Bruckheimer’s Mad Men approach to Hollywood filmmaking predated the Scott brothers, David Fincher and the rest
Though he’s produced dozens of films over four decades, you rarely hear producer Jerry Bruckheimer credited as the “auteur” of his distinctive and personal filmography. Just as there was once a “Lubitsch Touch” that defined that director’s sophisticated comic style, “the Bruckheimer Touch” rings loud and clear, in film after film, characterized by a consistently edgy, high-octane visual dynamic and equally distinctive storytelling driven by the triumphalism so popular with Madison Avenue.
“The Bruckheimer Touch” doesn’t just describe his own films. His style of filmmaking has virtually defined the modern Hollywood blockbuster, which has influenced commercial filmmaking all over the world.
As Bruckheimer told Dale Pollock in a 1984 Los Angeles Times interview, “We (he and then producing partner Don Simpson) put together all the elements. We decide what aesthetic is right for a picture. We are as much a part of the process as the director.”
Not everyone has been oblivious to Bruckheimer’s influence on contemporary American cinema. The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan noted more than a decade ago “Bruckheimer’s works … have as much of an unmistakable personality as any director’s.”
Still, the general lack of awareness of Bruckheimer’s authorial signature is a fascinating omission in the modern history of Hollywood, as Bruckheimer’s films have generated even greater grosses than that of filmmaker Christopher Nolan — he of The Dark Knight trilogy and a writer-producer on current B.O. champ Man of Steel .
If you look closely, the fingerprints of Bruckheimer — who began his professional career in the Detroit and New York advertising worlds — are all over such films as American Gigolo , Flashdance , Top Gun , Prince of Persia , Bad Boys , Pirates of the Caribbean , Con Air and the mega-hit TV series CSI .
And the roster of filmmakers Bruckheimer has hired to helm his films, both the spectacles and the small-scale dramas, reads like a Madison Avenue who’s who of top ad spot directors: Adrian Lyne, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Gore Verbinski, Simon West, et al.
Even when Bruckheimer employs a director who’s not from the world of advertising, his attention to the visual details trumps whatever the film’s narrative roots might be. As Persia director Mike Newell recalled in an interview with fan site Coming Soon: “I got the script with a note from Jerry saying, ‘Are you interested in this?’ He sent with it a book of 19th Century paintings and they were called the Orientalists. They were mostly French and they were absolutely sick of painting society portraits in Paris. They wanted to go out and find something else that would energize their eyes.”
And whatever critics have said pro or con about his audience-friendly oeuvre, Bruckheimer’s big, brassy vfx-driven spectacles have energized the eyes of moviegoers for decades.
There are other obvious clues to the producer’s creative impact. His path to Hollywood began as child with a penchant for photography, which led to his making a little “movie,” produced not as a burgeoning indie film auteur, but as a creative producer for a Detroit ad agency back in 1968 when Bruckheimer was fresh out of college. It’s a one-minute riff on the pop culture obsession of that moment, Bonnie and Clyde. The spot focuses not on the real-life outlaws, but on the duo’s more glamorous Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty film incarnations of the time, and it helped Pontiac in their quest to sell scads of their new GTO muscle cars.
This quickly catapulted Bruckheimer into the top ranks of the New York City’s Mad Men.. He would win awards for Pepsi commercials he produced and art directed that look like blueprints for Flashdance and other glossy, sexy, youth-focused films that Bruckheimer produced in the ’80s and ’90s. His “Rope Swing” spot for Pepsi conjures the glistening hard bodies and athleticism not only of Bruckheimer’s movie heroes.
Employing commercials directors to helm studio features wasn’t a common practice in the early ’70s, when Bruckheimer arrived in Hollywood as the producing partner of director Dick Richards, who also hailed from advertising. It wasn’t until the late ’70s that Ridley Scott made his first Hollywood film, helping pave the way for the stampede of slick, punchy helmers who continue to score so many of the top feature directing gigs. Bruckheimer’s championing of ad men predated by more than 20 years commercials whiz David Fincher’s feature directing debut.
What was once controversial and risky is now the norm and exemplified not by scowls and scolds but by accolades and institutional acceptance.