Walk of Fame Honoree Jerry Bruckheimer Is That Rare Species: The Branded Producer
That Jerry Bruckheimer is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is extraordinary — mostly because he doesn’t already have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“They’ve been neglecting me for years, what can I say?” quips the producer of “Top Gun,” “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and such Emmy-monopolizing series as “The Amazing Race.” “Actually, it had been offered before and we wanted to wait for the right time, and “The Lone Ranger” is the right time.”
The fact that Bruckheimer would synchronize both his kemo sabe moment with postcard Hollywood and a plug for his latest project, which stars Armie Hammer in the title role and Johnny Depp as his sidekick Tonto, reveals the kind of promotional instinct that has governed his four-decade career in film and television, and made him that rare animal: the branded producer.
There have been others, of course: David O. Selznick. Cecil B. DeMille. But the swath that Bruckheimer has cut through the entertainment industry currently seems without equal. It includes several of the most profitable movie franchises in history — “Pirates,” “National Treasure,” “Bad Boys” — a number of the most consistently reliable TV series (“CSI” and its subspecies; “Amazing Race”) and a catalog of distinctive one-offs that range from “American Gigolo” to “Flashdance” to “Gone in Sixty Seconds” to “The Prince of Persia.”
Once known as “Mr. Outside” to partner Don Simpson’s “Mr. Inside” (“We’d have a meeting at a studio and Don would tell me afterwards what really happened”), Bruckheimer has become “Mr. Blockbuster” for good reason: He’s imperiled more onscreen real estate than the asteroid in Armageddon (also one of his movies) and, as Variety noted in 2003, was the first to produce two of the highest-grossing films of a single weekend (“Bad Boys II” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”).
He’s also Mr. Sequel: His current projects are rich in 2s and 3s and even a 6 (although he insists that Pirates 6 will really have to wait for the returns on Pirates 5).
And yet, when asked, Bruckheimer has named “The Godfather” and Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” as among his favorite films. “And I’m a big fan of David Lean,” he says. “But they’re pictures that were right for their time and time marches on. Other kinds of films attract an audience. Taste changes. I’m proud of our films, and I’m proud of the sequels: Our job is to entertain audiences. That’s what studios pay us to do.”
The audience is king, he says, and when an audience appreciates something, they want to see more of it. If you’ve seen one Pirates, in other words, you want to see them all.
One of Bruckheimer’s strengths, says Jon Turteltaub, director-producer of “The National Treasure” movies, is not just getting characters right, but getting the emotional connection between audience and character right. “For instance, you’ll never see a Jerry Bruckheimer movie where the lead character is an asshole,” Turteltaub says. “They’re always good people with good intentions. They may have personal issues, they may be grumpy, but they’re never motivated by evil things.”
He says one exception might be Depp’s Pirates ringleader Jack Sparrow, but as Turteltaub points out, the story of the original “Pirates” belonged to Orlando Bloom’s character, with Depp a supporting actor. In an early version of National Treasure, Nicolas Cage’s character was a thief, being asked to steal the Declaration of Independence. “And Jerry made it very clear that wouldn’t work as well, that the lead character’s soul must be in the right place from the get-go.”