegate this”?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well it’s really the studio, ’cause it’s their money. It’s their business affairs who deals with Tracey and Jake Bloom is his attorney. We’ll get in the mix if we feel that it’s drifting apart or either side is being unreasonable.
GALLOWAY: And have you ever walked away from somebody because of a contract deal?
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s rare. It’s rare. Because any smart actor or any creative person it’s about your work. It’s not what you get paid. ‘Cause the money comes when you’re successful. You get paid what you deserve. And, you know, it’s I’ve always never worried about my deals. If I want to do a movie, I’ll figure out how to get a deal done. Because that’s success comes from the movies you make. And if you pass up a movie, when I did American Gigolo, I was the associate producer I think on it, and my lawyer said, “You can’t do this for this amount of money. It’s just not fair.” And I said, “I love the script. I’m going to make the movie.” So and I got a lot more on the next movie. So it’s again, it’s not, never, about the money. It’s always about the film. Are you invested in this? Do you want to make this? Do you want to see this? You yourself.
GALLOWAY: On American Gigolo, you lost your star, John Travolta. And then Richard Gere came in and this propelled him. Have you had a situation like that with anybody else?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’m trying to think. Not that I can recall.
GALLOWAY: Do you have a backup list, just in case, when you do a film?
BRUCKHEIMER: We always make lists. You know, you always have lists of actors that you want to have in the movies. But then you try to get your first choice. But, you know, it’s really interesting, because when we’re ready to make a movie, I don’t like to wait. So if there’s an actor I’d love to be in the role and he’s not available for a year, I’ll find somebody else. Because what happens, you wait the year and he decides he doesn’t want to do it. So then you’ve lost a year.
GALLOWAY: But have stars lost a bit of clout in the studio environment?
BRUCKHEIMER: Not the big ones. You know, they still can demand what they want.
GALLOWAY: And what about producers? Is this a good era for producers?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, it’s a good era because there’s a lot of work out there. It’s not necessarily we’re getting great deals, but you make a great deal when you have a hit movie. So it’s certainly you can make a lot of money even with not a great deal.
GALLOWAY: Your toughest movie you said was Pearl Harbor.
GALLOWAY: What was complicated about that?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was just so big. It was just enormous, you know? We’re dealing with all these old planes and we’re dealing with battleships and carriers and it was just, it was Hawaii. It was just so many moving parts.
GALLOWAY: Did anything go wrong?
BRUCKHEIMER: Unfortunately we lost a, I think we had a, we had one accident. I don’t think anybody passed away, but we did have one that, a plane that went down.
GALLOWAY: How do you handle a situation like that?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well you try to be as safe as possible. And, you know, Disney has safety officers that are on the set. And but, you know, accidents do happen.
GALLOWAY: I want to take a look at a film that really was an extraordinary challenge to make where you actually had to get the State Department, a king and the military involved.
GALLOWAY: Which is one of my favorite pictures of yours. Let’s take a look at the clip from Black Hawk Down, based on a real incident when an American helicopter went down in Somalia. Directed by Tony’s brother, Ridley.
GALLOWAY: This is such an amazing scene. It’s extraordinary filmmaking.
BRUCKHEIMER: We had a master.
GALLOWAY: I was surprised you made this, because you’ve made a lot of films that were very stylish, and larger than life. And now you’re dealing with a real life incident that’s very gritty. How did it come to you and what drew you to it?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well we read the book. You know, and we were just fascinated by the characters, the bravery of these men. And we just felt that, you know, these guys gotta be remembered for what they went through. It was I guess 36 hours trapped in there. And, you know, the material was so good.
GALLOWAY: Was it a difficult film to get a studio to make? I think Disney passed on it.
BRUCKHEIMER: Disney passed. Joe Roth was at his company, Revolution, and he’s with Sony and he was excited by it. He picked it up.
GALLOWAY: And then you decide to shoot in Morocco. How did you get them on board to do that?
