Based on a real life story, “Dangerous Minds” is a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production which stars acclaimed actress Michelle Pfeiffer as former Marine LouAnne Johnson, who leaves an officer’s commission and a nine-year military career to pursue her dream of becoming an English teacher. But while earning her credentials at a Northern California high school, she is assigned to a group of students who change her life forever. And she changes theirs.
Although each of her charges exhibits a seemingly impenetrable facade, these kids are desperate to connect with someone who cares about them. However, life has already taught them to trust no one and count on nothing. As their new instructor, the feisty Ms. Johnson defies all the rules, creates her own curriculum and instructs this class of tough, inner-city teenagers from college-level texts.
Frustrated that her students, whose standardized test scores range from average to excellent, have come to accept failure as a way of life, she cajoles and tricks them, even bribes them, into learning. More important, she loves them and helps them to believe in themselves, in their spirit and in their potential.
One teacher’s account of the education crisis in America, and her effort to make a difference, “Dangerous Minds” is a Hollywood Pictures presentation of a Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer production, in association with Via Rosa Productions. Directed by John N. Smith, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the screenplay is by Ronald Bass, based upon My Posse Don’t Do Homework by LouAnne Johnson. Executive producers are Sandra Rabins and Lucas Foster. Buena Vista Pictures distributes.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
After reading author LouAnne Johnson’s book My Posse Don’t Do Homework, at the behest of executive producer Lucas Foster, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were inspired to bring her remarkable story to the screen. “This is a picture about one teacher and how she goes about getting her students’ attention so they can learn,” says Simpson. “She helps them understand the importance of knowledge and the ultimate power an education affords everyone in our society.”
Bruckheimer agrees. “Our school systems are under-financed and understaffed and as a result we are losing a generation of kids. Don and I would like to make teachers heroes again. We wanted to show their struggle with the system, with the kids, and with the environment in which the kids grow up — which many times is their biggest deterrent — and demonstrate that these teachers really are significant role models.
Indeed, the producers recognized that LouAnne Johnson’s book told the unique story of a teacher who was a hero. “Teachers do something incredibly necessary and valuable under terribly difficult circumstances most of the time,” notes executive producer Lucas Foster. “And there in LouAnne’s book, was the story of a woman who was struggling every day to do a good job as a teacher; pushing the rock up the mountain, so to speak. We thought this was a valuable thing, because teachers are under represented in our society. They don’t seem to have any champions.”
“When teachers like LouAnne take a personal interest in students and in the students’ efforts to create better lives for themselves and for their children, we need to bring attention to that kind of drive and determination,” Bruckheimer continues. “It’s what attracted us — and everybody involved — to the project.”
When producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer first saw Canadian director John N. Smith’s controversial film ”The Boys of St. Vincent” at the Telluride Film Festival, they knew he was the appropriate man to bring Johnson’s story to the screen. “We were literally scouring the universe for the right director,” executive producer Foster recalls. “We needed somebody who had a kind of ‘man-of-the people’ approach.”
“Out of all the directors we considered, Smith, in his award-winning ‘The Boys of St. Vincent,’ showed us that he had the sensitivity and the intelligence to tackle this subject,” says producer Don Simpson. “Quite simply, he is a talented director who is perfect for this project.”
“When they sent the script to me, I was immediately intrigued,” notes director Smith. “It’s such an added bonus to get involved with a film that’s about something of importance. This picture is about the fact that one individual can make a difference. It’s also a statement about what education, in the best sense can be learning through an inspiring teacher who instructs not only in the course work, but about life, too.”
Written for the screen by Academy Award® winner Ronald Bass, “Dangerous Minds” was adapted from the book by LouAnne Johnson who wrote her story at the behest of her agent, Ruth Nathan. “She suggested I write Posse because I kept talking her ears off bragging about ‘my kids’ and she fell in love with them,” Johnson recalls. “At first I thought I was being a bit presumptuous, writing about teaching when I’d only been in the classroom for three years. But then I realized it wasn’t my story, it was my kids’ stories, and I knew that putting them on paper might help other kids who are facing similar obstacles.
“My hope for the film is that kids will see themselves in the characters and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me. I’m not alone.’ I want them to know they can be successful in spite of other people’s prejudices. Energy they once expended on anger or on getting even, is energy they can now focus on themselves. That’s real power.”
Johnson was more than pleased when the producers told her that Michelle Pfeiffer would be playing the lead. “I was incredulous,” the former Marine laughs. “I was really happy, and when I met Michelle, I couldn’t believe how much alike we were. I have this habit of telling the truth and saying exactly what’s on my mind, which always seems to get me into trouble. Michelle’s the same way.”
“Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the greatest actresses working today,” says producer Jerry Bruckheimer. “We were very lucky that she liked the project and felt as strongly about it as we did.”
“I found LouAnne’s story fascinating,” comments three-time Academy Award® nominee Pfeiffer. “Not only was the topic compelling, but LouAnne, the woman, interested me as well.”
To prepare for the role Pfeiffer spent time with Johnson, read a variety of reports and studies outlining and comparing educational systems throughout the world, and for some practical suggestions, she contacted two friends who are both dedicated teachers.
“It can be more difficult to portray a real person because one feels a certain responsibility to that individual,” Pfeiffer says. “In a few situations where artistic license needed to be taken and we needed to alter something in some slight way, I always felt that I had to stay within the truth of LouAnne’s character and not compromise the story.
