Jerry Bruckheimer: Lone Ranger, Statham, Con Air, critics

Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer chats to us about The Lone Ranger, Bad Boys 3, National Treasure 3 and The Statham...

Jerry Bruckheimer is better at this game than me. Now a veteran of many movies, and in turn, even more interviews, there’s barely a question he’s not heard before. Nor, you sometimes suspect, an answer that he’s not worked out he wants to give you beforehand. Every answer he gives is precise, not too long, and measured.

Yet as it turned out, we had an interesting 15 minutes in his company. We pitched him The Statham and Con Air sequels as you’d expect, but we also chatted about The Lone Ranger, current critical trends, and the culture of saying no. Here’s how it went…

This is a film that America seems not to have got, but Europe has to a greater extent. You’ve done films that have polarised audiences before, but this one seems a bit strange. Do you feel some people are reacting against things that they’ve been complaining they wanted?

I find that. They keep saying they hate all these sequels, and asking when is there going to be something original, an original movie. And there was a backlash.

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It’s a western in the midst of a field of comic book movies you’ve put out here. You’ve not gone with the current trend.

I’ve been here before. We did a movie called Flashdance. I remember that one of the critics said that this is a “trash dump” of a film. And he just killed it. About ten years later he wrote “I missed it”. He said it was an iconic movie, and he just didn’t see it at the time.

And I think The Lone Ranger, ten years from now, is going to be seen as something entirely different to the film that some of the critics have labelled it as.

When you got that initial response to Flashdance, you were much earlier in your career. Presumably that was more hurtful then, when you were less bullet-proofed to critical reaction?

To be honest with you, I don’t read ’em. Woody Allen said that the good ones are never good enough, and the bad ones sting, so why bother. You get a sense of what they are, because your friends tell you about them. But if I held my career accountable to the critics, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’d be living in a small apartment in Hollywood. But it’s the audience that we answer to. They’re the ones that, for the majority of my career, have been very kind to the projects I’ve been involved with.

The Lone Ranger, from the outside looking in, needed a strong producer more than any blockbuster we’ve heard of in a while. The story came out about the budget reworking, the film being shut down. It’s little secret that the management at Disney changed several times during the gestation of the project. How close were you to a total shutdown?

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Well, it was shutdown a couple of times. We just pushed forward, and it was over financial issues, and we met the studio’s demands. But that’s not unusual. Pirates was shut down multiple times, the first and second one. Every movie I’ve worked on has gone through those trials and tribulations to get them made.

It’s much easier for an executive to say no than it is yes. Usually you don’t get hurt by saying no. It’s rare in Hollywood that a film moves to another studio and goes on to be a big hit. Home Alone, Warners said no and Fox said yes. So it does happen. They only say yes though maybe ten times a year, with two or three hundred projects to choose from.

One thing that seems to have changed since the Flashdance days, and even the movies you were making in the 90s, was that the Internet has brought in a fresh wave of schadenfreude, where people are taking delight in the misfortune of others. There was a Forbes article that said that the media is “flop hungry”. Do you think that’s true? That we have a film media that’s obsessed with a Rotten Tomatoes score?

I think there are certain segments of the media that are angry and like to see failure, and encourages it. Which is unusual, because we’re the ones that help pay their salaries. Without our success with our movies, they’d be writing for something else. So I think that is part of human nature. Some see the glass half full, some see it half empty. Some see it with water in it. 

Do you think that’s the same with television as well, or is it film in particular?

You get it with both. Film, again, is written about more. I don’t know why. It dominates the media because it is so in the forefront because of the amount of money spent on advertising.

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It seems we’re all hunting for something daily now…

Yeah, Twitter has changed things. We found that there were a lot of negative Tweeters about the movie from people who hadn’t seen it. And the people who came out of the theatre and saw it, 80% of them loved it. It’s a very unfair characterisation of the film by people commenting based on reviews, rather than going to see the movie.

Do you think there’s any reason why Europe has reacted better to The Lone Ranger, out of interest?

