As the producer of over seventy movies and TV shows, you’ve all seen something made by mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer. But if you don’t recognize the name, maybe you’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, C.S.I., The Amazing Race, or Cold Case. To put it simply, Bruckheimer’s a big deal.
As you might imagine, someone who produces so many movies and TV shows is quite busy. But a few months ago, on the London set of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bruckheimer took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a number of questions about how the production had been going. He also addressed why they decided to shoot in 3D and the challenges of the format, how he’s been enjoying Twitter (follow him here), how new Pirates director Rob Marshall got the job, how they already have ideas for Pirates 5, how does he have the time to watch over everything, and he gave us updates on Lone Ranger and the National Treasure franchise. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview:
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the great trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I’d watch that first. As most of you already know, the new Pirates movie is about the search for the Fountain of Youth and it stars Depp, Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, and Sam Claffin.
Like I said during my set visit video blog (watch it here), I think the filmmakers behind the Pirates franchise have taken everything that worked about the first three movies and and that’s the backbone of the 4th movie. Instead of too many characters and side plots, we’re following Jack Sparrow as he searches for the Fountain of Youth. Of course new characters are brought in to expand the Pirates universe, but On Stranger Tides is going to be a straight forward action adventure that should be easy to follow that’s loaded with huge action and it was filmed in 3D. While I was let down by the 3rd Pirates movie, everything I learned on set makes me think this should be a great film.
Here’s what Bruckheimer said on set in October. For the audio, click here. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides gets released May 20, 2011.
Question: I’m going to speak for the Twitterverse by saying I think a lot of us follow you.
Jerry Bruckheimer: Oh good.
How are you enjoying the set?
Bruckheimer: I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of stuff—pictures. I just haven’t downloaded them off the computer yet. I’ve got to start sending them out—if they allow me.
I’m sort of curious about that. How much do you have to clear through the studio? Or can you just decide, you’ve done pictures of Johnny, you’ve done other stuff, is it sort of like you just saying, “Eff it, let’s put it out there?”
Bruckheimer: No no. First of all, any time you do an actor, you have to get their clearance to put anything out. Johnny (Depp), and there’s certain actors who get photo approval. You send them through various channels. But anything I send out, I go through Ryan (Stankevitch) or somebody at the studio to see if it’s okay, because I don’t want to step on something they’re going to release at the same time. So we all work together.
On a slightly less casual note, after the first three films, you’re on the verge of doing a fourth, did you stop and pause and say, ‘There are certain things we have to do better and/or differently?” Or was it a sense of if it ain’t broke, i.e., still profitable, don’t fix it?
Bruckheimer: No, I think what we did is we decided on a different direction. During the filming of three and two, Terry (Rossio) and Ted (Elliott) came up with On Stranger Tides, they found the book. And they said, ‘What an interesting way to go.’ We optioned the book. That’s how it all began and started. We didn’t look back and say—we just wanted to start a new chapter, and this was the new chapter. That book gave us the new chapter.
The novel by Tim Powers.
What sparked the decision to go digital with the filmmaking?
Bruckheimer: You mean to go 3D?
Bruckheimer: I just think it’s such an immersive filmmaking; I think it makes you part of the actual filming because you’re part of the screen. It makes it closer to you. We’re very adventurous and we decided we wanted to be the first big movie—exterior movie—to do this. Avatar was all on a stage, mostly on a stage. We’re the first big adventure picture that’s going to be release that is 3D and is actually using 3D cameras.
Did you consider the post conversion of the process?
Bruckheimer: No, it was never a consideration. Initially we had more post conversion in our budget, but once we started shooting we didn’t do it, we didn’t need it. We’re very few shots that are post conversion, very few. There’s one sequence, the first sequence that we filmed that was on a beach that you couldn’t get to by land. So everybody had to either take a helicopter in or a boat in, and we just couldn’t get those big cameras on that beach. So there’s only one small sequence that was 2D and that’s being converted. That’s it.
I’ve heard stories with the cameras, with the heat and humidity, sometimes acting up. And I know you guys shot in Hawaii in the jungle. Could you talk a little bit about were there any technical challenges you had to overcome with the 3-D cameras? Or have they reached the point now with the technology where they can go into the jungle now without a problem?
Bruckheimer: Yeah we had problems with rain, they’re very sensitive, the cameras. Can’t remember—what was the other thing that we were having trouble with, with the extreme heat? What was it?
The humidity, I think.
Bruckheimer: There was something with kind of a mirror in there that we had to keep changing, I guess, that we had problems with. But we overcame, it wasn’t terrible. Not like we lost a day of filing; we might lose 15 minutes, 20 minutes, changing something. Because anytime you have a technical problem with the cameras, you have to change two lenses. It’s not like you just switch one lens and you fix it; there are two things that have to be fixed. So the converge again, if one camera goes out, you have to re-converge. You have to sit there and figure out how to recalibrate the two cameras, so that takes a few minutes. But nothing terrible.
