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INT: Bruckheimer & Elliot

07.03.2003

Interview 1: Jerry Bruckheimer/Ted Elliot
Interview 2: Keira Knightley
Interview 3: Orlando Bloom
Interview 4: Johnny Depp

In a summer movie season jam-packed with big budget sequels, it’s refreshing to see something new come along – a movie based on a theme park ride. Having already produced a film based on a bar (COYOTE UGLY) and a prison (THE ROCK), veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer seems like a natural fit for such a project.

But before you dismiss PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL as just another shameless studio cross-promotional marketing gimmick, check out the list of names involved: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom. These aren’t exactly guys who are known to involve themselves with mediocre projects. In fact, Bruckheimer hopes that they’ll be able to draw in a more discriminating audience that might otherwise be wary of such fare. Will it work? We’ll know in a few days when Pirates opens nationwide. I sat down with the legendary producer to talk about the making of the film.

JERRY BRUCKHEIMER

Setting aside "Pearl Harbor", is this your first period/historical movie?

No. I made a movie very early in my career, in fact the first picture I ever produced, called FAREWELL MY LOVELY. But this movie is the first big epic one. We’re doing another one called KING ARTHUR next.

And what’s taking you into the historical realm?

I just want to see these movies, that’s all. We have different points of view on King Arthur. Our picture is like nothing you’ve ever seen done on the subject. It’s much more primitive. It’s where the real story came from. Mallory wrote about King Arthur in the 1400s, and wrote about – which is what we researched – a battle where the Roman officer and the British repelled the Saxons, who were the Germans, who were mounting this huge invasion. We based it on that. The script is written by David Franzoni, who wrote GLADIATOR. We did an enormous amount of research and hired a historian to work with us.

It’s really Rome that conquered the world at this time. When they occupied Britain, they had their Roman legions in there, they had a commander named Arturias. What Rome used to do is when the conquered a country, they would incorporate into their military and their culture the best parts of that society. The Sarmatians developed the stirrup, and they had an amazing cavalry. So when they conquered Sarmatia, which would later become Russia, they took part of that cavalry and sent it to England. Arthur was the leader of that cavalry, and that’s where the Knights of the Round Table really came from, we believe.

I’m sure you’re aware that there is a ferocious rivalry among Arturian scholars.

And we’ve hired a number of them. Some of them don’t like the other ones; it’s just like with anything else. It’s called the Dark Ages for a reason: there’s very little written about it.

Was there any resistance, on the studio’s part, to Johnny Depp’s take on the character Jack Sparrow?  Were you forced to take sides?

I got caught in the middle in regards to his teeth. The studio called up and was worried about his gold teeth. And he had a lot more in at the time. I went to Johnny and said, “You know what’s gonna happen.  They’re gonna be watching your gold teeth and not your performance.  They’re gonna be fixated on your mouth, and I don’t think you wanna do that.” He said, “You’re right.” And he took a couple of them out.  Not that it wasn’t a great idea – he just went a little too far with the character.

What about the tone of his performance?

I loved what he was doing. I thought he was so clever. It scares you the first time you see it, it’s just so out there. But with the way Gore cut it, it just works beautifully.

Any resistance from the studio?

Yeah. You’ll always get a young executive who’s 26 years old, who looks at the dailies and goes, “Oh Jesus. What are they doing now?  They got a pirate with mascara on, etc.”

Were there any difficulties you encountered while shooting on the water?

The Disney production people did such a good job of researching what went wrong with WATERWORLD and TITANIC, and we limited our shooting on water. When we were on water, chances are we were very close to land. We only had, I think, five or six days where we were really on the high seas. A lot of it was done here (in Los Angeles). In fact, if you look at the original film we shot, you’ll see Long Beach in the background, which we digitally removed.

What about your choice of Gore Verbinski as director?