“LouAnne stayed amazingly objective that way,” the actress emphasizes.
“We communicated throughout shooting, and she was always clear about her feelings. Her main priority was, and is, the kids. That’s all she really cares about; it’s not about her own ego.”
Mixing nonprofessionals with experienced actors is director John N. Smith’s trademark. The chemistry such pairing inspires leads to an exciting dynamic on the set and on the screen. “I’ve done a lot of work with nonprofessional actors, so I feel very comfortable introducing film elements to people who are not experienced with film,” he explains. “One of the refreshing things about the kids who are not actors is that they are not self-conscious about what they’re doing. They are simply themselves. It’s up to us as filmmakers to capture that freshness.”
Smith and producers Simpson and Bruckheimer decided early on to conduct a nationwide casting search to fill LouAnne’s classroom. Smith and casting director Bonnie Timmermann interviewed, auditioned and videotaped thousands of kids across the United States.
“We found an extremely talented group of young people,” remarks Simpson.
“A handful of them had some training or had appeared on television and in films, but by and large, none of them had been called upon to carry what could be considered a major role. They proved to be true professionals.”
“There’s a discipline to filmmaking,” Bruckheimer adds. “Being on time, working long hours, learning dialogue and blocking, not to mention getting along with a wide variety of personalities. These kids made the commitment and worked hard. They were serious about their contribution and about the entire process.”
“Initially, I was a bit concerned about some of the kids’ lack of experience,” says Michelle Pfeiffer. “But after the first couple of days of shooting, it was clear they were going to be consistently good. They brought so much to the characters, they actually brought the scenes to life. They exceeded my wildest expectations.”
Outside the classroom, LouAnne’s primary relationships revolve around three of her students: Emilio played by Wade Dominguez whose first professional audition was with Michelle Pfeiffer; Callie played by Bruklin Harris who, although she has appeared in two other films, was found in an open call out of hundreds of applicants; and Raul played by Renoly Santiago who has dreamt of being on the big screen for as long as he can remember.
Hired two weeks into rehearsals, Dominguez came into the classroom only days before shooting began. “Although Wade is a newcomer, he is very talented and had a natural instinct for the role,” notes acting coach Bob Burgos. “He was in a difficult position in that his character, as the leader of the group, needed to fit into this company of young people who had been getting to know one another for weeks, without creating an upheaval or stepping on anyone’s toes. He’s a very hard-working, likable young man, and it’s to his credit that the transition went so smoothly.”
“Emilio is a smart, street-wise kid,” explains Dominguez. “Like a lot of kids transplanted from other countries and cultures, he’s a little disoriented. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere, and when he’s bused into an upper middle class neighborhood to go to school, he’s constantly reminded that he’s not good enough.
“I’ve felt that way many times,” he smiles. “But I’ve been very blessed; I’m surrounded by a very supportive family who are my best friends. And having the opportunity to be in this film, I feel like the luckiest man in the world.”
“As with Wade, developing the character of Callie was simply a question of finding out who Bruklin Harris was as a person and cultivating a character that would go beneath the surface,” says director Smith. “Bruklin has a tremendous honesty about everything she does; she’s incapable of being false,” he says.
“There are a lot similarities between Callie and me,” Harris says. “I grew up in the projects and got into my share of trouble. The drugs, the violence, all the things that happen, that you see — it can’t help but affect you.
“What really got to me about this story was the reality of the situation,” she continues. “Even though LouAnne did all these great things and tried to help everyone in her class, it didn’t always work.”
“Living in this country as a person of color has taught me a lot and given me a big taste of reality,” says Renoly Santiago. “You feel like you have to try that much harder and perform that much better to be respected.
“Raul is a kid from the ‘hood and his reality is surviving and making sure he doesn’t look like a punk in front of other people,” he explains. “Meeting LouAnne changes Raul’s life. She’s able to redirect him because she respects him without his having to prove anything to her. He can really trust her, this white woman from Pennsylvania.”
“The casting of these roles was done with such honesty,” notes executive producer Lucas Foster. “We had open casting sessions and got actors who were exactly like the kids in the book. You could have replaced the actors with real kids from the school in Belmont, California where we did a lot of research, and you wouldn’t have known the difference — and vice versa.”
Rounding out the cast was an extraordinary ensemble of supporting actors including George Dzundza and Courtney Vance. For the part of Hal Griffith, LouAnne’s mentor and fellow teacher, there was no contest when it came to casting Dzundza. “George knows how to bring a character to life,” says director Smith. “He feels very strongly that we have to take some unusual, perhaps even extreme measures to save our kids and keep them from dropping out of school. He brought an incredible passion to the role.”
“I think the problems we are currently experiencing in our schools are so immense that no one film could address all the issues, but I hope this film brings attention to some of the problems,” Dzundza says. “Hal is a dedicated teacher who tries to make a difference, but he realizes very quickly that LouAnne has an uncanny insight into these kids. He comes to see that she truly is a superior human being and so he develops a profound admiration for her.”
Casting Courtney Vance for the role of Principal Grandey was a deliberate move on the part of Smith. “Courtney is a wonderfully graceful actor,” Smith says. “It’s a fascinating counterpoint to see such a dignified, charming man take a rather ·discouraging position in his quest to educate these kids.”
