Young Woman And The Sea | Producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the film’s nine-year path to the screen

Jerry Bruckheimer Young Woman And The Sea
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Veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer talks to us about his latest film, Young Woman And The Sea, and the long process of getting it made.

Some movies descend into the ninth circle of development hell and never return, but Young Woman And The Sea, at least, has a happy ending. Having begun life in 2015 at Paramount Pictures, the project – about real-world swimmer Gertrude Ederle and her 1926 attempt to swim the English Channel – was put into turnaround five years later.

By 2020, the production had lost its original star, Lily James, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer doggedly continued to try to get it made, eventually striking a deal with Walt Disney Pictures. There, it was originally intended as fodder for the Mouse House’s Disney+ streaming service, yet the film director Joachim Rønning came back with was so impressive that Disney executives decided to give it a limited cinema release.

All of which led to us sitting down for a chat with Bruckheimer himself, who tells us what it was about Glenn Stout’s non-fiction book (also called Young Woman And The Sea) that made him so determined to persist in getting it onto the screen. Here’s what the veteran producer of such classics as Flashdance, Con Air, Top Gun and Pirates Of The Caribbean had to say on his latest film – as well as an update or two on the upcoming Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, and a certain untitled racing movie directed by Joseph Kosinski.

It’s been a long road to getting this film made, hasn’t it.

Nine years.

So what kept you going? What made you persist for so long?

It’s such a great, inspirational story, it really is. We felt we just had to get this made – it was just too good. It’s emotional, it’s triumphant – it’s all those things you go to the movies for. To be inspired. I always wanna be inspired by movies, but it’s nice to have a few of them out there like this – we like to make those.

And she got lost in time [Trudy Ederle]. Her story was forgotten. Yet you see the parade at the end, and you can’t imagine how this got lost – the biggest parade down Fifth Avenue ever. Yet nobody’s ever heard of Trudy.

We’ve done this a lot. We did it with Remember The Titans, about those two coaches. Dangerous Minds, about that teacher. Black Hawk Down, about those 18 men that you’ll never forget now. Veronica Guerin, about the journalist Cate Blanchett played. I think this is another one of those stories – they’re inspiring. They’re what movies used to be about, inspirational stories.

Also it’s so built for the big screen. It has the expanse of the water. Joachim [Rønning, director] is such a visual artist, so he made the most of what he had. And you have to look at what Daisy accomplished too as an actress. She had to train for three months in the water. She was in the water when we were filming for 12, 14 hours every day when we were filming, freezing. And working at it to make this as good as it can be.

When you look at the movie, there are very little visual effects. It’s actually made in the water, in the ocean, so it’s fabulous.

I read somewhere that the shoot was about a month – four weeks?

It was a little longer than that. My guess is it was about 50 days, something like that.

It strikes me that it’s a compressed time scale for something so complex, with a lot of open water. Was it a case of a lot of planning going into that?

Absolutely. It was planned down to an hour. They did an amazing job. We shot it in Bulgaria, which had great craftsmen, terrific backlots. They really felt the same way about the movie that we did. They wanted to be a part of it.

Read more: Young Woman And The Sea review | Daisy Ridley excels in family-friendly biopic

As you say, it’s inspirational, but what’s also important is to get across the realism and the sense of danger. There needs to be an edge so it’s not too… saccharine I suppose.


Did you talk much, you and the director, about that?

Absolutely – it had to be real. You had to see the dangers. All the obstacles that she had to get to where she needed to go. It’s unbelievable what this young girl did. And she had everything going against her when you think about it – she was an immigrant, she was partially deaf, her father… everything was working against her. And yet somehow she had the conviction to do it, with the help of her sister and her mother.

Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

Your name tends to be associated with big, bombastic, event films.

Oh well, we’ve got some of those coming this summer!

Well yeah. Bad Boys [Ride Or Die] is coming up. But are you really looking for story rather than scale? You’ve worked with the likes of Paul Schrader. You made films like Flashdance

Yeah, we do everything. What I try to do is, find movies I want to go and see. I don’t know what you like, I don’t know what an audience likes, but I know what I like. And that’s what I do – I try to push that ball up the hill everyday.

I once spoke to Simon West a few years ago – how you’d seen his Superbowl commercials, you gave him the script for Con Air, and that became a big hit. Is that path for filmmakers still there – coming in from commercials, but also taking an original script and making it into a blockbuster?

