It's important that you know I was sweating profusely throughout this whole interview. I was schvitzing so hard that the publicist brought me a cloth napkin to soak up some of my sweat. It was pretty hot in Santa Fe, where Disney held The Lone Ranger junket, but I was really sweating because I had just been on a long hike in the hills. See, I thought I had about an hour to kill before my time with Jerry Bruckheimer, and so I set off to see what I could in nature. But as I reached the top of a steep hill I got a phone call - Jerry was ready early, please come back.
I was sweaty, Jerry was a little jet lagged. He was quiet and watched his words as we talked about The Lone Ranger and his career, which spans all sorts of blockbusters from Top Gun to Armageddon to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Jerry Bruckheimer has been one of the driving forces of popcorn cinema for the last thirty years.
What was interesting to me, though, was the fact that The Lone Ranger technically brought him back to his roots.
This movie brings you back to where you started. Your first movie was a Western. Over the years filmmakers have continued to love the genre, but audiences seem to have lost the appeal. Why is that?
It’s always about the movies, not the genre of films. What came out previously hasn’t captured the imagination of the audience, so there’s a stigma about Westerns. But if you give them something entertaining - it’s just like pirates. Thirty or forty years of pirate movies that people didn’t embrace and then Pirates of the Caribbean became a success. You have to approach it from a different angle, and we approached this one from a different angle.
Do you feel a sense of pride when you can do that? When you can make a pirate movie and it isn’t just big, it’s one of the biggest movies of all time.
We get excited about what we have and we hope the audience likes it the way we do. And that’s how we feel about The Lone Ranger.
When you’re working on a movie of this scale, what’s your responsibility as a producer? When you’re working with Gore, a guy who has a vision and isn’t just paint-by-numbers. Are you running interference with the studio, are you the go-between bringing him the studio’s demands?
It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of helping him achieve what he wants while achieving what the studio wants. It’s a combination of the two.
This movie changed over time. Do you think the changes - specifically taking out the werewolves - improved it?
We only lost one sequence, basically. We added a lot. Gore added the telling of the tale by Tonto. The backdrop of the continental railroad was added. But beyond that - the odd couple pairing of the two, the origin story - those were things inherent with what we were doing.
Why The Lone Ranger? This is a character who has disappeared from the popular consciousness.
I think it’s an iconic character, and I love the origin story. It fascinated me. Hopefully it fascinates audiences.
This has been an interesting summer in that we’ve seen a lot of big movies that go bigger than we’ve ever seen before. There’s been an interesting backlash, especially with the destruction in Man of Steel. As a guy who has worked in the destructive side of filmmaking is there a point where audiences get sick of seeing buildings collapse?
I can’t tell you because we do a lot of it! Not in this movie, but in others. I don’t know where the saturation point is. I always think it’s about story and character and not about the explosions. If you hook them on story and characters you can do what you want. If they want to be the characters in that movie - at least the heroic characters - I think you’ve got the audience.
In the original stories The Lone Ranger is perfect. He’s the pinnacle of good guys. In this movie he’s more flawed; he has his problems and foibles. Is that important for modern audiences to take a step away from the perfection of the character?
You always have to reinvent within the parameters of the contemporary audience. What worked in 1933 on radio isn’t going to work today. That’s why you have to reinvent and embellish. Not totally, because we did do the origin story, and we have Silver and the silver bullets, we have all that.
How much can you change the character? With Pirates there was no mythology, because it was from a ride. But with this, how far can you take the character, bend The Lone Ranger, until he breaks?
We’ll find out. I think most people aren’t familiar with The Lone Ranger, or they’ve heard of him, but there isn’t a collective identification with the character. Maybe with an older audience. You want to give the character a growth. You want to have him go somewhere as a character, and to just play him as a straight good guy wasn’t correct, and wasn’t dramatic.
As someone who has been at the forefront of the biggest movies ever, are we in an arms race when it comes to the scope and size of films? Are we coming up on a $400 million dollar budget, and can the industry sustain that?
I can’t predict it, but if you had told me I’d be making $200 million movies twenty years ago I’d have told you you were out of your mind. With the advent of 3D and IMAX and the growth of foreign - China, Russia, South America - you have the ability to gather huge grosses. You look at what Cameron keeps doing, he keeps pushing what a movie can do. As long as there’s that carrot out there saying ‘Look at what a movie can do,’ the studios will reach for it and try to give you as much entertainment as possible. I haven’t seen Superman yet, but I hear there’s a spectacular ending. I saw Fast and Furious and it’s huge. I’m sure World War Z has the same thing, Star Trek did too. You have to give the audience the thrill ride.
Speaking of foreign, the conventional wisdom says Westerns don’t travel. Do you guys think Johnny is what travels it?
We’ll find out. But contrary to popular belief one of the biggest writers in Germany is a Western writer. He’s written I don’t know how many different novels about Westerns. You go back to Sergio Leone and those Westerns traveled quite well. It’s just that nobody has made a contemporary Western that has worked for an audience. It doesn’t mean they’re bad movies, it just means they haven’t worked for the audience. Hopefully Johnny makes them interested in the film, and if they hear good things they’ll go see it.