EDITORS NOTE: The interviewer, Sonja Brown, worked several years in the film and entertainment industry as a publicist before moving to Spring City. She was personally acquainted with Jerry Bruckheimer, Producer and director of Top Gun – Maverick, and his wife, from her previous work in Hollywood.
She was driving in Mt. Pleasant one evening when she observed the long line of cars lined up along the highway waiting to get in to see the movie. She snapped several pictures and sent them to Bruckheimer to show him how well the picture was being received here in Sanpete County. She followed up with a call to him about the photos. Bruckheimer told her he was thrilled and grateful to the people of Sanpete County for their support and granted Brown an interview for exclusive use by the Messenger.
It’s not everyday that you see a long line of cars, stretching further than the eye can see, connecting two farm towns like Spring City and Mt. Pleasant, Utah. Especially with vehicles idling away $5-per-gallon gas, and teens and toddlers leaning out of every car window.
What has been causing all this excitement in Sanpete County?
Automobiles have been lining up each evening, waiting for the sun to go down and the gates to swing open at the famous Basin Drive-In Theater. Ambitious local movie-goers have been angling to get one of the 360 graveled parking places to see the blockbuster summer movie, “Top Gun Maverick.”
Hopefully, Hollywood’s studio chiefs are paying attention because U.S. and global audiences are sending a message with their feet. Top Gun Maverick is the kind of PG-13 movie fans are starving for.
Director Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise kept this latest “Top Gun” masterpiece in a vault all through the Pandemic, waiting for just the right moment to welcome movie-goers back to theaters. It’s not just the country’s wish to “get back to normal,” that has sold over a billion dollars worth of tickets to the second “Top Gun.” Moreso, it is that Jerry Bruckheimer has spun his magic once again. As he did with the first “Top Gun,” “Flashdance,” “Black Hawk Down” and five brilliant productions of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Jerry Bruckheimer has once again given audiences something to cheer about. A movie with a great story, action, adventure, strong actors, and a great ending.
More than a few Hollywood movie makers seem to have forgotten this recipe for success.
Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer, are not just leaders in Hollywood, they are great Americans. I’ve known them for over a decade. As a surprise, I captured some Iphone video of the long lines of cars outside the highway leading to the Basin Drive-In just before sundown. So touched were the Bruckheimers to receive it and see the excitement in Mount Pleasant, Utah, that Jerry agreed to give the Sanpete County Messenger a personal interview to show his thanks to Central Utah fans:
SEB: Jerry….we’ve seen you at premiers with the Royal Family in London, in France at Cannes, on Youtube, Entertainment Tonight, and elsewhere in the media. All the time witnessing the success of “Top Gun Maverick” around the globe. But there has to be something especially thrilling to see lines of cars, waiting to see your film, burning up expensive gas, outside a hometown drive-in in the U.S.
JB: Oh my heaven’s yes. I saw the video of fans in Sanpete County and it’s always so thrilling to see lines like that. It was amazing. It was great and we’ll take a line anywhere!
SEB: You actually held back the movie during Covid. Why?
JB: Well, we wanted audiences to experience it in the theater and on big screens, because those sequences in the air? Are spectacular with the sound, IMAX, and effects. We wanted audiences to experience the spectacle of it.
SEB: In small town like Mount Pleasant or others around the country, traditional movie theaters are sometimes a bit of a drive. Hometown drive-ins, actually more convenient. Someone told me today they were returning to the neighborhood drive-in tonight for a third time…
JB: That’s just great. We’ll welcome them anyway they want to come. What’s interesting is that already, over 20% of the audience has seen it at least two times. It’s certainly a compliment.
SEB: The Hollywood Reporter and other papers are reporting that ticket sales have reached over one billion dollars. Do you think fans are telling you that they want to return to the theater?
JB: Absolutely. This is the movie that got people out to theaters who had not seen a movie in more than two years. The fans of the original “Top Gun” came out first, and they were perhaps an older audience. Now we’ve migrated to a younger audience. Father’s are taking their sons and daughters. Women are taking their girlfriends. You see it once and then you want to take a friend to see it. It’s become a cultural phenomenon. And not only here, but what’s interesting is that our international gross sales are catching up to our domestic ticket sales. Last night, the number of people seeing the movie worldwide was larger than in the U.S. It’s just amazing and we’re so pleased.
SEB: There are movies you want to see, and movies you are dying to see. Audiences are so eager to see your movies. It goes to your taste, and your desire to make movies that people really can enjoy. You aren’t motivated by making a “statement” film. Or just out for profits.