I think they get it. They’re not tainted by… one or two critics in the States will be the lead, and be very critical of the movie. And a lot of them will just follow along, they’re afraid to go against the main critics. Some of them are more courageous, and say wait a second. I think people missed the intent of this movie.

Here in London and in Europe, we’ve gotten excellent reviews throughout, so we’ll see what happens. I hope the audiences likes it.

Looking at some of your other work, Con Air is clearly the finest action movie of the 1990s, as has been scientifically proven. It came in that fabulous run you had in the 1990s, but you’ve left them all alone. You’ve not gone back to the characters, or done sequels. Was that always by design, that the likes of Con Air and The Rock were always standalone?

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No, never. There just wasn’t an appetite to make other ones. Plus, the studio management kept changing, so there wasn’t much of a history to go back into. We couldn’t say let’s do another The Rock, let’s do another Con Air. And a lot of them were closed endings, it’s hard to pick them up again and start all over. It depends on the management of the studios, how sequel crazy they are. Some of them love it, some of them have no interest.

Disney changed its approach to films. We had Hollywood Pictures, which is now basically done by DreamWorks. And we now make Disney movies, which are PG or PG-13. So a lot of the films they made in the 1990s you can’t make [at Disney] anymore. 

It was in the 1990s that Jeffrey Katzenberg was pitching for one film a week. And now it’s down to what, twelve, and presumably it’s you and a bunch of comic book people pitching for one of those slots?

Yeah, that’s right.

Gore Verbinski made a point that, for some reason, it’s easier now to make a $150m movie than a $40m movie. Would you agree with that?

It’s hard. It’s hard to make a $40m movie. Because usually those movies don’t travel overseas well. We’ve been trying to get a sports movie made, which would cost $30-40m, and Disney said we can’t get foreign traction for it. It might play well in America, but it’s not going to play well elsewhere in the world.

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What kind of sports film?

It was a football film. American football.

It’s interesting that even this year, baseball movie 42 has done nearly $100m in the US, and that’s only now getting any kind of release over here.

I know.

The one sequel that does seem to have got lost, that was announced and then went quiet, was National Treasure 3.

We are working on it. It’s still active. We’re working on a script right now.

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The same team? Jon Turteltaub, Nicolas Cage?

Yes, everybody’s back. If they’re available! We want everybody back, but it depends on their availability.

Bad Boys 3?

We’re trying to get that off the ground, and trying to find a hole in Will Smith’s schedule. That’s been the issue.

Will you be working with Michael Bay again on it?

Well, we want to work with him. He’s another guy who’s very busy. He’s making another Transformers film name, but we’re trying to get on his docket.

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You had the Cocaine Cowboy television series with him too?

That was a television project, that never got off the ground, unfortunately.

Is it one that’s possible to resurrect?

Not by us. We lost the rights to it. 

Are you finding that quite a lot? You find talent and work closely with them, but the talents you bring through are getting busier and busier?

That’s because they’re so good and everyone wants to work with them. We find them, and give them the first opportunity to create something special, and then they’re off.

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You’ve found a lot of directors from commercials. Where are you finding the next generation of directors?

We look everywhere. We look everywhere. We look at small movies, independent things. We look everywhere to find directors.

Are there any in particular you’re keeping a close eye on?

There’s a ton of them. But I’m not going to say who they are, because somebody else will use them!

So what you’re working on next? I’m assuming you’re not working on Beverly Hills Cop 4, now that Paramount has opted to go with a new movie rather than the spin-off television series?

Not involved, no.

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So what are you involved with?

We’re still involved with Top Gun, with Pirates, National Treasure, and Bad Boys. Those are the franchises we’re still involved with. Plus a few television shows!

Finally, you’re in Britain now, and we have an action superstar here who you haven’t employed yet. So then: when is Jason Statham going to turn up in a Jerry Bruckheimer production?

I would love to work with Jason. He’s incredibly talented, and we just have to find the right role. Something that he wants to do. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He’s excellent.

You are entirely correct. Jerry Bruckheimer, thank you very much!

The Lone Ranger arrives in UK cinemas tomorrow.

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