BRUCKHEIMER: The king at the time was, he still is, he’s a big movie fan. And loves films. And they were trying to develop a film infrastructure because it’s a lot of unemployment in Morocco. So they had a lot of very talented people who had worked on a lot of movies there. And we felt that that was the best place. Ridley had loved, loves it over there and spends, done a lot of movies in Morocco. The people are wonderful and very helpful and knowledgeable. So we thought that was the perfect place. But we had a lot of problems trying to get American soldiers into Morocco that were armed.
GALLOWAY: And how did you resolve it?
BRUCKHEIMER: We went through the State Department, which really didn’t want anything to do with this. It was a Congressman — I can’t remember his name — who finally… the Minister for United States wasn’t in office; they had an attaché there, and she was scared to death that something would go wrong. That somebody would get shot or somebody would get killed. So she did this thing called a “ladder trick,” where she said, “Well if you get me this, if you get me this Moroccan General to sign off on it, then I think we’re fine.” So we get the Moroccan General to sign off. She said, “No, you know what I need? I need this.” So it kept going on and on and on. So this Congressman, who’s a big patriot, read the book and loved it. He wrote a letter to her. He said, “You’re going to be in Nigeria if you don’t get this [LAUGHS] thing done. This is your job. You’ll be gone in the worst place we can possibly send you.” And then she disappeared and we didn’t have a problem. And it was really hard because we brought in 90 U.S. Rangers that were armed into Morocco. And we had to, you know, take care of them, you know, feed them. We brought in helicopters. We wanted Black Hawk helicopters. We didn’t have the helicopters until almost four weeks into filming.
BRUCKHEIMER: So it was pretty [LAUGH] scary.
GALLOWAY: You went in with several Black Hawks and a few other helicopters.
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. Little Birds.
GALLOWAY: Who has to sign off on that?
BRUCKHEIMER: You have to get everybody from the King to the head of the government and our State Department and our Department of Defense. The, you know, everybody has to sign off.
GALLOWAY: So I’m assuming the first guy to work on that is the line producer. At some point you have to pick up the phone. Who did you call?
BRUCKHEIMER: We have advisers. We have people that we work with and we’re working with the Secretary of Defense at the time, who was a big proponent and very helpful at getting things done.
GALLOWAY: So were you actually on the phone with him talking to him about it?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yeah, we always were on the phone talking to somebody, trying to get things in.
GALLOWAY: Do you like working with the military?
BRUCKHEIMER: I do. I do. I mean, they’re very professional. They get things done. They’re great. They’re very sharp.
GALLOWAY: The film, when it came out, was it a success?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was.
GALLOWAY: Why do you think people responded to it?
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s a great story. It’s great filmmaking. And it’s wonderful acting. And it’s emotional. You know, best part for me is when we took this film, we took it to Fort Bragg where a lot of the families of the men that died and the mothers and sons came up to us and said, thank you. “My husband will never be forgotten.” So that’s worth it for me to do those kind of things for people who deserve it. And they don’t get paid a lot of money for doing what they do. They get sent in these awful places and the government doesn’t actually want them there. But they had to send them over there. And the minute these kids were killed, they were pulled out of there. They don’t make policy, but they have to uphold it.
GALLOWAY: I think this is the only film you’ve done with Ridley.
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. Well I did a commercial with him years ago.
GALLOWAY: The Goodrich tire commercial.
GALLOWAY: Which is when you told him, “This is the last commercial I’m going to work on.” [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: How is he different from Tony? They always struck me as very different people.
BRUCKHEIMER: Tony’s very gregarious. He’d come up and hug you and kiss you and, you know, and [Ridley’s] a professor. He’s stand-back, he’s very dignified. Much different than Tony.
GALLOWAY: Is it easy to work with him?
BRUCKHEIMER: They’re both easy to work with. They’re both really, really smart. You know what I find? Is when you’re really talented, you accept, you listen to other people. It’s the ones who aren’t talented who kind of shield everything in tight because they’re afraid to be found out. But both of them are they love, they both are artists, they both draw, they do their own storyboards. I have a whole six movies worth of storyboards from Tony that he drew himself. And he would get up at 4:00 in the morning and do his storyboards for the shoot at 6:00 a.m. He’d be up till — he’d get two, three hours of sleep every night.