“Mr. Grandey is a very particular person. He wants to bring some discipline and order in the students’ lives,” says Vance. “Unfortunately, his attention to detail and his preoccupation with rules get in the way of where his focus should be — on the kids. He’s part of the bureaucracy that keeps the system spinning its wheels.”
“I had teachers who made strong impressions on me, both positive and negative,” says Pfeiffer. “But I especially remember a high school history teacher who made us play bizarre games and do unusual things. Like LouAnne, he got us involved.
“LouAnne’s brilliance is her ability to get her students reengaged in the learning process. She gets them interested by taking her cues from them rather than trying to fit them into any set curriculum.”
“Because this was John N. Smith’s first American film and he was coming into town not knowing anyone, we tried to put together a crew who would be compatible with his style of filmmaking,” says producer Bruckheimer. “I think we succeeded.”
“Film is not really a director’s medium to the degree that it’s portrayed,” he further explains. “Film is a group activity. It’s a collection of very separate arts and crafts and has everything to do with the actors, the director of photography, the designer, the editor, the composer and everyone on the crew.”
Director Smith and director of photography Pierre Letarte became friends early in their careers, but did not work together until 1981 when they shot “For the Love of Dance,” a portrait of a ballerina, which won awards at New York’s Annual Dance Film Festival and at Spain’s Public Scientific & Didactic Film Festival. Letarte has shot Smith’s last two projects, the four-hour miniseries “Dieppe” and the critically acclaimed telefilm “The Boys of St. Vincent.”
“Pierre and I see the world in the same light and we have the same vision for filmmaking,” says Smith. “It’s a very comfortable relationship — a good partnership.”
Notes Letarte, “Both John’s and my approach to this film essentially has been influenced by our documentary backgrounds, not in terms of the technical approach, but rather with regard to how we play and shoot every scene in its entirety, our consciousness of editing, and the particular relationships we establish with the actors.”
Principal photography was conducted. in and around the Los Angeles area.
More than one third of the picture was· filmed at Washington Middle School in Pasadena, California.
“I needed to have the flexibility of shooting not only in a classroom, but to be able to invent scenes in hallways, other classrooms, stairways, etcetera,” director Smith says. “I wanted the variety of physical facilities a real school offered rather than building a classroom on a stage.”
“Our basic approach to the art direction was to create a simple visual structure based in reality through the use of physical space to support the character driven script,” explains production designer Donald Graham Burt. “For example, the space where LouAnne and the students were introduced and where their relationships developed needed to be warm in tone and yet very textured to reflect the ‘edge’ of the students.”
Other locations included exteriors in Pacoima, Monrovia, Glendale, and Sherman Oaks and interiors shot on stage at the Warner-Hollywood Studios. The final week of filming took place in Northern California on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and at Burlingame High School.
“The homes of the students’ ranged from a project apartment to a simple neighborhood house which helped to create a separation between the characters and to establish a singular identity for each individual while maintaining the sense of a cohesive environment,” describes Burt. “Here, the colors were much cooler and stark, but in all instances throughout the film, when color was applied, it was done so in glazes to enhance the dimension of a particular space and relieve the flatness of the set.”
Producers Simpson and Bruckheimer are personally credited with discovering talented costume designer Bobbie Read, who worked directly with production designer Burt to maintain the warm color tones throughout the film. “Originally the plan was to make the look of the film very gritty and grainy,” acknowledges Read. “Because we wanted a lot of texture — a streety quality — we dyed everything and brought down the strength of the colors so there was more texture in the patterns. The whole movie has that sort of non-color. The story is about the kids, not about what they’re wearing,” she adds. “It just didn’t work to do bright colors. But as LouAnne comes into their lives and sparks up their interest in life, the tone lightens up and their clothes get lighter, too.
ABOUT THE CAST
MICHELLE PFEIFFER stars as inner-city school teacher LouAnne Johnson. A native of Southern California, Pfeiffer grew up in suburban Midway City, Orange County where she attended Fountain Valley High School. After a brief stint at community college and classes in court reporting, she entered and won the “Miss Orange County Beauty Pageant” in hopes of finding an agent.
While working as a checkout clerk at a local supermarket chain, she commuted to Los Angeles and began studying acting in earnest. Pfeiffer landed her first parts on the television shows “Delta House” and “B.A.D. Cats,” and in smaller pictures like “The Hollywood Knights” and “Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.” Soon after, she came to public attention in the musical sequel “Grease 2” and won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Al Pacino’s wife in “Scarface.”
Since that time, Pfeiffer has become one of the motion picture industry’s most respected actresses and ranks as a top-grossing box office star with roles in such films as “Wolf,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Batman Returns,” “Love Field,” “Frankie & Johnny,” ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Married to the Mob,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Ladyhawke.”
She has earned three Academy Award® nominations — two as Best Actress for her performances as Dallas housewife, Lurene Hallett, in “Love Field” and as the sexy chanteuse Suzie Diamond in “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” and a third nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the long-suffering Madame de Tourvel in “Dangerous Liaisons.”
Pfeiffer has appeared on stage as Olivia in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of “Twelfth Night.”
GEORGE DZUNDZA stars as Hal Griffith, LouAnne’s mentor and fellow teacher. Most recently, Dzundza starred in Hollywood Pictures’ blockbuster submarine thriller “Crimson Tide.” He made his motion picture debut in the Academy Award®-winning “The Deer Hunter,” and was subsequently featured in “Basic Instinct” and “The Butcher’s Wife.” Some of his other films include “No Way Out,” “The Beast,” “White Hunter, Black Heart,” “Impulse,” “No Mercy,” and “Streamers.”
