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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

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A traveling junket of talent came to Denver in December to promote Glory Road. The film tells the story of the first all-African-American basketball champions in the NCAA.

Though many people deserve credit for the film, the buck stops at the top with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

As thrilling as it sounds to sit next to the most lucrative producer in Hollywood history (two of the day’s questions were “what’s it like to be richer that God Himself?” and “Jerry, it’s snowing. Couldn’t you make a call?”), the man himself is very easygoing, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.

Nevertheless, he was always on-topic, and when a question drifted away from Glory Road, he was careful to bring it back around to the day’s business.

Producing, Directing, and Re-creating

Bruckheimer talks a good game
Bruckheimer talks a good game

Few producers are household names. But Bruckheimer is a major exception. I said I thought it would be as informative to say “A Jerry Bruckheimer movie” as to use the name of whoever directs.

Both humble and proud, Bruckheimer responded “It’s only because there’s a consistency in the entertainment that our company gives you. We draw on directors that make the kind of movies that we want to make. It’s not me, it’s them. The choice of using them is what we should get the credit for, not the making of the movie, because they do it. This is Jim Gartner’s movie. It just so happens we picked Jim Gartner, who never directed a movie before.”

One of the younger reporters in the room (part of a kids in newspapers program) asked Bruckheimer what was toughest about re-creating 1966.

“I think to try to get the vernacular down — the way they spoke, the way they acted. The clothes [are] easy, the cars are easy because you have film on that so you can reference that. But the social things the people do — the high fives, they bump their chests — they didn’t do that back then in ‘66. So to all these kind of things you have to modulate and change to make it as authentic as you can.”

Scouting Locations, Claiming Territory

I had done some research beforehand — Bruckheimer is not shy about giving interviews — and read how much he liked his job as a producer. I wondered if there was any part of his job that he didn’t like.

“I guess there is,” he said. “I hate scouting locations. But beyond that, it’s all fun for me. There are moments [when] we deal with stuff you don’t want to deal with.”

Turning my question back to Glory Road, he continued, “What gets me through is what happened last night [at the screening]. The reason I make movies is to entertain people. If you were sitting in the audience last night, the way they responded to the movie, that makes me feel good, because I know I’m making someone else feel good. If you saw this same movie again, and you went to a paying audience, you’d see a whole different experience. The kids go nuts. This is our highest testing movie... and I’ve made some big hits.”

Bruckheimer went on about Glory Road, and rather than interrupt, I did (and will now) let him have the floor:

The Gentleman from Detroit Has The Floor

“Yet audiences are so moved by this movie, because of the humor, because of the emotion of it, and because you learn something, and when you walk out of it, you feel good. Those are nice things to pass on. Hopefully I’ll leave things behind after I’m gone that will entertain generations for hundreds of years, and teach them something.

“If you talk to anybody under fifty, chances are they don’t know anything about this team. And you talk to African-American kids and they think they’ve basketball is their sport. Prior to 1966, they were on the playgrounds, they weren’t going to major colleges. A few in the north, but not many. And even look at the NBA, they had one or two African-Americans on their teams, and that was about it. Michael Jordan would have never gone to North Carolina back in 1966. An amazing athlete would have never played basketball other than sandlot games. Magic Johnson walked in to Pat Riley — coaching the Lakers — walked into his office and said had David Lattin not dunked that ball, I might not be standing here. So at least he was educated enough to realize the significance of this team and this game.

“I can’t tell you how many women have walked out of the screening and said ‘I don’t like sports movies; I would have never gone, my husband dragged me, but I loved this movie.’ That’s a great feeling for me. “

Did He or Didn’t He?

In Glory Road, coach Haskins decides to play only black players in the championship game. He does it to make a statement. But over the credits is an interview with the real Don Haskins, who said he was just playing his best players. I wanted to get Bruckheimer’s explanation for the movie’s self-contradiction.

Before I could ask, Bruckheimer answered it in part, continuing, “And by the way, [Haskins] wasn’t trying to make a statement. He just wanted to win the basketball game. When he recruited those players he just wanted seven good players. He wasn’t just going out, saying ‘I’m going to change society; I’m going to change integration.’ That’s how the best things happen. They come out of necessity and need.

“But there’s things that weigh on it that he’s not going to admit to. He’ll say he was just playing his best players. But when he was growing up there was a guy named Herman Carr who was a buddy of his, who was an African-American kid. He was a better player than Don Haskins; he was a great basketball player. When Don got his letters for scholarships and — he got a letter from a great coach at Oklahoma State — Herman didn’t get any. That’s sad. He didn’t get the opportunity to play. I’m sure that’s in [Haskins’] soul.

“And when he made that decision, when he heard all the racism around that game, all the abuse they were taking — if you look at the real footage of that game and you think we dramatized it, we didn’t. There are confederate flags waving all over the audience. That was 1966!”

I finally got to ask whether Bruckheimer thought Haskins really was making a statement, and not just playing his best players. He responded in the affirmative. “I think he was. And here’s why I think that. In the game prior, that got them into the big game, his best player that won the game for them was Jerry Armstrong, a white player. Jerry Armstrong didn’t play in this game.”

Man on the Move

After speaking at length and answering all the questions of a roomful of B-list reporters, Bruckheimer seemed satisfied, yet eager to move on. One final question caught his ear before jetting off to the next city on the Glory Road Junket. His answer came, appropriately, without hesitation. If they deported you to a desert island and you had time to grab only one CD...?

“Springsteen. Born to Run.”