Sunday, July 20, 2003

Producer Bruckheimer built empire with 'dumb' movies

By Anthony Breznican
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" cast members Orlando Bloom (left) and Johnny Depp (center) pose with producer Jerry Bruckheimer at a screening of the film at Disneyland in June.
(Associated Press photo)
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Regardless of what movie critics say about his explosion-packed movies like Armageddon and Con Air, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is neither big nor loud nor dumb.

The slim moviemaker with the low voice, brown hair and gray beard is one of few Hollywood producers whose box-office successes have made him a celebrity. His name is often proclaimed in movie ads as a shorthand for gunfire, wisecracks and trendy music.

"I always say we're in the transportation business. We transport people to other places and other times," said Bruckheimer, 55, sunk into a black suede easy chair in his Santa Monica office.

He may have a head-on collision this weekend, with Bad Boys II opening on the heels of his Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but Bruckheimer said he'd be happy to have two movies fighting in the box-office rankings. Meanwhile, the TV shows he produces - CSI: Miami, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Without a Trace - are jockeying for position atop the ratings.

Bruckheimer describes the job of a producer in terms of managing a baseball team. "We're not the coach - that's a combination of the writer and director. We don't own the team; it's owned by the studios. We're the managers. We put all the pieces together. We decide who gets traded, what players to play, what players to sign. We hire the coach, and then we sell the whole package to the owner, the studio."

Producing came naturally

Growing up "lower middle class" in Detroit, he developed a love for visual arts using hand-me-down cameras from his uncle. Steve McQueen action films turned him on to movies.

The talents of a producer came naturally, meanwhile. "I had an ability to organize things and put them together," he said. "I was never a good athlete, but I put together a baseball team so I could play. Got a sponsor, got uniforms. Then got together a hockey team so I could play."

Although he works solo now, a title card at the start of Bad Boys II identifies it as a Don Simpson-Jerry Bruckheimer production.

That's a reference to his late former partner, who worked on the 1995 original and died the next year as the result of heavy drug use. "Even though he's not here anymore it's part of his legacy," Bruckheimer said of Bad Boys II.

The pair started out in 1983 with Flashdance. The slick, temperamental Simpson, a former publicist, navigated the politics of Hollywood, while the soft-spoken Bruckheimer - who had previous credits with American Gigolo and Cat People - managed the filmmaking operation.

The collaboration resulted in a string of blockbusters that included Top Gun and the Beverly Hills Cop movies, and the producers became renowned both for their sensory-pounding action stories and their pop music soundtracks.

Proving himself again

After Simpson's death, Bruckheimer said he had to prove himself again to the industry - and did, with action hits such as Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds and Black Hawk Down along with uplifting tales like Remember the Titans.

Even peers acknowledge that Bruckheimer has turned his name into something that catches the interest of the fickle moviegoing public, much like a big-name star.

Critics rarely praise his movies - not Top Gun, Pearl Harbor or Armageddon. One recent exception was Pirates of the Caribbean, which collected generally positive notices.

"That scared me a little," he said, laughing. "Because if the critics love it, I think: Is it going to open?"

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