Dzundza appeared in the made-for-television movies “The Enemy Within,” “The Baby Maker,” “The Ryan White Story,” “Skokie,” “Cross of Fire,” and “The Rape of Richard Beck,” to name only a few. He was a series regular in the first season of the popular drama “Law & Order” and starred in the sitcom “Open All Night.” He also guest starred on hit shows such as “Crime Story,” “Starsky & Hutch,” and “The Waltons.”
COURTNEY B. VANCE stars as Mr. George Grandey, principal of the school where LouAnne teaches. A two-time Tony Award nominee for his performances in “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Fences,” Vance won the Clarence Derwent Award and Theatre World Award for his work in “Fences.” Born and raised in Detroit, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and a Master of Fine Arts from Yale Drama School..
Most recently Vance starred as human rights activist Bobby Seal in Mario Van Peebles’ “Panther,” and in the Hallmark Hall of Fame telefilm “The Piano Lesson.” His other film appearances include Walt Disney Pictures’ live-action classic, “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Hamburger Hill,” and “Holy Matrimony.” He has also been seen in the telefilms “Race to Freedom,” and “Percy and Thunder.”
Vance appeared off-Broadway in Athol Fugard’s “My Children, My Africa,” for which he won an Obie Award, and with the New York Shakespeare Festival in “Temptation” and “Romeo and Juliet.” As a member of the Boston Shakespeare Company, his credits include “A Lesson From Aloes,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” and “Hamlet.” At the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center his work included “Butterfly,” “Jazz Wives, Jazz Lives,” and “Geronimo Jones.” He was awarded two Ford Foundation Grants to study with Tina Packer’s Shakespeare Company.
Vance has recently completed a starring ·role in ‘The Last Supper,” and the HBO film “Tuskegee Airmen.” He is currently filming a starring role in the HBO film “Black Tuesday.”
ROBIN BARTLETT (Ms. Carla Nichols) grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She began acting lessons when she was 9 and attended the progressive Elizabeth Irwin High School. Acting and politics soon became her passion.
Attending Boston University, Bartlett joined a street theatre company, and acted in political campus productions. In 1973 she returned to New York City to pursue her acting career and was elected to Actors Equity Council, a post she held for ten years.
Bartlett has been seen in the feature films “Heaven’s Gate,” “Alice,” “Deceived,” “Regarding Henry,” “If Looks Could Kill,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Lean on Me,” “Moonstruck,” and “Baby Boom.”
Her appearances on television include series regular roles in the CBS show “It Had to be You,” and Norman Lear’s “The Powers That Be.” She has also been seen in the telefilms “Skokie,” “Playing for Time,” “12:01,” and “Courage,” and Showtirne’s “Fallen Angels” series, as well as guest starring stints on “Mad About You,” “Coach,” “Miami Vice,” and “Spencer for Hire.”
Bartlett performed on Broadway in “Yentl” and “Sholem Aleichem,” and offBroadway in “Early Girl,” for which she won an Obie Award, and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. She also appeared in “Reckless” for which she received her second Drama Desk Award nomination. Her off-Broadway and regional theatre credits include “Found a Peanut,” “Fen,” “No End of Blame,” “The Philanthropist,” “Agamemnon,” “Richard Ill” and “Nebraska,” to name a few.
BRUKLIN HARRIS, portrays student Callie Roberts, who seems smarter than anyone in class but never speaks. Harris was born and raised in Fort Green, New York. Her junior high school years were spent attending Satellite West, a special academic program for exceptional students. She went on to another program, Talent Unlimited, at a performing arts high school.
After auditioning at an open call, Harris landed a part in Ernest Dickerson’s “Juice,” followed by a role as the radical, Nadine, in the critically acclaimed “Zebrahead,” directed by Anthony Drazan. Harris’ television appearances include two episodes of “Law & Order.” She is also seen in the recurring role of Aisha on the CBS series “Picket Fences.” On stage, she has performed in “The Harlem Renaissance” at the Ujaama Theatre, in the New York University Theatre production of “No Exit” and in “The Crucible” and “The Children’s Hour” in New York City.
Harris graduated from Julia Richmond High School and received a scholarship to the Tisch Drama Program at New York University in Manhattan.
RENOLY (pronounced Ren/ally) SANTIAGO, 21, portrays Raul Sanchero, whose innocence and desire to please overrides all common sense. Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Santiago will also be seen this summer in the lead role of Phreak, in United Artists’ feature “Hackers.” He is currently working with Paul Simon on the upcoming Broadway musical “The Capeman,” in which he will star as The Umbrella Man. His other theater credits include numerous musicals and off-Broadway productions such as Elizabeth Swados’ “The New Americans”; “Voices From the Front Line,” at Carnegie Hall where he was a featured soloist; “Stand-Up Tragedy”; and “The Me Nobody Knows,” for which he created the role of “Hector.”
As a writer, Santiago’s credits include “Bring in the Morning, A Wake-Up Call,” which was the first book musical ever produced at the Apollo-Theatre. He also co-wrote the Emmy Award nominated pilot episode of the ABC and Henson Productions’ series “City Kids.”
