KING ARTHUR - Q&A with producer Jerry Bruckheimer
As one of Hollywood's busiest and most successful producers, Jerry Bruckheimer has been responsible for some of the most spectacular and action-packed films ever to hit the big screen, whether they be set on land (DAYS OF THUNDER), air (TOP GUN), sea (CRIMSON TIDE) - or even space (ARMAGEDDON). Now barely a year after dazzling audiences with the phenomenally successful PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, Bruckheimer is back with another rollicking period adventure - KING ARTHUR. The film is a fresh and imaginative look at the legendary story of the Knights of the Round Table, featuring a cast which includes Clive Owen as Arthur, Pirates alum Keira Knightley as Guinevere, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, and Hugh Dancy as Galahad. "This isn't your parents' KING ARTHUR," says Bruckheimer, who picked TRAINING DAY's Antoine Fuqua to direct the film. After 30-plus years in the film business, the producer has learned a thing or two about what audiences like, and he shared some of his insights during a recent interview.
What was it about this story that made you want to make this film?
I'd never seen this particular story told before. I never knew Arthur was half Roman and the guys around him were Russians and they were all sent on this mission by the emperor of Rome. It was great stuff. I wanted to see the special forces of the 5th century, but it required a lot of research by the historians we recruited to work on the film. Unfortunately, there's a reason why that period in history is called the Dark Ages - there's not a lot of documentation from that time. So you glom onto whatever historical writings you can find. Lucky for us, historians are studying Arthur all the time, so those were the people we turned to.
How did you arrive at this particular cast for KING ARTHUR?
Clive Owen is somebody we've been tracking for a long time, ever since we saw CROUPIER. He was somebody we wanted to put in the movie and Antoine and I talked about him. We saw some footage on a film he'd been working on and we liked him and gave him the role. I was working with Keira Knightley on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and told her about KING ARTHUR and she said she'd be interested in reading it. I showed Antoine a couple of her scenes from PIRATES because it hadn't been released yet, and he fell in love with her. Fortunately, Keira liked the screenplay, met with Antoine and they got along, so we offered her the role. As for the rest of the actors, I worked with Hugh Dancy on BLACK HAWK DOWN, so I knew his work. I also worked with Ioan Gruffudd on BLACK HAWK and thought he was an extraordinary actor. I loved Ray Winstone in SEXY BEAST, so we pursued him. Ray Stevenson came in on a casting call and Til Schweiger had done a movie with Antoine previously.
Clive Owen is not a very familiar face to American audiences, is he?
Most Americans have never seen CROUPIER so it's interesting to introduce a new actor to them and hopefully he'll become a big movie star. I don't think audiences for a film like KING ARTHUR necessarily want to know an actor's previous work.
Does it make it harder to sell a movie without a big star?
Yes. But you know what? It comes down to the movie. You can have the biggest star in the world, but if the movie isn't good or the public doesn't perceive it as being good, they're not going to show up. In the case of KING ARTHUR, we have a very unique filmmaker in Antoine Fuqua, and when you look at the trailer or commercials for this film, you're going to say, "I haven't seen this before ... this looks interesting" - even if you don't recognize any of the people in it.
Having cast Keira Knightley in both PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and KING ARTHUR, you're obviously very fond of her as an actress. In your opinion, what gives an actress staying power?
It comes down to choices - the choices they make and the material they decide to do and the directors and producers they decide to work with. It comes down to doing good work. You do good work and you're going to be around forever. In Keira's case, she certainly has the ability.
Did the fact that Antoine Fuqua had never directed a period film before concern you at all?
No. In fact, that's one of the things I liked about him. I didn't want somebody who had done it before. I wanted somebody who was going to give this film a fresh look. He did a terrific job on TRAINING DAY - it had real edge and I wanted this movie to have edge. And he's a very visual director. Those battle scenes are amazing. So he delivered what we'd hoped for and even went beyond that.
The ice battle is quite spectacular. Talk about the challenge of creating that sequence.
It was in the original script and Antoine had a vision of it. First he did storyboards and then he sat with the digital house and worked out all of the shots. It's a very complicated sequence to get done and it was only partially finished about a month before the movie opened in the United States, so we couldn't preview the movie because you can't watch the movie without that sequence being complete - it's too difficult to watch all the green screen and it doesn't make any sense. So when we got it, we previewed it and then started making alterations. But we didn't have a lot of time to make a lot of changes.
Without getting too technical, can you describe how the battle scenes were shot? They have a very distinct look.
A number of things go into it. First, they used some filters on the lens that gave it a more colorful hue. Antoine did a lot of that. They also changed the shutter angle on some of the shots so it looks hyper-real. And they used a lot of slow motion. Antoine's really talented when it comes to things like that.
You're known to take a lot of photographs when you're on a set. Why is that and what do you do with them?
Maybe I'll publish a book someday, but right now I put them on DVDs. The subject matter varies - basically anything I see that I think is interesting, whether it's a great face, like one of the extras we used in KING ARTHUR, who had a phenomenal Irish face. Actually, the whole collage of extras just looked beautiful.
On a film like KING ARTHUR, how involved are you with the decisions that are made throughout the moviemaking process? How often do you insist that things be done a certain way?
I don't have a set way of doing things. If you do your job right, you hire talented people and you rely on them for their vision. And then if you disagree with their vision, you argue it out and the best argument wins. So if I have a very strong point of view about something and you can convince me that I'm wrong, I'm there. It's funny, a maid will walk into a room and look at a poster and say, "I don't understand that." And you think, oh boy ... we've got a problem. So I'll listen to her and ask her why something doesn't make sense. And I'll get a real simple answer, but chances are she's right and you didn't see it, you didn't get it! So I try not to dismiss other people's opinions.
With so many successful films under your belt, do you still worry about your success?
Sure - I care about what I do. I don't want to take somebody's money and not return it to them with a profit. So I take all of this stuff very seriously. I do it with a lot of passion and a lot of hard work, and I hope audiences will appreciate what we do.
Do you ever sneak into a cinema to see how an audience is reacting to a film?
For the trailers, I like to sneak in if they let me.
It must be difficult at times for people in your position to see things like trailers from an average movie watcher's perspective.
You can get pretty isolated, so you have to be mindful of that. That's why a movie theater is a great place for me to watch movies. I don't have a screening room at my house. We have one in the office, but we only use it for our movies or a small or independent movie. But on the weekends if I'm free I'm at the multiplex.
Have audiences changed since you first started in this business?
Yeah, I think each generation evolves in a different way. Kids nowadays multi-task everything - they're on their computers, they're on their phones, they're taking pictures with their phones, they're playing video games. And it's all hand-eye coordination. Their interests and their attention spans are so short because they're bombarded with images from the moment they're born. So they're conditioned to get things very quickly.
So if you made TOP GUN today, would it need to be different?
Of course it would. It would have a whole different feel to it. Hopefully it would have the same kind of emotion, though.
Do you think people will still be going to movie theaters 20 years from now?
Sure. I think that even if they have movies on computers, kids will still want to go out and have a date. They don't want to sit in their parents' home with their girlfriend. I mean the movies are a great night out. They always have been and always will be.
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