SANTA MONICA, Calif. — On a quiet morning amid the awards-season rush, Jerry Bruckheimer’s shaggy golden retriever, Harper, is easily the most animated in the building.
She trots about the production company headquarters, occasionally flopping onto her side for a belly rub, oblivious that her human — one of the most powerful men in Hollywood — is starting a new chapter.
After more than two decades with Disney, where he produced the juggernaut “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” film franchises among many box-office hits, Bruckheimer begins a new partnership with Paramount this month. At Disney’s behest, he closes the previous chapter with a photo book as outsized as some of his productions: “Jerry Bruckheimer: When Lightning Strikes — Four Decades of Filmmaking” is a 10-pound, 300-page chronicle of his career in pictures. Johnny Depp wrote the foreword.
“(It’s) a coffee-table book to celebrate the movies that I’ve made, my time at Disney and my time in the business, basically,” says Bruckheimer, sitting in a black leather chair in his two-story office in Santa Monica. A suit of armor stands guard over an immense wooden conference table and the silver liquor cart beside it. Books and Emmy statuettes line the walls. A spiral staircase leads to a loft.
One gets the impression it’s rare to see the entertainment mogul in a highly animated state. A small, fit man who looks at least a decade younger than his 70 years, the veteran producer is gracious but measured during a recent interview. His voice and manner are quiet and firm. Once in a while, an eye-crinkling smile spreads across his face.
Bruckheimer wants to talk about his career and where it’s headed, though he insists things won’t change much as he begins his three-year stint with Paramount. He’ll still be making movies.
“Great storytelling is great storytelling,” he says.
He anticipates digging into edgier, potentially R-rated fare that wouldn’t have fit into Disney’s family-oriented slate. He plans to produce sequels to his original Paramount hits “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Top Gun,” and says he hopes Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise will reprise their starring roles. Another story on his mind? That of the U.S. Special Forces team that landed in Afghanistan after 9-11. He already holds the rights to a book on the period.
“Hopefully with the success of (the Mark Wahlberg film) ‘Lone Survivor,’ we can get that jump-started,” Bruckheimer says.
He continues his work in television, too, where he’s found groundbreaking success with several “CSI” series and “The Amazing Race,” which has won 14 Emmy Awards. He has two new shows actively in the works: A family drama called “Home” for Fox and another CSI spinoff for CBS, this one centered on a cyber-psychologist and high-tech crime.
“We wanted to create feature television… and audiences really responded to that,” Bruckheimer says, adding that the resulting worldwide popularity of “CSI” has led to its many copycats and spin-offs.
“If imitation is the highest form of flattery,” he says, “then we are very flattered indeed by other programs which may have been influenced by ‘CSI.’”
However, despite decades of success in entertainment, Bruckheimer says he’s no closer to predicting audience taste than he was at the outset of his career.
“I don’t know what the audience will connect with… I just know what I like,” he says. “I don’t think anybody knows what an audience will connect with. If they tell you they do, they’re lying.”
He makes movies he wants to see. And he still believes in his last film for Disney, the mega-million-dollar flop, “The Lone Ranger.”
“Nobody wants to get up in the morning and fail,” he says. “You always feel bad when a picture doesn’t work. I still love the movie.”
Depp says the film was inspired by concept art of his character. He recalls showing Bruckheimer images of a noble savage with a dead bird on his head, and remembers the producer said, “Let’s do it!”
“What is so uniquely special for me, aside from taking such a giant leap of faith on the crazed fruit of my inner ravings, is that Jerry is the only guy I know who could make such a movie,” Depp says, describing Bruckheimer as “a dear friend and confidant” whose advice should be valued in gold bullion.
Disney reportedly took a loss of more than $160 million on the project. Bruckheimer blames bad pre-release press.
Anyway, he’s moved on. Bruckheimer Films has 40 projects cooking at any one time; the TV division has at least 10 scripts in development.
“I’m not the kind of person who looks back,” Bruckheimer says. “I only look back for the mistakes I’ve made to correct them. I always try to look forward.”
He remains intimately involved with his company’s every project. He spends months on film sets, where he loves taking snapshots — many of which appear in the new coffee-table book. Though he doesn’t attend every TV taping, he reads every script and watches every episode.
“When I’m doing cardio, that’s when I watch all that stuff,” he says, adding that his daily 45-minute stints on the treadmill, elliptical machine or exercise bike perfectly accommodate an hour-long TV episode (without commercials).
With so many projects in the works, Bruckheimer doesn’t sleep much (“I get to catch up on the weekends”) and rarely takes vacations, though his family keeps a ranch in Ojai, about two hours northwest of Los Angeles, where his wife enjoys riding horses. His greatest escape is playing ice hockey.
“You can’t think about the business because you’ll get killed,” he says. “I’m not good enough to think about other things when I’m playing.”
He’s also not interested in slowing down. Retirement is out of the question.
“I’d get too bored,” he says. “I couldn’t do it.”
Sounds like another 10-pound coffee-table book could be on the way.