WADE DOMINGUEZ (Emilio Ramirez), who makes his motion picture debut in “Dangerous Minds,” was born in Northern California. While on a modeling assignment in Italy, he landed a role in an American soap opera. He has also appeared in the video “Losing_ My Religion” for rock group R.E.M.
BEATRICE WINDE’s (Mary Benton) feature films include Merchant Ivory’s “Jefferson in Paris”; “The Super,” “From the Hip,” “Malcolm X,” “Stars and Bars,” “Rage in Harlem,” “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3,” “Oliver’s Story,” “The Last Good Time,” and “Lone Star,” directed by John Sayles.
Her numerous theatre credits include “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death” on Broadway, for which she won a Theatre World Award and was nominated for a Tony Award; “Dreaming Emmett” by Toni Morrison; “Trinidad Sisters” by Mustapha Matura; and “The American Plan” by Richard Greenberg. In addition, she has appeared off-Broadway in “Night Seasons” and “The Young Man From Atlanta” by Horton Foote for the Signature Theatre Company; “Dividing the Estate” by Horton Foote at the McCarter Theatre; and “Simply Heavenly” at the Richard B. Allen Theatre, for which she won the Theatre of Renewal Award for Best Supporting Actress.
For her role as Ruth Price on “The Guiding Light,” Winde was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding actress in a limited role. She has also appeared in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” as Lena; “Law and Order” as Miss Perry; “Spencer for Hire”; and “A Man Called Hawk.”
LORRAINE TOUSSAINT (Irene Roberts) has appeared in numerous feature films, as well as television and stage productions. Her motion picture credits include “Jaded,” “Breaking In,” “Hudson Hawk,” “Point of No Return,” and “Mothers Boy.” On television she starred as a series regular on “Amazing Grace” and “Where I Live.” She also has a recurring role on “Law and Order.” In addition, Ms. Toussaint starred in such miniseries and movies-of-the-week as “Sad Inheritance,” “A Time to Heal,” “Queenie,” “The Trial,” “Daddy,” “Common Ground,” and “Deadly Force.” She recently completed filming an HBO short film titled “America’s Dream: The Reunion,” produced by Danny Glover.
Ms. Toussaint trained at the Juilliard School and subsequently starred in the Lincoln Center productions of “Playboy of the West Indies,” and “Measure For Measure,” as well as the Mark Taper Forum’s staging of “Widows.” She is an accomplished Shakespearean actor.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JOHN N. SMITH (Director) won the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s 1994 Gemini Awards for Best Director of a Dramatic Program and Best Writing in a Dramatic Program for his work on “The Boys of St. Vincent.”
A staff director with the National Film Board of Canada since 1972, Smith has received international acclaim for his pioneering work in “alternative drama,” a genre which uses non-professional actors, improvised dialogue and documentary techniques.
Among his other directing credits are the CBC-TV miniseries “Dieppe,” the multi-award-winning feature “Train of Dreams,” “The Masculine Mystique,” which won a Red Ribbon Award at New York’s American Film Festival, the Academy Award®-nominated short subject “First Winter,” and “Gala” and “For the Love of Dance,” both of which won Grand Prize (in 1982 and 1981, respectively) at the New York Dance Film Festival.
Born and raised in Montreal, Smith received his Bachelor’s degree in political philosophy at McGill University in 1964. He worked as a stevedore, tobacco picker, construction worker, taxi driver and insurance executive before joining CBC-TV as a researcher in 1968. Within a year he was promoted to producer of the network’s prime time public affairs program, “The Way It Is.” Upon leaving the company, Smith produced several independent television series, including-a show called “The 51st State,” for which he won an Emmy, produced for New York’s public television station WNET before joining the National Film Board.
Smith remains one of Canada’s most prolific filmmakers. “Dangerous Minds” marks his American feature film debut.
As one of the most highly regarded creative forces in the entertainment industry, DON SIMPSON (Producer), along with his partner Jerry Bruckheimer, has established one of the most successful producing teams in recent motion picture history with such smash hits as “Flashdance,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “Days of Thunder.”
Operating very much as a mini-studio, Mr. Simpson, together with Mr. Bruckheimer, has added to their impressive credit list five new feature films over the past year: They developed and executive produced “The Ref,” starring Denis Leary; they developed and packaged “Two If By Sea” for Morgan Creek; they developed the book My Posse Don’t Do Homework/Dangerous Minds.
Completing the five pictures: The #1 box office smash hit, “Bad Boys,” a project they developed for eight years, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, directed by Michael Bay; and an original idea they developed, packaged and produced called “Crimson Tide,” based on a television documentary, starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, directed by Tony Scott (marking a fourth picture between Simpson/Bruckheimer and Scott).
Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bruckheimer’s succession of films have continually topped the list of box office winners, resulting in worldwide #1 pictures for an unprecedented three years in a row. The duo’s projects have generated over $2.5 billion in sales of theatre tickets, video cassettes and record albums — establishing them as the top producers of the 1980s.
Based at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, Mr. Simpson continues to make tremendous contributions to the industry.
Additionally, Mr. Simpson is developing “Rogue Warrior,” the exciting action story of a Navy Seal, based on the popular #2 hardback best-seller by Dick Marcinko. Rogue Warrior recently reached the pinnacle position of #1 on the New York Times’ paperback best-sellers list.
