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Jerry Bruckheimer (center) talks with producer Molly Smith and star Chris Hemsworth. [Warner Bros. Pictures]

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings us to the battlefield in ’12 Strong’

When a film begins with a driver’s view from a car hurtling down a long stretch of road under a cloud- and lightning-filled sky — the logo that’s opened every Jerry Bruckheimer production for the past two decades — you know that you’re in for, well, a ride. Bruckheimer’s Hollywood career actually began more than 40 years ago, with his first producer credit on “Farewell, My Lovely.” It’s since graced an astonishing array of films (and some sequels) including “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun,” “The Rock,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “National Treasure.” And we’re not even mentioning his prolific TV producing credits.

His newest is the Afghan war movie “12 Strong,” about a highly classified Green Beret mission that took place right after 9/11, starring Chris Hemsworth as the captain who led his men into battle on horseback. Bruckheimer, a fit and trim 74, who sees two movies a week, plays ice hockey about every two weeks, and is an avid photographer, grew up in Detroit, watched as many movies as he could, and now says he was “enamored of motion pictures, and would love to be part of it, but had no idea how.” His route ended up being through producing TV ads, then heading west and transferring his experiences and ideas to the big screen. He spoke about “12 Strong” and the business of movies last week in Hollywood.

Q: You’ve said that every time you make a movie, you get really nervous.

A: That’s true. They’re so hard to make, so hard to get through the system. First of all, it’s difficult to get good material, to convince good screenwriters to work on the material, to convince the studio to invest money in it, to convince an actor, convince a director. It’s really an uphill battle, and you’re amazed when you come to the point where it’s actually completed.

Q: You have a great track record. Is it really still hard to find money to make films?

A: Yeah, sure. A lot of studios weren’t interested in this one. We’d been working on it for eight years, but we didn’t have a script for the first three or four. Look, you get Chris Nolan to direct the movie, you get the money. If you get James Cameron to direct the movie, you get the money. If you get Leonardo DiCaprio, you get the money. But even getting the money doesn’t mean you can make the movie. It might be too expensive, maybe the actor doesn’t want to take a cut. It’s a complicated puzzle.

Q: You were actually given galleys of the source book, “Horse Soldiers,” before it was published. Why did it take so long to get to the screen?

A: We were at Disney at the time, when they had Hollywood Pictures. We worked on the story for quite a while there, but then they dropped Hollywood Pictures. So, we got the project back, we kept developing it, and we just had to find a home for it. Also, I’d been chasing Chris Hemsworth for this movie for a long time. I talked to him for two years, and he’d read various drafts of the script. We finally got to a point where we had financing for it, and I went back to Chris. He read the script again and liked it, and he had a lot of great ideas for it. He’s someone who cares about the character and story, and actually works with you. He’d get up at 5 in the morning, do makeup, work all day, finish around 8, go work out, and then he’d meet with us, and work on the story.

Q: You’ve worked with so many established directors. Given what you said about the difficulty of getting movies made, why did you take a chance with first-time director Nicolai Fuglsig?

A: We saw his (TV) commercial work, and it’s brilliant. My theory is if I have a talented visualist who can tell a story in 30 or 60 seconds that is coherent and understandable, I can give him a good screenplay, and he can do the same thing, and that’s what Nicolai did.

Q: You have a great reputation for being a hands-on producer who gets involved in the creative aspects of the film. Why have you never directed?

A: Know what you’re good at. I don’t have the patience to do it. I admire the great directors I’ve worked with. But they sit there, take after take, going “Change this word, do this.” It takes enormous concentration. I’ve got 300 things going through my head all the time. I couldn’t focus. I’ve thought about it, but it’s not something I’d be really good at.

Q: When’s the last time you played hockey?

A: About two weeks ago.

Q: Did you ever want to do it professionally?

A: No. I’m not very good at it. I would love to have lived that life, but it’s not for me.

Q: What’s your position?

A: Anything going forward; I can’t skate backwards.

Q: You’ve got “Top Gun: Maverick” coming up in 2019. Are you already nervous about it?

A: Of course. Because it’s taken 30-some years. Tom (Cruise) is very excited about it. We have a writer working on it right now, and we have an excellent director in Joe Kosinski. And Paramount wants to make it. So, if we get the story right, and Tom keeps his enthusiasm, we’re good.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

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