'Lone Ranger' producer: Filming on rez a 'privilege'

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, April 19, 2012

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Filming the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, TV's "Amazing Race" and "CSI," producer Jerry Bruckheimer has worked in some pretty exotic locales.

But he ranks the past two weeks filming "The Lone Ranger" in Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley among his best experiences - largely, he said, because of the people.


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"The scenery is, of course, amazing," Bruckheimer said Thursday while taking a break in his comfortable, but hardly lavish, motor home at the film's base camp across from the Thunderbird Lodge.

"But what I'm taken by is how gracious, friendly and wonderful the Navajo people are," he said. "People are so cheerful and so helpful, they've made it a great experience for the whole crew."

Asked if there have been any obstacles, he replied, "Only the clouds."

The crew faced high winds and a blizzard two weeks ago in Monument Valley and will be returning to film some scenes they didn't get to but they're on their way out of Chinle, right on schedule.

Bruckheimer estimated about 10 percent of the movie will include shots from Navajoland. Other locations include Creede, Colo., Albuquerque and Moab, Utah.

Asked why he wanted to remake the classic Western hero story, Bruckheimer said he's been trying to get his hands on the rights to "The Lone Ranger" story for years.

"I want to remind the country that something magical happened in 1933," he said, referring to the year "The Lone Ranger" first aired as a radio show. "I'm from Detroit, which is where it all started, so it's reminiscent for me."

He chose Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly for the classic red sandstone scenery.

"Look around," he said. "Just walk in that canyon. It's one of the most beautiful sites in the world. Everybody who lives here should consider themselves lucky."

Bruckheimer said his crew is well aware they are filming on some of the most sacred lands in Diné Bikéyah, and they had a medicine man do a blessing before they started filming.

The film's stars, Johnny Depp (who plays Tonto) and Armie Hammer (the Lone Ranger), are equally charmed by the locals, Bruckheimer reported.

He refuted reports that Depp has been hiding from his fans.

"He's a big star, so we have to protect his privacy," he said. "But Johnny has been very generous. Just last night, he spent about an hour and a half hanging out with the canyon residents and signing autographs."

While Bruckheimer chose Diné Bikéyah for its looks, he's even more fascinated now that he's gotten to know it better.

"The culture, the history ... I'm absorbing everything I can," he said. "Every time I see a (National Park) ranger, I ask them all kinds of questions."

None of that knowledge will inform the script, however.

"It was all written some time ago," he explained.

Why not a Native actor to play Tonto, who is supposed to be a full-blooded Comanche?
"Johnny is Native," Bruckheimer countered. "He has Cherokee blood. But mostly, he's a brilliant actor. We hire good actors."

There are plenty of Native extras, and two fairly famous Native actors in supporting roles as Comanche chieftains: Saginaw Grant, Sac-n-Fox/Iowa/Otoe-Missouria, and Gil Birmingham, Comanche, who played Taylor Lautner's character's father in the "Twilight" movies.

They've also hired a Comanche cultural consultant to ensure accuracy ... but don't come to "The Lone Ranger" when it comes out next year if you're expecting an authentic portrayal of the Old West.

"It's a movie," shrugged Bruckheimer. "We're not trying to make a documentary."

Bruckheimer believes the film portrays Natives respectfully.

"Tonto is a heroic figure," he said, "but Natives are going to have to decide that for themselves. I can't see the story through somebody else's eyes."

Bruckheimer didn't have a number as to how many Diné were hired to work on the production.

"A lot," he said, noting there are Navajo extras, production assistants, drivers and security guards.

Asked if there was anything he'd like to say to the Navajo people, Bruckheimer replied, "Please convey to them just how gracious they were, how much we enjoyed being here, what a privilege it has been.

"We're so thrilled that they're protecting their land," he said. "These are sacred places and they should never be developed. They're America's treasures, watched over by the people who founded America."

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