Gore Verbinski Reveals Jerry Bruckheimer's Opening Night Ritual

From left: Verbinski, Bruckheimer and Depp on the set of "Dead Man's Chest" in 2006

The veteran producer of "Top Gun," "Armageddon" and the "Pirates" films, fresh off a new deal at Paramount, is being honored with the American Cinematheque Award.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Jerry Bruckheimer has a tradition: On the opening night of one of his movies, he heads to Mr Chow for dinner. He also invites the cast and crew and, because Bruckheimer is a man who makes blockbusters, it's always a sprawling affair.

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"Jerry makes a speech," recalls Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films for Bruckheimer as well as this summer's The Lone Ranger. "He usually says things like, 'We've done the work, we've fought the fight, now it's in the hands of the gods, but they can't take away what we achieved.' It's a celebration of the work."

Bruckheimer, 70, is now the one being toasted for what he has achieved over the span of his 40-year producing career. The American Cinematheque is celebrating Bruckheimer's work with an award to an artist who significantly has contributed to the art of the moving picture.

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With a résumé that's 44 movies deep -- it began with 1975's Raymond Chandler adaptation Farewell, My Lovely, starring Robert Mitchum -- the onetime advertising exec has produced a litany of pop culture touchstones (such as American Gigolo, Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop) while polishing a generation of movie stars, including Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Eddie Murphy and Will Smith. And his films have grossed more than $11 billion along the way.

Verbinski met Bruckheimer when the producer, after seeing the director's reel, wanted him to shoot the 1997 Nicolas Cage action movie Con Air. That teaming never happened; Bruckheimer occasionally would send scripts his way, but it wasn't until Verbinski read Pirates during the early 2000s that he said yes. ("It was an extinct genre," says Verbinski. "You're not going to get phone calls to make a pirate movie too often in your life.")

Originally, he was wary of working with the mega producer -- "I heard he protected you from the studio, but who protected you from Jerry?" -- but he found Bruckheimer to be a passionate supporter. And while he cautions that every director has a different experience working for Bruckheimer, he found that, though the producer was heavily involved in the development, marketing and finishing of the movie, he stayed out of the way during production.

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Says Verbinski: "He let me do my job to navigate the narrative. I had a crewmember say, 'Wow, he's very hands-off with you.' I like to think we had something unique."

Bruckheimer, adds Verbinski, not only loves movies but also loves to watch people watch movies. He'll go to every screening he can, sitting in the back to see how audiences react.

"He wants to know how it's playing and who it's playing for," says Verbinski. "And he'll apply what he learned on his next one."