JB: Thank you, that’s the mission. To make movies people can enjoy. Producing movies is always difficult and it’s hard to get them made. But every once in awhile you get one like “Top Gun” and it’s a real joy. The reason I do this is to entertain audiences. I’m not interested in sending messages, or doing anything else. It’s a privilege to take people away from their lives for a little while, and especially when the world’s upside down as it seems right now. It’s good to give them a couple of hours of real entertainment and the chance to feel good when they walk out.
SEB: How long did it take to make this sequel to “Top Gun?”
JB: There were a lot of stops and starts. I would say about four months. We started with the ground story, and then did the air story in different locations.
SEB: I didn’t really expect a happy ending? Was that a conscience decision of yours to give America a positive ending right now?
JB: I always try to make people feel better when they leave the theater than when they walked in. Nobody wants to sit there for two hours and walk out depressed. At least I don’t. I only make pictures I want to see. That’s the kind of movie I want to see….one that makes me think, makes me feel better, makes me get involved with the characters in the movie. Give them a great ride.
SEB: Well you definitely succeed. Another thing I hear often about the film is that movie goers feel the movie is patriotic. That is makes them feel patriotic again. Was that something you set out to do ?
JB: I think we just wanted to tell a story about these characters. That the Navy is such a great organization. They helped us throughout the movie. We paid for everything, but they couldn’t have been nicer and gave us their best pilots and officers and helped shepherd the project throughout. We just want to tell stories about excellence. Those officers and pilots were just simply, excellent.
SEB: Was there a particular scene that was more difficult to shoot than another?
JB: Well I think the aerials were the most challenging. Anytime you put six cameras inside a cockpit and and have to turn them on and off, and stay up in the air for a couple of hours AND have to act, it’s difficult. You have to realize that all the actors were also handling seven or eight “G’s,” it’s like, one “G” is your body weight. But the additional G-force mean 8 times the body weight is being forced against their chests. Those facial expressions you see are real. They’re not acting.
SEB: Jerry, do you think Top Gun’s amazing success is saying something to other Hollywood studios about what audiences want to see on the silver screen today?
JB: Yes. I think what the movie goers are telling the studios is that people want to show up and go to the theaters again. But you have to give them something worth seeing or something that entertains them. I always like the analogy that you have a kitchen in your house, but you still like to go out to eat. There’s a lot of good stuff on television, but you still want to have the experience of going to see a movie on a big screen. The sound is incredible. In a drive-in they have good sound now. It’s all about capturing the imagination of the audience and taking them on a ride. We always think we’re in the transportation business. Transport people from one place to another. I like to do what you call “process” movies.
Where you take an audience to a world they are likely never to be part of. Show them how it actually works. There is so much authenticity. We have actually had a number of aviators screen the movie and they have said, “they really got it right.”
Not everything is perfect because it is a movie, but overall pilots who were not part of the movie have given us rave reviews.
SEB: When you were producing commercials for a living, that’s a long way back now, did you ever envision this future for yourself? Did you think you would become one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and directors?
JB: You dream about it, but you never know if you’ll get there. You just keep your nose down and work hard. The harder you work the luckier you get. I was always a hard worker.
SEB: Do you have a parting message for your fans and supporters in this part of the country ?
JB: I think when they see the movie they need to know it is very authentic. The actors are really in those planes. Tom did some of the flying himself. He is an avid aviator. He can fly just about anything. He was adamant that actors had to go through three months of training so they could handle the G-forces. In the first movie we put them up there, and we couldn’t use a lot of the footage, except for some of Tom’s. The actors couldn’t handle the G-forces and they would throw up and their eyes rolled back in their heads making each shot unusable as you can imagine. But this time we got it right and we trained them to be able to handle the G-forces. They had to go through Navy survival training, even underwater survival training. The actors had to go well above and beyond just signing up to star in a movie. It was a long ordeal. I don’t think they look at it as an ordeal, because it has been terrific for all of their careers.
SEB: There is a lot of authenticity in everything you try to do. I wonder who the professionals are that have inspired you, or whom you have modeled yourself after.
JB: I mean there are a ton of amazing directors who have done terrific movies. You just try to tell great stories. Interesting characters. Interesting themes. That’s the goal. Everyone in our company tries to do the same thing.
SEB: Last thoughts?
JB: We appreciate the men and women who are in our armed forces and those who protect our shores. That’s why we want to show these pilots the way they really are. So many come from great places like Utah and elsewhere in the country. Their stories deserve to be told.