PHOTOS: Celebrities by The Times

"As long as he's interesting and has evolved," he replies. But he says finances, studio constraints and other pressures can change the scope of a film and that "character development is the first thing that goes on the editing room floor." Television narratives, including his successful "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" series, have 13 hours to 24 hours to develop stories and nuance.

Film has two hours, and in the end, the plot must propel; the movie must make money. "It's called show business," he says. And these days, he adds, "you have to think about a world market. What's going to be accepted in China and Russia."

What is?

"I don't know," says Bruckheimer, who has spent time in Russia but not China.

Sunlight streams through windows of his office. It shines on his face, his eyes, his trim reddish-beard. Every centimeter groomed. There is still the trace of a boy in him — the son of German Jewish immigrants with a flop of hair and a camera dangling from his neck. He speaks of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and of being young and sitting in the dark of the Mercury Theater in Detroit as the credits rolled.

On the set: movies and TV

"I love the process of entertaining people," says Bruckheimer, who has a wife, Linda, and a daughter, Alexandra. "The rush I get when I sit in the back of a theater."

That thrill led him from ad man to producer to his early partnership with the late Don Simpson. Bruckheimer once said that he and Simpson — his co-producer on "Flashdance," "Top Gun" and others — were two parts of the same brain.

"Don was bombastic and extremely intelligent, a salesman," he says. "I don't have that in my DNA. I think things out, roll things around in my head. I'm cautious and hard-working." Bruckheimer is known for a "God is in the details" scrutiny, from visuals to dialogue to music. The Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack in Mike Nichols' "The Graduate" inspired his hand in song selection and orchestration.

Much of his tenacity is rooted deeper than a filmmaker's creativity: "Fear of failure," he says. "You always try to make something better.... Good enough is never the right thing to say to me."

In his new coffee-table biography, he speaks of his first camera — "that beautiful little plastic and metal box changed my life." He has been looking through lenses for decades, glimpsing the sublime and the imperfect, always, he says, working to get the image right in film and in life. "I'm taking pictures of the present that becomes the past very soon," he says.

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com