I’ve been chasing Gore since he was a video and commercial director, before he did THE RING. I felt he was the real thing. Then he does MOUSE HUNT, which is a fun little movie for kids, and then he goes and does THE RING, which scares people to death. He’s a director who’s really in command of what he’s doing.

When you have someone like ILM developing all of these spectacular special effects shots, is it difficult to lose one if, say, the movie is running a little long?

Not for me. The studio has a fit. I called Gore and mentioned a couple of things I wanted to pull out, and he said, “Jerry, we spend $450,000 on this shot.” And I said, “We gotta make the movie better.”

How do you decide when a movie is too long?

The audience tells you. You watch them. They start coughing. They start moving. They start going to the bathroom. They lose interest. You see their heads turning, they start talking to each other. They get restless.

There was a Los Angeles Times story that claimed you refused to cut the movie in order to get a PG rating. Was that accurate?

Yes, very much so. I promised Disney I’d make them an entertaining movie that wasn’t going to be R. They said, “Well, we’d love you to make it G or PG.” I said I would try, but I’m not gonna promise you that. I just wanted to make a fun picture. That’s what I told Gore (Verbinski): to make the best picture you can, based on the script we had, which had no profanity or sex in it. It just came down to the intensity of the violence. I think there are only two shots where you actually see blood in the movie. But, the skeletons could be scary, and so the ratings board decided to give it the PG-13.

The article also mentioned that you rejected the initial draft of the screenplay because it wasn’t violent enough.

Yes. It was just a straight-ahead pirate movie. It was good, but it wouldn’t get me out of my house to go see it. And then Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot came in and pitched the idea of cursed pirates who turn into skeletons in the moonlight, and I said, “That’s fun. I want to see that.” And that’s what got me really excited about it.

I also got a chance to talk with Ted Elliott, who, along with partner Terry Rossio, penned the screenplay for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL. The star writing duo is responsible for the animated hits SHREK and ALADDIN, as well as the less successful live-action flicks, THE MASK OF ZORRO and GODZILLA. Will Pirates be the first live-action project to strike gold for them? Here’s what Elliott had to say:

TED ELLIOTT

Do you have to adjust your technique at all when you’re writing a live-action feature, as opposed to an animated film?

Animated stories have to be shorter. Other than that, what we’re always trying to do as writers is focus on good characters, good story, something that the audience will be engaged by, emotionally and intellectually. We don’t always achieve it, but it’s really the same for us. We don’t really look at animation as a genre. It’s a form that has certain demands that are different from live-action, but that’s true of writing a screenplay or a novel. You’re still telling a story, and you still try to tell it the same way.

How did you feel about Johnny Depp’s treatment of the Jack Sparrow character?

I loved it. I don’t think anybody expected that. The basic characterization was on the page, but it was not the performance I’d imagined. I’d have to say, if I have a choice between the performance I imagined or seeing Johnny Depp’s performance, I will take Johnny Depp’s. It’s just incredible.

Did you have any other actors in mind when you wrote the role?

We knew that Johnny Depp was interested, and what was nice about that was that, in a way, it gave us license to really push the characterization as the anti-hero. We thought of Jack Sparrow as the very center of anarchy in our movie: you never know what he’s going to do or say. Knowing Depp was interested meant we could really run with that. I have to admit, though, I always imagined (the character) as sort of a seedy Burt Lancaster.

What changed over the ten years between when this project was originally proposed to when it was finally produced?

When we first pitched this idea, we didn’t pitch a story. We didn’t have a specific story; we had this approach, which came out of our thinking of, “We want to do a pirate movie. How do we get somebody to fund it? And how do we make sure there’s a chance an audience will show up for it?” And that led us to the idea of incorporating these supernatural elements, with curses and cursed treasure and skeletons that everybody associates with pirates, but I don’t think has ever actually been in a pirate movie. And that’s what led us to Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s a piece of mental real estate that everybody has. We can claim that and turn it into this movie. Of course, that means there’s only one studio you can actually pitch that movie to. 