GALLOWAY: What do you look for in a director?
BRUCKHEIMER: I look for good storytelling. A visual style that I think is unique. And how they work with actors. That’s very important.
GALLOWAY: Is there a particular director you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
BRUCKHEIMER: Hundreds of them. There’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of great directors out there that we haven’t had a chance to work with.
GALLOWAY: Spielberg you haven’t worked with.
BRUCKHEIMER: No. No, but he’s an amazing director.
GALLOWAY: When you’re with someone like Ridley and end up going into a film like this, what are the initial conversations? I think David Puttnam, who produced Chariots of Fire, said, when you’re going with your director, make sure that you’re both out to make the same film.
BRUCKHEIMER: That’s true.
GALLOWAY: So when you talk to Ridley about Black Hawk Down, was, do you get together for lunch? How does that work?
BRUCKHEIMER: We sit in the office or at lunch and we talk about, he’s read the screenplay. And he’s, we say, how do you see it? What’s important to you? And when he lays out the kind of movie he wants to make about the characters that he feels are important and about the themes. There were other directors who wanted to make it and wanted to make it an anti — it is an anti-war movie, but they wanted to make it so bloody and so in kind of outrageous that it lost the reality of it. So, Ridley was the one that really wanted to do it the right way.
GALLOWAY: You then moved before this came out from film to television.
GALLOWAY: Which is a completely different business. So let, we talked about it a tiny bit. Let’s take a look from a scene from the pilot for CSI. Who would have thought this would become an empire?
GALLOWAY: This is a scene from the very first episode, in 2000, I think.
GALLOWAY: I can’t imagine when you started this that you would have thought that you were going to be even more successful in television than film. How did it come to you? And what made you decide to make that transition from film to television?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well I was watching Law and Order. I was watching all these TV shows and things that John Wells was doing. And I said, “You know, we can do that.” It’s good storytelling. They were really good producers and, you know, it’d be nice to tell a story in more than two hours. And so I hired a television executive named Jonathan Littman. And he started taking pitches. And Anthony Zuiker walks in his office and he’s sweaty and he walks around the room. He starts telling this story. He lived in Vegas. He was driving a tram at the time. Written a few screenplays, got no traction. And just another great pitcher. He just told the story of the pilot. And Jonathan said, “You’ve got to hear this. This is really special.” So he brought him in and he’s sweating again in my office. [LAUGHS] And he’s walking around and telling the story and it was a great, great idea. But nobody in town thought it was a great idea. Other than us.
BRUCKHEIMER: So we took it to every network and everybody said no. And CBS was the only network that didn’t hear it. And Jonathan’s friendly with Nina Tassler, who was running it for Les Moonves at the time. He called and said, “Nina, look, I know the chances are you’re not going to buy this, but you just gotta hear the pitch. And this guy’s so entertaining, just let me bring him in and tell the story.” So he comes in, he tells the story. And Nina says, “I’ll buy it.” Right in the room she said — I mean, she didn’t go to her boss. She didn’t go anywhere. She said, “I want to do this.” And that’s how it started.
GALLOWAY: At what point does Les Moonves get involved in a situation like that?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, she went up to his office and said, “This is something I want to do.” And we developed the script and she let us go to pilot, along with Les. And the pilot came out and they were unsure about putting it on the air. They weren’t sure we were going to get picked up. And finally we got lucky, we got picked up. It was the last pilot picked up for CBS that year. And we get put on Friday night, which is the death, that’s it. That means you’re over. And there was a movie called The Fugitive and they made a TV show out of it and that was their big push. They spent all their money on The Fugitive. We had very little advertising. But somehow the audience found it on Friday night. And then Les said, let’s move it to Thursday and I said, oh you can’t do that. ‘Cause NBC owned Thursday. They had ER. They had all these big shows on Thursday night that would kill it. Les says, no, we’re putting it on Thursday night. And he was right, it became the biggest show on television. And around the world. It’s still one of the top shows around the world.