Mr. Simpson is also developing “Witness to the Truth,” based on the fascinating true-life account of FBI agent Paul Lindsay. The story is being adapted for the screen by Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Robert Towne.
Also in development at Mr. Simpson’s production company is the contemporary suspense thriller “Zone of Silence,” based on an original story by Mr. Simpson, which John Dunne and Joan Didion have adapted.
Before teaming with Mr. Bruckheimer, Mr. Simpson, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, spent eight years as a senior executive at Paramount Pictures before becoming president of worldwide production at the studio. In that position, which he held for two years, he was instrumental in the making of such hit films as “American Gigolo,” “Urban Cowboy,” “Little Darlings,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and “48 HRS.”
Since his initial teaming with Mr. Bruckheimer, as producers on the 1983 blockbuster “Flashdance,” Mr. Simpson has been honored with an impressive ten Academy Award® nominations, two Best Song Academy Awards®, three Golden Globe Awards, MTV’s Best Picture of the Decade Award and two People’s Choice Best Picture Awards. Their hit feature, “Top Gun,” has the distinction of being one of the most profitable motion pictures in Paramount’s history.
The soundtrack albums of their four high-grossing films have been honored with 18 Grammy nominations in all. Their albums feature ten singles that have achieved Top Ten status, including four #1 singles. Three of the soundtracks were #1 albums and feature hits by such popular artists as Irene Cara, Harold Faltermeyer, Glenn Frey, The Pointer Sisters, Patti LaBelle, Berlin, Kenny Loggins and George Michael. In addition, “Days of Thunder” produced an international hit single.
The Oscar-winning songs Mr. Simpson’s films have produced are “What a Feeling” from “Flashdance,” and “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun.” The “Flashdance” soundtrack won Grammys for Pop Vocal — Female, Instrumental Composition, and Original Score. The “Top Gun” theme by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens was awarded a 1986 Grammy as Best Pop Instrumental.
The films of Mr. Simpson have also been phenomenally successful in videocassette sales. “Top Gun” is Paramount’s #1 best-seller with over 3.5 million units sold. “Flashdance” and “Beverly Hills Cop” also topped the sales charts, with “Beverly Hills Cop” among the biggest selling videos of all time.
Mr. Simpson, along with Mr. Bruckheimer, were named Producers of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners at the ShoWest conventions in 1985 and 1988. The Publicists Guild of America named Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bruckheimer 1988 Showmen of the Year.
In the 1980s, Don Simpson was responsible for some of entertainment’s most popular and enduring motion pictures. In the 1990s, this exceptional and unique producer will undoubtedly continue to bring to audiences worldwide, films that thrill, excite and delight.
JERRY BRUCKHEIMER (Producer) has achieved and maintained one of the most remarkably successful producing careers in Hollywood history. Together with his dynamic partner Don Simpson, the pair have produced such critically acclaimed and commercially successful motion picture hits as “Crimson Tide,” “Bad Boys,” “The Ref,” “Days of Thunder,” ‘Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “Flashdance,” resulting in worldwide box office ticket, video and record sales of more than $3 billion.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Bruckheimer grew up in a working class environment, the son of German immigrants. With an early fascination for film, Bruckheimer pursued still photography from an early age, and developed into a talented and accomplished photographer, winning the prestigious National Scholastic Award at age 14. He subsequently earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Arizona, before beginning his professional career, first in the mailroom at a large advertising agency where he rose through the ranks to become an art director/producer.. Additionally, he produced television commercials that were honored with numerous Clio Awards.
When Bruckheimer entered the feature film industry as a producer, prior to his official partnership with Simpson, his credits went on to include “American Gigolo,” “Cat People,” “Thief,” “Young Doctors in Love,” and “Farewell, My Lovely” (the latter of which earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Sylvia Miles).
Bruckheimer and Simpson actually started working together in 1979 when Don Simspon was president of production at Paramount and Jerry Bruckheimer was brought in to produce “American Gigolo.” Then, in the early 1980s, Simpson resigned his position as chief of production at Paramount Pictures in order to make “Flashdance” with Bruckheimer, thus initiating the long parade of hits for the two producers.
Since then, Bruckheimer’s and Simpson’s films have garnered an impressive 11 Academy Award® nominations, two Best Song Academy Awards®, three Golden Globe Awards, MTV’s Best Picture of the Decade Award, and two People’s Choice Best Picture Awards.
For Bruckheimer and Simpson, it wasn’t long before they were hailed as the quintessential producers of the ’80s. Breaking new ground as they progressed from one hit to another, they turned their movies into gold mines.
When Bruckheimer’s and Simpson’s success reached the videocassette sales arena, an enormous impact was made there as well. “Top Gun” ranks among Paramount’s best sellers with over 3.5 million units sold. “Flashdance” and “Beverly Hills Cop” also topped the sales charts, with “Beverly Hills Cop” placing among the biggest selling videos of all time. Then in 1988, Bruckheimer and Simpson forged a “visionary alliance” deal with Paramount. Their first picture under this deal was “Days of Thunder” which made $384 million (including video and international sales).
In 1991, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films moved their production company to The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, and began a new decade of hits with “The Ref,” which they developed and executive produced, starring Denis Leary, Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey.
The producer duo kicked off their 1995 slate with “Bad Boys,” starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, directed by Michael Bay, for Columbia Pictures. On the heels of its box office success, the development of “Bad Boys II” is currently underway with Bay returning as director.
