Hollywood’s ‘super-producer’ charts his path from mailroom boy to industry tycoon

Know what you want

I make movies I want to see. Straight up. And from that point, I become embroiled in the world I’m trying to replicate. So if it’s the National Treasure franchise, I become absorbed with treasure hunters and history. That’s what filmmaking is.

God’s in the detail

If you want people to like your films, they need to learn from them. Sometimes the best teachers are the movies, because that’s where the fun is. And it’s the audience’s response to learning that makes them enjoy what they’re watching.

Make a plan and stick to it

My dad always said to me, “Don’t go into a profession where you spend your life looking forward to your only two-week holiday of the year.” In other words, “Don’t be like me.” And I loved movies ever since my mum dropped me off at a cinema one Saturday. After that I was hooked. I didn’t just love the cinema, I wanted to be a part of it. And here I am.

Keep things simple

I always follow this maxim with my screenwriters. I’m like, “I don’t understand what’s happening here. Make it simple.” I like stories with a beginning, middle and an end. If a guy turns to his friend to ask what’s going on during a movie, he’ll miss another vital bit of information that pushes the plot along. I don’t want my audience to ever feel lost.

Everything can be better

I never think the things I do are good enough. You can always take things up to the next level. So I’m always pushing my directors. How can we make this superior?

Expect the worst

The only movie that I felt would be successful was Beverley Hills Cop because we screened it and the audience just loved it. It was a case of, “Well, if we can get this reaction at just a screening, this movie might have a real shot.” These days I think negative but hope for the best.

Accept that others want you to fail

I try to avoid advance screenings of my own movies because I know everyone sitting there is also in the business, and when you’re successful there’s a section of the audience who just want you to bomb. There’s a general anger and jealously at you for doing well, so they’ll stop themselves from maybe laughing at one of the film’s jokes.

Devour other forms of media

I watch TV and other movies constantly because you need to stay up to date with popular culture. So whenever I get a moment off I head out to see what else is showing.

Give audiences their money’s worth

In the US, you know whether you’ve got a hit on your hand when each member of the audience is prepared to pay ten bucks to be entertained. But you’ve got to give people value.

CV

1967–1971 (Age 22-26)

Ad company mailroom. Then worked way up to Advertising Producer on the Coca-Cola account.

1972 (27)

The Culpepper Cattle Co. My first producing job.

1975 (30)

Farewell, My Lovely. Why didn’t I branch into directing instead? Because I’ve never been good at ordering people around. Instead my strength’s always been organisation.

1980 (35)

American Gigolo

1983 (38)

Flashdance

1985 (40)

Beverly Hills Cop

1986 (41)

Top Gun. Pitched as ‘Star Wars on Earth’.

1990 (45)

Days Of Thunder. It wasn’t the hit everyone thought it would be. But it was still very successful.

1995 (50)

Bad Boys/Crimson Tide/Dangerous Minds

1996 (51)

The Rock

2000 (55)

Gone In Sixty Seconds

2001 (56)

Black Hawk Down/Pearl Harbor. Everyone’s different. Critics who love films from Cambodia won’t like Pearl Harbor, that’s the way it is.

2003 (58)

Bad Boys II/Pirates Of The Caribbean. What happens if pirates turned to skeletons in the moonlight? That was a concept that excited me.

2004 (59)

National Treasure

2006 (61)

POTC: Dead Man’s Chest. Sequels are harder because you have to give the audience something fresh.

2007 (62)

POTC: At World’s End

2008 (63 this year)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets