Few Hollywood producers have mastered their profession with as much success -- and as much box-office mojo -- as Jerry Bruckheimer. He's the one-time advertising producer behind such blockbusters as Top Gun, the Beverly Hills Cop movies, and last summer's megablockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which generated more than $654 million in worldwide box-office revenues and sold more than 18 million DVD units (see BW, 05/31/04, "Jerry Bruckheimer: Hollywood's Most Wanted").
The 58-year-old Detroit native, who broke into Hollywood as an associate producer on the forgettable film The Culpepper Cattle Co., is currently renegotiating one of the industry's most lucrative deals to stay at Disney (DIS), which he first joined in 1990 after a decade at Paramount Pictures. Bruckheimer, known for his glossy, fast-paced films, has also branched out into TV production. In 2000 he produced CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for CBS (VIA), which quickly became TV's top-rated drama. This September, CBS will air Bruckheimer's sixth show for the network and second CSI spinoff, CSI: New York. Four of his current five shows are in Nielsen's top 18 among total viewers, and their popularity has helped catapult the Tiffany Network over NBC in total weekly viewers.
BusinessWeek's Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ron Grover sat down with Bruckheimer, who is preparing his latest film, King Arthur, for Disney, at Jerry Bruckheimer Films' Santa Monica headquarters, a sleek renovated pharmaceuticals plant with its own martini bar, pool table, and lobby waterfall. Edited excerpts of that interview follow:
Q: What has made you so successful in Hollywood?
A: I can't really tell you. I make the films that I think I'd want to see on the screen. I don't now what the audience wants. If I made films for the critics, or for someone else, I'd probably be living in some small Hollywood studio apartment.
I think of myself as a general manager of a football team. It's about putting together a team that you think can win the Super Bowl for you, the writer, and director. You protect [the team] from the outside world -- the network, a studio, an actor -- and you make them feel as safe as possible. So that [they] know when something goes wrong -- and it does every day -- that [there is] someone who can come in and fix it.
Q: The same for making TV shows?
A: Absolutely. It all starts with the people that you hire. We treat the shows just like a movie. We put the same talent in the TV show that we would put in a movie. We have different cinematographers than they have on TV today, different production designers -- we give [our TV shows] a more interesting look and feel.
Q: Your first shows weren't that successful
A: We had a little series in syndication (Solider of Fortune) and the company went out of business, so we decided to develop stuff for network television. [Former Disney studio chief] Joe Roth got me a deal with Touchstone TV and we developed a show called CSI. As we went along, we had more problems. We needed more money and took it to ABC, and they passed, and we took it to the other networks and CBS bought it.
We got a pilot and it got picked up, but it was one of their last pickups and it was definitely not one of their hot shows. They were promoting The Fugitive that year. Then I got a call from Lloyd Braun [chairman at Disney-owned Touchstone] saying they were pulling out as well [and wouldn't help to finance it]. That was a billion-dollar mistake.
Q: Does that still sting?
A: Nah, business is business. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Q: Are you the workaholic folks say you are, getting to the office early and leaving late?
A: I work long hours, sure. I work on television on Sundays, look at dailies and read scripts. I have a DVD player that I sit on my lap when I'm on an airplane. But this isn't work. These are not the kinds of scripts that you want to put down. They're 60 pages, and they're double-spaced, so it's not hard. This is fun. I love what I do.
This isn't work. My dad, who was a salesman, was on his feet for hours and came home late. Now that was work.
Q: Is King Arthur one of those big-budget films that Jerry Bruckheimer is known for?
A: It's not like Pirates [which cost $125 million to make] or some of the others that we made. Pearl Harbor was about the same. Armageddon was the really expensive one [$160 million].... But that was a big hit for [Disney].
Q: But King Arthur is a departure in that there are no big explosions or crashing cars, isn't it?
A: It's a good piece of entertainment, and it's a whole fresh approach to the Arthurian legend. David Franzoni, who wrote Gladiator, came to us with it and I loved it.
It came from when Rome conquered the world in the fifth century. Arthur and his father were sent as part of the Roman legion, and Arthur fought wars with Germans and eventually united the Brits -- that's where we get Anglo-Saxons. Guinevere is fighting in the war. Merlin wasn't a magician, although he was painted blue and was bit of a mystic character.
Q: Does Jerry Bruckheimer get turned down much?
A: Blackhawk Down was turned down and Sony picked it up. It made $108 million. Bad Boys was turned down [it did $65 million in the U.S. for Sony, and a sequel did $138 million].
Q: Any hard feelings when Disney turned down Blackhawk Down, for instance?
A: I understand. It was a violent movie and they have a corporate culture.
Q: Where is your deal with Disney?
A: We're still talking -- it's real close [to being finalized]. The [former] deal is over, but they continue to cover my overhead, they get first refusal, and they continue to bring me films.
Q: How do you keep doing this after all these years?
A: I love going to movies. I love watching TV. I love sitting with actors and directors and giving people opportunity, so I'm attracted to certain kinds of entertainment, and I try to coerce the kind of people who write those films to come here.