GALLOWAY: How is the TV business different from the film business?
BRUCKHEIMER: Fast. Just fast. And you have, you don’t have as much control. And the network is — really, there are a lot of executives that oversee. You get noted to death. They want to see the sunglasses the character’s wearing. They want to see everything. So it’s a much different business.
GALLOWAY: Are you in a position where you can say no to them though?
BRUCKHEIMER: That’s not good business.
GALLOWAY: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
BRUCKHEIMER: You could, but then, you know, they’d rather work with somebody who they get their two cents in.
GALLOWAY: And how are involved are you with each episode of each part of the franchise?
BRUCKHEIMER: I read everything and I watch everything. Not that I’m on the set, ’cause I’m not. I give them notes if I feel that they get, wander a little bit, the storylines. But it’s rare, because our showrunners are so good.
GALLOWAY: With a series like this are you looking at a year, two years down the line? Or do you just sort of concentrate on one season at a time?
BRUCKHEIMER: You just try to get through the season that you’re [working on]. You got 23 episodes or 24 episodes to produce. And it’s a lot of work. They’re working on two, three episodes at a time. And, you know, they’re, the editing, they’re editing two episodes, they’re writing three episodes. They’re just overwhelmed. I mean, they’re working seven days a week. It’s really a grind for them, for series television.
GALLOWAY: How much do you work?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’ve got it pretty easy. You know. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: I don’t believe that.
BRUCKHEIMER: No, I read everything. I watch —
GALLOWAY: What time do you get up each day?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’m up by 6:30 a.m. usually.
GALLOWAY: Seven days a week?
BRUCKHEIMER: I sleep in on the weekends. I get up around 8:30 a.m.
GALLOWAY: Any vacations?
BRUCKHEIMER: Rare. My job is a vacation. I’m really lucky that I’m doing this.
GALLOWAY: How do you structure your company? You’ve had people there for some time.
BRUCKHEIMER: I have two executives in film and — really there’s really four of us in film. And in television there’s three of us. And that’s our company.
GALLOWAY: And when you’re looking to hire somebody, what do you look for?
BRUCKHEIMER: You know, smart, aggressive, understands good movies and storytelling. We’ll let them read a script and critique it. And that’s the, you know, you, we like people who have energy. Our place never closes. It’s open seven days a week. People are in there working.
GALLOWAY: What’s the best executive decision you’ve made in terms of who to hire? And is there one that you’ve made where you felt like I made a mistake?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well, I make mistakes, as I said, all the time. There are executives that have left, you know, that weren’t as good as they, we thought they could be. Maybe they became good after they left us, but, I think everybody we have working for us now were all great decisions.
GALLOWAY: And do you share the same taste with them? Or do you accept that okay, we have different tastes, but that will just add to the product?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yeah, I mean, the taste varies, but it’s usually within the, in the ballpark of what we’ve made in the past.
GALLOWAY: The film business has changed enormously over the past few years. It’s gone from being 60 percent domestic to almost 70 percent foreign. How has that changed what you make?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well you certainly have to think about it. You’d be a fool not to. And you have to, you know, sometimes we populate it with stars that are big overseas. And, you know, you think about what will play in China and Russia and some of the big markets. But it’s always about good storytelling. It’s always about, you know, having great actors and great directors and that’s what it’s about. It’s about telling good stories.
GALLOWAY: You think they’ll come a point when American film’s not dominant around the world?
BRUCKHEIMER: Of course. China’s building — what? — 10, 12 theaters a week. So, I mean, it’s going to be enormous in China. Russia too, they’re expanding. China has how many billions of people? And the way they, the government is structured that they want to keep their people in the villages that they are they’re in. ‘Cause they can’t all migrate to the big cities. The big cities are overcrowded. So by building these complexes of theaters, they’re entertaining their masses. And that’s good for us.
GALLOWAY: Do you go to these places?
BRUCKHEIMER: I’ve never been to China. I’ve been to Hong Kong. I’ve been to Japan a number of times.