In terms of the continuity with the characters, other than Captain Jack, was there any discussion about which characters would return or wouldn’t return? Or did any big decisions change about some of the supporting characters that you would bring back for this one?
Bruckheimer: Yeah, we’re constantly going back and forth on certain characters to bring back or not. But we tried to streamline the story a little bit, make it a little simpler and not have as many characters to follow. That was one of the things we found in editing of Three, that we had so many stories to tie up, and that’s why the picture got a little longer than we would have liked it to have been had we not added so many characters. So we learned from that and said, “Hey, let’s not throw as many characters in, and make it a little easier on ourselves.”
But for example, was Captain Barbossa always going to be part of the new story?
Bruckheimer: You know the way Terry works, and Ted and us is that we start writing out 3×5 cards on things we would like to see in the movie and we put it up on a big board. And Barbossa was always one that came up on the board, because he’s such a great actor, Geoffrey (Rush) and we wanted to bring him back. He’s so much fun to watch. The decisions are made like that.
You have a new director on this chapter. Could you talk about the differences in possibly the way both of them—Gore…
Bruckheimer: Completely different backgrounds. Gore (Verbinski) came out of visual effects and commercials. Rob (Marshall) was a dancer and a choreographer and then a stage director and then film choreogr—film director, I don’t know if he ever choreographed films. Did he ever choreograph films? Rob? Or did he go right through to directing?
Michael (Unit Publicist): He went right to directing, because the first film he directed was Annie, which was a musical for TV.
Bruckheimer: Okay. So, different backgrounds, there were certainly differences.
If I could follow up on that, there were rumors about other directors getting the gig. What was it? Were you involved—obviously you must have been involved in the decision with Rob. Did he come in?
Bruckheimer: I just thought he was a premiere filmmaker and I loved his background. Every film he made I thought was unique and different. Chicago was nominated and won a bunch of academy awards. He’s a premiere director, we checked him out. Actors love him. They love him; they’d do anything for him. So that’s a great thing when you have actors who want to work with a director. Usually they have tales to tell out of school about directors they don’t like working with. But to the “T,” everybody we talked to, all the women, some of those women, when you have a whole group of women on a film it can get kind of interesting. He handled them all beautifully and he loved them. And then Johnny also, he checked Rob out, liked his films, and also found out that actors love working with him. It’s the same case. With Penelope (Cruz) wanting to work with him that was much easier to sell her to do the movie, it’s not a kind of movie she’s ever done before. Because Rob was directing it made it much easier to get her involved because she’d just done a movie with him.
These films have gotten successively bigger and bigger and bigger in terms of scope and sweep and visual effects. When you’re working on number four, do you stop and look in the mirror and go, “Bruckheimer you beautiful bastard, how are you going to top yourself?” How do you psych yourself up?
Bruckheimer: It’s all about story. It’s all about your story and your characters. This one, even though it was reported that Disney cut the budget and we were being more (inaudible) about it, it’s still a huge movie, it’s still really big.
Saying that in a huge artificial stockroom, I can certainly find that remarkably plausible.
Bruckheimer: Well, if you’d been with us a week ago, we were in Greenwich and you say 465 extras that had to be dressed and fed and make up and wardrobe every morning, they were there for what, a week?
Michael: Two weeks.
At what point do you feel like Napoleon? At what point does it feel like mobilizing and army? You have so many human beings.
Bruckheimer: Every movie is an army. Even small movies. Just moving around, if you have a lot of locations. It’s a real effort, it’s a real organizational feat that our line producers and ADs and location people have to deal with.
Can you talk about what your role is in terms of shaping the story? Obviously Ted and Terry got the book and you talked about the index cards, but as a producer, how do you…
Bruckheimer: I’m in there. In other words, when the cards go up, I’ll have input in that. When they start formulating the thing, they’ll pitch it to me, I’ll be involved, we’ll throw around ideas. So I’m in the room, I’m not in the room all the time. Some people from my company are, but there’s always input, all the way through the process, in everything.
Does Johnny have input into the stories?
In what way?
Bruckheimer: We’ll come up with a form of a verbal outline where we’ll pitch the story and we’ll bring him in on it. And he’ll say, “No, I’m not sure about this. Why don’t we do this?” He kind of came up with the Phillip character, who’s in the movie. It was really his idea to make him a mercenary—not a mercenary, a missionary. So he comes up with interesting ideas that we use.
Terry told us that Johnny was actually very involved in shaping the story of this last one.
And that as you said with Phillip. Is it sort of weird? How often do you have the big star coming in and actually giving that many good notes? Because everybody has talked about how good the script is on this one.
