When uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer plants his hands and feet into the cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Monday night, he joins a galaxy of stars that includes Pickford, Swanson, Crawford, Jolson, Gable, Bogart, Grant, Monroe, Nicholson and Eastwood, to name just a few. While most of the inductees were legendary performers known worldwide, few — with the exception of DeMille, Lucas and Spielberg — were purely filmmakers.
But Bruckheimer is that rare producer whose name is as identifiable as the stars who populate his movies, and whose large-scale action adventures are as much a part of his brand as costume epics were a part of DeMille’s.
Characteristically, the self-effacing and low-key Bruckheimer isn’t sure he deserves to be in such august company. “I’m a little embarrassed to be associated with those kind of names,” he admits, “but I’m thrilled.”
The producer is not one of those Type A Hollywood players prone to self promotion and bluster. And yet for more than three decades he’s racked up hit after hit — earning more than $125 billion worldwide — from such productions as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun,” “Armageddon,” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” franchises.
In fact, all of these films will be on display, accompanied by the likes of Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Orlando Bloom and the directors Gore Verbinski, Jon Turteltaub and Tony Scott, when “A Cinematic Celebration of Jerry Bruckheimer” unfolds tonight as part of the festivities at the Mann Chinese 6, the El Capitan Theater and Grauman’s, where “The Prince of Persia” will hold its premiere.
The multiplatform producer clearly has his finger on the pulse of a mass audience that flocks to his high-concept “event” movies and tunes into the primetime procedurals that bear Bruckheimer’s stamp.
His criteria for what constitutes entertainment is simple. “I always ask myself first, ‘Do I want to see it?’ ” says the Detroit-born former adman. “I honestly don’t know what audiences want to see, but I know what I like, and everything I’ve done has been based on that approach. It’s always personal, and it has to be.”
Bruckheimer’s tastes have repeatedly meshed with those of the hoi polloi, a tendency he ascribes to his Midwestern roots. “I grew up loving hamburgers and hot dogs and seeing the movies that the average person loved to see,” he notes, “and I’m still the same guy. I want to sit there and be entertained.”
If Bruckheimer doesn’t always exhibit the Midas touch — as exemplified by such misfires as “Veronica Guerin,” “King Arthur” and “Deja Vu” — he’s managed to rebound in a way that keeps his long-standing relationship with Disney, for whom he’s made 25 films over the last three decades, in good stead.
“Every producer has films that fail, and I think you learn far more from your failures than your successes,” he says. “You try not to duplicate (what didn’t work), and I’ve had pictures that have been financially disappointing, but even then I’ve usually been pretty happy with what we’ve done creatively and proud of the result.”
While the public perception may be that Bruckheimer can greenlight whatever his heart desires, he insists that the reality is very different.
“Every one’s a struggle, and it never gets easier to get projects off the ground, especially in today’s climate — and even with the big sequels,” he cautions. “Each one’s got its own unique challenges and problems to solve. I remember how hard it was to get ‘Pearl Harbor’ and ‘Armgeddon’ made because of the budgets and trying to get it in the range that the studio wanted to spend.”
A case in point is the next “Pirates” installment, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which will not have as lavish a budget as the previous three, now that new Disney studio chairman Rich Ross has tightened the reins on spending — a challenge that Bruckheimer doesn’t shy away from. The next “Pirates” will be marked by fewer shooting days, locations (Hawaii, London) with favorable tax incentives, and less of the costly special effects shots that characterize such extravaganzas. Verbinski, who helmed the previous “Pirates” movies, is being replaced by a director not exactly known for tent poles, Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Nine”).
Going back to his earliest successes (1980’s “American Gigolo,” 1983’s “Flashdance”), any problems have “always been about the budget, not the creative stuff,” he insists. “You can always work out the creative issues, but the money issues can derail a project, and sometimes there are deals that are very difficult to make – whether it’s a star or writer or studio, and it never gets easier.”
Even so, the year ahead looks promising for Bruckheimer. “We have ‘Prince of Persia’ coming out Memorial Day weekend, and we’re finishing ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ starring Nic Cage,” he says. “We’re also working on another ‘National Treasure’ and ‘The Lone Ranger,’ and some TV pilots for NBC and ABC.”
Bruckheimer, who says he works “about two years out” on film projects, also recently started a games division — Jerry Bruckheimer Games, and already has a deal in place with MTV. “It’s a huge market, and we have a number of very interesting projects we’re developing, so we’re hoping to do well there,” he says. “It’ll take some time, but I’m excited about it.”
So will Bruckheimer ever slow down? “Not as long as I love what I do, and I love being a producer,” he states. “I love the whole process of making films and TV, and I still get up in the morning excited about whatever new project I’m working on and I can’t wait to get to work. That keeps me hungry.”