GALLOWAY: What’s next for you?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well Pirates, we just finished the fifth Pirates and that will be coming out in ’17. We’re in the editing room working on it now.
GALLOWAY: I just saw that’s coming out in the summer of 2017.
GALLOWAY: So what happens between now and then?
BRUCKHEIMER: We’re in an editing room right now working on it. We’ll eventually finish it and we’ll, you know, I imagine we’ll start promoting it before it comes out.
GALLOWAY: Are there any surprises for us?
BRUCKHEIMER: Well Javier Bardem is in it. He’s an amazing actor. And great to work with, so that’s a big surprise.
GALLOWAY: And do you have another Pirates in the works after that?
BRUCKHEIMER: No. We’ll see how this one does.
GALLOWAY: OK. Good. I’m going to open up to questions so let’s get everybody up at the microphone. And don’t forget to introduce yourself. And say what you do.
QUESTION: My question was: for a lot of us after film school we’re going to try to get into independent films. What do you think is the best way for us to secure financing for an independent feature new to the industry?
BRUCKHEIMER: That’s a hard question for me, because I don’t make independent films. But I think you have to go to the various independent distributors. You know, the Sony Classics, Focus, those are the people that actually distribute those movies. And they have a list of people who finance their films. They put up part of the money and then there are other people who contribute.
GALLOWAY: Do you have a deal with any of the specialty labels at the studios?
BRUCKHEIMER: I haven’t yet, but I’m sure some day I will.
GALLOWAY: Do you have a project that you would like to do?
BRUCKHEIMER: There are a number of projects that are smaller pictures that I’m sure will end up at one of these places.
GALLOWAY: Is there a dream project you’ve never made?
BRUCKHEIMER: They’re all dream projects. [LAUGHS] That we all want to make.
GALLOWAY: Tell us one.
BRUCKHEIMER: Horse Soldiers is something we’ve been trying to get made for a long time. It’s about the first U.S. troops that went into Afghanistan right after 9/11 and were dropped in there with about 100 guys. And pretty much won the war. They teamed up with the Northern Alliance and drove the Taliban out of the country. And then we pulled out and they came back. But it was a pretty heroic effort by these young men.
GALLOWAY: And why is that not got off the ground so far?
BRUCKHEIMER: It just people were frightened of war movies until American Sniper. So I think now we have a better chance thanks to American Sniper.
GALLOWAY: Yeah. Next question.
QUESTION: You said you make the movies you want to see. So my question is especially in relation to the things like Pirates, where everyone would be like, “This is the biggest risk.” What makes you say, “Yes, this is what I want to make. This is what I want to see.” Like what is that spark that you’re looking for in a script?
BRUCKHEIMER: It’s usually an idea that’s populated with a great plot, great characters and good themes. But it’s always something that you try to look at it from what’s being made and what’s in the ethos, what’s happening. You try to do the opposite. Because what’s happening now you’re not gonna be interested in two years. ‘Cause it’s over.
GALLOWAY: Which is the opposite of what most people are doing.
GALLOWAY: They say these things are hot, is that also true in television?
BRUCKHEIMER: Television is more of a follower. You know, television a lot of the television executives look at what movies are being made and they try to do things that are very similar. Now with the big thing in television and we’re doing it ourselves is to take pre-sold titles and turn them into TV shows. We’re developing something on Training Day. Remember the movie Training Day with Denzel? We’re doing a series on Training Day. We’re developing a screenplay.
GALLOWAY: How did Amazing Race come to you?
BRUCKHEIMER: Bertram van Munster, who was a cameraman on Cops and eventually became a producer on Cops, had this idea with his wife, who came up with the idea about these teams traveling around the world to compete for a prize at the end. We thought it was a great idea.
GALLOWAY: So they came and pitched it to you.
GALLOWAY: Did you know immediately this is going to be a hit?
BRUCKHEIMER: We didn’t know it was going to be a hit. We knew it was something [LAUGH] that we liked. You don’t know what hits are.
GALLOWAY: Next question.
QUESTION: Early on in your career, what did you do to overcome self-doubt?
