They are absurdly rich. They are responsible for billions of dollars of movie commerce. Yet neither Jerry Bruckheimer nor Brian Grazer saw fit to drop by the June 4-6 Produced By conference, which drew more than 800 producers and wannabes commiserating about the dire state of their craft.
In a sense, I can understand the duo’s absence. Why should these paladins of production listen to speeches about how hard it is to get projects off the ground when their own agendas are on overload? Bruckheimer and Grazer are rivals and have sharply distinctive styles, but they do have this in common: They dread listening to speeches.
Maybe they also have something else in common: Though their TV schedules are packed and their movies have grandiose budgets, both are having disappointing years. And both are falling victim to a common syndrome among men of their success and experience: They seem to be repeating themselves.
Grazer’s “Robin Hood” has had a wobbly start in the U.S. and, besides, it’s not about Robin Hood. Bruckheimer’s “Prince of Persia” has also had a so-so reception (he also carries a producer credit on the upcoming “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Some gamers claim “Prince” sucked the snarky fun out of the videogame on which it’s based and director Mike Newell has suggested that his cut was re-edited to make it more of a conventional Disney tentpole.
So, will any of this slow down Grazer and Bruckheimer? Hardly. Both producers are prepping full slates in both film and TV.
At the same time, while the networks and studios keep saying “yes,” they are chopping away at the producers’ extravagant deals and perks. The upshot: Both Bruckheimer and Grazer are exploring private financing in hope of finding new fiscal freedom.
The big question: Would these new deals enable them to break free from the constraints of corporate product? Or will they, too, remain stuck making and remaking tentpoles and TV procedurals?
Bruckheimer and Grazer are not close friends, and their personal styles are sharply contrasting. Grazer is a gifted schmoozer who covets new adventures. Bruckheimer is a solidly conservative workaholic whose conversation is succinct to the point of abruptness. Grazer’s cultural restlessness is so intense that he periodically employs an attache whose job it is to introduce him to big thinkers. Bruckheimer works off tensions by banging around hockey pucks twice a week.
Though masters at setting up new projects, both would fail a course in pitching. Grazer’s stories tend to lose their way. Bruckheimer lapses into a bored monotone.
Yet the resumes of both men are emblazoned with breakthrough ideas. Grazer won all the kudos in 2001 with “A Beautiful Mind.” Bruckheimer pulled an amazing rabbit out of his hat with the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” in 2003 and will come forth with yet another iteration next summer.
So far this year, however, both men seem to be on a “more-of-the-same” program. The Grazer-Ridley Scott “Robin Hood” could have more appropriately been titled “Gladiator II.” And, as Time magazine observed, Jake Gyllenhaal’s manly physique and fabulous hair “comes off like Persia’s first surfer, his sentences seem to end with an implied ‘dude.’?”
Am I worried about the producers’ career paths? I don’t think so. The wannabes at the producer conference deserve more of my empathy.
Bruckheimer and Grazer have the advantages of owning their own stores but their stores must, nonetheless, be geared to the tastes and inhibitions of the industry hierarchs. The mandate is clear: Movies are out, tentpoles are in.
That’s a daunting mandate for anyone to work with.