Treasured asset

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2007, 12:00am

Jerry Bruckheimer hasn't had a decent night's sleep in days - and it doesn't look as if he's going to get one any time soon. Hollywood's best known producer is working on the last-minute editing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the final part of the action trilogy starring Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. Sitting in a small dubbing studio in a 20th Century Fox building in Los Angeles, he's patiently listening to a visitor tell him how to make a fortune outside the movie industry.

'There was that hedge fund guy in New York who made a billion dollars last year,' the visitor tells a bemused Bruckheimer. 'A billion bucks! You should stop making movies and do hedge funds.'

But Bruckheimer doesn't need to find a new job. His income might fall short of the billion-dollar mark - Forbes estimates he made about US$66 million (HK$516 million) in 2005 - his movies have far exceeded that. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has made almost US$1.1 billion since it opened late last year, and The Curse of the Black Pearl earned more than US$653 million globally. Bruckheimer has produced some of the most successful films in Hollywood, and if it's an action movie chances are he's behind it.

His power in Hollywood extends beyond the big screen too - Bruckheimer is also responsible for the hugely successful CSI franchise, as well as hit shows Cold Case and Without a Trace.

'My job is to make sure that everyone is protected and supported,' he says. 'And my responsibility is to involve and entertain audiences - to make their lives better for a couple of weeks.'

In the quiet of the dubbing room, where excerpts from At World's End play on a screen, the 62-year-old is scrutinising the film's details. On a board on the wall a series of white cards is neatly arranged in columns, bearing the names of individual scenes from the film. 'A lot of the visual effects still aren't perfect, and it's hard to hear the dialogue,' says Bruckheimer, apologising for the rough cut of the film. 'But I know it will be gorgeous when it's all finished.' Rumoured to have cost US$150 million, with millions more set aside for a global marketing blitz, it's a lavish production.

In one of the first scenes Bruckheimer puts on his monitor, Elizabeth Swann, played by Knightley, stands on a raft on a river leading into a dark city that's meant to be Singapore. There, in a confrontation with Chow Yun-fat's Captain Sao Feng, whom Bruckheimer says is 'a wonderful actor, good for the series and good for international audiences', swords are wielded, guns fired and explosives detonated. Later, we see a pirate ship careening down a waterfall and another sliding down vast sand dunes. Bruckheimer knows each nuance of every scene by heart, but his familiarity with the movie hasn't dulled his enthusiasm for it. 'The last 40 minutes are some of the most spectacular filming I've ever seen,' he says. 'There's also lots of humour in this movie.'

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was criticised for being too convoluted, but Bruckheimer defends it, saying audiences, particularly younger ones, watched it many times. 'A lot of stuff came to light that they missed the first time,' he says. But in this sweeping finale, 'everything is tied up'.

'The first one was really a comedy,' he says, referring to the film that made Depp an even bigger star and cemented Bloom's status in Hollywood. 'We made one more because the first was a huge success. And when the second was a success, we went for a third.'

At World's End was filmed in the Caribbean islands of Dominica and St Vincent, and Los Angeles, but was hampered by bad weather. The second and third films were shot concurrently - sometimes amid hurricanes and storms.

'There were six to eight weeks of downpour, and these were 100-day shoots,' he says. In Los Angeles, Bruckeimer oversaw the building of huge ships inside aeroplane hangers while his special effects crew was perfecting 2,000 computer-generated shots using new technology.

Bruckheimer isn't the only member of the production team obsessed with the film. Gore Verbinski, the 43-year-old who directed the first two films, also worked on dubbing every day, monitored the special effects and then focused on the colour treatments until 2am. 'There's not a lot of sleeping going on here,' says Bruckheimer.

Despite his track record with the first two films, the producer says there are never any guarantees. 'Sure, I'm still nervous about it. You never know if it will open well. But if half as many people come and see this movie as saw the second one, then my job is done.'

When the film is finished there are always mixed emotions. 'We'll be tired, but we'll be sad,' Bruckheimer says of handing over the completed film to distributors. 'We've had a blast making it. And while this is the end of this trilogy, at the end of this film there's a little opening, a little hope, that it could maybe lead to something else.'

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opens today