Bruckheimer: When you have smart actors, I think it’s really in your best interest to bring them in and work with them if they have good ideas, and most of them do. I’ve been very fortunate, most of the actors we’ve worked with have really terrific ideas and help you. The wonderful thing about it is that Terry and Ted get all the credit, which is great for them, when good ideas get floated around. They’re very generous in accepting other people’s ideas, because they know their name goes on the screenplay. And they take Johnny’s ideas if they’re good, and discuss them.
How much is this a sort of fresh start for the Pirates franchise? Obviously you’ve got a new team involved and is it going to sort of spill off into a new trilogy?
Bruckheimer: We don’t know if it will be a trilogy, but we’re already throwing around ideas for [Pirates] 5 and have a good sense of what we’re thinking of doing. So, it certainly started at least one Pirates, hopefully more.
It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to grasp the surface large challenges—location, large name actors. What is a challenge that you face on a regular basis that people don’t quite get? What’s the unexpected problematic difficulty that always surprises you?
Bruckheimer: Stuff happens, you know. It’s what happens. We had rain, we had weather problems. Things you don’t expect happened. We have a pregnant actress. That happened. Those are issues you’ve got to deal with, and you roll with it. We have enough really smart people that can solve problems. You surround yourself with enough really smart people, you’ll be fine.
You mentioned before the photos on Twitter. Take Twitter out of this. I’ve seen your photos on set, that display at Comic-Con. When are you going to release those? I really think those are great.
Bruckheimer: Sure. Michael, when are we going to do that?
Michael: Good question. Any time now. There will be a lot of Jerry’s photos in a book called “The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” But one of these days, a full book with all new photos, great idea.
In your copious free time.
This book has a third in London, a third at sea, a third in the jungle. Can you talk about what action set piece for each of those fans can look forward to? Or is there one that you’re really looking forward to?
Bruckheimer: God, there’s so many. It is chock—there’s a wonderful action set piece in here. There’s just getting ready to film the beginning of an action set piece that takes place in the streets of Greenwich on a carriage ride. There’s a mermaid attack, which is spectacular. There’s the fountain of youth at the end of the picture that’s a big action sequence. There’s quite a bit for the kids to feast their eyes on and have fun with.
What’s some of the new ground that this one is covering that you’re really excited with?
Bruckheimer: Just bringing Johnny to London, I think is so much fun. The fish out of water aspect with the pirate, the aristocracy, meeting with the king. We’re just having so much fun with that right now. So that’s a blast.
Are you able to read a book or watch a documentary for pleasure, or is it all just grist for the mill? Do you find yourself going, “Oooh, yes, that idea. Oh, Ponce de Leon, yes!” Are you able to turn it off?
Bruckheimer: Yeah, when I play ice hockey. That’s about it, which I haven’t been. Fortunately my baggage has gotten lighter since the iPad came out. They’re sending me all the scripts on an iPad, so it makes it much easier than shlepping all the TV scripts, but I still read all our television scripts. In between set ups, I’m usually reading a television script while we’re getting ready. And then watching all the episodes. I usually watch them on a treadmill in the morning. Before I get here, I usually watch one or two episodes.
Bruckheimer: Unfortunately here it ends around three in the morning because that’s around seven in LA, so it ends then. I’m up by seven or eight and start watching the TV shows. Get here after I get a good work out. Spend the rest of the day here, then meet with the director. We’re working on the trailer right now, so I meet with the trailer people after we finish filming and work on the teaser. Then go out to dinner then get on the phone, finish phone calls back in LA.
I’m curious with the TV shows, when you watch an episode, have you reached a point now where there’s a lot of edits that you need to make?
Bruckheimer: It’s gone through so many people by the time it gets to me. It goes through our staff, the staff on the TV show, it goes through Warner Bros. and then it goes through the network. I usually get a copy of it right at the same time the network does. So by then it’s gone through so many different hopefully great minds, so there’s not much. But there’s still notes I give when there’s things I don’t quite understand or think we can do better.
I believe you’re involved with The Lone Ranger?
I wanted to know how that’s going right now and what else is bubbling up to the surface for you?
Bruckheimer: Lone Ranger I think is hopefully going to be pretty soon. And National Treasure, we’re working on that. Lone Ranger is going quite well, I just had a meeting with Johnny recently, it went fantastic. So it’s going good. That one’s getting pretty exciting. We’re excited about another big movie with the same team that brought you Pirates—the first three, anyway.
I’m curious about National Treasure. Do you think that’s going to move forward pretty soon? It seems a lot of people want a third one.
Bruckheimer: It all depends on us getting a screenplay, that’s what it’s all about. We’re in the process of finishing up a first draft that we’ve been working on for a while, it’s really more than a first draft, but they haven’t given it to me yet, so we’ll wait and see when we get it.
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