Producer Bonnie Bruckheimer: Insider insights
by soul of the biz
New York native Bonnie Bruckheimer began her Hollywood career at Columbia Pictures. After forming All Girl Productions with Bette Midler, they produced Beaches, For the Boys, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood and Gypsy for CBS. An Adjunct Professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Bonnie also serves as a volunteer grief counselor at Our House, and is the mother of two amazing children.
Read why Jeffrey Katzenberg taught her the greatest lessons, about her most memorable Hollywood moment and why Bonnie Bruckheimer epitomizes the soul of the biz.
Who celebrates the good times, and helps you through the difficult times, in your life?
My three best friends have gotten me through some of the roughest of times. Also, they are the ones to whom I can freely brag the moment that something wonderful happens. I’ve been friends with two of them since age 15.
Who is/was your most inspiring mentor?
When I started in the business (in 1922), women did not help other women. So I never really had a mentor. However, during my years of producing at Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg taught me the greatest lessons. Bette Midler believed in me and I went from being her assistant to being her producing partner.
Many lessons from Jeffrey keep coming to mind as I teach my USC class. However, the one that stands out, when I first started producing, was “Everyone passes on everything.” He taught me that if you believe in a project, don’t second guess yourself just because a writer or director turns it down. Very valuable, as I originally took rejection personally, and eventually learned to ‘get over it!’ Everyone passed on Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, before it became a best-selling novel. Callie Khouri passed twice, but eventually rewrote it and directed it, because we didn’t give up!
What makes you smile?
I have different ringtones on my phone. When my daughter’s ringtone plays, my smile can light up a room.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face? What factor helped you get through it?
When I ran our company All Girl Productions alone, after Margaret South left, I foolishly showed all my insecurities to my staff. Fortunately, I was surrounded by loyal, caring people, who still remain my good friends. The biggest challenge, however, was the ‘having it all’ factor… children and a great job! Always feeling guilty being away from my children, while at work. Luckily I had the luxury of having them around the studio and on locations, which was an enormous blessing. However, what enabled me to get through it was the incredible joy I experienced being both a mom and a producer. Always felt like the luckiest woman in the world… still do!
What’s your favorite place in the world? What does it signify to you?
I absolutely love Kauai, but my home is where I’m happiest! I’m extremely proud that everything I own is a result of my hard work!
What’s in a name?
I’ve had the name Bruckheimer since 1969. When the ‘most successful producer of all time’ and I divorced in 1974, he was just starting in the business, and no one knew that name. Besides, I wasn’t about to go back to being Bonnie Fishman! The rest is history.
What does soul of the biz mean to you?
Soul of the biz means more than one thing to me… but most importantly, when we work on a movie, we spend months and months with a cast and crew who become our family. We are often away from home, and see them at 6 am and late into the night. Sometimes they become friends for life, and more often we never see them again. However, when their name appears in a credit, story and even an obituary, they continue to have a special place in our hearts.
What is your most memorable Hollywood moment?
While shooting Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in North Carolina, I invited some of the amazing cast members to lunch one Sunday. At one point, I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and screamed (as quietly as possible)… ”Maggie Smith is in my house!!!!”
Name the film/TV show that most greatly influenced your life and career. What did it teach you?
Too many films to mention, but West Wing stands out as the most amazing writing and acting I’ve experienced. When an incident that Aaron Sorkin put in an episode paid off five years later… brilliance!
The political incidents on West Wing were always mirrored in real life years later, but the episode where Mrs. Langenham, President Barlett’s loyal secretary, died in a car crash after buying her first new car ever, taught me how to express enormous feeling without sentimentality.
What has been the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
After many years of being unable to get pregnant, the moment I took my newborn son home from the hospital was absolutely the most spiritual for me.
When was the last time you took a risk?
Deciding to teach, and going after it with every fiber of my being. Starting my fourth year at USC School of Cinematic Arts is the reward for taking that risk.
If you could hold on to just one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
I have two… but one is more a Hollywood moment.The first was dancing with my father at my first wedding.
The second was driving onto Westwood Boulevard on a Friday night in 1988, and seeing the line around corner for the opening of Beaches!
What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
My 21-year-old self wouldn’t have listened!!!
What advice would I give other young people: Be kind to everyone. Treat everyone with respect, regardless of how quickly you rise in your career. I treated every assistant as well I did a studio head, and it has benefitted me in ways I could never have imagined.
Is there a cause or charity that you’re crazy about?
I’ve been involved with many worthy causes, but as a grief counselor at the amazing Our House for over five years, I’d have to say my passion lies with them. Helping teens cope with the death of a parent is the most gratifying work I’ve ever done.
How do you give back to others?
Listening… the best way to give back! Also agreeing to speak at someone else’s class, even when it includes shlepping down to Chapman, is a great joy!
How has being a parent changed you?
As a Leo, I spent many years insisting on having own way! Being a parent has changed everything in my life. Putting my children’s needs before mine has been a great gift. Even on the worst days… Nothing beats being called “Mommy!”