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Disney Wants Bruckheimer to Be the Happiest Producer on Earth

Contract talks have dragged on, but both sides express hope that they'll continue to collaborate on big hits.

April 23, 2005|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Last week, Walt Disney Co. stole one of Hollywood's biggest producers, Scott Rudin, from Paramount Pictures.

Now, Disney is working to make sure its own biggest marquee producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, stays in the fold.

Much is at stake for Disney in keeping Bruckheimer happy. For more than a decade, the producer has delivered the kind of large-scale, adrenaline-laced films the studio needs to anchor its yearly movie slate.

Among his Disney blockbusters: "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Armageddon," "The Rock," "Crimson Tide" and, most recently, "National Treasure."

Disney and Bruckheimer -- who have been in business together since 1991 -- have been in negotiations for nearly a year to extend the producer's longtime deal with the studio. Bruckheimer said his representatives planned to meet with Disney over the next several weeks to try to resolve any outstanding issues.

One area being negotiated would add creating action-packed video games to Bruckheimer's portfolio. Bruckheimer has been courted by game developers and is eager to expand into the business. Disney, meanwhile, is moving back into developing its own games and wants to have Bruckheimer be a part of it. This week, Disney announced that it was buying a small Utah video game developer and investing in a Canadian venture.

Disney and Bruckheimer also must agree on how much of the profits from DVD sales and other revenue streams the producer will share. With Bruckheimer already one of Hollywood's highest-paid producers, Disney may have to find other, creative ways to give him even more money, such as cutting him in on a larger chunk of the DVD pie.

Disney's brass and Bruckheimer say they are hopeful they can come to terms on all matters and continue what has been a hugely successful partnership.

"Jerry's been our power hitter for many years, and it is our desire for him to continue to be our power hitter for years to come," said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Bruckheimer, who is currently shooting two "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels back to back, also expressed a desire to extend his run there.

"I've had a phenomenal relationship over the past 15 years with Dick Cook and his team, and I hope we continue for another 15 years," Bruckheimer said.

Cook said it was not at all unusual that such complicated contract talks drag on, noting that it happened when Bruckheimer's previous deal expired: "We've always operated on a going-forward basis."

Bruckheimer, like Rudin and producer Brian Grazer, is in an elite group that enjoys Hollywood's richest production deals, including a substantial cut (an average of 7.5%) of the studio's gross receipts from the first dollar earned at the box office.

But big names require substantial care and handling from studio executives who spend countless hours making them happy. Still, Cook said, Disney is big enough for both producers.

He said there was room aplenty for Bruckheimer and Rudin and compared the situation to having legendary sports superstars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Earvin "Magic" Johnson on the same team.

A former advertising executive, Bruckheimer has had a long history with Disney, dating to when he and his late partner Don Simpson signed a five-year production deal in 1991 with the studio. Bruckheimer and Simpson, who died in 1996, came to Disney after producing for Paramount, where in the 1980s they attained elite status with such blockbusters as "Flashdance," "Top Gun" and the "Beverly Hills Cop" films.

Despite his track record at Disney, Bruckheimer often finds himself battling the company over costs. It was budget concerns that led Disney to pass on Bruckheimer's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" for its ABC network. CSI became one of television's most lucrative franchises for rival Viacom Inc.'s CBS.

Bruckheimer has occasionally made films for other studios, including the "Bad Boys" hits for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Disney nearly scrapped the "Pirates" sequels out of cost concerns, even though the first film grossed $652 million worldwide and sold about 30 million DVDs globally. Eventually, Disney and Bruckheimer agreed on a budget of about $350 million combined for the two films, with Bruckheimer and some other talent deferring salaries.

A highly public budget battle also erupted over Bruckheimer's costly 2001 epic "Pearl Harbor" when Disney forced the producer and director Michael Bay to renegotiate their fees to get the movie made.

Despite an enviable string of blockbusters, not all of Bruckheimer's costly movies hit pay dirt. "Pearl Harbor" didn't return Disney the kind of profit it expected. Last year's "King Arthur" was a big disappointment.

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