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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - Mike Newell and Jerry Bruckheimer interview

Jerry Bruckheimer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PRODUCER Jerry Bruckheimer and director Mike Newell talk about some of the challenges of filming Disney blockbuster Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, while Jerry reflects on his career in general and how he maintains his success…

Q. Jerry, what was it about Prince of Persia that impressed you and made you want to do it?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It’s a throwback to the old movies, to Lawrence of Arabia. I love the old David Lean films, and this is kind of a fantasy version of it. Jordan Mechner did such a wonderful job… the game was so successful and he came in with a wonderful pitch that we fell in love with.

Q. Had you played the original game?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I have played the game but not the one that Jordan talked about when he first created it – a more recent version of it.

Q. Mike, what appealed to you about visiting the mythology behind the game and what inspired it?
Mike Newell: Jerry did a wonderfully subtle and clever thing when he sent me the script. He also sent me a book of 19th Century, mostly French paintings, of the Middle East. I looked at these paintings… I loved the story because I loved the idea of people finding that what they’d always been told was a fairy story, or fable, was actually real. There is a moment in the film where the sand storm lifts and there is the city. I remember running out and buying a map and thinking: “I wonder where this city would be?” And then actually tracking it through Iran, etc. Those paintings and Jordan Mechner’s research were tremendously important. But I think one of the things that really got me… Jerry said: “What do you think?” And I replied: “I’m not sure but I’m not giving the book back!” It had such wonderful pictures and that plugged me right into the process.

Q. Game to movie adaptations often struggle in terms of quality on the big screen. What made you think you could buck that trend with Prince of Persia? And have you played the game, Mike?
Mike Newell: Well, I was hopeless, completely hopeless. I didn’t realise at first that it was a video game and I asked Jerry whether that would be important. He told me that it wouldn’t be but I think he lied! But I think he was confident that I wouldn’t be shaken by having to obey a set of rules that I didn’t understand at all. I tried to play the game… I could get three steps across the wall and then die! But then I got my assistants to come along and play it better, so we sort of cherry-picked it. We saw that there were some things that were really interesting in the game, as well as other things that would be very difficult. So, I hope there’s enough in there for the gamers to feel that they’re represented, but not what I do know they feel that there’s ever yet been a movie that they feel good enough about to say: “That is a proper movie of a video game.” I hope we’ve broken that restriction.

Q. Was there ever any desire to adopt a 3D approach to this? And what do you think of the 3D revolution?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I think we talked about it briefly but Avatar hadn’t come out yet, so you couldn’t see the effect it would have. But Avatar was doing it all on a sound stage, pretty much, and this picture was done in Morocco. So, it would have been more difficult with the cameras in the sand and the heat. But 3D is here to stay. It’s taking over cinema.

Q. Mike, you’ve previously described the making of this film as a bit like being the boss of Ford Motors. Care to elaborate?
Mike Newell: I wish I hadn’t made that joke! What happens is that films like this are so huge that they’re composed of overlapping fiefdoms. So, there are costume designers of huge talent, there are armourers, designers… each of them has a little kingdom all his own in which to make his own stuff. He then brings it to you and says, in effect: “Do you like this year’s SUV?” And you say: “Yes, can we have it in blue?” And he’ll say that we can and that’s a problem solved. That’s a metaphor, of course. It isn’t like that because you could never get through these huge things unless there were these satellite talents all around you, all having their own imaginations and energies, which they feed into you all the time. That’s how you become kind of the managing director but then, God help you, you have to do all the stuff that you do anyway [laughs]. You have to stand on the set and make sense of it all. So, it’s a bit bigger than the normal ones.

Q. Will there be a sequel?
Jerry Bruckheimer: That depends on people showing up [to see it]. If a lot of people do, I’m sure the people at Disney will come back to us and ask for another one. And, of course, we would!

Q. What do you think about being referred to as “the most powerful man in Hollywood”? And how does that translate to your film sets?
Jerry Bruckheimer: That’s a media portrayal of me, it’s not really true. We just try to have a loose set, where people can have a good time even though they’re working really hard. I think that’s because of Mike and our actors.

Q. Looking back over your career, how does it make you feel to be the man behind so many modern classics?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I’m always thinking about the next one. I seldom think about the past. You learn from the past… but I’m worried about this one, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is coming up next, and then Pirates 4, which we’re about to start. So, I’m always looking way beyond… I don’t look back too much. Maybe some day when I’m in a retirement home somewhere I’ll look back and say: “Oh wow, I did all these things…” But not now.

Q. IMDB currently states you have 17 projects in development. How do you manage to balance all that work with your TV commitments as well?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It comes down to working with really talented people. This is a great example of the kind of talent it creates. We create the same kind of talent behind the cameras. It’s just finding great people to work with.

Read our review of Prince of Persia