We look everywhere for directors. The guy who did Beverly Hills Cop [Axel F] came out of Apple commercials [director Mark Molloy]. It’s his first movie. He’s got a big movie star on his first movie, and he did a phenomenal job. It’s a terrific story – funny, action, and emotion. It’s going to surprise you.

That’s the key isn’t it. People are going to the cinema to find things that move them and feel new. I wonder if that was the key to Top Gun: Maverick finding such an audience – it captured a sense of realism that mainstream cinema was perhaps lost touch with for a while?

I think that’s part of it. There are so many digitally-created worlds that need to be done that way, because that’s the only way you can get them made. Digital effects are amazing now and they’ll keep getting better. But I like stories that move people. We transport you from one place to another on an emotional journey, and Top Gun does it. Young Woman And The Sea does it. A lot of movies that we make have the same kind of emotional core to them.

Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

Daisy Ridley is such good casting in this. She needs to convince you as an athlete, but also she needs to have that vulnerability as well, doesn’t she.

She’s a wonderful actress. We were fortunate to get her. We waited a long time to make this movie – she really wanted to do it. Same thing with Joachim – he waited. He wanted to get this movie made. She brought so much to it. From a female point of view, we have all these guys sitting around thinking we know what we’re doing, and she’ll come in and say no, it wouldn’t happen this way. She was instrumental in making a better movie.

Again, it’s taken nine years to get this made. How does that compare with other projects you’ve worked on? Have any been as hard to get off the ground as this?

I think Beverly Hills Cop [Axel F] was 40 years and Top Gun [Maverick] was 35 years, so…! It’s not me working on it all the time, though. It ebbs and it flows. Whereas with [Young Woman And The Sea] we were working on it all the time. It was at two different studios until Disney got it.

I read this was originally going to go direct to streaming.

Yes. It’s the highest-testing movie I’ve ever made. So that helped convince ’em, maybe we have something here. And then when they saw the movie… because when an executive or any of us reads the script, we can’t tell what the movie’s gonna look like. Whether it’s gonna be this small, intimate story. But Joachim had this expanse to it, this size to it with his sets and the way he created things, that belongs on the big screen. You want to see it on the big screen with the sound. The music’s fabulous in it. Everything you go to the movies for, this movie has.

It does feel as though it was shot and conceived for a cinema screen. Is that your approach in general? Make the film as though it’s going to be seen on a big screen?

Always. Beverly Hills Cop is going to Netflix, but we made it like it should be in a cinema.

Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

I read that you studied psychology.

Believe it or not!

No, I do believe it. I wonder whether that feeds into how you think about the film business.

I think it’s more about dealing with people. Having that knowledge of psychology, I get people to do things. I understand people – I think that’s the key. Communication is such a key in our business. Sometimes people have it all in their head but can’t communicate it, and that’s difficult. I can communicate with a lot of people, and hopefully with the audience.

Do you think that’s something that’s remained the same in the film industry, even as so much has changed?

Yes. You have so many people around you. Hundreds of people working for you. You’ve got to figure out a way so that they know what they have to do.

Another project you’re working on is your Formula 1 film with Joseph Kosinski. Can you give me an update on that? Does it have a title yet?

Uhh… we’re workin’ through it.

So far it’s phenomenal. We got delayed because of the strike, but we were fortunate because in the downtime during the strike, Joe got to shoot all of his second unit. Our director and his second unit director. So during the strike, we were filming at every race, and kept moving. Now we’re back to shooting actors – putting actors in the cars and doing all that stuff.

We’ve made two movies: the first movie was all the second unit work, and now we’re making the dramatic story. But it’s gonna be terrific – a really interesting film.

Brad is driving the cars – he trained for three months to drive those cars. We have an F1 body that was designed by Joe, our director, and Mercedes over an F2 engine. And the thing goes 200 miles per hour – it’s unbelievable. Brad drives all nine tracks. And Damson [Idris], who plays the second lead along with Javier Bardem and Kerry Condon… Damson’s in the car also. He’s really fast – they both are. Both terrific drivers.

We were fortunate that Joe really got to direct the visual stuff, because normally you can’t afford that.

Jerry Bruckheimer, thank you very much.

Young Woman And The Sea is out in UK cinemas on the 31st May.

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