Jerry Bruckheimer is one of the most successful film and television producers working in Hollywood today. He started out making commercials in his native Detroit in the 1960's; but with a knack for finding stories that audiences want to see, he soon became a film producer and, over the past 30 years, his productions have sold some $13.5 billion worth of tickets worldwide. His television shows, including the C.S.I. crime-solving dramas, are among the most popular in the world.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" is this year's number one film, with global box office gross of more than one billion dollars and still counting. It's the latest triumph for Jerry Bruckheimer, whose slim build, neatly-trimmed beard and ready smile defy the stereotypical image of the gruff, cigar-puffing Hollywood mogul. So too does his philosophy: he makes pictures that he wants to see. "When I look in the paper I do it like I did when I was a teenager growing up in Detroit," he explains. "I open the newspaper and look at what is available to me and 'this is what I want to see tonight.' That is how I decide on what I'm going to make."
The films he has decided to make have helped define American screen entertainment for decades. They include: "Flashdance," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Top Gun" in the 1980's; "Bad Boys," "Crimson Tide," "The Rock" and "Armageddon" in the '90's; in the 2000's, "Pearl Harbor," "National Treasure" and, of course, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" adventures. Most of them feature fast-paced action, chase scenes and lots of explosions; but Jerry Bruckheimer insists he does not celebrate violence and is keenly aware of the impact it can have on young audiences. "We have to be conscious of society and how we affect young kids in what we do, because our messages can be very powerful," he says. "Our images can be very powerful. So I have to take that into consideration in anything I do. I think any responsible filmmaker feels the same way I do."
Among the films he's proudest of are the uplifting stories of struggle and achievement drawn from real life: "Dangerous Minds," about an inner city teacher who inspires her students; "Veronica Guerin," the story of an Irish journalist whose reports on a crime boss cost her life; "Blackhawk Down," about the American soldiers who fought and died on the streets of Mogadishu in 1993; and "Glory Road," in which a Texas college coach breaks down racial barriers on the playing field.
Still, critics often dismiss Jerry Bruckheimer as the 'king of popcorn entertainment,' more about action than characters or story. The filmmaker says he takes the good with the bad. "Everybody would like to get praise for their work and, for whatever reason, the critics have not bestowed accolades on some of the films we've made; but the public has and that's the reason that I'm here talking to you. I might be living in a small one-room apartment with a bunch of framed reviews (on the wall) and I'd be out of the business."
Unlike many of his peers who are graduates of university filmmaking programs or business schools, Jerry Bruckheimer earned his degree in psychology and says he uses it every day. "I think the more knowledge you have, the better your communication skills and the more you know about the way people feel and think ...the more you're made aware of the psychology of ourselves, the more effective you are going to be as a filmmaker, an individual and a human being. It has to do with how you deal with your workmates."
Directors describe Jerry Bruckheimer as 'hands-on,' meaning he gets involved in every detail of the film or TV show from script and shooting to editing and marketing. However, he says his aim is always on what will get the audience to buy tickets or tune in. "Every time you see your movie with a different audience," he says, "you get a different sensation. There is a group feeling and emotion that goes through that darkened room that you feel." He freely admits he gets swept away with the audience.
With all of his commercial success, though, Hollywood's top honor - the Academy Award - has remained out of Jerry Bruckheimer's grasp, but, characteristically, he remains optimistic. "Everybody wants the accolades of their peers and anybody who comes up here and says 'I don't want that gold statue' or 'I don't want the press to write nice things about me' is not telling you the truth. We all do. I'm just good at what I do ...I think I'm good at it ...and I make the movies that I like and want to go see. Hopefully, in that group of movies coming down the line, all of you and the Academy will see something else too."
Meanwhile, Jerry Bruckheimer is more than happy - and quite busy - with the eight television programs his company has on American networks this season, and that slate of upcoming films, including Johnny Depp in a third "Pirates of the Caribbean" escapade, Nicolas Cage returning for a sequel to the 2004 hit "National Treasure," and Denzel Washington in a time-travel drama.
At 61 years old, Jerry Bruckheimer shows no signs of slowing down. He observes, "We've made movies that have filled the multiplexes and that is our job. Our job is to entertain people and take them away from their lives. I think with world events, you need Hollywood more than ever now to make us forget about the tragedies and tension that goes on in our daily lives." Bruckheimer says he loves his work and will do it as long as he can remain in touch with what audiences want to see.
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