The strong suit of Bruckheimer’s films seems to be adventurous summer fare, and this season he has given moviegoers some eye-popping entertainment with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. And next summer audiences can look forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the Pirates franchise, which has taken in billions worldwide. The producer’s National Treasure and Bad Boys franchises are also very successful, and Bruckheimer will continue his profitable partnership with Walt Disney Pictures as he readies The Lone Ranger for summer 2012. In total, Bruckheimer’s pictures have grossed well over $15 billion in box office, video and recording receipts. No wonder he’s proud of that “popcorn” label.
To enhance his storytelling, the producer’s company Jerry Bruckheimer Films embraces the latest technology, and last summer’s technically innovative 3D film G-Force combined live action and computer imagery to create a blockbuster hit. Bruckheimer has also made an impressive mark in television: Over the past season Jerry Bruckheimer Television has produced over 150 network episodes. Bruckheimer explains, “My gauge for a good show is that I ask, ‘Would I want to watch it every week?’”
In all, Bruckheimer’s TV shows have been acknowledged with more than 40 Emmy Award nominations, and Bruckheimer praises Jonathan Littman as the creative force and executive producer of the company’s record number of shows on the air, including three “CSI” shows set in Las Vegas, Miami and New York. Other recent TV productions include “Cold Case,” “Miami Medical,” “Dark Blue,” “The Forgotten,” “Eleventh Hour,” “Without a Trace” and the reality-adventure show “The Amazing Race.” And there are two new drama series for the fall 2010 schedule, “Chase” for NBC and “The Whole Truth” for ABC, while preproduction begins on a series called “Cocaine Cowboys.”
“Regarding the future of television and technology,” Bruckheimer explains, “I think you’re going to see more ways of getting the shows to the audience, through computers and digitized systems. There will always be ways to distribute the product. As for new trends, if I knew any, I would be doing them. It would be great for us, because that’s what we do. We just make shows. Let somebody else distribute them.”
For a man who “isn’t into technology,” Bruckheimer has his fingers on the pulse of that field. “3D technology is well on its way for home viewing,” he says. “The big problem is the budget, and cameras are still pretty bulky to use. We move very quickly in TV production, so it would be a hindrance for the crews with that equipment now. 3D has certainly taken over the movie theaters, and so television is next, if the public is ready for it. But that depends on selling a lot of 3D television sets, and I think it will be years before it happens on a large scale. But when it does, it will happen quickly, because TV shows can be produced so fast. But there’s still the budget to consider.”
Bruckheimer notes that the entire television scene has changed drastically over the years. Previously, one producer would handle an entire 30-minute or hour-long program, while today there are at least a dozen producer credits. The reason for the change? “We do multiple episodes, so there are always two or three producers working on each one,” Bruckheimer says. “They will be writing one, prepping one, shooting one. That’s constant. So the producer now has a writer-producer role. In the past it might have just been the writer, but now writers are really running the shows, so they deserve the producer credit.” He adds that the biggest change has probably been the addition of reality TV. “There are more reality shows, which give us less time on the schedule for the scripted programs.” And scripted shows are the bread and butter of television production.
What makes Bruckheimer so successful? The mega-producer isn’t shy about exposing his secret: “I believe in hiring the best people and let them do their jobs. And finding good writers and working with them to develop interesting shows. It’s always about the writing. And then you get good directors, then the best actors want to sign on. But it always starts with the writers.” Bruckheimer adds that he enjoys producing both feature films and television. “Jonathan Littman likes television, and he does an amazing job for us,” he says. “Our features are a whole different animal. Prince of Persia took seven years. For TV, there’s immediacy. We’ll develop a story and a script, and within three months we’ll know whether we’ll make it as a pilot.”
Reflecting on the state of the motion picture industry, Bruckheimer points out that the industry “took a big hit” when DVD sales went down. “[DVDs are] a profit center for the studios, so that hurt their bottom line,” he explains. “As far as the industry, attendance is up and grosses are way up. Avatar was a huge success and brought people back. James Cameron is at the top of his game, and he always creates something interesting. That’s what the audience wants. If you tell good stories, people will show up. The economy is bad, so it’s a cheap form of entertainment.”
Despite the economy, Bruckheimer’s company has expanded by getting into games. “We’ve started to develop games, so we’ve hired some new executives,” says Bruckheimer. “And when we have more TV shows on the air, we hire more executives to oversee the productions. As for product, people are always bringing projects to me. But we haven’t gotten into online projects yet.
“I never know what’s going to be a hit,” Bruckheimer admits. “Not everything we do is a hit.” But the producer does enjoy his successful connection with Disney: “It’s a great relationship. We’ve made a lot of great films together.” Their collaborations started in 1991, when he and the late Don Simpson were production partners. Bruckheimer notes that further back in his career, when he was in the advertising business with agencies buying air time, “no one could predict a hit.”
Looking ahead, Bruckheimer sees The Lone Ranger as an “important project”: “We’re developing a screenplay, and it is moving along. That will come out after Pirates. Also on the drawing board is a possible franchise for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We see that in every movie. If it’s a success, we say, ‘Let’s make another one.’” And what’s summer without an exciting new Bruckheimer “popcorn” movie?