Why haven’t we seen a good pirate movie in so many years?

Since 1960. THE CRIMSON PIRATE is what I count as the last good pirate movie.

And that was a spoof, right?

CRIMSON PIRATE does in fact spoof a lot of pirate conventions. All of the pirate movies since then have, in some way, spoofed or undermined or abandoned (those conventions), or were more anti-pirate movies than actual pirate movies. The one that I count as an attempt to do a real pirate movie was SWASHBUCKLER, from Universal. This movie has a great cast and a really solid story, but looks like it was shot on a budget for like a two-hour episode of Fantasy Island. In a lot of ways, the tone we were going for was the tone of that script. That movie starts with the hanging of a pirate, and our movie ends with the hanging of a pirate. And that’s our little homage.

Did you do a lot of research in order to make it more realistic?

We wanted to make a pirate movie. We didn’t want to make a movie about real pirates. I think there’s a great movie to be made about real pirates; I’m just not that interested in writing it. In a way, that’s why were trying to find something that would allow us to do a pirate movie and have the audience accept that romanticization of the pirates. The supernatural element is what we came up with.

In terms of the research: I’ve been fascinated with pirates for years. A lot of people say, “Oh, you made a movie based on an amusement park ride.” And I say, “No, we made a movie based on Pirates of the Caribbean. What, are you nuts? That’s not an amusement park ride!  That’s an experience! That’s part of my life!” It really led to a fascination with that and with pirate movies, which led to reading about reading about real pirates and realizing I didn’t want to make a movie about real pirates. But the research is still there.

Did you have to keep in mind that this is a Disney film?

We knew it had to be a pirate movie. It had to be perceived, by the people who make it, to have commercial potential. We personally wanted it to go out under the Walt Disney banner, because it would be great to be able to claim that legacy as a banner that releases movies that aren’t appropriate for children; they’re appropriate for everybody.  And that means if you’re an adult, you can say, “Hey. I’m going to see a Walt Disney movie, and I’m going to see a good story with good characters, which is exciting and involving. Maybe there won’t be a lot of cursing in it, but who cares? That’s not what the story demands.”

So, we didn’t really have to worry about writing to avoid an R rating.  We knew that, in the best of all possible worlds, the movie that Gore put together would come back from the MPAA rated PG. That didn’t happen, which then meant that Disney had a decision to make about whether or not they were going to release a PG-13 movie as a Walt Disney movie or a Touchstone release. And I’m glad they made the decision they did. I really think that there are a lot of movies that (Walt) Disney personally oversaw, if they’d been made with technology and the film technique sensibilities that exist today, could have ended up rated PG-13. Has anybody actually seen Darby O’Gil and the Little People? If you imagine state-of-the-art effects, get rid of the wall-to-wall music, and edited a little bit differently, then that is a scary, interesting, fun movie that I think would have ended up PG-13 as well.

Were you more involved on the set of this film then you are, typically, on others?

Absolutely. We were on the set of SMALL SOLDIERS just out of need, because there was no finished script on that movie – we started working on that when they started shooting it. With Pirates, there was a finished script. I really credit Gore, Jerry and all of the actors, who are absolutely terrific. Everyone who had the power to decide whether the writer was going to be there or not were so confident about what they do – genuine confidence. There wasn’t a need to protect the ego, so they had no problem looking for the best idea, no matter what the source. It was a genuine collaboration, making this movie. They kind of established a tone that made it possible for Terry and I to be as involved as we were, as all screenwriters would like to be. Our experience on this movie is pretty much the experience that, I think, every screenwriter dreams of having when they sit down and write “Fade in.”

Now go check out Ted Elliott's screenwriting website WORDPLAY

Interview 1: Jerry Bruckheimer/Ted Elliot
Interview 2: Keira Knightley
Interview 3: Orlando Bloom
Interview 4: Johnny Depp
Source: JoBlo.com

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