Bruckheimer is also enjoying tremendous success with the critically acclaimed “Crimson Tide,” the political submarine thriller starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. Directed by Tony Scott, “Crimson Tide” marks cott’s fourth picture for Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Previously he directed “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Top Gun,” and “Days of Thunder.”
Bruckheimer and Simpson’s ongoing development itinerary includes the following projects: “Two If By Sea,” starring Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock, which was sold to Morgan Creek; “The Rock,” a story about terrorists who take a group of tourists hostage on Alcatraz Island — reteaming Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films with director Bay (slated for a fall start); “Rogue Warrior,” the exciting action story of a Navy Seal, based on the best-selling hardcover novel by Dick Marcinko (which reached #1 on the New York Times Paperback Bestsellers List, where it maintained the top position for 17 weeks).
Bruckheimer is also developing “Witness to the Truth,” based on the highly praised novel of FBI agent Paul Lindsay, with a screen adaptation being scripted by Academy Award®-winning writer Robert Towne. Also in development is the contemporary suspense thriller “Zone of Silence,” based on an original story by Don Simpson, which John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion have adapted.
Jerry Bruckheimer is married to writer/magazine editor, Linda Bruckheimer. They reside in Los Angeles.
WENDY MELVOIN & LISA COLEMAN (Composers) first gained wide popularity as members of Prince’s rock band The Revolution, and as writer/performers on numerous hit records for other artists. The duo subsequently established their own successful recording careers and acclaimed reputations as singer/songwriters on the multi-platinum recordings: Wendy & Lisa, Fruit At The Bottom, and most recently, Eroica. In addition, the soundtrack from the motion picture “Toys” include compositions and performances by the pair. Bonnie Raitt also featured Wendy on the single and video “You Got It,” from the hit Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore movie “Boys on the Side.” Their latest recording, “The Life,” from the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack is released to coincide with the opening of the Hollywood Pictures feature film.
Among the music industry’s most noted artists, Wendy & Lisa each compliment the other with their diverse talents. Wendy plays acoustic and electric bass, guitar, percussion, and drums. Lisa plays piano, organ and a plethora of synthesizers. Both share lead vocals and harmonies.
Wendy and Lisa were key writers and performers on both multi-platinum Seal albums, for Sire Records. As producers and writers they are currently working on tracks for artist Me’Shell Ndege’ Ocello’s upcoming release on the Maverick label, and with whom’they will be working, along with Sheila E. and Suzanna Melvoin, on a project for Warner Bros.
In addition to their music industry credits, Wendy & Lisa appeared in Prince’s debut film “Purple Rain.”
SANDRA RABINS (Executive Producer) is currently working at DreamWorks, producing their first animated film “Prince of Egypt.”
She joined Walt Disney Pictures in 1985 as director of production, estimating and auditing, and was soon promoted to vice president of production finance, responsible for the motion picture, television and animation divisions of the Studio. She rose to become senior vice president, where her duties expanded to include theme park productions.
Rabins has overseen production on “Bad Company” starring Ellen Sarkin and Laurence Fishburne, and “Miami Rhapsody,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and on 18 other features for Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc., among them “The Ref,” “My Father the Hero,” “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Joy Luck Club,” and “Blank Check.”
Born and raised in Hollywood, Rabins received her undergraduate degree in political science from the California State University at Northridge and began to study for her Master’s in public health there before leaving to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
LUCAS FOSTER (Executive Producer) is executive vice president of production for Simpson-Bruckheimer Films, responsible for acquiring and developing material for the company. He most recently served as executive producer of Simpson-Bruckheimer’s major box office hits “Crimson Tide” and “Bad Boys.”
Formerly vice president of production for Scott Rudin Productions, Foster acquired rights to the John Grisham novel, The Firm, as well as other notable projects. As vice president of development with Frank Yablans Productions, he obtained Gold Coast, adapted for the screen by Dominick Dunne and Joan Didion. Foster was also the associate producer on “Lisa” for MGM/UA. He began his studio tenure as an executive assistant to Alan Ladd, Jr. at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1984.
Born and raised in New York City, Foster attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he studied physics.
Academy Award®-winner RONALD BASS (Written by/Executive Producer) is one of the film industry’s preeminent screenwriter-producers. Bed-ridden in early childhood, Bass taught himself to read at the age of 3, and produced several short stories by age 6. At 17 he completed a novel.
Bass’s writing prowess, coupled with a keen interest in political science, led him from Stanford to a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Yale. Immediately following graduation from Harvard Law School, Bass pursued a career in entertainment law, rising to prominence as a partner, most recently at the firm of Armstrong and Hirsch.
Bass’s passion for writing, however, compelled him, in 197 4 to return to the novel he wrote as a teenager. Writing in the early morning; prior to the rigorous schedule he maintained as an attorney, Bass reworked the novel which was eventually published as The Perfect Thief. Lime’s Crisis and The Emerald Illusion followed in quick succession. With Bass attached as the writer, the film rights to the latter book were optioned. Shortly thereafter, he began to field writing assignments from the studios. Attached to seven deals, he left law to devote his full attention to writing.
His credits include “When A Man Loves A Woman,” “The Joy Luck Club,” “Rain Man” (for which he won an Academy Award® with Barry Morrow), “Gardens of Stone,” “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “Black Widow.” He recently completed writing with Terry McMillan a screen version of her best-seller Waiting to Exhale.
