Jerry Bruckheimer Sails to the Top

What do you call the guy in the movie who almost never appears on camera, whose voice you never hear but who has his fingers on virtually every aspect of the picture? The producer. It's a mystery position to a lot of people outside the business, but in some ways it's the most important person in the whole deal.

And Jerry Bruckheimer could be the most important producer in Hollywood. He's behind some of the most successful shows on television ("CSI," "Without a Trace," "The Amazing Race") and some of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history ("Top Gun," "Flashdance," "Armageddon"). But for Bruckheimer, at the end of the day it's about the audience.

"It's the greatest thing for me that when our pictures open I can watch people laugh, applaud and cry," said Bruckheimer.

Telling stories and being part of a creative team has always been part of the magic of movie making. Bruckheimer recalls casting Jennifer Beals as the lead in "Flashdance" and gathering the parts that made that movie so special. "I see myself not as a producer, but as a collector. I collect all these wonderful talents and surround myself with it."

"Flashdance" was in the early stage of Bruckheimer's career. It was followed soon after by a film that broke a number of records, "Beverly Hills Cop." It's hard to imagine, but Sylvester Stallone was originally the lead before ballooning budgets made him part from the project and produce his own cop movie "Cobra." Eddie Murphy picked up lead duties for "Beverly Hills Cop," making movie history.

These silver screen goliaths weren't isolated hits. Through the years, Bruckheimer's had his hand in "Bad Boys" with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, "Con Air," "Black Hawk Down" and other action/adventure films. ABC's Joel Siegel summed it up, saying: "All of his movies seem to have something in common? They're fun to watch."

The most recent success story in this long career, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, almost didn't happen. Bruckheimer remembers when it was first pitched to him: "I'm thinking to myself: 'There goes my career! A movie about a theme park ride? It's over!'"

But it was far from over. The film that the Los Angeles Times said was as "forgettable as a bad day at the Disneyland parking lot" went on to rake in $653 million worldwide, and almost doubled that for the sequel.

Bruckheimer brushes aside criticism that his movies are synonymous with bombast and lack of substance. "As long as it's linked to good entertainment, to making people's lives better? That's a good thing," he said.

All told, the "Pirates" franchise has grossed almost more than $1.6 billion worldwide, and is by all accounts a smash success. "It's the perfect summer movie," Bruckheimer told ABC's Siegel.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" opens later this month. At the conclusion of the second movie in the series, the star of the film, Captain Jack Sparrow, had been swallowed by an enormous sea beast in a cliffhanger that left some fans of the trilogy wanting more. But Bruckheimer said: "The second film was an hors d'ouevre for this film."

After the success of the first "Pirates" film in 2003, the filmmakers did something uncommon for Hollywood: They produced both sequels at once in early 2005. This enabled the actors and crew to devote the time necessary to really delve into the characters and parts and not lose continuity as would happen with a stretch of time between shooting sequels.

How did they keep track of all the little details that go into such a monumental production? Director Gore Verbinski. Bruckheimer speaks lovingly about the man who helmed all three movies. "He comes from a family of nuclear scientists. He's the black sheep of the family," he said.

The casting of Johnny Depp as the main character, Captain Jack Sparrow, was another risk. Depp first became widely known through his work in the teen cop drama "21 Jump Street" on Fox. After that the actor made his mark with a slew of well-regarded -- though not always box-office resounding -- movies such as "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Dead Man."

But for Bruckheimer, "He was my first choice always." Captain Jack Sparrow was cast, and with Depp's mix of feyness, over-the-top clowning and a little bit of a Keith Richards impression, the film had its star.

According to some, Hollywood has a penchant for dragging franchises out for profit, at the expense of fans and the original spirit of a series. So will there be another Pirates movie? "We finished the story. This is the end of it," said Bruckheimer. "But you never know what happens in the future."

So what advice would Bruckheimer give to young filmmakers? "Understand literature, understand what a good story is, understand what a good character is, understand what drama is. We're storytellers," he said. The words from a master.

"Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End" opens worldwide on May 25.