DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with producer Jerry Bruckheimer
Jerry Bruckheimer is the most successful producer in film history. The former advertising exec's uncanny knack for sniffing out hit films has earned him the nickname "the man with the golden gut" and racked up countless billions of dollars at the box-office. With such titles as TOP GUN, BEVERLY HILLS COP, CRIMSON TIDE, ENEMY OF THE STATE and NATIONAL TREASURE Bruckheimer invented the bigger, better (and noisier) modern action film and has pleased the critics with, among others, REMEMBER THE TITANS, COYOTE UGLY and BLACK HAWK DOWN. He's also firmly stamped his mark on television schedules with C.S.I. (currently the most popular show in the U.S.) and its two spin-offs (MIAMI and NEW YORK), as well WITHOUT A TRACE and COLD CASE. Meanwhile, no romp through the Bruckheimer canon would be complete without mention of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, the hit no one saw coming (apart presumably from Jerry Bruckheimer), and its follow-up, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST, not only the most successful film of 2006, but also one of the most successful films of all time. Obviously not one to rest on his considerable laurels, Bruckheimer is now waiting in the wings with the final installment of the PIRATES trilogy, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END due next spring. Before that there's also DÉJÀ VU, an intelligent action thriller that has already got glittering reviews in the United States. Directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington - both of them regular players on the Bruckheimer team - DÉJÀ VU finds Washington cast as agent Doug Carlin of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Assigned to track down the perpetrator of a catastrophic explosion on a New Orleans ferry, Carlin complains that for once in his life he'd like to catch someone "before they do something horrible", not after. By tapping into a top-secret quantum physics project run by scientists whose IQs are off the charts, Carlin gets the chance to reverse time and perhaps prevent a crime that has already happened. We sat down with Jerry Bruckheimer and asked him to explain the mysteries of the space-time continuum and the secret of his success.
Is it true that you bought the script for DÉJÀ VU within a couple of hours of reading it?
A bit more than that, but over the course of a weekend, yes. It was one of those of scripts you can't put down and you don't want it to end. It just grabs you and you want to find out what happens. I finished it, called the agent and said, "We gotta have this.
So what was it about the story that appealed to you?
I make movies I want to see and I like something I've never seen before. As well as being an unusual thriller, and having some unique action elements, it was also different from any other love story I had ever read.
The plot of the film depends on the audience believing it's possible for Denzel Washington's character to change the course of events that have already happened. Did you worry that audiences might not buy that?
That's one of the reasons you cast Denzel Washington [laughs]. He's such a good actor and exudes such intelligence that you just believe what he's saying. And he's got the movie star smile too. He lights up the screen when he shows those pearly whites. He gets you, you root for him.
There is quite a lot of discussion of quantum physics and String Theory in the movie. Did you debate whether to include that?
Not really because when you start talking about reversing time or changing events in the past or parallel universes, you can't just expect an audience to go along with it. The challenge is to root it all in reality and make it intelligible and entertaining at the same time. When I first read the screenplay I said, "Wow, how do we explain this, how do we work this out?" So we brought in Brian Greene, who's a physics professor at Columbia University, and he made it work for us and allowed us to come up with something that we could understand and audiences understand as well.
Do physics professors believe in time travel these days?
He says anything's possible, though I'm not sure he thinks it will ever happen, but the science could work out if you can bend light. There's a line in the movie about how when you look in a mirror you're looking into the past because it takes X amount of time for the light to travel back to your eye so you can see yourself. Time isn't as straightforward as we think. So what we try to do on most of our movies, especially with our procedurals, is to give you reality. So since we hired Brian to work with us on the physics and we also hired an ATF agent, Jerry Rudden, who was involved in the investigations of every major bombing in this country over the past twenty years.
Does that have a big impact on the finished film?
Denzel could talk about how it helped his performance but there are moments in the film that definitely come straight from Jerry's experiences. There's a scene where Denzel goes to the headquarters of the investigation for the first time and we took Jerry's pointers on how he'd avoid stepping on the toes of the local people. He has this gag about coffee and Jerry said he used it in every place he went. It's in the film.
DÉJÀ VU was the first film to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Had you always planned to shoot there?
We had planned to start filming in October 2005 and Katrina hit in August. Once that happened, the movie was shut down and we had options. We could have gone to Seattle because we needed a ferry and Seattle has a ferry. But Tony Scott fell in love with New Orleans and Denzel wanted to help the people of New Orleans and he's the one who took the biggest hit because he had a movie behind ours and so everything had to be pushed back. I think we all really felt that socially it was the right thing to do. So three weeks after the disaster we sent a team down there to assess what was happening and we got assurances from the city that they'd have electricity and everything else we needed after the first of the year and we believed them.
And how did the shoot go?
We were there when the city was starting to come back. The hotels weren't fully staffed because their staff didn't have housing, so no room service and things like that, but we were really well taken care of by the people of New Orleans. And they were so grateful and thankful for us being there. People kept hugging us. They hadn't worked since August and we got there in February. Can you imagine being out of work that long and the devastation that was all around?
You have had so many hit films. Is there one ingredient they all have in common?
A good screenplay. It's the only important thing. As they used to say, "If it's not on the page, it's not on the stage". Unless you have a great screenplay you've got a lot of problems and it's always working on the screenplays that's the hardest thing to do, that's where you lose the most brain cells.
Tastes keep changing and younger audiences want something different. Do you have to work hard to keep up?
I read a lot. I read five or six papers every day, as many magazines as time allows, everything I can get my hands on about the movie business, and I watch television. I just try to keep aware of what's going on in our world. But I never try and guess what people will like. I don't know what you like, but I know what I like, so I make what I like and hopefully our tastes will coincide. So far, knock on wood, it's worked out, but people always change and someday I'll be completely out of synch with the audience.
Not with the second PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film obviously. Did you see that coming?
It's funny because I always look at what we did wrong. I know that we did something right; otherwise people wouldn't buy as many tickets. But I look at a finished film for how we can make it better, which is what we're trying to do with the next one.
Talking of which...
You're going to ask me about Keith Richards, aren't you? I'll answer the question beforehand: he worked for about three days and loved it, didn't want to leave, had a great time. So that's done, he's got a cameo in the picture and you will see him when the film comes out. The rest of the film? By the beginning of December we'll have the movie in the can pretty much and we have just one scene to shoot in January. I think it will be the best film of the three.
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