A native of Los Angeles, Bass continues to write daily during the early morning (hence, the title of his company — Predawn Productions).
Author and technical advisor LOUANNE JOHNSON was one of five children raised in the rural hills of north western Pennsylvania. At age 19 she enlisted in the Navy, serving a total of eight years and achieving the rank of Petty Officer First Class. She was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and the Air Force Achievement Award for her work as a journalist and radio/TV broadcaster. Johnson also earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Laverne in California while on active, enlisted duty.
In 1981, she entered Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, and upon graduation from the officer’s training program, she garnered the title of Honor Woman, 116th Women Officer Candidate Company.
Following her honorable discharge from military service, Johnson was employed for two years as a special sections editor for Copley News Service in San Diego. In 1986 she returned to college and in 1990 earned a secondary teaching credential and a Master’s degree in teaching. While attending the College of Notre Dame in San Francisco, she worked as an assistant editor for Del Mar Publishing and as an executive assistant at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
In 1989 after her first day of observation as a student teacher, Johnson accepted a part-time position teaching English and reading to non-English speaking students at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California. Two years later, she was appointed department chair of the school’s special program for “at risk” teens. Funded by a federal grant, this Computer Academy was one of ten pilot programs established nationwide. The government’s evaluation of those programs (conducted three years from inception) ranked Johnson’s group highest in grade point averages, increased self-esteem, overall academic achievement and maintaining the lowest drop-out rate.
Both from St. Martin’s Press, Johnson’s first book in 1986, Making Waves, was an account of her years as a Navy journalist, her second book, My Posse Don’t Do Homework, was printed in 1992. A condensed version of the latter title appeared in the September 1992 issue of Reader’s Digest Magazine. Johnson has also written articles for a variety of publications including Parents Magazine, The San Diego Union and The Navy Times.
In 1993, Johnson moved to New Mexico where she taught freshman composition at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces while attending creative writing classes. The following year she returned to the high school classroom, again teaching at-risk teens in freshman Developmental English classes at Onate High School.
The Girls in the Back of the Class, a sequel to My Posse Don’t Do Homework, was published in May 1995 by St. Martin’s Press and also appeared in condensed form in the May 1995 Reader’s Digest. Johnson recently appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show’s” Salute to Teachers, CBS’ “Eye to Eye,” and NBC’s “Weekend Today.”
Johnson plans to take a break from teaching for a year in order to serve as a consultant and speaker for educational organizations and conferences such as the Urban Schools Institute in San Francisco, the Arizona Department of Education, and the Central Valley Symposia for New Teachers.
PIERRE LETARTE (Director of Photography) is widely recognized in Canada as one of that country’s foremost cinematographers. He has shot more than 100 films, principally for the world-renowned National Film Board of Canada.
Among his most recent works are “The Boys of St. Vincent,” “Dieppe,” and “Trois Pommes a Cote du Sommeil.”
He is currently finishing photography of “Sugartime,” an HBO feature starring John Turturro and Mary-Louise Parker. “Dangerous Minds” is Letarte’s first Hollywood feature.
DONALD GRAHAM BURT (Production Designer) attended Arizona State University where he studied sculpture and painting. His early film assignments included such productions as “Dreamscape,” “Death Valley,” and “Surf II.” He quickly moved up to become the production designer for Wayne Wang’s “The Joy Luck Club.”
Burt began his art career in advertising and contributed his talents for such clients as Miller Beer, Dove Bars, AT&T, American Express and Coca-Cola, to name a few.
He continues to paint and sculpt and has exhibited his work in various shows throughout the West and Southwest.
Academy Award®-winner TOM ROLF (Editor) has been an editor since 1965. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, he moved to Los Angeles in 1941 and began working as an apprentice editor on the television series “Leave it to Beaver” and “Wagon Train.” He soon moved up and became supervising editor on “The Big Valley.”
His early features include ‘The Glory Guys,” “Clambake,” and Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, “Blue Collar.” His film work also includes “Black Sunday,” “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” “New York, New York,” “French Connection 2,” “The Prophecy,” “Hardcore,” and “Heaven’s Gate.”
Rolf won his Academy® Award for “The Right Stuff” and received a British Academy Award nomination for his work on “Taxi Driver.” He has edited such films as “The Pelican Brief,” “Sneakers,” “9 1/2 Weeks,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Black Rain,” “Ghost Story,” “Thief of Hearts” (produced by Jerry Bruckheimer), “Quicksilver,” “Stakeout,” “Outrageous Fortune,” “WarGames,” for which he won the American Cinema Editors’ Eddy Award.
British born BOBBIE READ (Costume Designer) began her career as a designer and pattern cutter for a manufacturing company in London. In 1971 she moved to the United States and landed her first job as a stylist on a Levi’s commercial for director Adrian Lyne. She continued to work with Lyne and other top commercial directors on other commercials such as Coca-Cola, Jovan, Levi, and Nestea.
Her work as a designer began with the television shows “Miami Vice” and “Max Headroom” and on such telefilms as “Bed of Lies” and “The Resurrector.” Read has designed for the hit films “Bad Boys,” “Major League II,” “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,” “Indecent Proposal,” “Raising Cain,” “Sweethearts Dance,” “Beverly Hills Cop 11,” “Top Gun,” “9 1/2 Weeks.”