BRUCKHEIMER: I know sometimes you feel you’re right and sometimes you are right. You know, most of the time you’re wrong. I think any time you’re right and you feel that you’ve made the right decision, it propels you to the next decision, which could be wrong. But one or two right decisions help you overcome the bad ones.
GALLOWAY: Do you have any self-doubt?
BRUCKHEIMER: Always. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Really? Even now?
BRUCKHEIMER: Sure, sure, of course.
GALLOWAY: About your decisions or…?
BRUCKHEIMER: Just, you know, you make decisions and you think about it and you say, now is that really the right person for doing this? So you doubt it and then you follow the line and hopefully the your fears are dissuade.
GALLOWAY: Is there anyone you turn to for advice?
BRUCKHEIMER: I myself, I guess, really. But I have very smart people around me. My people, who work with me and the executives I work with. So I listen to everybody and that’s a key thing. Listen and from listening to everybody you kind of find a gem of truth and confidence.
GALLOWAY: Next question please.
Q: For those of us who are obviously gonna be starting fresh as newbie writers in the industry, what would you say is a good, practical way to start pursuing actually getting work?
BRUCKHEIMER: Write. [LAUGH] You just gotta write. You gotta be, whether it’s, I mean, Michael Mann wrote an episode of Policewoman or something that never got made, but he showed it around, people loved it and he got a writing job. So I think you just gotta write. You gotta keep writing. Find ideas you love, characters you love, write a screenplay, write a TV show. Write anything and that’s how you’ll get an agent and that’s how you get, that’s how your craft gets better every time you write something. And when you write something that other people like, that propels your career.
GALLOWAY: Have you ever hired a first time writer?
BRUCKHEIMER: A lot of them.
GALLOWAY: And do you just go off a sample script or what…?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes. You go off something they’ve written.
GALLOWAY: Have any of them then gone on to become big names?
BRUCKHEIMER: Yes, of course. J.J. Abrams wasn’t a first time writer, but he certainly was a young writer.
GALLOWAY: What did you work with him on?
BRUCKHEIMER: He worked on Armageddon.
GALLOWAY: And did you know then that he had the talent to become…
BRUCKHEIMER: I knew he was really smart and he was a good writer. And he became a terrific director and writer. Yeah, does TV, does everything. He’s very talented.
GALLOWAY: Next question please.
QUESTION: You’ve been successful for a number of decades now and you’ve talked about how it’s all due to the good storytelling. But you’ve also mentioned how the market’s shifted. Do you find you have to kind of predict where the market’s going?
BRUCKHEIMER: You can’t predict. You never can predict where the market’s going. You just got to go with your own instincts and you hope that you’re right.
GALLOWAY: Do you think there’s a point where you’re not in sync with the times?
BRUCKHEIMER: Absolutely. That’ll come some day. But I surround myself with a lot of smart people and hopefully they’re a lot younger and they hopefully are in tune.
GALLOWAY: Do you follow pop culture?
BRUCKHEIMER: I do. I try to keep abreast. I sort of know what’s going on.
QUESTION: With all the producing you’ve done over the years, if you could pick one favorite moment, do you have one? And would you mind sharing that with us?
BRUCKHEIMER: No. I think that favorite moments is when you stand in back of the theater and you watch an audience enjoy what you’ve done. That’s my favorite moment. And that happens when you can watch their heads and they’re not moving. And they’re laughing or they’re applauding or they’re very serious and they don’t cough, they don’t get up to go to the bathroom. And there’s a silence in the audience that you know what they’re, you’ve created something that’s making their life a little bit better for two hours. They’re forgetting about your next assignment, am I getting a job. So that is how can I pay my rent? If you can just do that for me, that’s a big win.
GALLOWAY: You still love movies?
BRUCKHEIMER: I love it. I love doing it and I love entertaining people. I love when you guys show up and see our movies and I love when you laugh at Pirates and you’re enthralled with what we created. That’s the pleasure that I get out of it. The money is great and I certainly have had a good run. But the best thing is watching you enjoy what we do.
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